Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Madame Medusa

When Milt Kahl was asked in an interview if he had a favorite character he animated, his response was: "Oh I enjoyed a few, I just loved doing Madame Mim,
Shere Khan was a lot of fun, and so were the butler and old lawyer in 'Aristocats'.
But I guess I enjoyed Medusa more than any one of them."
And it shows. His last animation assignment at Disney -just like Marc Davis's- was a tour de force of character acting. It has a "I'm going to give it all" feel to it.

Marc told me that Milt promised him, Medusa will "wipe his Cruella off the screen".
Then he added with a chuckle: "Of course that didn't happen".
So there was definitely a friendly competition going on between these two great animators and their characters. Milt sort of designed Medusa's features opposite from Cruella's. 
Cruella  has a small nose, Medusa's is longer. Cruella's hair parts in the middle, Medusa's off to one side. Cruella has a pointy jaw, Medusa is almost chin less etc.

I have to admit, when I first saw Medusa in "The Rescuers" in a London theater,
I couldn't believe my eyes. So much inventiveness in her drawing and motion.
How on earth can you show an animated character removing her make up?
Wasn't that something only a live actress could pull off...but in animation? Incredible!
I have spent way too much time studying this character, on the other hand I think I got a lot out of it. Dialogue, graphic but dimensional drawing and just being gutsy in general.

These first few felt pen drawings are design studies, done before Milt started animation. They don't differ that much from the final look of Medusa.

These thumbnail sketches show Milt's brain at work, trying to figure out the best way for Medusa to put on her coat. Wonderful stuff!

A lot of these pencil roughs were drawings that Milt threw away, because he changed his mind about the drawing or the acting pattern. 
But again, they show his thought process beautifully.

What a fantastic pose!!  Unfortunately Medusa moves right through it, so you barely register it. It would have been nice to see it for four or six frames longer, before she rises up with the suitcase.

You just feel the physical pressure when Medusa tries to close the suitcase.

Lipstick half wiped off. What a great graphic statement!

Here are a few very loose roughs for the scene where Medusa uses a chair as a prop when approaching her dressing table. These are so full of character, and done without the help of live action reference. Takes your breath away!

Here are the final key drawings for that scene.

Medusa might not benefit from the kind of rich story material that Cruella had,
but she sure steels every scene she is in. A true animated masterpiece!


  1. I also study Madame Medusa
    ... and the butler and old lawyer in 'Aristocats', Madame Mim, Shere Khan.
    It was worth it.


  2. You gave me the inspiration I needed today, Andreas.
    What great drawings these are!
    It's great to see some very first passes from Milt.

  3. Did Milt ever work on any of his own stuff outside the studio Andreas?

  4. !!!Come back Milt!!! These are like jazz with a pencil...thank you, Andreas.

  5. Andreas, your collection is so valuable in many ways. It's so good to see this rough work.
    Thanks again for posting.

  6. Brilliant character by a genius artist and animator. Thanks so much for sharing this inspiring work, Andreas!

  7. Great character!!! I love the seeing the animators thought process play out in those thumbnail sketches.Thanks for posting!!

  8. I thought my drawings were very rough sometimes... but when I look at 11 :D

  9. Amazing! It would be great to know what was your thought process when studying this classics. What is it that you were looking for?

  10. Wow! Thanks for sharing such great art!

  11. Boris, you crack me up!

    Sandro and Mark,
    there is much more on Medusa (and Snoops) to come. Stuff you haven't seen before.
    I am glad to share all of this with you and everybody else.

    do you mean art as a hobby? Only those wire sculptures late in his life.

    I LOVE your analogy!

    I study scenes that catch my eye at regular speed.
    I want to find out why they look so good.
    Anything great is worth taking a closer look at.
    Disney, Tom & Jerry, Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, all of them.
    You learn different things from these artists.

  12. Andreas, die sind einfach genial. Danke fürs teilen!

  13. Hi Andreas
    Not sure how often you check your Disney email address but if you still do please give it a quick look. Love the blog.

  14. Ryan,
    I don't have Disney email anymore.

  15. I meant animation Andreas. Like you are doing your short films, did Milt ever work on anything of his own creation outside the studio? It would be interesting to see what he would have created if he didn't have the Disney name attached to it.

  16. Andy,
    Milt never animated outside Disney. Weekends were reserved for fishing, playing chess and crossword puzzles.

    1. Sooo, I know this is late, but how many weekends did you have to yourself while working at Disney?

  17. really fantastic!I can't wait to see your future posts!

  18. Have not seen The Rescuers start to finish in a long time, but I love this character more every time I see her. It is one thing to have a comic villain and another to realize him/her as thoroughly as Milt realized Medusa.

    Thanks Andreas!!

  19. Hey thanks a lot!!

    Do you have anything to share about geraldine page? i'm curious to know how the actors felt when they saw the finished work.

    Medusa is the best thing in The Rescuers.

  20. First of all, thank you Andreas for the inspiration, your blog is the first thing I check before I start animating, and today is no exception. I have some questions for you. The first, will there ever be a book ( books) about the nine old men written by Andreas Deja? If so, put me on the list I'll buy it the day it comes out. My other question is regarding animation and staying on model. Do you have any tips on how keeping the model consistent? Besides timing and weight and arcs and spacing and inertia and everything else, staying true to the model becomes another difficult task. How do you approach that? Thanks in advance for your reply.

  21. I think Medusa and 'The Rescuers' are both definitely underrated when it comes to popularity in Disney! Her animation and voice acting is really great, and she's so versatile in her personality. And the scene where she takes off her makeup is definitely something no one has ever been able to top since. It's genius!

  22. My favourite animated character ever. Great post.

  23. Hello andreas,
    Thank you so much for posting these rough drawings of Medusa! WOW... she has always been my favourite Disney villain..I just love this character! Her design, the animation, the voice, the acting...
    Even as a child I would pasuse the videotape and go through her scenes frame by frame to study her movement.
    Btw did you know (pfff ofcourse you probably know) that in the scene where she gets knocked off the chair by Snoops as he is trying to kill the mice with a broomstick, in one frame the white in her eyes is not painted so you see the background through it? I love seeing this sort of stuff when going through it frame by frame :)
    So again thank you fro all this! and thanks for this blog! I only found this blog by accident and havbe been reading and gauging at drawings all day! Can't wait to see and hear you talk about the Little Mermaid/Triton/Ursula/Vanessa :)

  24. Xavier,
    before you start animating, you need to just draw poses and expressions of the character, a lot, in order to get to know the structure, range of body movement etc.
    After that staying on model won't be so hard.

  25. Thanks Andreas, I understand. Currently I am a full time 3d animator and in the same time I give my humble contribution to a small short mixing traditional animation and live action. Unfortunately this project has a tight schedule, so I have very little time for drawing a lot of poses. So either I stay close to the model and my animation becomes stiff, or I start very rough, and when I tight it down, the proportions become a little off... So far I didn't get any complaints from the clients, but when I see Milt's drawings, Marc Davis's or yours, it really inspire me to get better. I know there is no shortcut or magic button just practice, but I was just wondering if you had any tips on staying on proportions....

  26. Making a clay maquette seems to help me. Dunno if you have the time for that. And not that I am ANYWHERE near as good as you, Xav, or esp, Andreas... But dems mah thoughts anywho.

  27. Andy J.......
    Actually, Milt attempted an oil painting of his then 8 year old daughter; however, due to his perfectionist nature and his daughter's boredom, he put his foot through it and deposited it in the garbage can....never to be seen again!

    Regards from his daughter, Sybil Byrnes (Kahl)

  28. Haha what a great story! Thanks Sybil, and it's a pleasure to hear from you! :)

  29. Cruella is certainly my favorite of the two. Her design, her animation, her personality and voice acting... it's all just fantastic. Marc Davis' masterpiece without a doubt:) In fact, she's probably my favorite of all Disney villains. But to get back to the main subject of your post... Milt's Madame Medusa is definitely a great character in her own right, and these sketches are beautiful!

  30. It's excellent to see this work, I always hoped that someday I would get to spend some time in the disney basement going through old drawings.

    So this stuff is a real treat. keep it coming and thank you!

  31. Sheer brilliance! A great influence during my childhood and even today -my favourite animated characters came from Milt Kahl.

    Michael Loris

  32. Amazing that he used no reference considering how realistic her movements are. Milt is a legend. Great poses here.. She may not have the legacy that Cruella Deville has but she's an equally rich character imo...

  33. Thank you!!! These drawings are pure gold.