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:


Friday, February 12, 2021

Quality Control


I have talked often about the fact that Milt Kahl was not only a supervising animator at Disney, but he also maintained drawing quality control over many scenes he did not animate himself. Here is another example of this. In The Rescuers Orville, the albatross, welcomes  Bernard and Bianca "onboard".

Ollie Johnston animated this scene, and his key drawings were probably pretty rough. Perhaps the final look for the character hadn't been established yet. Milt redrew some of Ollie's keys and added a finishing touch and polish. He sometimes complained that he was asked repeatedly to do this because it slowed down his own weekly animation output. At the same time he thought it was necessary in order to keep the high drawing and design standard at Disney.

These drawings come from Ollie's estate and have never been published before. I also have drawings that Milt did for a close up scene of Bagheera. Ollie animated that one as well. Coming up in a future post.

Go here for Ollie's and Milt's character designs of Orville:


Tuesday, February 9, 2021


The characters in this beautiful story sketch from Sleeping Beauty are depicted in dark silhouettes. The final frame from this sequence doesn't go as far, standard colors were used instead. This type of staging reminds me of the incredible work by German animation pioneer Lotte Reiniger (1899 - 1981)

In 1926 she completed her animated feature The Adventures of Prince Achmed. All done in silhouette animation. Just astounding. You can read her life's story in this Wikipedia page:


Disney of course applied this aesthetic in certain scenes for numerous films like Bambi and Fantasia. There is something pure and beautiful about animation in silhouette. You don't have the subtleties of interior drawing and definition. Everything is communicated through body language. 

A while ago a analyzed the importance of a clear silhouette in traditional animation:


Wednesday, February 3, 2021

The Sound of Disney in Frankfurt

Even though the title is in English, this remarkable exhibition took place in Frankfurt/Germany. And it's not over yet. After the current lockdown in Germany is lifted, visitors will be able to enjoy a visit to the DFF (German film museum and institute) for a few more weeks to view absolutely amazing original Disney art. With social distancing and masks of course.

The presented animation art comes from private lenders, but a lot of it originates from the Munich City Museum (Münchner Stadtmuseum.) Way back when Disney's Sleeping Beauty opened, several Disney exhibitions toured the world to promote not only the film but also Disney's history of animation. The European exhibit finished in Munich, and Walt just donated the art wherever it ended up. The Asian tour -with different art- ended in Tokyo at a university. A few years ago the Disney Company made a deal with this university to purchase the art back.

This exhibition warms my heart as it chronicles the unusual relationship between Germany and Disney animated films. From early posters announcing Micky Maus (before WWII) to Germany's most visited film of all time The Jungle Book

Look at these storyboard panels for The Skeleton Dance, most likely by Ub Iwerks. Amazing!

Never before seen story boards from Sleeping Beauty, my guess by Joe Rinaldi.

Stunning development art by Eyvind Earle mixed in with cel set ups.

Cinderella in German


German film posters for Snow White and Fantasia.

The German announcement for the Disney exhibition. 

I used frame grabs from a Youtube video filmed by these two Disney fans. Her name is Dörthe, not sure about his name.

 The Frankfurt Film Museum asked me to answer 22 questions about my career at Disney (in German). Here is the link: