Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Cool Heinrich Kley

This is an awesome oil painting by German illustrator Heinrich Kley. I believe it is titled "The Race".
Most of us know Kley from his delicious pen and ink drawings of anthropomorphic animals, delicate nudes or nightmarish visions. But he also did a lot of color work,
some realistic, some set in a fantasy world like this one.
Frank Thomas was a big admirer of Kley's work. After all, Walt Disney and Kley did the same thing: They both showed what implausible characters and situations could look like in a totally believable way.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


Within an early version of "Beauty and the Beast" Belle had a little sister, called Clarice.
I had a lot of fun doing some rough development on this character. Clarice adored her older sister and wanted to be part of everything Belle was doing. When Gaston came by the house, trying to charm Clarice's sister, she did everything she could to be present and listen to the conversation.
I liked this character concept, and one evening I did a lot of drawings trying to show her personality.
Here are a few of those sketches.
By the way, at that time I was also asked to come up with a design for Belle based on the look of a young Ava Gardner.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Fairy Godmother

Look at the strength in this pose above!
What a beautiful thing to study, there is this warm personality combined with a great graphic composition. The Fairy Godmother in "Cinderella" changed quite a bit from storyboard to final footage. Her design used to be more realistic, along the lines of the Stepmother and Cinderella herself. 
I assume it was Walt's idea to enrich her personality by making her act absentmindedly and change her appearance into that of a warm, loving grandmother.
Brilliant actress Verna Felton supplied her voice, and her key scenes were animated by Milt Kahl, equally brilliantly. 
You would think that Walt might have given this character to either Frank Thomas
or Ollie Johnston, who always had a sensitive touch in their animation. 
But Frank had his hands full animating the Stepmother, and Ollie was doing the stepsisters.
It is obvious that Milt was able to do "warm stuff" as well, some of his previous assignments include Pinocchio, Bambi and Thumper.

The following Milt rough animation drawings show dimension and delicacy, especially in the character's face and hands.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Animation Today

It feels wrong to have a post without images, but I lost my tech help for one week, so for now I'd like to share some thoughts with you on the current state of animation.
Recently I had the chance to spend some time at DreamWorks and at Blue Sky Studios.
I found the energy and enthusiasm in both places very exciting. It still feels a little bit odd though to talk to animators who grew up on the films I worked on at Disney. Comments like "I was eight years old when I saw Aladdin, and that's why I wanted to be an animator" make me feel.....old for one thing, but they also flatter me. After all, I was about ten when I saw "Jungle Book", which changed my life.
To know that Disney animated films from the 1980ies and 90ies had the same effect on young aspiring artists is simply incredible.

The work being done at DreamWorks and Blue Sky is beautiful, there will be some great films released in the near future. And I know that Pixar and Disney also have amazing titles coming up.
And yet.......I am waiting for a studio to show the courage for an artistic left turn.
There is nothing wrong with photo realism, which is the current CG style. The degree of caricature might vary a little, but ALL studios and ALL CG films are being presented in this hyper realistic world.
Come on....I need to see something that challenges my imagination more than this!

Hand drawn animation is so much about leaving things out, showing only the essence to communicate something. The line is your tool. The viewer is challenged to accept drawings as living beings, which gets him involved.
I remember watching "The Lion King" stage show for the first time. It has so many wonderful abstractions, you see the puppeteers and the mechanics, there is a joy in being in on the process. (I said this before, I prefer the show over the movie, you don't see any bad drawings.)
Hand drawn animation is similar in that way, you are invited to accept something abstract as being real.

A few years ago my buddy Mike Gabriel at Disney directed the short film "Lorenzo".
Mike asked me to animate on it, but at that time I was assigned to another project.
The pencil animation was done at Disney's AMAZING French studio. When I saw the finished film, I couldn't believe my eyes. A perfect fusion of hand drawn animation and CG treatment. No traditional cel painted look here, rough brush paintings moving with the kind of weight you see in good traditional animation. I honestly thought, this is the future, a new concept for animation.
Unfortunately nobody has followed up on this, for now it's a one time shot.

Some of my last conversations with Frank and Ollie centered around CG and pencil animation. These guys were amazed at this new type of film making with a sense of "what they can't do these days".
Frank Thomas expressed hope though that their kind of animation would survive, because when done well it affects audiences in a unique, personal, special way.

I couldn't agree more.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"No Carrots!"

This scene proves that Milt Kahl was capable of animating most subtle and realistic acting extremely well. 
Prince Phillip has just fallen off his horse Samson into the water, and he is not amused. The previously promised carrots for Samson are not going to be handed out.

Some of you might know that Milt absolutely despised working on the prince. During one of our get togethers I asked him, how he could do such a beautiful job on a character he loathes.
To my best recollection he said: "Well, the character needs to be in the picture, I didn't like the assignment, but you do the best you can."
That's saying something about Milt's work ethics. Whatever goes into a Disney film needs to be top notch. 
The clarity in this scene is awesome. Phillip recovers from the fall, moving forward toward the horse. After Samson picks up his hat he splashes him and then says his line within a final pose. That way dialogue and the subtle raise of his eyebrows read beautifully.
By the way, this is rough animation, which was still traced in clean up for the inkers.

I can guarantee you, this is by far Milt's least favorite assignments out of all the characters he ever animated. Yet…there is absolutely no sign of frustration or lowering standards. Just look at those drawings!
When talking about high standards Milt said: " You owe it to yourself and the medium!".

Those are important words to remember!!!

PS. Blog reader XAV created a pencil test with these drawings. Check it out:

Saturday, April 14, 2012


This is a Fred Moore staging sketch, showing Sneezy (I think) interacting with Snow White.
Here we see Fred's version of the girl, more cartoony than the final model, which of course is much more realistic. It makes you wonder if the animators could have gotten the same emotional range out for the character, using a design like this one.
Come to think of it, this Snow White drawing could very well be a caricature of an employee at the studio. In any case, Fred Moore drew the leading lady very much like one of his famous "Freddy Girls".

Fred set the look for all of the dwarfs and animated many scenes with them, as a group and in single close ups. 
His tour de force character is Dopey, who along with the other six, underwent quite a graphic change, as he developed.
Just compare the early model sheet, already beautifully drawn and full of character, with the finalized design. What an astonishing improvement in appeal.

Dopey turned out to be a real "scene stealer" in Walt Disney's first animated feature.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Robin Hood Roughs

More of Milt Kahl's work for "Robin Hood".
The first sheet shows designs for Maid Marion and Lady Cluck before animation began.
The drawings look like they are just about to "click", meaning they are waiting to be animated in order to establish that perfect Kahl look.
The following Milt roughs were done for an Ollie Johnston segment of the film, the last part of the archery tournament.
Maid Marion seeking comfort from Lady Cluck presents a staging challenge, and Milt's sense for clear silhouette and pleasing shapes combined with the proper emotion helped make this a better scene.
The last image with Robin and Marion could have been problematic in terms of believability.
After all it shows two anthropomorphic foxes being in love. Again Milt's subtle draughtsmanship and sense for appeal prevent this from being a corny situation.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Skippy & Co.

A little late as an "Easter Post",  but I hope you will enjoy these drawings of Skippy, his sisters and friend Toby Turtle from "Robin Hood".
Milt Kahl drew these development sketches based on character concepts by Ken Anderson. At first glance they look like typical Disney formula designs from the 1960ies and 70ies.
But the magic is in the subtle proportions, especially in the faces. The older bunny sister is particularly appealing with her slightly elongated upper muzzle. Without Milt's touch these characters might have looked overly cute and generic.
Actually a lot of scenes in the film, animated by a variety of animators, don't look this good. The acting is ok, but they lack the charm and appeal you see here. 
Then again, everybody knows that Milt's designs were often tough to follow.

The sequencial drawings are from a Kahl scene, they show how he brakes down a fun bunny hop.