Saturday, January 24, 2015

Disney Ladies

Disney female characters are among the most difficult to animate, depending on the degree of realism in their portrayal. Look at this clean up drawing of Cinderella, which was drawn right over Marc Davis' rough drawing. Simplicity, elegance and appeal. Her face is perfectly depicted, if you are off by the width of a pencil line, this character would look like an alien from outer space. All facial features need to be drawn within perfect proportions without looking technical or cold. I don't think draughtsmanship like this exists today (which is not necessarily a bad thing), this was the art of that particular generation.

Years earlier, before Disney got into animated features, two 1934 short films The Flying Mouse (pictured below) and The Goddess of Spring tried to portray a female character with realism. The result did not please Walt Disney.

By the time Snow White went into production, Walt knew that live action reference was necessary to convincingly bring the title character to life. And only top draughtsmen were assigned to her animation and clean up drawings. Marc Davis created these delicate clean ups over animator Grim Natwick's rough animation. The scene shows Snow White reacting to the Witch's sudden appearance by the kitchen window. 

The film's Evil Queen, animated by Art Babbit, demanded the same thorough and accurate draughtsmanship. Every pencil or ink line needed to define the character's subtle forms perfectly.

A rare rough animation drawing of Pinocchio's Blue Fairy, who represents American female beauty from the 1930s and 1940s. Gorgeous!

Les Clark drew some of the nature fairies for Fantasia's Nutcracker sequence. Not easy to portray a nude character with such innocent charm. This section, though mostly effects animation, ranks among my all time favorite moments in Disney Animation.

Fred Moore created the look for many Disney girls during the 1940s and early 1950s.
A beautiful rhythmic key drawing from the short Casey Bats Again, a charming character doodle of a skinny young girl and a model sheet from All the Cats Join in, another favorite of mine.

Walt Disney stated once that he was amazed to see the quality of draughtsmanship on a cel, which was traced from a clean up drawing that was traced from a rough animation drawing.
With each tracing and re-drawing some loss of drawing quality is bound to happen. But when you have a super dedicated staff, that loss is minimal.
These two cels from the film Cinderella are proof that the studio's process allowed brilliantly drawn characters to make it to the screen. 
Again, Cinderella's face looks beautiful, even after having been re-drawn several times.

Iwao Takamoto's super precise clean up studies over Marc Davis' animation. At this point Disney's graphic portrayal of a female heroine reached a level of sophistication never seen before. The stuff takes my breath away.

Marc Davis sketched Maleficent, before turning the image into a color design drawing.
Though theatrical, flamboyant and dramatic this character still required realistic handling in order to come across convincingly. One of the greatest Character designs in Disney history.

Marc's next villainess also ranks among the greatest in Disney history. Cruella De Vil is ugly, but you just can't take your eyes off her. She might be Disney's gutsiest design ever. Sometimes I wonder why Walt didn't stop Marc and asked him to tone her down. I am VERY glad he never did. 
Watching Cruella on the screen makes me almost giddy, and happy to be a part of this fantastic medium.

Madame Medusa is Milt Kahl's swan song before he left Disney. The story material was not as outstanding as Cruella's, but in many ways Milt outdid himself as an artist and thought outside of the box. The make up removal sequence alone is animation history. 
Cruella and Medusa are caricatured villainesses, but their drawing base is still realism. They move with real weight, hand gestures are impeccable and every head angle is convincing as well as  intriguing. 

Images Disney/Heritage Auctions


  1. Thank you
    the great thing about all your posts is that we can really feel your passion

  2. Thanks
    I Love the drawing of Pinocchio's Blue Fairy :)

  3. I think that fine draughtsmanship like in the Cinderella drawing might exist in animation today, although you'd never see it because hand-drawn animation is so scarce in the USA and UK. I'm sure that you and some of your ex-Disney colleagues could handle that stuff if you were given a real chance, though.
    It's amazing to look at these drawings, I love that they prioritised character. You can tell their personalities just from their arms and hands!

  4. I think tastes have changes a lot since then. You look at Frozen, and the characters have such exaggerate features and proportions. The eyes are enormous. Not that I think it looks bad, but there's less emphasis on realism because CG doesn't handle it that well. The Shrek movies tried to be realistic, but it doesn't really work. Even the most recent realistic hand drawn, like Prince of Egypt, was very stylized.

  5. What these people have accomplished between 1929 and 1977 is so outstanding that it is simply incredible, and this was done with pencil and paper! No fancy computers! Just like Michelangelo when he completed the Sistine Chapel.

  6. Mr Andreas i have two questions to ask.Please allow me to repost them in your future posts in case you dont answer me here.
    1)I cant find anywhere skeches or drawings of Megara(the final form) from Hercules or any background.Since you worked for this animated film could you make an article for this and share some drawings and tell the story behind this?
    2)How and why disney sold all these cels from all these films? What if they want to change something in the future? (to make a remastered version for example).
    Thanks in advance and sorry for my english

  7. I can agree about how tricky it can get to drawing female characters. I think the hardest part for me right now is developing concept art for my characters Christine and Ella. Mainly the hair and clothing style. It's hard trying to get the hair just right and not look like a piece of cotton candy on the top of my character's head.

    What do you recommend when it comes to developing the female lead for an animated film?

    1. Gotcha. Didn't you say that you used fashion magazines to design the concept art for Yzma from Emperor's New Groove?

  8. I don't think draughtsmanship like this exists today (which is not necessarily a bad thing), this was the art of that particular generation.

    I'm sorry but ... James Baxter, Jin Kim, Juanjo Guarnido, Hyun-Min Lee, Matt Willames, Neil Boyle, Claire Wendling, Shiyoon Kim, Minkyu Lee, Tom Caulfield, Kenny Park, and many more I can't recall at the moment or haven't discovered yet ... they can hold their own against the best of the mid-20th century animators. They may not be 2D-animating at the moment, but that's hardly their fault, and doesn't diminish their skill.

    I do really appreciate the important work you are doing with this blog, promoting the legacy of hand-drawn animation in the digital age. I am happy whenever I see a new post and will be happy to see many more. My problem is with the deification of the older generation, making them into superhumans with skills we mere mortals could never hope to emulate. It rather gets the new generation off the hook, to accept mediocrity because true excellence is the secret knowledge of a lost generation. That's no way to move animation forward. It's not secret knowledge! If we do what they did to be awesome – which is well documented and publicly available – then we can be awesome too! Let's go out and be amazing artists too!

  9. Wow, it looks like Marc really thickened up Snow White's neck area. I learn so much from studying the originals like these!

  10. I agree with Tealin that Draftsmanship does exist like that today. However Could you clarify what you mean when you write that if this kind of draftsmanship didn't exist that wasn't necessarily a bad thing?

  11. The second image is from The Flying Mouse, not Goddess of Spring.

  12. "The make up removal sequence" seeded and raised my wish to become an illustrator and designer to work i.a. for the animation industry. It was the first Disney movie I saw as a child and I couldn't talk about other things than this movie for weeks and month after. I still think Medusa is marvellous! Thanks for your terrific posts, Andreas! Greets from Hamburg, Germany.

  13. Hi Andreas,
    I'd like to connect with you on linkedin, I worked with George Bakes for many years. We all had lunch together back in '91 when George was working on Cool World in LA. You were working at Disney's and had drawings of a Sculpture you were working on for Studio City (maybe) as I recall.
    Love the blog, great to see such amazing art! The draftsmanship is stunning.
    All the best,
    Roger Scott

  14. What a joy to see such beautiful drawings and designs. Snow White, Cinderella and Aurora are alive! Like you I'll never be tired to watch them!

  15. I have a question Andreas have u ever wanted to animate a princess way before u animated Lilo and mama odie?

  16. Die Elfe und dann erst Maleficent! 🤩
    Danke fürs Posten! 😊