Saturday, April 29, 2017

Just Keep Going!

This kind of thing happens to me once in a while (and it just did again):

Before animating a new scene I plan out the staging and acting of the character(s) in thumbnail form.
Once I feel that this is probably the best way of doing it, I start roughing out my first pass on animation paper. I think I got this under control, when suddenly I loose confidence in the way the rough pass is coming along. The poses look funky, and flipping what I have done so far doesn't encourage me to keep going.
Early on in my career I would throw everything out and start over again, without even pencil testing anything. The stuff just felt like it was going nowhere.
What I've learned over the years, when this kind of a situation occurs, is to stay with the scene and FINISH the rough pass anyway. BECAUSE:
Even if parts of the scene don't work for me, there is always some part that does. And based on that, I can now rework the scene so that everything works as a whole.

And a good attitude to have is this: let me do the fixes right now, not later or tomorrow, right now when everything is fresh in my mind. So by the end of the day you know you solved the problem.
The next day when I start tying down the drawings I feel confident again, because I know that the bare bones of the scene are working.

There are even times like this: I am thinking the scene is going downhill, but I stay with it and finish the first rough pass. I pencil test it, and by golly, it doesn't look so bad after all.

Yet again, there are occasions when the whole thing has to be thrown out, because the acting idea is wrong. This happened to me while animating Mickey on The Prince and the Pauper. 
Pauper Mickey is walking through the Prince's palace, when he discovers his mirror image on the shiny floor. The storyboard suggested that he is delighted and does something fun to acknowledge the smooth floor.
So I posed out something like an ice skating scene. Way too broad! I started over with a different idea, where Mickey does a little dance with his own mirror image, before crashing into some armor.
I kept the dance subtle while the crash was broad. To this day I think this became one of my better scenes.

Image Heritage Auctions

Friday, April 28, 2017

Snow White , 80 Years Old

At the end of this year Disney's first animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs will be 80 years old. This movie manages to stay relevant as a personal statement by Walt Disney and his artists.
As the look and feel of animated features has changed, Snow White keeps glowing as a reminder that there is such a thing as the ART of animation.
When you do something so well, so wholeheartedly without compromise, then that piece of work is for the ages.

There are very few people who worked on this film that are still with us: Scene planner Ruthie Thompson, animator Don Lusk and live action reference model Marge Champion. I feel lucky to have met them all and even discussed their contribution to the film.
This is Marge in full costume, getting ready to act out scenes for the animators. I love the black contours which help tracking her movements on film.

This cel set up might show its age with all those wrinkles, but as a piece of art it still looks astonishing!


A rare photostat of the Queen. I've always wondered how animator Art Babbit ended up with this assignment, since he had been known for very cartoony work like animating the character of Goofy.
But he sure pulled it off, this queen is beautiful and ruthless at the same time.

A lot of the muted color palette for the film was inspired by designer Gustaf Tenggren.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Woolie and Ken

A great photo of director Woolie Reitherman and Ken Anderson, visual development artist.
The pic was probably taken during the mid 1960s when the animation crew was finishing work on The Jungle Book. The Aristocats was the animated feature that followed, and Ken is busy developing personalities as well as environments for the story. He did an enormous amount of design sketches for the film. Ken Anderson was what you would call a compulsive draughtsman. On his own time he kept sketchbooks, many of them illustrated his travels around the world.
The only other Disney animation artist who also did this was Marc Davis. To animators like Frank and Ollie and Milt Kahl, drawing was a means to an end. Their philosophy was, you draw for animation, that's it ( which certainly makes sense, when you think about the intense brain work involved in their type of animation).
Here are just a couple of sketched situations from Ken Anderson's vast Aristocats inventory.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Never before Seen Kahl Drawings

I recently came across these two beautiful sketches by Milt Kahl. They show Jim Dear and Darling from the film Lady and the Tramp, engaged in some sort of conversation. Milt didn't end up animating these characters, that assignment went to Ken O'Brien.
There is little doubt in my mind that photographs were used as reference in creating these images.
It is always fascinating to me how Milt interprets straight realism and comes up with forms and shapes that can be animated. 
Wonderful insight into an early stage of Lady and the Tramp character design. 

Ken O'Brien came very close in his animation to what Milt did graphically in the design phase:

Friday, April 21, 2017

Sleeping Beauty Color/Design Studies

All those color key paintings by Eyvind Earle for Disney's Sleeping Beauty are breathtaking. Simple, strong composition that emphasize the design and mood for individual scenes from the film.
Earle signed most of his work, but not always. 
There are plenty of fake Earle design paintings (along with Mary Blair) offered at various auctions these days, but the ones shown here are the real thing. 

The Walt Disney Family Museum is about to open a huge exhibition featuring Eyvind Earle's art.
Paintings from his work at Disney as well as his personal art will be on display. For more information go here:

For more on Earle check out this previous post:

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Song of the South Art

These gorgeous storyboard sketches by Bill Peet as well as the preliminary background/color studies (presumably by Mary Blair) show that the art of Disney Animation was still riding high during the mid 1940s. Song of the South was released in 1946. 
The studio had gone through a sizable staff reduction after a few of their high profile animated features failed to generate profits. Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi all disappointed at the box-office.

How an animation studio can survive a severe blow like this one is a mystery to me. And on top of it Disney continued to produce beautiful short films that still had a sense of experimentation in terms of style and story.

Monday, April 17, 2017

House Cat Studies

This is my cat Joan in 1991. She served as an early model to study cat anatomy, because we were just getting ready to animate big cats. Joan, the miniature lioness lived a full and happy life.

For some sketches I used a brush pen, a regular felt pen for others.

Friday, April 14, 2017

A Blast from the Past / Now in Hi Res

This photo was taken in the early 1980s. Didier Ghez posted this pic a while ago on his blog. We are celebrating master layout artist Don Griffith, who is about to retire. Don was a gentle soul with enormous talent. His career with Disney Animation goes all the way back to 1943. He worked on so many classic films. 
OK, based on the comments Didier received on his blog, here are the names of the folks in the picture:
Way in the back is background painter Jim Coleman. Next row from left to right:
Layout artist Guy Vasilovich, Don Griffith, blue sketch artist Kathy Zar, Joe Hale (producer, former layout artist), Ed Hanson (management), director Rick Rich, story artist Dave Jonas, layout artist Karen Keller.
Next row:
Director Ted Berman, me, layout artist Bill Frake, layout/vis dev artist Mike Hodgson, and in front layout artist Carol Grosvenor.
I remember this party as if it was yesterday. We were still in Walt's Burbank animation building.


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pinocchio's Evolution

I am sure you've seen some of this art work before, but it is good to compare Pinocchio's development beats in one row. I don't know who drew this preliminary model sheet, it is reminiscent of the original book illustrations by Enrico Mazzanti.
The second sheet starts to show feature film qualities, it looks like Fred Moore might have had something to do with this version. Quite a bit of animation was done using Pinoke looking like this, but Disney wasn't satisfied.

An early color model cel with a still unrefined Geppetto.

Here Milt Kahl comes into the picture. He drew these poses after having animated a test scene featuring Pinocchio under water. (Which is sort of an odd choice for selling a new character design as far as environment).
Anyway, we all know that Walt loved Milt's model, and the rest is history.
Milt was right, a little kid personality is more important than the wooden marionette look.

Bob Jones created character models like this head of the title character.

A cel set up from the final production.

If you want to find out about the film's Making of, get J.B. Kaufman's fantastic book:
Pinocchio, the Making of the Disney Epic.

For a Milt Kahl pencil test, go to the bottom of this page:

Images Heritage Auctions

Monday, April 10, 2017

Disney Roughs

A bunch of Disney rough animation drawings to show the various drawing styles of the animators.
As usual Ollie Johnston has a light touch in his work, allowing him to animate faster than most other animators (he spent less time in each drawing.) The first three images are by him.

Fred Moore's loose energy and confidence are evident in this rough of Doc.

Bill Tytla drew the scenes with the dwarfs before and during Grumpy's bath outside.
Terrific animation, but drawings like this one need a top clean up assistant to add detail.

Eric Larson indicated on the right side how part of Cinerella's dress should flow. This is important information for the in-betweener.

The beaver from Lady and the Tramp examines the log-puller.

A John Lounsbery rough of King Hubert. the shape language is very close to Milt Kahl's.

A powerful pose of Maleficent, not by Marc Davis, but by animator Amby Paliwoda, who I believe didn't get any credit on Sleeping Beauty.