Happy Belated Thanksgiving!

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To celebrate Thanksgiving, this Masterpiece Monday I’m featuring a piece of concept art from Pocahontas. This piece features an earlier, younger version of Pocahontas, but more interestingly also shows her petting her long-lost turkey sidekick, Redfeather. In the spirit of Thanksgiving it is Redfeather that I’m going to focus on today, and the story of how Disney almost created a lovable talking turkey character.

The original plan for Pocahontas was for her to have three animal sidekicks, a raccoon, a hummingbird, and a turkey. All three animal sidekicks and Percy, the dog belonging to Governor Ratcliffe, were initially going to be able to talk. Redfeather the turkey was going to be Pocahontas’s bumbling and rather stupid sidekick who was always getting himself into trouble and even ocasionally falling into hunter’s traps (if you’ve seen Moana imagine Heihei with a voice). At some point during the production it was decided that three sidekicks were too much and took the attention away from Pocahontas, so they got rid of Meeko and minimized Flit’s role to a non-speaking part. Redfeather became Pocahontas’s main companion and the go-to character  for comic relief.

Many people don’t actually realize just how close Redfeather came to getting into the final film. Well, he got far enough to have final model sheets made up in 1993. The studio even had a voice actor cast for the role, John Candy, who had recorded a good portion of his lines before the character was cut. There was even some test animation done of Redfeather, in which he talks to Percy who, with the exception of his voice, looks exactly as he does in the final film ( you can watch it here). We were actually very close to having Pocahontas spend the film talking to a turkey.

What happened to Redfeather? Well, after a while the directors felt a talking turkey was too comedic for the rather serious love story the film was turning into. So he was cut from the film and replaced by a more subdued and speechless raccoon named Meeko. All of the instances of animals talking in the film were taken out, to prevent them from interfering with the serious drama going on with the human characters.  With that, Redfeather lost his starring role in Pocahontas and became a part of history, and maybe a part of an animator’s Thanksgiving dinner.

Image Credit: Pocahontas: 10th Anniversary Edition

Happy (Late) Birthday Mickey!

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Today’s Masterpiece Monday is a late celebration of Mickey’s 88th birthday. On November 18th, 1928 Mickey Mouse made his big screen debut in New York in the  short Steam Boat Willie. He was an instant hit and remains a world wide favourite . To celebrate the occasion, I’m featuring a piece of concept art from one of Mickey’s most famous film roles, that of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in the 1940 film Fantasia. There are few people in the world that are unfamiliar with Mickey’s role in this film. He is featured in his Sorcerer’s costume all over Disney merchandise and the Disney Parks. The segment is so popular that it was even featured again in the sequel to Fantasia, Fantasia 2000. The roles  lasting impact over 75 years later is a clear testament to Mickey’s popularity.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to discover who the artist behind this beautiful piece is and that is often the  case with many of the older Disney films. I do know that this comes from one of the earlier periods in Fantasia’s development. You’ll notice that Mickey’s eyes in this piece are plain black ovals, and that his face is white. This was Mickey’s design in animated shorts from before 1940. Since Fantasia was going to be Mickey’s first ever appearance in a feature film, Mickey was redesigned by animator Fred Moore. This redesign involved small tweaks to Mickey’s appearance to make him more expressive sp he could better handle the role of lead in a feature film. This included given him more detailed eyes with both whites and pupils.This redesigned version of Mickey is basically the same version we  see today.

I say this piece of concept art is from Fantasia, but given how early it is, it’s probably actually from what was meant to be a feature length version of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. It would have been largely the same, with the same story and classical music, but longer and on its own.The sequence was the beginning of Walt Disney’s experiments with classical music, and since he made sure to use the finest orchestra and animators it soon became very expensive to make. In fact, it was so expensive it  became impractical to release this extended Mickey Mouse cartoon on its own. Instead, it became one sequence in the “concert feature” of Fantasia.

Happy birthday to the Mouse who started it all, in multiple ways, both for the company, and for one of it’s most famous films.

Image Credit: artofdisney.canalblog.com

 

Another Villainous Masterpiece Monday

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I thought today it might be good to have a look at one of Disney’s most famous villains, the evil dictator Scar. This particular piece of early concept art was created by Joe Grant. It’s part of a set of really gorgeous pieces of concept art he did of several of the characters of the Lion King including Mufasa and some cheetahs. Clearly the graphic style he used in this piece was very much inspired by traditional African art, and although that style really did not transfer to the final film, it is very interesting to see what could have been. You’ll also notice just how early into the characters development this artwork comes from. Although Scar’s major colour scheme is mostly present, he is actually missing the signature scar across his eye that would give go n to give him his name.It seems unthinkable to us to have Scar without a scar, but sometimes what seems natural to us in hindsight doesn’t come  to the animators right away .

Joe Grant, the artist of this piece actually has a very interesting history with Disney Animation. He began working at the studio in the 1930s when he contributed to the character designs of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, and others. He then left the studio in 1949, only to be asked back 40 years later to help with the development of Beauty and the Beast. He then continued working at the studio contributing to the visual designs of Aladdin, Mulan, and of course The Lion King. The last film he contributed to was Fantasia 2000,  making him one of the most influential artists on the studio’s overall history. As you can see from this drawing, his ideas created some of the major elements of Scar’s design, which were then further refined by Scar’s supervising animator Andreas Deja.

So now you know a little bit about this piece of concept art featuring the animated lion dictator we all know and love, Scar.

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

 

An Epic Quest for Truth

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Few people are familiar with the 1985 Disney film The Black Cauldron, and that isn’t very surprising. It’s a film that in many ways Disney wishes people would forget existed. The film was made during what is often referred to as “The Dark Age” in Disney history, the time, in between Walt Disney’s death and the release of The Little Mermaid, when Disney Animation was really struggling to make successful animated films. Suitably, The Black Cauldron is often considered one of  Disney’s darkest and scariest animated films. Nevertheless, I strongly suggest watching the film, which is based on the fantasy children’s book series The Chronicle of Prydain, because it is the focus of my next article.

Despite it’s obscurity, I personally have very fond childhood memories of The Black Cauldron. My family owned it on VHS and I used to watch it all the time, until we switched over to DVDs and could never manage to find a new copy of the film. Yet, I never forgot Disney’s “forgotten” film and always thought of it fondly. About a year ago I bought a digital copy of the film, and I was very excited to watch it and relive some childhood memories. Unfortunately, as we often discover, some films that we remember enjoying as a child, don’t exactly hold up in adulthood, and The Black Cauldron was one of those. It isn’t the worst film Disney ever made, but it has some issues with its story, characters, animation, and editing. These reasons are probably why the film never really connected with audiences and didn’t become an instant classic when it was released. Believe it or not, Disney animators had high hopes for The Black Cauldron, which was the studios 25th animated feature. They believed that it would be the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs of the new generation.

So for my next article I will look at the making of The Black Cauldron both it’s potential to be a great film with beautiful visuals and an edgy story, and the mistakes in writing, character design, and editing that lead to it becoming one of Disney’s forgotten failures. So join me in a few weeks to discover the truth of what really went wrong during the making of The Black Cauldron.

Image Credit: disneyconceptsandstuff.tumblr.com

 

A Jasmine Masterpiece Monday

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I’m trying to do one Masterpiece Monday for every princess, and today I’m focusing on Princess Jasmine from Aladdin.  This sketch of Jasmine is a little closer to the final style of the film than some other pieces of concept art you might find ou there, but you’ll notice it still contains a number of differences from Jasmine’s final design. I am not 100% sure who the artist of this particular sketch is, but judging by the style of drawing and what I know about Aladdin’s animation team, there’s a pretty good chance that it was drawn by Mark Henn or someone who worked under him (don’t cite me as a source on that though).

The first thing I want to point out about this particular drawing is just how young Jasmine looks. Initially both Aladdin and Jasmine were going to be a lot younger than they ended up being in the final film. This was the case until until a day very late in the film’s production that Disney animators still refer to as “Black Friday”. That was the day that Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg watched the story reals for Aladdin and decided the whole thing wasn’t working for him. He told the directors that Aladdin and Jasmine needed to be made into older Hollywood types like Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts and the whole film then needed to be rewritten.It was a pretty devastating event for the animators, one I’ll get more into another time, but the character design changes clearly worked.

Another element of this drawing that I want to discuss is Jasmine’s extremely long full dark hair. It’s the focus of this drawing and many other concept sketches made of the princess.It was  one of the earliest design elements solidified for Jasmine’s character.There is actually a really cute story behind how the animators decided to give her such long, full hair. Jasmine’s supervising animator Mark Henn worked at the animation studio located in what was then called Disney’s MGM Studios in Florida. That studio was nicknamed the “fish bowl” because theme park guests could walk through the studio and watch the animators at work from behind large windows. One day Mark Henn saw a girl with  long black hair that reached almost down to the floor watchinmg him work through the window. He immediately thought that Jasmine should have hair just like hers. And of course that design element, inspired by a random theme park guest, made into Jasmine’s final design.

Hope you enjoy this interesting concept sketch and the little window it provides into the design process for Disney’s 5th princess, Jasmine.

Image Credit: Aladdin:  Platinum Edition DVD