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.


  1. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing these gems Andreas!

  2. It's amazing how many artistic influences the Disney artist take to crete something new and amazing. I always wanted to ask you, did you study bodybuilders and their attitude for Gaston? It seems a little becuse of some of the poses you draw.

    1. I did study guys at the gym, and producer Don Hahn gave me a one year subscription for "Muscle & Fitness" magazine.

    2. Wow, thanks for the answer. I was watching Beauty and the Beast and the documentary and Gaston is a great way to solve how a character can be handsome and a villain at the same time.

  3. I would love to see a film done entirely in Mary Blair style. That sort of pureness of image is what's lacking in modern animation that crawls with realistic details.

  4. Peter Pan - Great for Christmas time...
    Love to see these story sketches and production photos!

  5. The caverns sequence in Peter Pan is a great example of visual comedy and mix between elements from real life (live action reference) and gags from the pure artists imagination. The animator catch the life, reinterprets and throws to the screen in shape of animation. Wonderful staging, funny drawings, and great characters poses.
    Thanks to share Andreas.

    Happy new year from Argentina!!

  6. Yet another nice post, thanks Andreas.
    For anyone curious, Disney has made some of the live action footage from some of their films available on their special edition DVDs, for example the Aladdin Two-Disc Platinum Edition DVD has live action footage shot for the "One Jump Ahead" sequence which is inspiring to watch. There is also a bit of it on the Sleeping Beauty DVDs, for Phillip vs Maleficent.
    It would be awesome to see some of the live action reference shot for Gaston & Hercules, and it would be even more interesting to see how you were able to abstract them.

    It's always a treat to see the production design work done by Mary Blair, Eyvind Earle & Walt Peregoy. Their work always inspires that bit of wonder that can be seen in the films they worked on.

  7. Is that Bobby Driscoll giving the live-action performance as Peter Pan?

    1. Driscoll is in the first couple of photos, he did the acting scenes for Peter Pan.
      Roland Dupree was used for physical action sequences, he is in the picture with the camera crew in the foreground.

  8. The actor for Smee really looks a lot like him lol. Very informative post.

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