Sunday, October 18, 2020

Ollie Johnston in his own Words

I am going to post a few comments by Walt Disney artists that were originally published in an issue of Storyboard Magazine from 1993. The topic is mostly about their relationship with Walt.

At the time these essays were submitted to the magazine by the artists, and as far as I know are unedited.





Ollie drew these charming sketches at his home in Flintridge around 1963.









Drawings: Howard Lowery Auctions


Monday, October 12, 2020

Lady & the Tramp Pencil Test Sequence



Classic Disney pencil tests are treasures. The characters seem to be even more alive than in the final color footage. You are reminded that someone drew this stuff with a pencil on paper. It represents the animator's art in its purest form. No color or rendered backgrounds to "distract" you, just a bunch of lines on the screen. But those lines have an explosive magic, because they reveal imaginary yet real life.
Steve Stanchfield just posted the complete Siamese Cats sequence in pencil test form. 
Before the release of Lady & the Tramp in 1955, Disney presented a TV program featuring Peggy Lee, Woolie Reitherman, Frank Thomas, Milt Kahl and others. 
I believe this pencil test sequence was supposed to be a part of the TV show, but was ultimately cut.

John Sibley animated the cats. They had originally been assigned to Ward Kimball, who animated some if not all of the sequence. His footage apparently did not fit the realistic style of the film.

This is a real treat, and I'd like to thank Steve Stanchfield for making it available to everyone on Vimeo.


 





Here is the link: https://vimeo.com/466013616


Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Power of Vintage Disney


 
Walt Disney's animation studio didn't invent character animation, but it elevated it to unimaginable artistic heights. 
Here are a few random thoughts that help illustrate just WHY this studio was the industry's leader:

APPEAL
You can't take your eyes off classic Disney characters. There is a visual magnetism in this Timothy drawing. You want to look at him, you want to get to know him.


RESEARCH TRAVELS
They realized that by studying local folklore on site gave the films great authenticity.





THE STUDY OF REAL ANIMALS
This added believability to the characters which no other studio came close to. 





PHENOMINAL STORY SKETCHES
They reveal not only story continuity, but also staging, camera angles and personality.




THE WILLINGNESS TO START OVER
When something didn't feel right it had to be revisited and redone.
Frank Thomas' early Pinocchio animation moved nicely, but the footage was tossed because the character design lacked appeal.




THE GUTS TO GO DARK
Even though animation was full of likable cute characters, Disney did not hesitate to put them into highly dramatic situations. These guys were risk takers!




PHENOMENAL LAYOUTS
Mickey is looking up at a giant's castle. Camera angles like the one take highly skilled artists to draw such an up shot convincingly.




SMART USE OF LIVE ACTION REFERENCE
By hiring outstanding character actors for animation reference the scenes were practically half done by the time the animator got started. (Not all animators approved of this working method though.) 




LET FUNNY ANIMATORS DO THEIR THING
The balance of realistic characters combined with comedic ones added a great dynamic. Particularly in the feature films.





GLORIOUS COLORS
All of Disney's animated films have stunning color models for their characters. From Technicolor extravaganzas like "Alice in Wonderland" to more subtle color palettes like "101 Dalmatians", they all work beautifully. 






LET THE STYLE EVOLVE
What started as rounded sculptural drawings evolved into sophisticated artistic graphics.
This challenged some artists, but audiences embraced the change eventually.





ECONOMIZE BUT DON'T COMPROMISE
Evan after Xerox was introduced to save money, the studio was still capable of producing masterful animation. The overall look changed again, but character animation maintained its very high standard.




A GROUP EFFORT
When all disciplines like animation, effects and background painting come together on the highest level possible, visuals like this one were achieved. This is animation for the ages.



Saturday, September 12, 2020

More Robin Hood Designs by Milt Kahl

These Kahl drawings represent Robin Hood's earlier version based on Ken Anderson sketches.
Robin looks like a mischievous character actor, not the leading man type he turned out to be in the final version of the film. This is a more juvenile appearance with a skinny neck.
My guess is that Milt made these drawings to aid John Lounsbery, who originally was assigned to the lead fox character. 
Fantastic sketches as usual by the one and only Milt Kahl.
A few of these drawings have been posted here before, but these images are scans from originals, not xeroxes.

 






I have posted numerous Robin Hood visuals over the years. My favorite post remains this bizarre interview with Milt when he was promoting Robin Hood in Dallas:

https://andreasdeja.blogspot.com/2012/11/milt-kahl-talks-robin-hood.html


Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Crazy Pelican Postman



I animated this scene from Who Framed Roger Rabbit about a hundred years ago.
These frames are from the start of the scene, which went on and on as the camera pans screen right to reveal life on a film studio's backlot.
This was the cartooniest animation I had done up to this point. I remember animating the brooms from Fantasia using live actin brooms sweeping the floor. All on ones. 
The brooms were also hopping along to the beat of The Sorcerer's Apprentice.

A ton of work, I had no weekends working on this film. No regrets. It was all worth it!


Thursday, August 20, 2020

Dumbo Story Sketch



What an extraordinary story sketch by Bill Peet. 
The circus ringmaster confronts Mrs. Jumbo, who is protecting her baby son. Every character showing distinctively different emotions. This reminds me of what Frank Thomas once said:
"If you have characters in a scene who all think alike, you have a problem."

I also love the crowd's shadows on the ground. Bill Peet is the man!!

More of his story sketches here:
https://2.bp.blogspot.com/--qT-l6QKFSk/VuY5HmSgK1I/AAAAAAAAQgk/75wXVMxwOms4gesQxUF8S5xIm-5YrXNhg/s1600/DB1.jpg


Thursday, August 13, 2020

MUSHKA Seq 14, Sc 60




Here is a frame from the final version of a scene I was animating just recently. 
At the start we watch only Sarah as she pushes the tiger's front part. Then Alex comes in, he pushes the tiger's back end. Obviously each push is separate from the other in terms of timing, so the kids don't end up pushing simultaneously. A little tricky to work out against the tiger's body, but the scene turned out ok.
Regarding effects animation for snow foot prints, I originally had planned for a more icy surface with no foot prints. But we ended up doing the opposite instead. Every step in the snow will have contact animation. And there are quite a few sequences in the snow.

Here is the link to a recent post about roughing out this scene:


Friday, August 7, 2020

Howard Ashman

 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Liu Jiyou Zodiac Signs 1981




Toward the end of his life Liu Jiyou painted these small size images of the twelve Chinese Zodiac signs. What a beautiful collage of different animals.

And as a bonus here are a couple of gorgeous illustrations of an eagle.








Sunday, July 26, 2020

From Bill Peet to Ollie Johnston




Another great example of how animators translate a story sketch into the staging for their scene.
This beautiful story sketch is of course by Bill Peet, who's drawings always stimulated the animators' imagination. There are whole sequences in 101 Dalmatians and The Sword in the Stone that maintained Peet's story continuity and staging. Virtually no changes from story sketch to final film frame.
In this scene Merlin is pouring some tea for Wart who just "dropped in". Ollie loosened up Wart's pose a little. Holding his arms behind his back probably didn't feel natural to him. 
As the table grew larger in the final layout there was a chance for Merlin to lean forward into a different pose. All this is called plussing. 
You evaluate what a story artist and a layout man came up with, and you add your own vision to the scene. 
This type of teamwork was essential to achieve top quality in Disney's classics. It was also essential for the films I worked on like Mermaid, Beauty & the Beast, The Lion King and all the others.


Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Horse in Wire

More coat hanger art...like some friends used to tease me years ago.
This piece belongs to my friend Steve Gordon, or actually to his wife Judy. I got this piece back for some paint touch up. The original wire was silver steel.
I made this wire sculpture of a classic horse so long ago, I hardly remember working on it.
What I do recall is to decide not to add the horse's mane. You just get a feeling when to stop. When nothing more can be added to improve the pose.
Starting with sculpting in wire in the early 1980s my guess is that over the years I probably created about 150-200 of them.
And what an amazing feeling it is to know that these pieces are spread all over the place in people's homes.
So here is the horse on a turning platform to showcase its 3D effect.
Photography by Roger Viloria.

The sculpture's measurements are 24 x 8 x 17".





Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Sullivant this November



Wil Raymakers alerted me earlier this year about the publication date of this LONG OVERDUE book on our favorite cartoonist TS Sullivant. It looks like this time it is actually going to happen after previous failed attempts to see a project like this one through.
I wished the folks involved would have contacted me, I could have provided them with hi/res scans of about 15 Sullivant originals. Perhaps they found larger collections. 
In any case, I am very much looking forward to the book. And I love the cover!


This was my first post an Sullivant, American genius:


Monday, July 6, 2020

WOW!!

I don't always have the time to read all of the comments posted on this blog, particularly when they appear much later than the original post date. 
In early 2016 I published a Dallas newspaper article here. It featured Milt Kahl talking about his work on Robin Hood. It also included photos of Milt drawing Robin and Little John. 
At that time I sort of wondered where these beautiful sketches might have ended up. 
Wouldn't you know in November of that year Greg Barton added a comment with the link to the framed drawings he now owns. 
I want to thank Greg (years later) for sharing his treasures. I am glad that you used UV/filter glass in your framing because these felt pen/marker drawings would fade dramatically under normal glass.
Look at Milt's lines, they seem to dance on paper as he defines shapes, volume and texture.
Pure joy.

Discovering these sketches today during difficult times everywhere makes me very, very happy!!








Here are links to Milt's visit to Dallas in 1973:




Friday, July 3, 2020

Alfonse's Restautant



There are a few restaurants/bars in the LA/ Burbank area that have a strong Disney connection.
Let's start with this painting by Marc Davis. He describes it like this:

"Alfonse's Restaurant in Toluca Lake was a favorite haunt of several Disney artists. Because I ate there regularly, they wanted something of mine to hang. This represents four drinks at Alphonse's:
a Martini, an Old Fashioned, a Manhattan and a Highball. It used to hang over a table for two. When Alfonse's closed, they gave me back the painting. All the years of cigarette smoke filtered up from that table gave it an interesting patina. I've cleaned some of it off, but traces remain."

Alfonse's closed quite a few years ago, and I don't know what year it opened.
Here is a vintage photo of the restaurant's outside.




Eric Larson took me to Alphonse's before I started working at the studio. Eric always had his own table reserved, no matter wether he showed up that day or not. It really felt like a longtime Disney hangout. The California sun was shut out with window blindes. The atmosphere was "loungy" and relaxed. The staff loved their regular Disney patrons. Eric would have a sherry before his meal. Even though being a Mormon, he allowed himself this guilty pleasure during visits.








So this is the place where Marc Davis would have a long lunch during the early 1960s, while animating Cruella de Vil. 2 - 3 Martinis were not uncommon, but bear in mind that in those days a Martini was a LOT smaller. Not to be compared to the serving size of today. 

Another interesting thing about this place:
During the late 1980s sculptor Andrea Favilli started to schedule lunches there by invitation only.
The idea being to bring Disney old-timers and newcomers together at the same table for lunch.
It was called the Dinosaur Club!
I was lucky enough to be included, which resulted in several very memorable lunch times.
Guess who showed up at these lunches? Not regularly but off and on:
Frank & Ollie, Marc Davis, Ken Anderson, Claude Coats, Bill Layne, John Hench and other artists from Disney animation and Imagineering. 
I will always remember when my German buddy Hans Bacher presented Ken Anderson with a scrapbook of artwork and photos from 101 Dalmatians. Ken was so touched to see that his work was still being studied and appreciated. These were historical encounters!

Hans has posted about The Dinosaur Club here: