Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Hidden Gem Sequence...

…in the movie Robin Hood is the puppet show during the song number “The Phony King of England”.
Overall this is a fairly weak section, it contains tons of re-used animation from Jungle Book, The Aristocats and even Snow White. And when the animation is new, it is subpar. 
But…. the little puppet performance, which mocks Prince John and Sir Hiss is brilliant.

To help us go back to Disney during the early 1970s, the photo above is a nice snapshot with some of the key players from this production, Milt Kahl, songwriter/singer Roger Miller, Frank Thomas, screenwriter Larry Clemmons and director Woolie Reitherman. 

Milt got to animate the puppet show, which is surprising, since you might consider this little performance of secondary importance, story wise. But as I mentioned before, when it came to finish a movie, Milt would do whatever was left to do, crowd- or simple continuity scenes. And he would do them darn well. Just look at the feeling of weight he gets into the animation with different sorts of fabric.
The loose shirt bouncing as it hangs on a couple of sticks. Prince John’s head, which is made up of cloth, stuffed with some kind of soft material. The crown is hard and solid, and reacts properly to the movement. The character of Otto is manipulating a green sock, mimicking Sir Hiss beautifully.
Honestly, this is a mini animation masterpiece! So believable and enjoyable!
I also love the staging when Friar Tuck and Otto come up into frame. This could have been a very complicated scene to communicate. They both share a small space in this hollow tree, and they are holding various contraptions. Again…Milt makes it look sooo easy! 

Here is an edited clip, just showing the puppet show:

The final scene shows Robin emerging through the Prince John puppet. Look at how beautifully the shirt reacts as he comes up. Then the heavy crown lands on his head before he takes a little bow. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Designing Cinderella

After my presentation on Marc Davis last Saturday at the Walt Disney Family Museum, his art is still on my mind. Beside animation Marc was involved in many aspects during a film's pre-production phase. He often helped out with story work as well as character, costume and color designs. 
In these drawings Marc simplified the human figure in order to effectively show how a variety of outfits would look on Cinderella. 

Mary Blair's stylized concepts focus on strong graphic shapes and contrasting colors.

An early color model cel showing most of the film's cast. The somewhat unsure line work indicates that more work needs to be done to give the characters a more refined and polished look, worthy of a Disney production. Cinderella is a little short, and the King's Lackey would go through a complete design change.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Albert Uderzo

It must have been in spring of 1995 when I met the legendary Uderzo in Paris. I was working at the time at the French Disney Animation Studio on the Mickey short Runaway Brain. My friend Didier Ghez was able to arrange a visit to Uderzo’s office near the Arc de Triomphe. He seemed to be pleased to meet a Disney animator from a new generation, and I was practically besides myself to come face to face with the artist, whose work had enriched my life in profound ways. 
I remember a few of his rough design drawings framed on a wall of his office. My thoughts were…this is the work of a genius, on par with masters from the Renaissance. I was stunned. We talked for a little while before his daughter and a business associate joined us. (My French was good enough as to not embarrass myself, since I had just spent six months in Paris.) We all walked to a restaurant nearby for lunch, where my French got even better after Uderzo ordered champagne for everybody. He told me how much he enjoyed the movie Aladdin, he especially liked the Genie…”completement fou”!
One of his dreams had always been that Disney would animate an Asterix film. I passed the idea on to Roy Disney, but as you all know, the studio has always come up with its own ideas for animated films. There was one significant thing that came out of this lunch, though. Uderzo had never visited Disneyland Paris (Parc Asterix had been in competition with the American rival), so an official visit was arranged.
I LOVE Uderzo’s work. I grew up with Asterix and Obelix comics long before I saw my my first Disney movie. His drawings are masterful, rich with personality. He is a stickler for detail and historical accuracy. This man drew MY childhood!

A line-up of Uderzo’s characters from the second half of the last century.

Uderzo and his writing partner Rene Goscinny, who passed away in 1977.

Another one of his great strips, Oumpah-Pah. At its core is the friendship of an American Indian and a French officer, called Brussels Sprout, during the eighteenth century.
The master during a drawing demonstration.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Variations on a Theme

While studying book illustrations by Wilhelm M. Busch I discovered a  reoccurring theme.
These three drawings were published in different books at different times.
A elderly man is watching a young woman or a youthful couple passing by. I believe that elderly man is Busch himself, perhaps reminiscing about his youth or discovering he still has romantic feelings toward the young.
Anyway,  these compositions are beautiful. I've been learning so much from Busch about intense drawing, staging and making a storytelling/personality statement.
Love this man's work!

Thursday, September 11, 2014


The Royal Guards in the film Robin Hood are played by rhinos. This was a appropriate choice be production designer Ken Anderson, who came up with all the initial animal versions for the cast of characters. When you look at a real rhino, you find it’s the one animal that resembles an armor plated warrior.

Milt Kahl finalized the design for animation, and as usual they are beautiful looking concepts.
The Rhinos' range of emotions is pretty one dimensional, they are just a bunch of stern, if not too  intelligent, heavies. And that works fine for the movie.

There is this one scene, where one of them actually buys into the concept that Little John, the bear, is a sexy gipsy woman. The Rhino even throws a whistle as he watches Little John sashaying in front of him. Milt came up with these key drawings, giving the Rhino’s mouth some rather loose lips. It’s a funny effect.

Another Rhino appeared as a pretty intimidating executioner.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Odds and Ends

As I am trying to organize my studio space, I came across a few things from my Disney past.
The sketches above are character designs for Queen Moustoria from the 1986 film The Great Mouse Detective. I tried to model her after Queen Victoria. Looking at the drawings now, decades later, I think they are not great, but not half bad either.

These are dog studies for Oliver & Company. Most of them were drawn from life at the studio, the first sheet with motion continuity was drawn from video footage. I have always loved this early stage of production, just doing research. In the end I didn’t do much animation on the film, I think just a handful of my scenes ended up in the movie. This was a time when Roger Rabbit was taking shape in London, and I switched over to that production.

If I remember correctly, I did these pigeon/character drawings AGES ago for Dave Michener. He was helping Ken Anderson during the early 1980s to get a movie called “Scruffy” off the ground. And there was this pigeon character. I don’t remember much about him or the story, but what bothers me is the fact that I drew this pigeon with a thin neck. How weird!  Pigeons don’t have thin necks!

Correction: The pigeon was not designed for the proposed film "Scruffy", instead he was originally a character in "Great Mouse Detective".