Merry Christmas!

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Merry Christmas everyone! Today I’m sharing a piece of concept art from a Christmas classic, Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Isn’t this concept art of Scrooge in his house just gorgeous? I’m not 100% sure who the artist is, but judging by the technique used, the style of the drawing, and what I know about the short’s production, I’m going to guess it may have been either Michael Peraza or Don Griffith. The technique used to create this concept art, and all of the art in the film, is actually pretty incredible. It was based on a combination of old-fashioned printing press techniques and the xerox techniques used on 101 Dalmatians  and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The technique is a little complicated to explain, but basically the artists hand-drew everything in special ink pens, xeroxed the drawings onto a new piece of paper, and then filled in all of the lines with watercolours. As you can see the final product created by this complex technique is stunning, and perfect for a story that takes it’s roots from the Victorian Period.

The story of how Mickey’s Christmas Carol came about is also a fascinating one. In the 1970s, Walt Disney Records created an audio retelling of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol using the voices of famous Disney characters. The star of this record was Donald Duck’s uncle, Scrooge McDuck, who had been previously featured in Disney comics. He was voiced by the Scottish co-writer of the record, Alan Young, who would go on to be Scrooge’s official voice until his death last year. One day Disney storyman Burny Mattinson heard the record, and asked Disney CEO Ron Miller if he could make it into a short film. He was given the green light to make the project and work began on adapting the classic tale as the record had. Of course, some changes were made for the film version, especially to the cast of characters used to to play the roles of the ghosts. While in the record Merlin from The Sword in the Stone played the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past, Jimminy Cricket from Pinocchio  took over the part in the film version. In the record, the role of the Ghost of Christmas Future was played by the hag from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but in the film the role was recast and given to a different villain, Pete from the original Mickey Mouse cartoons. These changes were made for style reasons, as the realistic animation of Merlin and the hag would have stuck out like a sore thumb next to more cartoony characters like Scrooge. Soon a team of animators were chosen to bring these classic characters to life, many of whom went on to be some of the biggest names in animation. Mark Henn, one of my favorite animators, took on the task of animating Mickey Mouse,  Glen Keane animated Willie the Giant, and  even John Lasseter contributed. This crew of very talented animators helped make Mickey’s Christmas Carol the popular classic that children everywhere watch every Christmas season.

Hope you enjoyed learning a little bit more about this classic Disney short film. Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa! and Happy Holidays!

Image Credit: Heritage Auctions https://comics.ha.com/itm/animation-art/mickey-s-christmas-carol-uncle-scrooge-mcduck-concept-art-walt-disney-1983-total-2-items-/a/7122-95014.s
Bibliography: Peraza, Michael. ‘Mickey’s Xmas Carol’. Ink and Paint Club.

A Toy Story Masterpiece Monday

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Sticking with the December toy theme I started last Monday, today I’m looking at a piece of concept art from Toy Story.  This particular piece of concept art was created by character designer Bud Luckey, who was one of the first crew members to star working on the film. This depicts a very early character design for Woody, it comes from a time before he was  a pull-string toy.I always love art that shows just how far a character had to come before they went from an idea on paper to the finished product we see on the screen, this is a great example.

This early version of Woody was not the doll we know today, but rather an old-fashioned ventriloquist’s dummy. If you look at these drawings, Woody might look a little creepy to you, possibly even mean or evil in design. That part of the design was partially on purpose. This version of Woody also had a completely different personality than the design in the final film. He wasn’t the good hearted leader of Andy’s toys that he later became. Instead he was a bit of a tyrant, who liked to order around the rest of Andy’s toys. He was also very self-centered, especially in his interactions with Buzz. In some cases in the early drafts of the script he was just a down-right jerk to most of the other characters. Eventually the directors realized Woody was such an unlikable character, that you didn’t want to root for him, which is a major problem for a film’s main character. He needed a complete makeover.

So Woody became a friendlier character, a kind leader of  the toys who mostly had their best interests in mind, although he was clearly still capable of making mistakes. The creepy ventriloquist dummy was discarded in favor of a kinder looking new design that made Woody an old-fashioned pull-string toy. This idea was actually based on a pull-string Casper doll that John Lasseter himself had as a child. The new design and personality clearly worked better for the character, and eventually became the final design that ended up in Toy Story. 

So there’s another example of how many of the character’s we know and love today, didn’t start out anything like their current selves. The development of an animated character’s design and personality is a long and interesting process, and I hope you enjoyed this brief look at Woody’s transformation from jerky puppet to heroic doll.

Image Credit: Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum:  https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/136253091/

A Fantasia 2000 Masterpiece Monday

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While the “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” segment of Fantasia 2000 isn’t exactly Christmas themed, It has always reminded me of  the holiday season. I think the toy ballerina and the tin soldier  remind me of The Nutcracker ballet, and after doing some research I discovered that there is actually a ballet version of  “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” that some ballet companies perform as an alternative to The Nutcracker during the holidays. So with that in mind I thought I’d feature concept art from that segment of Fantasia 2000 in today’s Masterpiece Monday in preparation for Christmas. I unfortunately have not discovered the artist that created this particular piece of concept art, but you can see a signature with an H in the corner of the piece. It features character designs of the two main characters in the segment, the Tin Soldier and the Toy Ballerina and captures them beautifully in soft romantic colours.

This particular segment of Fantasia 2000 was loosely based on the story of “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” written by fairy tale writer Hans Christian Anderson. Just like the Hans Christian Anderson stories of “The Little Mermaid” and “The Snow Queen”, “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” was a story Walt Disney had looked into adapting as far back as the 1940s. At the time, Walt had plans to create a live-action biopic of Hans Christian Anderson’s life, with animated segments depicting his various fairy tales scattered throughout the film .Concept art for “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” segment was made, but when the biopic never came to fruition they were stored in the Animation Research library. That’s where director Hendel Butoy found them and decided to turn the story into a segment in  Fantasia 2000.

This particular piece of concept art reflects the romantic style the animators were trying to create for the story. They looked to the works of famous painters like Caravaggio and Rembrandt to inspire the style of the two toys, but kept the colours soft and romantic, unlike the rather dark works of those paintings. They tried to give the short a timeless feeling, which was especially important to achieve once it was decided to make the two toys Disney’s first ever CG lead characters. Since these two characters were going to be put against hand drawn backgrounds, they had to look like classic animation while still showing off the new technology. Which is why getting the characters designs to blend those two styles in just the right way was so important.

Hope you enjoyed this piece of concept art from the “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” segment of Fantasia 2000 and a little bit of the history behind it. Good luck to everyone with your Christmas shopping.

Image Credit: disneyconceptsandstuff.tumblr.com

 

 

Awaking the Living Dead: The Lost potential of The Black Cauldron

Over the years, The Black Cauldron has been called Disney’s forgotten film, Disney’s biggest flop, and the film that Disney doesn’t want you to remember exists. While I wouldn’t go so far to say that the film is terrible, it is definitely no Beauty and the Beast. The sad thing is, The Black Cauldron was actually Disney’s 25th animated feature and a film many thought was a potential masterpiece. The film was based on an extremely popular and exciting series of children’s books written by Lloyd Alexander.  Much of the initial visual development and character art was created by artists with unique styles like Mel Shaw, Mike Ploog, and Tim Burton. Their designs were absolutely beautiful and would have led to a visually stunning film had they come to fruition. The film was also going to be technologically cutting-edge, using a variety of new animation techniques created by Disney’s very experienced Visual Effects animation department. So what exactly happened? This was another very chaotic time in the Studio’s history. The famous Nine Old Men who had made most of Disney’s classics were in the midst of retiring while a new crop of very green and very excited animators from Cal Arts were just coming in. At the same time, the company’s executive branch was in the midst of a shakeup, with Walt Disney’s son in-law, Ron Miller, being replaced as head of the studio mid-production. These problems higher-up lead to problems in the films development. A lack of communication and experience coupled with a struggle between those who feared the company going in new directions and those who wanted to push the boundaries of what a Disney film could be lead to the chaotic mess that is The Black Cauldron. My goal in this article is to help explain the complicated development story of the Black Cauldron and how it went from a film with the potential shown in the gorgeous visual development art below, to the lackluster product Disney tries to push into the shadows.

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A Frozen Masterpiece Monday

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Since today is the first Monday of December, I thought I’d give today’s  post a bit of a winter theme. Today’s featured concept art is from Frozen and was created by Claire Keane. As I mentioned in some of my posts on Tangled I absolutely adore Claire Keane’s art, she is probably my favorite artist to ever work at Walt Disney Animation. This piece of Frozen concept art is just as amazing as the work she did on Tangled, the characters are incredibly delicate looking yet they’re also extremely detailed, and I love the huge variety of blues she used in these wintry characters. It’s unfortunate that Frozen was the last film she worked on for Disney before going off to work on her own projects.

This is obviously a piece of concept art from very early in the film’s development. Anna’s design does look largely the same as did in the final film, but at this point the film closely followed Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, so Anna was actually called Gerda during this time period. Elsa’s character, or really the Snow Queen also sticks closely to Hans Christian Anderson’s original story. This design comes from a time when she was still considered the straight forward villain of the story and had no relation to Anna. There were many different versions of vileness Elsa/ Snow Queen created. This particular version with her tall, thin, statuesque figure and ice blue skin was supposed to be reminiscent of a glamorous and dramatic  old-school Broadway divas. There were even early talks about having Bette Midler voice the character. The queen’s clothing was going to be incredibly showy and reminiscent of theatrical costumes, as you can see here. Also notice the live mink hanging around her neck. She was actually going to have an entire winter coat made up of her live pet minks (both extravagant and incredibly creepy). According to Claire Keane, she fittingly based most of her designs for the Snow Queen on the character of Auntie Mame from the musical and film Mame.

Eventually “Let it Go” was written, which sparked a huge change in the development of the character of the Snow Queen/ Elsa. She became Anna’s sister and eventually became one of the heroes of the film. The blue-skinned diva queen and all of her concept art was entirely banished to the archives. Although the directors clearly went the right way in changing Elsa to the character we know today, you have to admit that this version of the Snow Queen was a very interesting idea.

Image Credit: www.claireonacloud.com