Sunday, October 31, 2021

Halloween, Ollie's Birthday

It is still October 31 on the US west coast, Halloween. A good time to remember Ollie Johnston, since today is his birthday. Ollie is not very well known for his animation on villains, even though he animated a few. Brom Bones, Cinderella's stepsisters and Smee all benefited from his comedic touch toward villainous characters. 

Ollie IS known though for his work on Prince John and Sir Hiss from Robin Hood. Here are a few sheets showing explorations for scene continuity and character layouts.

This is actually a Frank Thomas sketch.


Friday, October 29, 2021

Sword in the Stone Art


The discussion about The Sword in the Stone continues to this day, as fans and historians disagree whether this is a great or mediocre Disney film...or even a bad one. The movie certainly has strong sequences like the Wizards' Duel, the squirrels section and Madame Mim. But the film's key relationship between Wart and Merlin could be more interesting, more nuanced and more entertaining.

As Ollie Johnston said, what we had going on with Baloo and Mowgli, we never got with Merlin and Wart.

Here is a sampling of artwork from the film, starting with an animation drawing of Wart by Milt Kahl. 

These Merlin studies were drawn by an assistant, who traced animation drawings by Milt. 

A cel from the film's finale. 

A couple of cels from the Wizards Duel, animation by John Lounsbery. 

A cel set up from a scene animated by Frank Thomas. 

Lounsbery's long suffering wolf. 

Ollie Johnston animated this scene. 

A color model for Sir Ector. 

Another Ollie Johnston scene, which received a little drawing help from Milt Kahl:


Thursday, October 21, 2021

Lion Lesson


I have nothing but great memories from that day, when a bunch of wild animals (mostly lions ) took over one of our conference rooms at Disney Animation. I believe at this point the drawing session is over, and most artists have left the building. Ruben Aquino and myself were asked to stick around for some B-roll footage that was to be included into the Making of the Lion King documentary. 

What an amazing day...some of us could have died.  ;)

Here is the link to a previous, more extensive post covering this event: 

Monday, October 18, 2021

101 Dalmatians, Behind the Scenes III

More artwork from 101 Dalmatians, particularly from story man Bill Peet. I still find it astounding that he singlehandedly storyboarded the entire film. Not only did he develop a perfect screenplay based on the book by Dodie Smith, but he also took care of cutting continuity, camera angles, character acting and posing and more. This film is perfection!

By the way, author Dodie Smith thought that the Disney version much improved her book. And that's a remarkable compliment from the original creator of those characters and their story.

101 Dalmatians was Marc Davis' favorite movie of all time (live action or animated.) Obviously he had the time of his life animating Cruella De Vil. 

This is also the film that got Hans Bacher, art director and production designer extraordinaire, hooked on animation, when he saw it on its first release as a kid.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

A Disney/ABBA Connection


First of all, let me tell you, not all is scary and bad in the world when we have a situation like this one appear out of nowhere. Did not see this coming, absolutely thrilled!!

I have never talked about this, so it's kind of an exclusive:  Sometime in the mid 1980s I suggested to Disney Animation's management to consider the guys from ABBA ( Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus) to lend their musical genius for any upcoming Disney animated production. You know what? The studio DID get in touch with them. Unfortunately at that time the guys were busy with their brilliant theatrical musical CHESS, the West End as well as the Broadway production. Bad Timing. 

Don't get me wrong, I am super thrilled with what happened instead. Howard Ashman, Alan Menken, Elton John and Tim Rice. They all did brilliant work for our movies. Actually Tim Rice wrote the lyrics for the London West End version of CHESS. So there is another ABBA connection. 

I can't help but wonder if timing had been different, what musical treasures we could have had with ABBA songs in Disney animated films.

Then's not too late to ask them now.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The Old Disney Guard and our Films


I think I mentioned before that I used to ask Disney's original animators about their opinion regarding animated films I was a part of. After you ask the question you kind of want to run for cover, in fear that harsh criticism would come your way. Still, I was curious. 

Here are a few recollections about what the "Old Guys" thought after having watched films from Disney's revival period. Milt Kahl enjoyed The Great Mouse Detective, he thought the film had a fresh approach in terms of storytelling and character development.

The Little Mermaid was pretty much liked by the old guard. The studio invited Frank and Ollie for a screening when the film was about half animated. At one time Frank interrupted with an excited voice: "Who did that one?" He was referring to a little reaction shot of Ariel. Somebody informed him that David Pacheco had animated this scene. When this got back to David he was on cloud nine of course...and probably still is.

Ken Anderson liked Beauty and the Beast very much. He said he couldn't think of a way to improve it. Chuck Jones also raved about the film, particularly Glen's animation of the Beast.

I don't remember specific reactions to Aladdin. I think Frank and Ollie had a few quibbles with the story, but nothing major. Marc Davis objected to the fact that Robin Williams was allowed to improvise his dialogue for the Genie. "We never had our voice actors ad-lib anything!" He thought that this type of dialogue would date the film in years to come. As for myself, I got two thumbs up for Jafar from Frank and Ollie.

The Lion King got a few "not so nice" reactions. Frank and Ollie disliked watching Mufasa's dead body after the stampede. "I think we handled the death of Bambi's mother better by not having her on screen after the gun shot." Frank commented. Marc Davis was displeased with the animation of the lions. "When we drew Bambi, you felt every bone in the deer's body, it was believable!" Our lions reminded him of the appearance of plush toys. 

I forgot one title, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Frank and Ollie despised the concept of animated characters (Toons) being looked at as annoying, and being banned to a ghetto like Toontown. That concept went against their personal philosophy about animation. Ward Kimball thought that everything just moved too fast :"The only one character who held still and I could read was Betty Boop". Who was animated beautifully by Roger Chiasson.

Saturday, October 9, 2021



This post is a little more personal than what I usually present here. I just returned from a quick trip to Germany in order to say Goodbye to my mother. Got there just in time, she passed away last Sunday morning at the age of 90. I loved my mother. She was affectionate and loving toward her children and grandchildren. She also had an uncanny sense of humor. The way she observed people and situations around her was utterly unique. We as a family would be rolling on the floor laughing based on her comments, but my mom had no idea where the humor was in what she just said. 

I drew this sketch of her and me (based on a vintage photo from around 1958) just before I moved to America. She kept it on a wall in her retirement home.

The last three years have been very difficult for my mom and for myself. I've lost both of my sisters, Regina and Christa to various cancers. (My dad died in 1997). 

So you find yourself alone in representing your family. Thank God for my awesome nieces, who also showed up at my mom's bedside. I am so proud of them, one is a top notch doctor at a Freiburg hospital, one is a teacher, and the youngest one is a social worker.

My mom was a devout catholic. A little prayer would be much appreciated.