Happy Halloween!!!


Is there any better Disney film to discuss on Halloween than Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas? Today’s featured piece of concept art is a collection of  drawings of Jack Skellington done by Tim Burton himself in the very early planning stages of the film

Something many people don’t realize is that Tim Burton is not just a skilled director, he is also a very talented artist and in fact started his career as an animator at Walt Disney Animation. While he was still an animator at Disney, Tim Burton wrote a poem called “The Nightmare Before Christmas” that would eventually become the famous film. After writing this story, Burton began making little sketches and doodles, both in his free time and while he was working on other projects, of the man character of the story, Jack Skellington. These experiments with Jack’s expressions and  his ability to take off his head were part of that very early doodle phase. Eventually Tim Burton left Disney (the reason for this will be covered in an article in the very near future) and took his ideas for the film with him.

After establishing himself as one of Hollywood’s top directors, Tim Burton was finally able to return to his idea for The Nightmare Before Christmas and he turned back to Disney for help. He began fleshing out his original story, adding new characters and sketching out his ideas for all of them. The rest of the film’s creative team would then use those sketches as their base to create the final designs for the character, first making more detailed drawings, and finally creating the full stop-motion puppets. Throughout this whole process Tim Burton constantly offered his own input, making sure the characters came as close as possible to his unique artistic vision.

So there is the very brief story of how one animators doodles of a tuxedo wearing skeleton became a classic Halloween character.

Image Credit: Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas: The Film, the Art, the Vision



A Villainous Masterpiece Monday


A very brief Masterpiece Monday today, because I am in Disney World again. Since Halloween is fast approaching, I thought I’d take a look at a piece of concept art featuring a Disney villain. There are few villains more famous than Ursula from The Little Mermaid, and I found this concept drawing of her particularly creepy looking.

Unfortunately, this is another piece with an unknown artist , but it clearly comes from very early in The Little Mermaid‘s development. As you can see, Ursula  looks nothing like she does in the final film. It took the animators a very long time to come up with an octopus as the sea witch’s final form. They first tried a number of other sea creatures. She started out as a normal mermaid, but then became a spiky poisonous lionfish. For a while she had long claws as you can see in this drawing. Slowly the animators started to experiment with giving her tentacles, first in her hair, and eventually on her lower half as in the final film. Finally, as you can see, Ursula was originally designed as a very skinny and bony woman similar to Cruella,  before she eventually became the plumper sea witch that appears in the final film. All of these former versions of Ursula were frightening, but I find this particular drawing to be the scariest of them all.

So there is a brief look into the designing of one of Disney’s most famous villains. Hope your all excited for Halloween next Monday, I have a special “nightmarish” Masterpiece Monday in mind.

Image credit: disneyconceptsandstuff.tumblr.com

A Cinderella Masterpiece Monday

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There have been quite a few live-action Disney remakes made in the past couple years, and there is only going to be more in the future. To be honest, I have mixed feelings on these films, but I can’t deny that they do make an effort to really acknowledge the  films that came before them. This piece of concept art from the 1950 version of Cinderella sort of proves that.

This concept art is from sometime in the 1940s, and though I don’t know the artist for sure, judging by the style it is possibly by Bianca Majolie. Majolie did much of the early work of designing Cinderella’s ballgown in her watercolour paintings. Although the film was meant to be set in a fairy tale land sometime in the 19th century, contemporary 1940s and 1950s fashions played as much of a role in designing Cinderella’s ballgown as 19th century fashion did, if not more. This is made clear by this concept art. Cinderella’s hair is a classic 1940s style, especially with the curled up bangs that almost resemble victory rolls. The off the shoulder neckline of her dress is also a classic feature of late 1940s formal gowns. Even her make-up is straight from the period, with boldly arched eyebrows and bright lips. Though this was not Cinderella’s final design, the influence of contemporary fashion on her wardrobe remains apparent in the final film.

Anyone who has seen the recent live action version of Cinderella will know that this costume design and hairstyle look remarkably similar to the ones used in that film. The costume designer for that film, Sandy Powell, clearly kept the older animated film in mind when she was designing the costumes. While I have no proof that she looked at this particular piece of old concept art when she was designing, or any old concept art, it wouldn’t surprise me. I do know that she looked more towards both 1940s and 1950s designs and 19th century designs for inspiration in order to pay homage to the 1950 version of the film. In doing so she managed to land upon a design that is remarkably similar to this piece of concept art actually drawn in the 1950s.

So thanks to this piece of concept art , you now have a little better idea of how some of the recent live action remakes make an effort to pay homage to the original animated films. Let us hope this continues in the future.

Image Credit: Cinderella Platinum Edition DVD

A Possible New Feature?: Trailer Thursday

I’m trying out a new weekly feature today called Trailer Thursday. I find the way Disney films have been marketed over the years fascinating. Between the original trailers from 70 years ago to the newer release trailers there’s always something to be remarked upon in just how the film was presented to the audience. So for Trailer Thursdays I will simply present a YouTube video of a trailer for a Disney film, either a theatrical release or a home video  release. I hope you find them as enjoyable as I do. To start, here is the original 1937 theatrical trailer for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.


Aquarela do South America: The Research Trip Behind Saludos Amigos

Often, when Disney decides to base one of their animated films on a specific country or culture they organize a research trip to help gain information and inspiration. This practice goes all the way back to the days of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs when, knowing he was about to make a film about the German fairy tale, Walt Disney took a vacation in Europe with his wife Lillian. These days the research trips are more of a corporate affair, with the studios arranging for the directors, producers, writers, animators, and other crew members to travel together on guided tours throughout Norway, China, Greece, or whichever country their film is set in. One of the most famous of all these Disney Studio research trip is the tour of South America Walt Disney took with 16 other staff members in 1941. Unlike other research trips, this was also part of an important political mission that Walt was sent on by President FDR, which marked the beginning of Walt’s frequent recruitment for help by the government during WWII. It also had a significant impact on the studio, helping Walt and others escape a difficult political climate at the studio and significantly impacting the work of many of the artists on the trip. Despite it’s unusual significance to American politics, like all Disney research trips this one eventually resulted in a film, the obscure and unique 1943 film Saludos Amigos. Marking the beginning of the era of package films, Saludos Amigos consists of four separate short cartoons inspired by different South American countries. What really makes this film interesting is that the four shorts are connected by 16mm home movie footage of the actual trip to South America, making it a film that is essentially about the research trip that was used to find inspiration for the film. It’s an interesting relationship that I find epitomized in this J.P. Miller drawing of Mary Blair sketching children in Peru, sketches which would then influence the “Lake Titicaca” short in Saludos Amigos.


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A Ballet Themed Masterpiece Monday

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Some of you might be aware that World Ballet Day took place last week, so as a late celebration I’ve decided to give today’s Masterpiece Monday a little ballet spin to it. Though Fantasia has never exactly been my favourite Disney film, I really appreciate the fact that both the “Nutcracker Suite” segment and the “Dance of the Hours” segment are so strongly routed in the culture of classical ballet. Today’s particular piece of concept art comes from the famous “Dance of the Hours” segment and it’s of the ostrich ballerina featured in the animal ballet. As she’s one of the more obscure Disney characters, many people are probably not aware that the ostrich prima ballerina actually has a name, but she does. She is officially called Mademoiselle Upanova (say it out loud and you’ll get the joke). Today I’m going to give her her due by discussing this beautiful concept painting done by an unknown Disney studio artist in pastels.

One aspect of this concept art I really love is how it’s actually an extremely subtle parody of classical ballet in itself. There’s probably something about this piece of art that seems familiar to some readers, right? That’s because it was actually based off of a famous painting by Degas, “Dancer Taking a Bow”. The pose, the use of pastels, the soft colours are all meant to parody Degas’s painting. Degas was actually one of Walt Disney’s favourite artists, he was also incredibly famous for his paintings of dancers. So it makes sense that the Disney studio artists would look toward Degas for inspiration. It also plays into the themes of the “Dance of the Hours” segment which in itself is a brilliant parody of classical ballet with it’s graceful but absurd animal ballerinas. Look at Mademoiselle Upanova with her big feet and long ungainly legs and compare her to the dancer in Degas’s painting, and you’ll realise the satire in the animated segment of the film is captured brilliantly in just this one concept painting.

She may not be the ballerina of Degas’s painting, but I hope you enjoyed this brief look at Mademoiselle Upanova and the beautiful pastel concept painting done of her during the production of Fantasia. Someday in the future I expect to do a larger article on the surprising amount of influence classical ballet had on the artists that worked on Fantasia,  including a look at the real professional ballerinas that helped create this ostrich prima ballerina.

Image Credit: Hippo in a Tutu: Dancing in Disney Animation by Mindy Aloff

A Hercules Masterpiece Monday


Today’s Masterpiece Monday features a very early piece of concept art for Meg and Hercules. This concept art is from so early in the production that it may even have been created before Gerald Scarfe came to influence the style of the film. What I particularly like about this piece is that it seems to really strongly capture the two character’s personalities and their relationship together even at this early stage.

Honestly I don’t know as much about this piece as I would like, but I will fill you in on what I do know. This concept art was drawn by Andy Gaskill, who was the art director of Hercules. His main job was to make sure all the artists worked together to create a coherent style for the film, even when they had to incorporate a variety of very disparate art styles. He also frequently drew concept art himself, often to help this unifying process along. This was an especially important job in the early stages of the film’s production when they were still experimenting with styles and character designs.

There are two particularly interesting elements I would like to point out in this character design concept art. First, this particular version of Hercules is an interesting one. This version was meant to be a blonde blue-eyed bronzed version of a the stereotypical “Greek god” who would have worn very little clothing. At some point they decided that this version made Hercules seem a bit arrogant and decided to change his design into a buff and handsome guy who also had a bit of dorkiness to him. Meg’s design is also very interesting. This is the only concept art I’ve ever seen that shows Meg dressed in black instead of purple or white as most of the others do. Also notice the tiara-like headpiece she is wearing. Although I’m not 100% sure, it seems this is from a brief period in the film’s development where Meg was actually going to be a princess.

So there you have it, a little bit more about this wonderful piece of Hercules concept art by Andy Gaskill.

Image Credit: http://disneymoviesandfacts.tumblr.com/post/43212439670/i-noticed-some-questions-about-meg-being-part-of