Monday, December 31, 2012

Amelia & Abigail Gabble

In June of 1969 these concept drawings by Ken Anderson were photographed and reproduced as reference for any artists who would be working on these two geese sisters in story and animation.
The movie was The Aristocats, and the script called for a couple of English geese, who are on a walking tour of France. These two are easily amused and tend to laugh at their own jokes. Their main purpose in the story is to accompany the cats on their way back to Paris.

Milt Kahl was next in line to  add his touch to the visual development of these characters. 
I can't quite figure out the following two sheets, who show a completely different conceptual direction for the geese. The drawings are hilarious, though these sketches look somewhat like ducks. The dishevelled attitudes remind me of Uncle Waldo, who almost got marinated in white wine at Le Petit Cafe.
Perhaps Uncle Waldo was an Aunt at one point, and that's what Milt explored here. Beautiful drawings!

And then Milt just hits a slam dunk! These are among my favorite Kahl exploratory  sketches.
Now this is a goose!!
With a fantastic facial caricature of the animal. The body is bottom heavy and bow-legged.
I have looked at this sheet for hours.
I see a goose in France, I can almost taste the Foi gras, the proportions are exquisite.
A little masterpiece in design development.

Ollie Johnston looks at Milt's ideas, but looses something as he redraws the poses.
The longer neck is fine, but this is a skinny goose. And the head doesn't have that perfect simplicity.

As Ollie explores the proportions more, he eventually ends up adding the body bulk that makes for a good goose design.

By the time he gets into animation, his drawings become more solid, and the acting is terrific.

These are Ollie's motion studies based on looking at live action footage.
The sequene of the goose walking toward camera is worth taking a look at. 
You have the foot contact, then the body's weight shifts toward that side, while head and neck counterbalance. Of course all this needs to be exaggerated in the character animation.

Here is a photo from a magazine article, showing Ollie and Milt holding cats, while director Woolie Reitherman and Frank Thomas watch John Lounsbery, as he tries to put a bonnet on a goose.
But what's Mickey doing there?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Realism and Abstraction

For most Disney animated feature productions the research that helps to get the best results on the screen seems endless. Before animation begins storyboards are drawn and redrawn, various styles are being explored in order to achieve the right look for the film, and often live action is shot to help animators with their acting choices.
For the movie Peter Pan a lot of live action footage was filmed, and the super talented animators knew just how to use it. If the acting was inspired, why not incorporate it into your animation?
Usually timing and staging needed to be altered, because graphic animation has its own rules. Broader action, more squash and stretch and a clear silhouette.

I just love looking at these vintage photostats that were made available to the animators.
You can see what motivated them and how they translated the footage into graphic motion. Sometimes they would ignore the live action and create a different performance on their own. But as Marc Davis said, it was often helpful to be able to look at something instead of starting with a blank sheet of paper.

I myself worked with live action reference for Gaston and Hercules. We did it the same way by filming the actors wearing somewhat crude outfits, and by using the simplest of props to create some kind of an environment for the scene.
Sometimes those on the set were laughing so hard at how ridiculous (yet useful) the footage came out. If the studio could only make that footage available to you guys, you would laugh you head off.

Artists like Mary Blair preferred to present sceneries, characters and colors in an almost abstract way. With a strong focus on lighting, emotional color choices and simple staging these studies were the inspiration for the final artwork. Sure, the production backgrounds have a more realistic stage set feel, but Mary's influence is very apparent.
Eywind Earle took a similar approach for Sleeping Beauty and so did Walt Peregoy for 101 Dalmatians.

In the end this and other films landed somewhere in-between realistic and abstract influences.
And I do believe that's one reason for their greatness.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Underwater Santa

This is a Christmas card I sent out in 1989 after we had finished work on The Little Mermaid.
So today I am recycling the image to offer everybody who celebrates this holiday my best wishes and to all of you, have a happy 2013.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sarah and Mushka

I will be living with these two for a while, since they are the main characters of my animated film.
It is a story of love and sacrifice, set in Russia. I have been working on story and pre-production throughout the year and will go into production next year.
The style will be a sort of like an animated sketchbook. I had been wondering if instead of using digital color I could just use color pencil shading right on the animation drawings. When applied very carefully the flickering will be minimal. 
Here are just a few character studies to give you an idea where I am going with this.
Luckily the LA Zoo had a couple of tiger cubs (they are almost fully grown now), so I did spend some time there to observe and sketch them. 

This is a little teaser I put together. The idea behind the scene is that Sarah, who is raising this tiger cub, realizes for the first time that even at this young age he already has a "killer instinct".

All artwork and video © Andreas Deja

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sleeping Beauty Story Meeting

The artists attending the meeting from left to right are sequence director Eric Larson, story artist Joe Rinaldi, production designer Don DaGradi and directing animator Marc Davis.
The storyboards behind Eric are part of the "Boy meets Girl" sequence, which he directed.
Everything went into this section, the most elaborate backgrounds, multiplane shots with animation from Milt Kahl, Marc Davis and John Lounsbery. All this turned out to be very expensive, and when the sequence went far over budget, Walt Disney was not too happy about it. I am sure he had a word or two with Eric.
Next time you watch the film, keep in mind that Eric did his best to make this an outstanding sequence, but he caught some flak nevertheless.

The boards being discussed show the Three Fairies in the jewel box. If you remember they are trying to figure out how to deal with Maleficent's curse.
Marc Davis brought some of his character designs of Maleficent and the raven to the meeting. They are on the floor along with DaGradi's compositional studies.

What a great captured moment in Disney history!
I might read too much into it, but Eric Larson looks a bit distraught while Marc Davis' expression seems sympathetic toward him: It's gonna be ok, Eric.
Click twice on the image, and you are in the room with these guys.

Here are copies of Marc's sketches. He depicted Maleficent's colors in black and red, a concept he saw in a book on medieval art. Marc told me years ago that he felt strongly about those colors, but background and color stylist Eyvind Earle had other ideas and settled for black with purple.
Sometimes teamwork isn't easy.

Extraordinary sinister poses for the raven. What beautiful shapes!

Marc also did design work for various crowd scenes, in vibrant colors. 
The crowds in the final film are more of a backdrop and show less personality.
If these are supposed to be caricatures of studio personal, then the guy in the middle back is a dead ringer for a very old Milt Kahl! And maybe...just maybe the character on the left is a self portrait.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Wilhelm M. Busch 1971

These wonderful spot illustrations by Wilhelm M. Busch were published in 1971 in a little German book titled "Graf Bobby" (Earl Bobby).
This is the result when a realistic master draughtsman loosens up and caricatures his human subjects. Every drawing is entertaining and full of personality. The lack of formulas in them is refreshing and his economy of lines is inspired. I often find what an artist leaves out just as interesting as what he puts in. 
Great looking characters, beautifully staged, all this totally applies to animation.

Graf Bobby was a popular character in the German speaking countries, the humor in his stories range from silly to philosophical.