Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Miss Audley

Before I start I would like to tell you that I am going to give a talk at the Pixel Animation Festival in Vienna this October. I'll be there for a week, the festival takes place from Oct. 7-9.
It would be great to run into some of you guys over there, if you are nearby, see if you can make it.
Here is the link to Pixel 2011:

Eleanor Audley  was a great character actress, her roles were mostly in TV.
She could be seen in shows like "I love Lucy",  "Green Acres",  "My Three Sons"
and many others.
Her most famous film roles were with Disney. She voiced and provided live action reference for two classic female villains, the stepmother in "Cinderella" and Maleficent in "Sleeping Beauty".
Frank Thomas and Marc Davis couldn't say enough good things about working with her. She was a perfectionist.

I met Eleanor Audley in the early eighties through a friend, who told me that she lived next door to his family in North Hollywood. I couldn't believe it, what a coincidence!
Soon after I got invited to the family's Thanksgiving dinner, and I was thrilled to see that Miss Audley was a guest as well. Imagine...dinner with the stepmother.
I never forget when she asked me: "Andy, pass the gravy!" She totally sounded like the stepmother, with that crack in her voice. I immediately passed the gravy.....

A few weeks later I visited Miss Audley in her house, she knew I was interested in hearing about her work at Disney. Apparently the voice acting was a lot of fun for her, but the live action!
"Oh, that Ham Luske!" she reminisced, "sending me up and down those stairs on the set, up and down!"

In 1985 I invited Miss Audley for a visit to the old animation building at Disney.
At that time I was exhibiting some of my wire sculptures in the studio library.
She arrived in her old Chevy, and I greeted her at the studio's entrance.
We got to the second floor of the animation building, and I asked her how she's been. "Not too good at all" was the answer.
Miss Audley was 80 years old by then, and she talked about her failing health often. I found out that she might have exaggerated here and there.
"Andy, look!" she said (many people called me Andy in those days). "I have these terrible spots on my hands." She showed me her hand, and when I said, I couldn't see any spots at all, she insisted :" Here, take my glasses, you will see them."

I did the above sketch of that situation the way I remember it, especially her bright red coat.
When I asked Miss Audley how she liked my wire sculptures, she responded:
"They are interesting, but keep your day job!" 
What a fantastic line...too funny.

Here are a few photos showing Eleanor Audley at work as the stepmother and as Maleficent.

Look at how beautifully Frank Thomas translated her intense expression into a character drawing.

Marc Davis used this live action reference when Maleficent confronts the prince.
Note the prop of a milk carton being held by Eleanor Audley as a stand in for a lamp.
The final version shows Maleficent holding a candle instead.

If you are interested, here is a Youtube clip from a "Dennis the Menace" episode,
starring Eleanor Audley:

Monday, August 29, 2011

Strong Silhouette...or not?

I am sure most of you know about the value and importance of a strong silhouette
when it comes to key poses.
Some of the old Disney masters said that your silhouette should give the audience an idea about the character's overall mood, and that it also might reveal the business and the acting.

The first two examples prove that point very clearly, the last two are somewhat of an exception in this regard.
Milt Kahl animated these scenes, and as usual they are worth a closer look.

Pecos Bill and Widowmaker show a very clear silhouette. Everything points outward, it's almost like an explosion. The emotion here is definitely exuberance.

This scene with Tramp interacting with the beaver also reads very clearly.
The staging connects the characters beautifully. Tramp leans forward and his paw pushes on the beaver's belly. There is just enough negative space between the two so that both poses are easy to recognize in silhouette.

Here we have a case of staging where the main business happens within the character's silhouette, not out in the open at all.
Robin Hood is wiggling his finger through a shot hole in his hat. So why does this read so well after all?
Milt made sure that your eye goes right to that subtle motion, look at the arrows.
And then the importance of  color. Robin's brown finger is moving in front of the WHITE  part of his fur.
It becomes a silhouette within a silhouette. 
Check out the frame grab below.

One of the great scenes in Disney animation.
But you couldn't tell from Medusa's silhouette what's going on here.
Again, the important subtle action of the false eyelash being pulled is staged within the main shape.
But to me there seem to be a hundred lines pointing at her left eye area.
No matter which part of the drawing you start looking at, your eye will end up at the stretched eyelash. The bend of every finger, the folds in her towel, even the shape of her lips help the viewer to focus on this one  particular part of the drawing. 

Of course all this looks so simple, but it took a lot of artistic brain power that made results like these possible.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Follow the Trail

This is a scene with Jafar on his horse, which  I animated early on during production.
I remember being a little apprehensive getting started, this was the first time I animated a horse in a Disney film. As far as Jafar, I had only done a handful of scenes with him prior to this one. So I was still trying to work out drawing issues.
It is sort of an action scene, and you can see that my drawings look pretty rough, especially the blue under drawing. But the graphite lines gave my clean up assistant Kathy Bailey enough information in terms of what I wanted the characters to look like.

As far as the action, it was clear to me as what needed to happen.
The horse is spooked by the bright light, it rises up, at that time Jafar says his line and points forward, and off they go screen right.

There were quite a few things to track, overlap wise. The horse's mane and Jafar's sleeves and cape. I messed with the whole thing for a little while, as you can see in the erased areas and the re pegging on some sheets.

Nevertheless I had fun animating this scene. It was painted dark for the final version, because the sequence takes place at night. Probably for the better, any drawing issues disappear in darkness.

These are most of the rough key drawings from the scene.

PS. I just noticed after all these years, the first few frames were CUT from the scene! WELL....

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

TS Sullivant 2

Here are a few more Sullivant masterpieces.
As you know I just can't get enough of him, so I'll be posting more of his cartoons once in a while.
The first one showing some kind of interaction between a pig and a rooster is pure joy to look at. I don't have the caption for it, the illustration comes from an auction catalogue. I was bidding on this piece, but it went for a ton of money and I was outbid.
The contrast between these two is what makes this so entertaining. The pig has the shape of a sausage, the rooster is drawn with brilliantly caricatured anatomy.
But his proportions are totally unusual. Who wouldn't emphasize a rooster's tail?
Sullivant instead enlarges his head, neck and legs. 

What fantastic staging with the goat and the pig. Realistic anatomy again, look at how the goat's pants cover his legs. That's not a human leg, that's a goat's leg!
So cool!

I won't comment on all of them, but the "Board of Arbitration" has so much going on, it's worth stydying in detail. I love the lion pulling the giraffe's head. It's a cartoon lion, but look at the power.

Noah and his wife caught in a dispute is hilarious. And the hippo's drool, what a nice touch.

The last piece shows again how unconventionally Sullivant approaches his animal caricatures. Who in the world would think about drawing a bear with a large chest and small hips? Doesn't the "cartoon law" say it should be the other way around?

Monday, August 22, 2011


Disney animator/director Art Stevens told me once :" You never asked for changes in a Milt Kahl scene, because it was always perfect."
I myself do know about a few corrections and scene cuts that even Milt had to endure, although most likely that didn't happen very often.

Look at the pencil animation of this sequence where Duchess meets O'Malley for the first time. There are a few fascinating aspects to it.
Milt had set the desgin of the characters, and he also animated the opening scenes here, Ollie did the second half. You can see that Milt's version of O'Malley is much leaner than Ollie's, and yes, there were arguments about how to draw this character.
Ollie told me that during production of "The Aristocats" Milt took a vacation to Europe. Even being away from the studio for a while, O'Malley's model was still on Milt's mind. So he sent Ollie a postcard almost every day, reminding him that the character is not to be drawn too fat. "Can you believe that?" goes Ollie.

When I look at Milt's version, I can sure see a "Shere Khan hangover". 
The expressions in his eyes and the jaw overbite for example.
The acting seems a little busy, the close up scenes don't quite have the feeling that the situation calls for. O'Malley is trying to charm Duchess, but his head moves in ways that is a little distracting. 
Milt's scene of Duchess clapping her paws was later redrawn, the hair on her cheeks is longer and has more overlap. I was told that Milt never noticed when this change was made. 
As  O'Malley talks about her eyes, her close up was replaced by a different looking Duchess.
In the long shot O'Malley opens his arm when he talks about bright sparkles.
Perhaps Woolie thought that this gesture looked too human, because it was cut in the final version.
I do like the stripes on O'Malley, but I can see that they had to go for economical reasons.

It's so interesting to compare the two versions of the same sequence, and to find out that Art Stevens wasn't completely right on this one.

This is an example for how Milt used a Ken Anderson sketch as inspiration for his character designs.

One day Ollie found this drawing on his desk with a note of Milt's disapproval of how he was drawing O'Malley.