Monday, April 5, 2021

Mushka and Sarah Maquette

Strangely animation maquettes are often finalized late, toward the end of production, and Mushka is no exception. Hand sculpted by Craig Elliott, cast and hand painted, after a sketch of mine.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Happy Easter!


A great Easter character illustration from 1939. Possibly By Tom Wood or Hank Porter.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

The Walt Disney Studios and World War II

That's the title of a brand new exhibition at the Walt Disney Family Museum. If you happen to be in the Bay area, you don't want to miss it. I myself will head up North soon. Can't wait to see what curator and WW II historian Kent Ramsey and the Museum staff put together regarding this important chapter in Disney history. For detailed infos go here:


Tuesday, March 30, 2021


 Here is an early example of live action use for animation at Disney. All human characters in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs relied on rotoscoping, except for the dwarfs. The more realistic a character concept, the more live action footage was used to help the animators get a nuanced performance on to the screen.

But rotoscoping is a tricky business. If not altered and interpreted by an animator, the result can be stiff and lifeless. Changes have to be made in order to portray these filmed performances for for graphic motion. A good animator will mess with the timing and proportions of the photostats.

Some of my favorite Disney characters who were successfully based on live action are Cruella de Vil and Roger and Anita Radcliff. Their design has various degrees of caricature, but the motion always feels reel.

Then there is Cinderella's Stepmother, a very realistic looking character based on live action, and she comes across as being very powerful.

Milt Kahl's comments about the use of live action cracks me up: "If you are going to have realistic animated human characters, I think the use of live action is necessary. If everybody on the picture was a Milt Kahl it wouldn't be necessary. But unfortunately they aren't."

Here is the Hunter from Snow White.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Art imitates Life

The Walt Disney Archives just posted a few photos of Milt Kahl in celebration of his birthday. I believe they were taken just before Milt left Disney in April of 1976 after completing animation of Madame Medusa. 

Look at these two images. Proof that artists unconsciously portray themselves in their work.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Another Milt Kahl Birthday


Milt Kahl was born on this day in 1909 in San Francisco. He was eight years younger than Walt Disney.
Most of you have seen this photo of him when he worked for the Fox West Coast Theatre chain. He drew print ads featuring titles and scenes from current movies. Each ad had a tiny "K" hidden within the composition. Believe it or not, but most of these original drawings still exist, they are with the Kahl family.

I have written plenty about Milt and his art over the years. Just enter his name in the blog search space, and all those posts will come up. 

Milt loved the way The Sword in the Stone turned out. He never understood why the film underperformed at the box office. "The studio didn't have confidence in it. Some theaters even showed it in a double bill with the Three Stooges (an American vaudeville/comedy team). If that won't kill, than what will?"

Here are Milt's key drawings for a scene with Merlin and Archimedes. The owl has just crashed under a tree after saving Wart -in the form of a fish- from a hungry pike. Merlin approaches to pick up Archimedes, who is dripping wet.

A short, simple and gorgeous scene. Before bending down, Merlin anticipates the move on #5. He then lowers himself to pick up the owl by one foot. He takes one step before placing Archimedes on a tree branch during the following scene.                                                                                                              


Monday, March 8, 2021

Behind the Scenes

It is always exciting to find photos from the Disney past. Photos I had not seen before from Behind the Scenes that give you a glimpse of what it was like working on incredible projects. Most Disney productions under Walt's guidance have become American folklore, embraced by the whole planet.

Here are a few pics I have come across recently. The shot above shows Walt as he reviews sketches by Marc Davis (standing, facing Walt). The pinned up drawings reveal Marc's analysis of motion ranges for various audio-animatronics to be installed at Disneyland. What a great photo.

Leopold Stokowski, Lillian and Walt Disney at the opening of Fantasia.

Kathryn Beaumont at an early story meeting for Alice in Wonderland with Winston Hibler, Ed Penner and others.

Ward Kimball and Fred Moore studying a marabou stork in preparation for Dumbo.

Joe Rinaldi, Mary Costa -the voice of Aurora- and Eric Larson in a small screening room (sweatbox), most likely reviewing dailies (rushes) from Sleeping Beauty.

The Reitherman family visits Ollie Johnston for a model train ride. Woolie with his wife Janie and sons Robert and Richard. Bruce wasn't born yet.

This drawing of Robin Hood looks an awful lot like a John Lounsbery sketch. So I suppose that's him in the photo.

Disneyland's first ambassador Julie Reihm, Marc Davis and Walt in the TV show Disneyland 10th Anniversary. I had the chance to meet Julie on a few occasions, and I asked her about filming this show. She said that Walt went off script, which she wasn't prepared for. It made her a little nervous, but it all went well.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Mowgli & Kaa

Here is a story sketch by Vance Gerry, who boarded the sequence in which Kaa tries for the second time to hypnotize Mowgli. I believe young Floyd Norman also contributed story drawings for this section of The Jungle Book. There are plenty of terrific personality gags here. I love that Kaa's body can turn into specific but unexpected forms to interact with Mowgli. A swing, a staircase etc.

Frank Thomas animated the whole sequence, and he made sure that each scene has great entertainment value. He would call this character business. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Mona Lisa of Thumbnail Sketches


I recently posted this page with Milt Kahl's exploratory sketches for Medusa's eye lash removals. But in low resolution. Here it is again, the complete page, in hi-res. Thanks to blog reader Ken who provided me with this scan.

It is so interesting to study the various staging options Milt explored for this sequence. For example Scene 303 shows a couple of different ways how the first ehe lash removal could be staged. 

In this image Medusa uses her right hand to pull the eyelash. Unfortunately you would have that vertical arm in the foreground distracting from the subtle eye action in the mirror.

So Milt thought, the heck with that, I'll have Medusa use her left hand instead, as she pulls the other eye lash. The staging becomes much more focused. Clear and uncluttered.

Same idea, slightly different angle for the head. 

The final version as it appears in the film. This is Medusa's image in the mirror. Her rear shoulder and head in the foreground are not included in this scan. 

For the second eye lash -a few scenes later- Milt decided to use her mirror image only. Medusa pulls this lash -with her right hand- in a more sideways direction.

To me this is the most fascinating and groundbreaking sequence that was animated at Disney during the 1970s. Watch the pencil test here:

Monday, February 22, 2021

Mary Blair's Legacy


Much has been said and written about Mary Blair in recent years. There have been a variety of new books about her art, some are Disney storytelling editions featuring her masterful color art from films like Cinderella and Peter Pan. John Canemaker wrote a beautiful book titled The Art and Flair of Mary Blair, in which he analyses Mary's artistic growth from a talented, if somewhat conventional watercolorist to a powerhouse modernist. 

There have also been major exhibitions, one at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo (2009) and another one in San Francisco at the Walt Disney Family Museum (2014). Both exhibits offered terrific catalogues. 

When I started at Disney in 1980 hardly anybody joining the studio talked or even knew about Mary Blair. It wasn't until I got to know Marc and Alice Davis that I started to develop a deep admiration for her work. Both Marc and Alice knew Mary very well, and they had stayed in touch with her until her passing. Finding out about her triumphs and struggles from their first account recollections was thrilling. Marc thought that her sense of color was as good if not better than Henri Matisse.

In order to celebrate what would have been Mary's 100th birthday, Google honored her with a Doodle on Oktober 21, 2011.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Grandpa Milt

In the 2013 Ted Thomas documentary Growing Up with nine Old Men he pays a visit to Milt Kahl's daughter Sybil. They both meet up in front of Milt's condo in Marin County, just north of San Francisco. Sybil opens a storage locker and not only finds signed art prints by Chagall and others, but also these sketches that Milt drew for his grandson's Nick's birthday. How about that!

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Ollie's Backyard Train


Some cool pics with Ollie Johnston running his backyard railroad for his and the Thomas kids from next door. Approximately late 1940s. 
Ollie never outgrew his fascination for model trains. Even late in life he enjoyed having people over for a ride around his property. From Ted Thomas' documentary Growing Up with Nine Old Men.

Here is a previous post on Ollie's backyard train: