Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Last Two Character Panels

These are the last panels that were part of an exhibition at Disney Feature Animation a few years ago. I will never forget the opening, the guests of honor were Marc Davis and Ward Kimball.
And everybody loved to study these oversized rough animation drawings.
To come up to this quality of design and personality today would be a real challenge.

There will be more specific posts on some of the featured characters in the near future, like Pinocchio, the cast from Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Prince Phillip.

Disney pencil animation rocks. Big time.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

John P. Miller


His colleages at Disney called him Jack. He worked at the studio between 1934 and 1942 as a story and Vis Dev artist -exraordinaire!! 
Probably his most famous accomplishment is his work on the short Baby Weems, which was part of Disney's Live Action/Animated film "The Reluctant Dragon" from 1941.
Walt must have been so impressed with Miller's work that he invited him to join "El Grupo" for the now famous trip to South America, where a few Disney artists studied and sketched local art and folklore as research for a variety of upcoming short films. Other members in that group included Frank Thomas, Mary Blair, Lee Blair, Herb Ryman and James Bodrero.
To find out more about that trip and its significance in wartime history watch Ted Thomas' fantastic film "Walt & and El Grupo"  It is available on Amazon :

But back to Baby Weems, which is unique in that it's story is told by showing Miller's storyboard sketches only. There is a very limited amount of animation on the screen to add a little flair.
Joe Grant and Dick Huemer wrote the story treatment, and the whole thing works beautifully without being fully animated.

Below is a sampling of Miller's story sketches, they rank among the best ever done at the studio.
Everything comes together here, simple charm, irreverent humor, great staging and some exraordinary line work.

Go over to Michael Spoorn's blog, a while ago he posted an article on J.P.Miller, written by the one and only John Canemaker for ASIFA magazine. It's a must read, and shows some stunning artwork.
Here are the links for part one and two :

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Shere Khan and Kaa

These are a few more examples that show the transition from story sketch to animation.
In other words, you can see how the animator got inspired by the story artist's work and then plussed the scene by improved staging and drawing.
I believe the story sketches are by Vance Gerry (Floyd Norman might be able to confirm that).
The animation of course is the work of Milt Kahl. I traced and combined all character levels on to one drawing. The whole sequence is almost like limited animation, often the body is on a held cel while only the head moves.

This high level of imagery, for the moment, is a thing of the past. It represents a blend of Character Animation and Fine Art, because the animator was deeply interested in both!
There is plenty of realism here, but a ton of abstractions as well. The designs are stylized, but remain very accessible at the same time. There is almost no way you could simplify the tiger's body any more. Everything is boiled down to an essence, every line has great meaning and communicates beautifully.
And the staging is as solid as a rock. Anatomy, caricature, weight, perspective and entertainment for sure.

The last image just kills me. How can you draw an extreme stretch like this one on the snake and still have it come off as plausible and believable? Yet one more inch and Kaa's head would pop off.
This set up also reminds me of a Henry Moore sculpture. Sophisticated but simple organic shapes and forms that work in three dimensions. (Milt had actually met Henry Moore).

A real high in Disney Animation.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Eduard Klablena

A few years ago I went to Vienna for vacation, I love that city.
To see originals works by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele up close in local museums was worth the trip alone. But an unexpected discovery made my trip even more special.
While exploring narrow streets near the city's center I came across a gallery which showcased the most beautiful ceramic sculptures of animals. ( A few fantasy creatures as well ).
The artist was Eduard Klablena, someone I had never heard of. He lived from 1881 until 1933. Klablena worked in Germany but mostly in Austria, where he was a member of the prestigious Vienna Workshop (Wiener Werkstaette).  
The sculptures' poses are rich with animal character,  and the glaze finish on them is just incredible. Some of them remind me the old Disney maquettes that were produced in Joe Grant's model department. Full of charm and life.

You never know what you discover when roaming the streets of European cities.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Young Kimball

Last Saturday I attended an outdoor screening of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in the heart of Hollywood, it was organized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
I was asked to introduce the film to an excited family audience.
When I raised the question who had never seen this movie before, I saw quite a few hands going up from little children and a few from teenage boys, 
who -no doubt- accompanied their girlfriends to the screening.

What a great way to watch Snow White for the first time, on the big screen.

As the movie played along, and the seven dwarfs appeared on the screen, for some reason I thought of Ward Kimball, whose terrific Soup Eating Sequence had been cut from the film. It was eventually shown on a Disney TV show, but in cleaned up form.
When you study Ward's rough drawings though, you see the real genius behind the pencil.
There is an exuberance here, in the drawings and the animation. Which shows how much he got involved with the material. The squash and stretch is pretty extreme, but it really adds to the scene's appeal.

In the following rough keys Happy takes a sip of soup and then reacts rather strongly.
This is ONE beautiful scene, done by a very young animator.

A few years later Ward is working on Casey Jr. for Dumbo. He also drew a model sheet of the train engineer, a caricature of himself.  That character didn't make it into the final film either….
But that's part of the animation process, not everything you draw will end up on the screen.
And I am speaking from experience  ; )