Thursday, March 31, 2022

Doodles for The Fox & The Hound


These are various sketches by Ollie Johnston for his final animated film The Fox & the Hound (1981). I remember him saying that at the time his drawing hand wasn't steady anymore. Even more impressive when you look at these doodles, still full of life and personality.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Ollie's Thumbnail Sketches

I am not sure if Ollie Johnston thumbnailed his story- and staging continuity for all of his animated sequences. But he sure did a lot of this kind of scene planing for the film Robin Hood.  Ollie animated most scenes with Prince John and his sidekick Sir Hiss. 

In these sketches Prince John is being strangled from the back by Little John, who forces the prince to order the release of Robin Hood. Lady Kluck is reinforcing the order in scene 351. The following sheet shows Ollie's final character staging for that scene. 

What beautiful drawings!

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Another Milt Kahl Birthday

Milt Kahl was born on March 22, 1909. 

He is one of a few giants in the animation industry. At Disney he set a standard for excellence in drawing that would be unique to that studio. As Dick Williams used to say: "Milt transformed the medium". And Brad Bird pointed out that without Milt's extraordinary sense for design, Disney films would look style-less. Eric Larson told me: "We all learned from Milt, even though on occasion I disagreed with him."

Eric's disagreements would often center around acting choices, or the fact that Milt's designs were too difficult to follow. This opinion was shared by others.

Nevertheless we have to be grateful that Milt Kahl's stubborn insistence on top quality imagery elevated each project he worked on. Take Ludwig Van Drake for example. Marc Davis was originally asked to develop this new character for Disney TV shows. One of the old-timers told me that at the time Marc tried a few things...unsuccessfully. It wasn't until Milt came in and took over the assignment that Van Drake became a top notch design and personality. 

Here are copies of key drawings featuring Alan-A-Dale from Robin Hood. The rooster casually introduces the film's story: "Oh incidentally, I'm Alan-A-Dale, a minstrel. That's an early day folksinger. And my job is to...tell it like it is...or was...or whatever." 

What a beautiful idea to have one of the instrument's strings break during his delivery (That string is on a different drawing level.) It gives the rooster a chance to react while continuing his remarks. Great drawing...and great acting.

For Milt's character designs of Alan-A-Dale go to this post from a few years ago:

Monday, March 21, 2022

A Lilo Story


I don't think I have ever told this story before. It is a bit personal. But to me it was also kind of revelatory when it happened. 

In 1999 I  was working on the character of Lilo at Disney's animation studio in Orlando/Florida. One evening an acquaintance of mine from LA was visiting, and he asked me to join him for dinner at a Disney World restaurant. At one point during dinner he asked me what I was animating at the moment. I started to describe the sequence pictured here. Nani and Lilo are having a moment in a hammock at night after Nani had gotten fired from her job. Lilo doesn't understand what her sister is trying to tell her. The two of them would not stay together anymore, because the next morning child services would take Lilo. Nani had failed to be a guardian of her little sister. (She was drawn by the great Stephane Sainte-Foi.)

The scene I had just finished animating was when Lilo wobbles from one side of the hammock toward Nani to comfort her. I kid you not when I admit that I got all teary eyed just talking about this moment in the film. My mind went..wowowo..hang on here, this has never happened before when talking about my work. What the heck?

I reflected on this later on and realized that this (fictitious) little character had gotten a hold of me emotionally. And this was the kind of footage you animate from an internal place, almost with tears in your eyes. 

What the heck?

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Styling The Sword in the Stone


Here is an interesting experimental pre-production cel set up for one of the early scenes from Sword in the Stone. The photo shows a lot of cel reflections, but it still makes for some fascinating study.
The color styling is more monochromatic here than in the final version of the film. Wart's character drawing was done by Milt Kahl. His face is more caricatured, particularly the nose. "Walt didn't like the nose, he made me change it" Milt explained to me during one of my visits. 
As I mentioned before, I much prefer this early design, it has more personality. 
Look at these beautiful sketches Milt came up with before he started animation. 

The sequence -like the whole film- had more color variety, based on Walt Peregoy's design concepts. 

Walt Disney was never happy with this kind of color styling, he much preferred a more muted approach. The following feature film The Jungle Book would be painted without xerox lines as part of the background styling. Although the graphic look did resurface in the Winnie the Pooh featurettes as well as the full length productions of The Aristocats and Robin Hood.  

By the way, watch The Sword in the Stone on Amazon Prime. It will cost you a few dollars to purchase the film, but it's worth it. Amazon offers a pristine 4:3 presentation, unrestored. It looks incredible!!

Saturday, March 12, 2022

A Milt Kahl "Book Illustration"


Just recently a copy of Christopher Finch's 1973 book The Art of Walt Disney was offered at an auction in the UK. I love this book. Beautiful oversized reproductions of vintage animation artwork. 

What makes this edition special are the original drawings that came with it. Milt personalized the book with a sketch of himself and a fishing buddy. Here is what the auction house said about this item:

The most interesting aspect here is the fact that Milt refers to author Christopher Finch for not giving him a proper tribute, not "glorifying him" enough. A great artist revealing his bruised ego. 

Milt's photo and section in the book:

Infos about Donald Overfield:

Donald Overfield is a world-recognised authority on the history of flyfishing and its many varied participants down the ages. A well-known contributor and illustrator to the angling journals of this country, America and Scandinavia, author of Famous Flies and their Originators and the man chosen to update the Courtney Williams classic A Dictionary of Trout Flies, he is in the unique position to assess the greatness of G.E.M. Skues and his contribution to the history of flyfishing.
Overfield is a member of the Flyfishers' Club of London, Skues' haunt for fifty-six years, also international director of the Flyfishers Foundation of America and a member of the advisory board of the American Fly Tyers Round Table. He can usually be found, rod in hand, wandering the streams of his native East Yorkshire, when he tears himself away from his Warwickshire study and his continuing investigations into the craft of flyfishing and the artificial fly.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Early Gaston

I have never gotten into storyboarding very much during my time at Disney. I found it too difficult. Staging scenes in continuity doesn't come easy to someone like me who had been focusing on drawing and acting. So I have great respect for storyboard- as well as comic book artists. 

I was part of a small team that started work on the first version of Beauty & the Beast. This took place in London at the Purdum animation studio. Glen Keane was developing the Beast, while I was busy doing research for Gaston. At one point it was time to storyboard a few sequences, all hands on deck. I was very apprehensive at first, but with the help of a few others it became fun in the end. Hans Bacher's color treatment sure added a lot to my board drawings. Here are just a few of them.

Here is a link to a previous post on the early concepts for some of the characters from Beauty & the Beast:

Wednesday, March 2, 2022


Let's celebrate an Ukrainian-American artist who changed the face of animation forever. Volodymyr Peter "Bill" Tytla worked at several east coast animation studios before joining Disney in 1932. 

He became the first animator to deeply internalize his characters' emotions which resulted in a type of drawing and acting that had not been done before. (And many folks say had not been done since.)

Bill stayed at Disney for nine years during which he set the standard for character animation. His work leaves me with an enormous sense of awe. It will live forever.

Here are a few more of his character sketches I have collected over the years. 

My first post on Tytla from 2011: