Tuesday, May 31, 2016


Most of the animated scenes featuring Perdita from 101Dalmatians show her as a caring mother to her pups. Frank Thomas animated this gem early on in the film, when Perdita is still single. It reveals a rich personality moment, absolutely beautifully executed by an animator who knew how to crawl into his character's mind.

Roger Radcliff and Pongo have just passed by before settling down nearby under a tree. Perdita leans slightly forward to get a better look at Pongo, who glances at her at the same time. Feeling embarrassed for being "caught" she struggles to quickly get into a pose that reflects composure and disinterest. 
Sometimes I really don't know how Frank does it. He comes up with a series of sketches that have the essence of a particular emotion. Very subtle use of squash and stretch as Perdita's head nervously moves upward into the final pose, which is held for three eye blinks. 

My favorite Perdita scene and one of Frank's best.

The scene's gif looks a little wild without the connecting scenes, and the eye blinks at the end are missing. But you can see how not only the head, but different parts of her body are involved as well.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sheep Dog

A while ago I posted Milt Kahl's designs for the archery tournament characters in the film Robin Hood. One of them was this image of a sheep dog archer.
Recently I came across these sketches of the same character by John Lounsbery. It's interesting to see his take on the sheep dog concept. He definitely refers back to the Colonel dog from 101 Dalmatians, a character he animated years earlier.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Just a Phrase...

A few years ago I ran into Oscar Grillo at CTN Expo in Burbank. Oscar is an an extraordinary, award winning  animation artist from Argentina, who made London his home a long time ago.
Five minutes into our conversation we started to debate the current state of the animation industry.
When I mentioned how disappointed I felt about the overall change from pencil animation to CG animation Oscar looked at me and said:

The statement blew me away, and I've been feeling great ever since.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Hook, through the eyes of Five Animators

We know that animator Frank Thomas was responsible for bringing Captain Hook to life with nuanced as well as broad acting. Frank would say that it took him a little while to find the right balance between comedy and villainy. Actor Hans Conried  provided live action performances that served as a springboard to rich character animation.
Originally it was Milt Kahl, who thought he would be perfectly cast on the character. He created model drawings like these that show how he would handle Hook in design and animation.

But in the end Walt Disney wanted Thomas to take over the part of this villain, even after Milt had put down some of Frank's early test animation. Walt knew that Milt's talents were needed on the film's title character...and the rest is history.
Frank's acting on Hook is superb, we constantly know what the character is thinking from the first time we see him in the film. Here is a link to the clean up pencil test of that scene:


Occasionally Frank asked for Ollie Johnston's advice when it came to finding the best staging for a scene with Hook. The note on the bottom right says: Ollie did this for me.

John Lounsbery animated a few Hook scenes early on in the film, like this one, when Hook calls for action against Peter Pan, who has just been sighted.
Beautiful rhythmic drawings.

Woolie Reitherman focused mostly on action/fighting scenes. As you can see he is in these two roughs, Woolie is in full control over the character's broad motion range.


But...Woolie was perfectly capable of handling the occasional acting close up. Most Disney animation aficionados credit Frank Thomas for animating this extraordinary scene, but this is Woolie's animation. It is seq. 14, sc. 79. Hook climbs up the rope ladder in pursuit of Peter Pan: "Ha, ha, ha, you wouldn't dare to fight old Hook man to man. You'd fly away like a cowardly sparrow."

A film frame from one of my favorite Thomas Hook scenes. A controlled pose just before he is about to explode in response to Smee's suggestion that shooting a man in the middle of his cadenza ain't good form.

More on Hook here:


and here:


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Frank Thomas Style

I don't know what Frank is working on in this photo, as he poses with the Oscar the studio has just won for Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. Perhaps a gag drawing, since the main production at the time was The Aristocats. There are mounted character sketches of Scat Cat on the upper right corner.
It is always interesting to take a closer look at Frank Thomas' rough animation drawings. Unlike some of his colleagues, he rarely thinks about creating a graphic design in his drawings. The source for his inspiration is strictly the character's personality and its entertainment value in a particular scene or sequence.
For his rough animation pass, he would do more drawings than most other animators at the studio. More often than not Frank created ALL drawings for his scenes. This meant that there really wasn't much time left to finesse each key drawing to perfection. This is an animator with the conviction that each drawing is part of the overall performance. "Suitable for framing" was the farthest thing from his mind. As a result many of Frank's rough animation drawings look "less intimidating" than -let's say- the work of Marc Davis, Milt Kahl or Kimball.
But make no mistake, a Thomas pencil test has a magic all to its own. The quality of the performance as well as acting choices appear completely natural. The character lives on his own on the screen, detached from an animator's creative process. A tremendous achievement.

 These two Merlin key drawings are somewhat of an exception to what I just described. Because these poses needed to be held for a brief time in order to sell the comedy in the action, Frank made sure that they hold up as individual poses, with clear staging and silhouette.

Ollie Johnston and Milt Kahl drew Mowgli in a more appealing way than in these images, but the scene's motion feels like real life. A kid trying to get away from a Python's grasp, everything has proper weight, timing and most importantly - emotion.

Frank did all drawings for this King Louie scene in order to control the subtle, musical bounce, as the  character turns his head toward Flunky, who mimics his singing technique.
Assistant Dale Oliver cleaned up the loose drawings on new sheets of paper.

A simple character sketch of Edgar from The Aristocats. This single drawing doesn't sell the scene, but in sequence with all the other drawings magic happens.

One of Frank's last scenes before putting down the pencil. From then on teaching Disney principles and philosophy (through books) became the focus of this master animator. 

A list of Frank's animated achievements as put together by The Disney Archives years ago.

Many more of Frank Thomas' drawings in this earlier post:


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sullivant 13

It's been a while since I posted any T.S. Sullivant art. With the hope that I am not including any repeats, here are a few more samples of his always awe-inspiring work.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Pinocchio at the Walt Disney Family Museum

On Tuesday the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco hosted a reception in connection with the opening of a  new exhibition which sheds light on the production of Walt Disney's crown jewel Pinocchio. Several hundred pieces of original art are on display. Here are some of the highlights:

- rough animation drawings in sequence by Bill Tytla, Frank Thomas, Milt Kahl, Ollie Johnston and John Lounsbery. Monitors show these drawings as pencil tests.

-stunning production backgrounds as well as cel set ups.

-enlarges wall-sized storyboards

-vintage audio of Frank Thomas lecturing how (and how not) to animate the character of Pinocchio

This is a breathtaking, world class exhibit, curated by John Canemaker. It will run until January of next year. So, plan a trip to the Museum and prepare to be amazed, enlightened and inspired.
Here is the official link:


The two pieces above are not part of the exhibition, but the model of Monstro, the whale, is.

An unusual magazine article to promote the film's original release. It contains more than you ever wanted to know about Pinocchio's conscience Jiminy Cricket. And no...Jiminy is not gay.

Opening night: the Museum's executive director Kirsten Komoroske, Ron Miller (my first boss and Walt Disney's son in law), John Canemaker and myself.

For a Milt Kahl pencil test from a previous post, go here: