An Edna Mode Masterpiece Monday


As I’m sure you all know, The Incredibles 2 was just released in theaters. As some of you may also know, Edna Mode has recently become a huge part of my life. I thought that it was only fitting that I feature a piece of Edna concept art in a Masterpiece Monday post. I choose this particular piece by character designer Teddy Newton because I think it really highlights the  1960s mod aesthetic the film’s art stylist was going for, especially in Edna’s look and environment. It also serves to highlight one of my favorites of the many real life people who influenced the character of Edna Mode, legendary Hollywood costume designer Edith Head.

Much of the inspiration for the art style of The Incredibles came from the extremely bold and graphic mod art and fashion movement of the 1960s. While this influence is very obvious in the film’s various sets and backgrounds, it also appears in the character designs. The goal of the animators was not to create realistic characters, but to create graphically interesting ones that fit the mod art style. Each major character’s design was based on different combinations of very bold shapes. Character Designer Teddy Newton’s artwork played a large role in creating these shape combinations. Instead of traditional sketches,  Newton would often create little collage figures made out of bits of magazines and scrapbook paper cut into abstract shapes, as you can see in this piece of artwork. This allowed him and the rest of the film’s character designers to just focus on the colours, textures, and shapes used in the collage without getting too wrapped up in the messy details of a full character sketch.Then, when Newton did move on to creating a full sketch of the character like this one of Edna, he would be better able to incorporate the bold, graphic style of the collage. Teddy Newton’s collages thus helped all of the film’s  artists create graphic 1960s caricatures for the film.

So where did the inspiration for Edna’s specific character design come from? There are a surprisingly large amount of answers to that question. It seems the film’s director, Brad Bird cites a new source of inspiration every -time he is interviewed about her. One of the clearest sources of inspiration displayed in this concept drawing is the legendary Hollywood costume designer Edith Head. Edith Head designed costumes for the film industry from 1924 to her death in 1981, and in that time she won a record 8 academy awards for best costume design, although her hey-day was very much in the mid-century.  She designed some of film’s most iconic costumes for some of the biggest superstars (here’s a link to Head’s wikipedia page for more on her career and some fantastic photographs of her). From Head, Edna gets her iconic thick-framed round glasses, her jet-black hair, and blunt bangs. The resemblance between Head and Edna is even stronger in this design sketch as it also incorporates Head’s classic skirt suits and many elements of her facial features. Other important sources for Edna’s design include actress Linda Hunt, who shares a haircut and many facial features with Edna, as well as Vogue editor Anna Wintour and stylist Polly Allen Mellen who influenced her attitude and shrewd sense of fashion. Brad Bird also took inspiration from a meeting he had with Bette Midler, who he discovered was much shorter than he expected her to be, because her explosive personality always dominated the screen. She gave him the idea to make Edna a very short character, but to squeeze a big, dynamic  personality into her little body. Brad Bird and his creative team took inspiration for Edna Mode from a variety of other sources as well, and these are just some of the highlights. Perhaps in a future post I will discuss some of the others in more depth.

There is so much more I could say about The Incredibles and Edna Mode. Edna is such a fascinating and unique character within the Pixar pantheon. Even her name is fascinating, having been inspired by a piece of computer software called “Emode”. But those are all stories for another article. Until then, I hope you enjoyed this look at the fantastic work of Teddy Newton and the many women who helped to inspire Edna Mode.

Image Credit:

A Mermaid Masterpiece Monday


Some of you may be aware that the month of May is referred to as Mermay among various art communities on the internet. It’s a month to celebrate mermaids, and I thought I’d do so with a post of my own. While Ariel is the most famous Disney mermaid, I personally  think the feisty mermaids from Peter Pan are very under-appreciated. This gorgeous concept painting by the famous Mary Blair does a perfect job of highlighting those vain otherworldly girls in J.M. Barrie’s tale. Although Mary Blair’s work did serve as a major influence on the art style of Peter Pan, this painting serves as a much more colorful, fantastic, and childish representation of the mermaids. than the traditionally seductive sirens in the final film.

I’ve discussed Mary Blair’s work many times on this blog, but I don’t think I’ve ever featured a piece of artwork that captures the whimsical, childish style of her art work as well as this piece of concept art does. While the mermaids are clearly the vain creatures of J.M. Barrie’s story, Blair gave them a child-like innocence that recalls her later work on Disneyland’s It’s a Small World, a ride which ironically also features mermaids. While Mary Blair’s childish mermaids did not make it into Peter Pan, you can clearly see echos of the It’s a Small World mermaids in this concept painting. The setting of this painting also shows off the abstract modern-art inspired style Blair loved to use. Just look at the interesting lines of the sea-weed and blockey shapes of the rock-work. Walt Disney loved this element of her work, and was always disappointed that his animators found it too difficult to work with and used a more traditional style of setting and character design for Peter Pan instead. Also on display  is Blair’s innovative use of bright and unusual colors. Who other than she would have thought to paint the mermaids with pastel green, pink, and blue skin? While the mermaids in the film ended up having normal human skin tones, much of Mary Blair’s unique color style can still be seen in the film. All of the vibrant and unusual colors found throughout the backgrounds in Neverland were heavily influenced by Blair’s concept paintings. Peter Pan ended up being the last animated Disney film Mary Blair worked on, and although her version of the mermaid’s did not make it into the film, Peter Pan was not without her influence.

If the mermaids in Peter Pan were not based on the designs of Mary Blair, then who’s designs were they based on? The mermaids in the final film were actually designed and animated by Fred Moore. Fred Moore is considered one of the greatest animators in Disney history. Some of his most notable work includes Mickey in Fantasia, the three little pigs, and the seven dwarfs. Moore had a reputation at the Walt Disney studios for more than just his work in animation. He was also famous for his “Freddie Moore Girls”, drawings of scantily clad and nude women. The girls in his drawings embodied an intriguing combination of innocence and seductiveness that made them coveted treasures for both his co-workers and modern day collectors. It was these drawings that motivated Walt to put Moore in charge of designing and animating some of the studios more risque characters, including the centaur women in Fantasia, the bobby-soxer girls in Make Mine Music, and the mermaids in Peter Pan. Moore designed the mermaids in his signature style, combining sensuality and innocence  in a way that’s rather fitting for the childish yet dark story of Peter Pan.  Moore used adult actresses and dancers June Foray, Connie Hilton, and Margaret Kerry as live models for the mermaids. Their curvaceous figures were a far cry from the short childish torsos of Blair’s mermaids. Unfortunately, Peter Pan ended up being the last film Fred Moore worked on, as he died tragically in a car crash in 1952.

While Mary Blair’s designs for the mermaids are interesting and whimsical, Fred Moore’s sultry mermaid designs ended up being a fitting final tribute to his legacy at Walt Disney Animation Studios. Personally, I can’t say whose character designs I prefer, both have their merits. Instead, I’ll leave it up to you decide which look you prefer for
Disney’s darker mermaids.

Image Credit: The Walt Disney Film Archives. The Animated Movies 1921–1968

An Aristocats Masterpiece Monday


The Aristocats is one of my absolute favourite Disney films, but up until now I have not featured any art from the film in a Masterpiece Monday post. This is mostly because  there is very little art work or information released to the public. There is however some beautiful character concept art out there by Ken Anderson. This piece of the 3 kittens is particularly adorable and is very telling about what the development process was like for the film. As it was the first film made after Walt Disney’s death the film’s crew was left without their main guiding creative force and the budget for animated films was tight. This left Ken Anderson and the rest of the animation team with some unique and interesting challenges to face.

Although The Aristocats was released after Walt Disney’s death, it was not entirely without his influence. The film began as possible live-action segment for The Wonderful World of Color based on a children’s book that live-action producer Harry Tytle and director Tom McGowan proposed to Walt Disney in 1962. Walt liked the story idea very much, and had several story suggestions for the live-action segment, but for some reason the idea was eventually shelved. In 1963 Walt reexamined the script for The Aristocats  and decided to retool the segment as an animated film directed by Woolie  Reitherman. While Walt was alive, the plot of The Aristocats was very different from that of the film we know today. Not only did Edgar have an accomplice in his plan to kidnap the cats, a maid named Elvira, but his plan was not the main focus of the film. The pairs’ schemes were merely a comic side plot. Instead, Walt wanted the film to focus on Duchess’s struggle to find the perfect new home for her kittens. A place where each of their unique talents would be appreciated and flourish. He felt that by featuring a mother’s struggles to let her children go and grow up and her desire to see them be happy, the film would have the emotional heart it otherwise lacked. Unfortunately, when Walt died in 1966, things changed for both The Aristocats and the studio.

After Walt’s death those high up in the Studio’s leadership began to doubt whether animated films could still be profitable enough to outweigh their high production costs. Some began to even think that it was better to just shut the studios animation division down altogether. This put a lot of pressure on The Aristocats and Woolie Reitherman. The goal became to make a cheap animated film that would make a lot of money quickly. Unfortunately, in order to do this a lot of interesting and artistic ideas had to be sacrificed. Elvira the maid was one of the first to go, allowing Edgar to become the main villain of the film. Unfortunately, along with her went a lot of really good bits of comic business between the two partners in crime. Walt’s emotional plot about Duchess trying to find new homes for her kittens also got the boot. Instead, Reitherman wanted to focus on the Edgar kidnapping plot, making the film into an action-adventure comedy that followed the same model as 101 Dalmatians, a film that was huge box-office success. Several wonderful song sequences for the film written by the Sherman brothers were also cut for cost, and because they no longer fit the new less emotional tone of the film. Many of Ken Anderson’s wonderful character designs for the cats were also drastically changed in order to make animating the characters cheaper. Anderson had drawn O’Malley as a striped tabby cat, and this design went so far as to even make it into character models. Yet, Reitherman dropped this design because stripes were too difficult to consistently animate, and so his fur was changed to a simple orange and white pattern. As you can see from this and other sketches of Anderson’s, he designed the three kittens to be quite fluffy, especially Marie. They were initially modeled upon Persian cats. Such fluffy fur was again considered too difficult and expensive to animate and Anderson’s character design sketches became less and less fluffy over time. By the final film, Duchess and her kittens had gone from high class Persians to simple American short-hairs.

While this Ken Anderson drawing obviously shows some of the various name changes that took place during the development of The Aristocats, with context it helps expose some of the many other changes that took place. What Walt once envisioned as a heart-warming musical comedy about a mother and her kittens, became a broad action-adventure comedy about a catnapping Butler. The interesting characters that Ken Anderson drew in his sketches became brightly colored, simplified, easy to animate cats. These changes ultimately  helped the studio turn a profit  and save the feature animation division. Still, one has to wonder what Walt Disney and Ken Anderson’s combined vision for the film would have been like.

Image Credit:

An Emperor’s New Groove Masterpiece Monday


I’m sorry posts are so infrequent lately. Work keeps me very busy, but I’m trying to post as much as I can. Today, I thought I’d write a little bit about a Disney film that went through some of the most drastic changes during its development process. Believe it or not, this dark, dramatic, piece of visual development art was for the film that would eventually become The Emperor’s New Groove. At this early point, the film was known as “Kingdom of the Sun”. It was a far cry from the irreverent comedy that we know today as it had a completely different plot, and several characters that didn’t make the final film.  We’ll never know if “Kingdom of the Sun” would have been better than The Emperor’s New Groove, but it is certainly interesting to learn about what could have been.

The original idea for “The Kingdom of the Sun” was conceived by the film’s original director Roger Allies. After his enormous success with directing The Lion King, animation department heads Tom Schumacer and Peter Schneider asked Allers to come up with another film idea to direct for the studio. They suggested possibly look at making a film set in South America, and Allers immediately took this idea and ran with it. He began researching the ancient Incan society and decided that it was the perfect setting for a film. Eventually, Allers came up with the idea for a dramatic musical that was loosely based on Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper.  The basic story and characters of Allers’s “Kingdom of the Sun” were quite different from the final film. The conceited young emperor we know as Kuzco was called Manco, but was still voiced by David Spade. Pacha, on the other hand, was a much younger peasant, who looked exactly like Manco and would have been voiced by Owen Wilson. The two men would have switched places temporarily so that Manco could experience freedom away from the palace and Pacha could know what it’s like to be rich. Yzma would have been a villian who in her youth was the beauty of the kingdom, but had since grown old, wrinkly, and bitter. She would have made a deal with a dark spirit who would bring back her youth and beauty if she could get the emperor to perform a ceremony to blot out the sun. In this version of the film, when Yzma finds out that Manco and Pacha have switched places she, with the help of her sidekick , the stone talisman Huaca,  turns Manco into a llama and blackmails Pacha into performing the ceremony. Added to this rather complicated main plot, were two romantic side plots. At the beginning of the film Manco was to be betrothed to a woman named Nina who hated the arrogant emperor, but  falls in love with his new softer self, whom she doesn’t realize is really Pacha. Manco on the other hand, falls under the care of a llama herding girl named Mata whose sarcastic, down to earth personality and refusal to deal with Manco’s ego would have taken him down a few pegs, while also causing him to fall in love. As you can see, “Kingdom of the Sun” was a much more complex and serious drama than The Emperor’s New Groove. 

Unfortunately for “The Kingdom of the Sun”, Disney’s more serious films, Pocahontas and Hunchback of Notre Dame did not do as well in the box office as executives wanted them to, so they were very wary of doing another serious dramatic musical. When animation heads  Tom Schumacher and Peter Schneider went to screen the film’s completed story reels, they ended up hating the film. They thought the pacing of the story was way off and the Prince and the Pauper storyline felt like it had been done way too many times before. So they sent the films crew off to try to hurriedly fix the problems in time for the film’s looming 2001 release date. To help Allers along with making these changes, Schneider and Schumacher found him a co-director, Mark Dindal. The two directors began to change things, cutting most of Sting’s songs, deleting Huaca, adding Kronk, and making the film’s plot a bit closer to that of the final film. Another test screening was done, and executives realized that the two director’s styles were not meshing properly. The scenes Allers had taken charge of were still very dramatic and emotional, while Dindal’s scenes were very comedic and silly. The executives told the two directors that they liked Dindal’s scenes better and they wanted the rest of the film to go more in that direction. After this screening, Allers realized the film was no longer going to be anything close to his vision, and so he left the project. That left Dindal and his crew with a very limited amount of time to turn “Kingdom of the Sun” into the film we know as The Emperor’s New Groove. 

Obviously this dark, dramatic, and very Incan inspired piece of concept art by John Watkiss comes from the early, Roger Allers lead version of “Kingdom of the Sun.” While I have no way of exactly what scene this art work depicts, if I had to guess I’d say it would’ve been an early scene of Manco, or the scene of Pacha at the ceremonial sacrafice. We will never know if “Kingdom of the Sun” would have been better or worse than The Emperor’s New Groove, but it certainly is something interesting to think about while looking at this visual development painting.


Image Credit: Design: Walt Disney Animation Studios: The Archive Series

A Nutcracker Masterpiece Monday

fish sm


With all the Christmas stuff going on in my life during the past couple of weeks I have heard a lot of music from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker.  The Nutcracker holds a special place in my heart because I was in the ballet many holiday seasons as a child. My absolute favorite part of the ballet is the “Arabian Dance” divertissement. So today I’m focusing on the “Nutcracker” segment of Disney’s Fantasia. I will be specifically looking at the part of the segment featuring dancing fish set to the “Arabian Dance” music. This beautiful pastel piece of concept art by an unknown Disney studio artist served as a major piece of inspiration for the ethereal dancing fish in the film.

The “Nutcracker” segment of Fantasia was meant to be the last and grandest of the many Silly Symphonies featuring dancing nature that Disney Animation had made in the past. It was initially going to be entitled “Ballet des Fleurs” and was invisioned as the ultimate nature ballet. Yet, it would be the most modern and abstract flower ballet the studio had produced up to that point. The segment was guided in design by 3 major artists from the visual development and story departments of the studio. These were Bianca Majorie, Sylvia Holland, and Ethel Kulsar. Their art depicted the various flowers, plants, and animals in a highly impressionistic manner. They drew in bright pastels against contrasting black backgrounds. Especially influential to the team was the work of Edgar Degas. This beautiful ethereal pastel drawing of an almost glowing fish perfectly expresses the aesthetic that the visual artists and story artists envisioned for the “Nutcracker” segment of Fantasia.

Walt Disney fell in love with this pastel impressionistic style created by the visual development and story artists. He especially loved the ethereal translucent quality of the Arabian dancer fish’s tails. He wanted this effect to replicated as closely as possible on film. This made bringing the fish to life no easy task.  The “Arabian Dance” sequence was animated by Don Luske. Luske already had quite a bit of experience animating fish, as he had previously assisted Eric Larson in animating Cleo in Pinocchio. Although the music comes from a ballet, Lusk studied the dancing of belly dancers in order to capture the seductive movements of the fish. He even brought a professional belly dancer in to the studio to sketch. Once Lusk was done with his animation, it was time for the Ink and Paint department to replicate the glowing, diaphanous effect of the pastel concept art. To do this the women used a special dry brush technique when painting the fish to give their tails the filmy quality of a belly dancer’s veil. The effect on film is mesmerizing to watch, though oddly enough Lusk hated it. He thought the effect should have been done through double exposure, and that the dry brushing wasn’t smooth enough and made his animation look jittery. Even today at the age of 104, Don Lusk insists that the “Arabian Dance” sequence would  have looked better had double exposure been used.

Despite Lusk’s opinion on the final result, I find the “Arabian Dance” sequence to be beautiful. His animation of the slowly undulating tails of the fish is nearly hypnotizing and matches Tchaikovsky’s music perfectly.  The air brush paint technique, well not perfect,does a fantastic job of making the fish’s skin practically glow and their tails appear  gauzy. It’s a unique style of animation that is fascinatingly beautiful to watch even 78 years later. And it all started with beautiful pastel visual development drawings like this one.

Image Credit: Taylor, Deems. Fantasia. (1940).

A Ratatouille Masterpiece Monday



I realise that I hardly ever write any posts about Pixar films, and I really need to work on that. So today I’m writing about Ratatouille, a film that has a special place in my heart for two reasons. The first is because the film was released on my birthday, and I went to see it that day to celebrate. The second, is because I love Disneyland Paris, and I love the Ratatouille ride they have there, and I can’t wait for Epcot to get their own version. Today I am featuring this beautiful color key painting created by  Ratatouille‘s product designer Harley Jessup. If you do not know what a color key  is, I featured one in this previous post (oddly enough also about a film taking place in Paris). While some color keys don’t stand very well as a piece of art work on their own, this particular one does. It also draws attention to the important role that color plays  in Ratatouille. 

Harley Jessup has worked as a Production Designer for many Pixar films. Besides Ratatouille he worked on Monster Inc, Toy Story 2, Up, Cars 2, The Good Dinosaur, and most recently Coco. While working on the design of Ratatouille, Jessup had an idea for how to use color in the film to reflect Remy’s desires. Jessup studied many live-action films set in Paris as well as photographs of the city itself and discovered that the city had a very warm, yet muted overall color scheme. He decided to take advantage of that color scheme’s symbolic abilities in the film. In his color keys he made the colours of Paris look warm and inviting, full of chocolaty browns and muted oranges and pinks.  In contrast, the world of the rats  were full of cool-based colors. This served the purpose of creating contrast between these two world, while also making the human world look as desirable to the audience as it is for Remy. As a rat with cool, grey-blue fur, Remy also stands out noticeably from his warm-toned human surroundings, no matter how much he wants to be a part of them.  You’ll notice this contrast between the warm-colors of the human Paris and the cool colors of the rat Remy displayed to full effect in this particular color key.

Besides this focus on warm versus cool color contrasts, there was also a focus on contrasting the neutral, muted colors of  the environment surrounding the characters with the bright saturated colors of the food Remy loves to cook with. Gusteau’s kitchen actually has a very limited neutral color scheme. It has a black and white floor, white walls black stoves, and gray tables. On the other hand, the food in the kitchen is all bright reds, greens, oranges, and even purples. This makes the food they are cooking become the real focus of each shot. It also makes all of the food more pleasing and inviting to look at, as they add a splash of spice to the otherwise muted color pallatte of the film. You can again see that effect in this color key.  Most of the background in the painting is made up of browns, grays, and blacks. The vegetables, painted in bright saturated  red, greens, purples, and oranges, pop out from the background and look beautiful in contrast. The food becomes the most visually pleasing object in the painting, and thus in the sequence of the film as well.

Food is often a very challenging thing for animators to make look appealing with CG animation, but thanks to the work production designer Harley Jessup did in in creating the film’s color scheme, their job was made a little easier. The colors of the environments he created also helped to draw the audience into Remy’s own perspective. This color key, along with the others Jessup painted for Ratatouille helped to illustrate to us and to the film’s production team the important role color plays in an animated feature.

Image Credit:



A Wendy and Tiger Lily Masterpiece Monday



Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the girls of Peter Pan and how they are often overshadowed by the much flashier Peter. This really disappointing to me, as they’ve always been my favorite part of the story. A lot of people do not even realize that Wendy Darling is the film’s main character, as the plot focuses on her story and her decision to grow up. To help rectify this misconception, I thought I’d feature a drawing of two of the girl’s of Neverland, Wendy Darling and Tiger Lily. This drawing was created during the early 1940s when the film was meant to be released soon after Pinocchio.  At this time, the film was styled on the concept art of  one of my favorite Disney artists, David Hall, whose Alice in Wonderland concept art I featured in a previous post. Although this particular drawing was not necessarily created by Hall himself, it certainly follows the style and tone of his concept art for the film.

One thing you may notice about this particular piece of art is that it is much darker and more full of shadows then any other scene in the final film. Much of Hall’s concept art, and the art made by other artists working on the film at the time, is like this. Their art brought out some of the more mature themes that had often gone unnoticed in this children’s  story. In particular they made the scenes with the pirates especialy frightening looking, a far cry from the silly comedic fellows in the final film. This piece of story art is part of a set of story boards illustrating the scene in skull rock. The moody drawings heavily feature horrifying skeletons and show a menacing looking Captain Hook cloaked in shadows. Even this drawing showing Wendy helping save Tiger Lily from drowning features dark moody lighting and in a clear sense of danger in the image of the waterlogged Tiger Lily.

You have probably also noticed how much younger Wendy and Tiger Lily look in this drawing compared to in the final film. This was true of all the children in Hall’s concept art. While the final version of Peter Pan appears to be just on the verge of preteenhood, the Hall inspired version had a young and impishly cherubic face. Disney’s Wendy Darling has a face and a body poised just on the verge of womanhood. David Hall’s version of Wendy appears much younger, with a shorter, more girlish  figure, a round face and eyes, and hair in childish pigtails. Even Tiger Lily, whose final design is one of the closest to the David Hall designs, appears much younger in this drawing. Her face did not yet have the sophisticated exotic features she would gain in the final film. These youthful character designs contrasted sharply with the dark shadowy settings Hall designed for the film. This would have really heightened the danger and adventure of the situations the children were in. Had it been made, Hall’s version of Peter Pan  would perhaps have presented the story in a new light.

While the characters and story inspired by Hall’s concept art never did come to fruition, they came awfully close. Model sheets for the character were mad up in the very early 1940s and maquettes for this version of several of the characters, including Wendy, can be seen in the behind the scenes tour portion of The Reluctant Dragon. Then World War II hit the U.S., and plan’s for the film were halted. When production started back up on the film in the 1950s, Hall no longer worked as a concept artist at the studio, and Mary Blair’s art became the animators’ main source of inspiration instead. Though I love Peter Pan the way it is, a part of me can’t help but wonder what this earlier, darker version of the film would have been like.

Image Credit: The Walt Disney Film Archives. The Animated Movies 1921–1968

A Final Big Hero 6 Masterpiece Monday


Today is the day! It’s the release day of Big Hero 6: Baymax Returns. It’s also time for me to cover the 6th and final member of the Big Hero 6 team. Last, but not least, I have chosen to feature concept art of Hiro, the leader of the team and protagonist of the film. Like Hiro, the artist of this particular piece of character design art, Lorelay Bove, played an  important role in the development of the film. Bove was a visual development artist for the film, but most of her art work seemed to have focused very specifically on the characters. She created multiple pieces of concept art for every major character in the film, and did plenty of work on Hiro. Many of her co-workers  credit her with creating distinct yet unified outfit designs for all 6 members of the super hero team.

When I look at Lorelay Bove’s concept art for the film, more than anything I think about costume. Bove seems to have an innate sense of how a character’s clothing style and even the coours they wear help define their  personality to the audience. Some of her concept art shows a broader variety of possible outfits, and thus possible personalities, for each character. These sets of drawings would show the character with very different hairstyles, completely different outfit styles, and in the earlier stages of the film, even different faces.  Other’s are more like this concept art of Hiro, focusing on the very fine details of what a character would wear. While all three of these possible outfits for Hiro remain in the same sloppy teenage-boy vein, each little tweak highlights a slightly different kind of  personality. Although the decision over whether Hiro should wear a hoodie or flannel shirt and sweatpants or shorts may seem simple, Bove’s art shows how the film’s production team put thought into every little detail of their characters. Notice also how Bove uses this piece of concept art to experiment with which colours would work best for Hiro’s clothing. Choosing character colour schemes was another important task she fulfilled on the film. She is credited for coming up with the final colour scheme of every team member’s super-suit. She choose bright, vibrant colors that best expressed  each character’s individual personality, and yet managed to compliment each other in an interesting yet unexpected way.

As sloppy and casual as Hiro’s final design looks, a lot of effort went into designing a authentic looking fourteen year-old boy. In many ways, Hiro was very unfamiliar territory for Disney.  For starters, he’s the companies first mixed-race protagonist. The film’s production team chose to make Hiro half Japanese, half white to fully embody the overarching east-meets-west design concept they had been shooting for in the film’s art. It also allowed many of members of the film’s team to use Hiro to reflect their own experiences growing up as Asian-Americans. Disney animation also does not often feature teenage boys as their main characters, and thus Hiro presented a challenge for many of the film’s character designers, story-artists, and animators. They had to make him look appealing to audiences, without falling into the trap of making him look too cutesy. They spent time observing real teenage boys in their lives, like their sons and younger brothers, and also actual gifted teenage boys. They found that many  gifted kids often look extremely disheveled as they were too focused on their activities to worry about combing their hair or putting together matching outfits. So they did the same with Hiro, putting him in slightly mismatched clothing that mostly consisted of t-shirts, hoodies, sweatpants, cargo shorts, and sneakers. They also gave him unkempt hair that proved a real challenge for their hair simulation programs in it’s random looseness. In the end Lorelay Bove and the rest of the film’s crew came up with a rather authentic looking depiction of a teenage boy and science prodigy in Hiro.

There you have it, the last in my series of Masterpiece Monday posts featuring members of the super heroes of Big Hero 6. I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them. Big Hero 6: Baymax Returns premieres tonight on Disney Channel and Disney XD and serves as the pilot for Big Hero 6: The Series. I am so excited to watch it and spend even more time with these fantastic characters.

Image Credit: The Art of Big Hero 6


A Lady and the Tramp Masterpiece Monday


The Silver Era is without a doubt one of my favorite eras for animated films and I constantly find myself looking at all of the beautiful concept art created for the films of that era. Lady and the Tramp is without a doubt one of the  best of the era, and I felt it was time I give it some attention. While looking around for concept art for the film, I was shocked to discover a series of beautiful paintings by background artist Eyvind Earle. I, like most people, more strongly associate him with his work on Sleeping Beauty. I had no idea he also played  a large role in creating Lady and the Tramp. It turns out Earle was the main background artist for the “Bella Note”  sequence of the film. Now that I know, it  seems obvious to me that Earle’s beautiful concept paintings, like this one had a huge impact on the sequence in the final film.

Walt Disney actually asked Earle to design and paint the backgrounds for the “Bella Note” sequence while he was already hard at work on the long process of designing Sleeping Beauty. Walt wanted a romanticized and almost impressionistic setting for the film’s key love scene and knew Earle was the perfect man for this job. Earle began this task by painting a series of small concept paintings depicting different moments and backgrounds he thought should be included in the film. Many of these paintings depicted romantic moments between Lady and Tramp as this one does. Other paintings showed other romantic pairs of animals within the park, whose love was to reflect that of Lady and Tramp. Still others depicted the beautiful natural nighttime environments of the park that surrounded them. Earle then used these concept paintings to help him create the scene’s backgrounds. He used his signature bright and bold colors, but stuck towards cool blues and greens next to bold sections of black to create a magical moonlit night. His trees and plants are highly detailed with stylized knotty bark, further creating a more impressionistic feeling to the only natural setting in the film. He also stuck to the simple geometric shapes on very clear horizontal and vertical planes that were his trademark. His unique background style stood out in great contrast from the more soft, sunny, idealized backgrounds of the rest of the film, which were designed by children’s book artist Claude Coats. Eyvind Earle’s work made the romantic moments between the two dogs a clear key moment in the film that audience members would remember long after they left the theatre.

I’m so glad I discovered some of Eyvind Earle’s concept art for Lady and the Tramp and found out what an important role he played in the film’s production. Now that I know that he worked on the “Bella Note” sequence, it is quite obvious to me upon re-watching the film. All the hallmarks of his style that would later show up in full force in Sleeping Beauty years later are present within the scene. This new knowledge really enhances my enjoyment of the film, especially that particular sequence, and I hope it will do the same for you in the future.

Image Credit:


A Villainous Masterpiece Monday


Since Halloween is this week, I knew I had to feature a villain in my Masterpiece Monday post. I’ve decided to write about one of the villains that frightened me the most as a child, the Hag from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I am certainly not alone in my childhood fears of this evil character. Upon the film’s initial release in 1937, children found her so frightening that the frequently wet the theatre seats. She has continued to terrify children for generations since then. This particular piece of visual development art depicting the Hag rowing across the castle moat is especially eerie.  It was created by animator Sam Armstrong, who went on to create the actual mist effects in this scene.The painting is very reminiscent of the Grim Reaper paddling down the River Styx. It is associations with classic horror elements like the Grim Reaper that help to make the Hag so terrifying.

Very early on in the film’s development, the suggestion was made to make the Hag a comical caricature of a villain. The hope was that this would make it easier for the animators, who were not yet skilled at animating the human form. This idea was experimented with in a few drawings, but quickly rejected. The Hag, just like the Evil Queen needed to look entirely evil in order to make Snow White’s plight truly compelling. This did not necessarily mean the Hag had to look like a realistic human character. She was made grotesque in appearance and flamboyant in action. She was animated mostly by Norm Ferguson, whose previous animation claim to fame was another villain, the Big Bad Wolf in the short The Three Little Pigs. The Hag’s design borrows elements from many a classic Grimm’s fairy tales illustration. Yet, she also contains subtle elements of the Evil Queen’s design, creating continuity between the villain and her disguise. The Hag represents a release of the previously stoic Queen’s true villainy. As the Hag she can show her glee in her evil doing, There’s a mirth in her big round eyes as she creates the poison apple and a pure joy in her frequent cackles. The Hag is truly the terrifying Jekyll to the Queen’s reserved Hyde.

Jekyll and Hyde actually served as a important source of inspiration for the Queen/Hag’s role in the film. While storyboarding the transformation scene in the film,Walt often referred to it as a “Jekyll and Hyde” moment. The animator’s may have even have taken some inspiration from the transformation scene in the 1931 film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde , where Jekyll’s transformation is shown through the use of a spinning camera and superimposed flashbacks. Other horror films of the time may have also influenced the Hag’s many gruesome scenes. The shots showing the hag’s shadow along the dungeon walls  recall the vampire from the German Expressionist film Nosferatu. The scene of the Hag creating the poison apple in a cauldron recalls various adaptations of Macbeth. The most gruesome scene in the entire film seems straight out of a horror film itself. The moment when the Hag kicks the skeleton and taunts it’s former thirst was considered so horrific at the time that Walt ordered an alternate version of the scene without that moment created, in case the censorship board took issue with it. It is these gruesome acts of villainy committed  by the Hag in the film that made her so terrifying to me and thousands of other children.

Given her her horror film pedigree and the talented animators and character designers who helped create her, is it any wonder that the Hag has continued to terrify children for nearly 80 years? She is a fascinating character in her gruesomeness, and truly a member of the Disney villain elite. Hope you have a happy Halloween.


Image Credit: The Fairest One of All: The Making of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs