A Mary Poppins Masterpiece Monday

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I decided to do something a little different for today’s Masterpiece Monday post and take a look at some concept art from a live action Disney film. Today’s piece of concept art depicts Mary Poppins and Bert in the “Jolly Holiday” sequence of Mary Poppins. Not everybody realizes that Disney creates concept art for their live action films almost as frequently as they do for their animated films. Although the characters in the film are played by real  people, the costumes, props,  sets, etc all still need to be designed. This is where concept art comes into play. Just like in animated films, concept art for live action films explores the different stylistic  and thematic possibilities for the film. Concept art can also display in a very tangible way the tone the director intends to set for a particular sequence. It helps guide the decisions of the cinematographers, lighting designers,and even editors towards a collective style and tone. Concept art is especially useful for the creation of live action films that move away from realism like Mary Poppins. That is why I find this piece of impressionistic concept art for the film so fascinating, especially since it depicts a scene that would combine live action with animation.

Mary Poppins was intended to be an impressionistic picture-book  depiction of London in the 1910s. The concept art made for the film reflected this goal, as the artists used mainly pastels and crayons as their medium. This technique appeared most frequently in concept art for the “Jolly Holiday”, as the director wanted to keep a chalk drawing quality throughout the sequence. The illustrated version of England was then transferred over into the live action production. The sets were built by Broadway set designers to look like they were meant for the stage. Most of the  backgrounds were then added in later with matte paintings created by Peter Ellenshaw, who again stuck to an impressionistic style for his London streets and skylines.The costumes were made artificially bright and colourful for the era, and the lighting was designed to be anti-naturalistic, reflecting the mood of the scene more than any real life natural lighting sources. All of these elements within the live-action film took their cue from impressionistic pastel concept drawings like this one, just as any animated film would.

The pure fantasy of the film was  furthered with its use of whimsical special effects, especially in its use of animation, both stop-motion and hand-drawn. The stop motion effects were done by Xavier Atencia and Bill Justice. The hand-drawn animation for the “Jolly Holiday” sequence took a lot more people and a lot more work. Using concept art like this  as a guide, bits of live action props and sets were built and then painted to match the chalk-drawing style of the animation. Anything that Mary, Bert, and the children would interact with directly had to be made in real life to look animated. This included big things like the carousel and less noticeable things like the garden gate Mary and Burt walk through. Platforms for Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke to dance on were built and painted to look like a hand-drawn country road. All of these props and platforms were then set up in front of an orange sodium vapour screen, which would not show up on film. The sequence was filmed in front of this set-up, and then later Peter Ellenshaw would add his matte paintings to the footage to create the backgrounds, again guided by the concept art. Finally, the animation would be added in. The animation unit was headed by the Disney veteran Hamilton Luske, while most of the penguin animation was done by one of the “Nine Old Men” Frank Thomas.  When all of this footage was put together, you got a wonderful fantasy sequence that perfectly matches the picture-book style of the original concept art.

So as you can see, when it comes to Disney live-action films, the concept art isn’t just gorgeous to look at, but also as integral to the production process as it is for animated films.  Hope you enjoyed this look at the “Jolly Holiday” sequence of Mary Poppins. Keep an eye out in the coming days, I’m hoping to announce the theme of my next full-length article very soon.

Image Credit: The Walt Disney Film Archives. The Animated Movies 1921–1968
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Another Mulan Masterpiece Monday

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I initially planned on featuring a piece of concept art from a different film in today’s post, but due to technical difficulties with my DVD player I have to postpone that post until next week. Instead, I am writing this rather last minute about a film and a character I know extremely well and could talk all day about, Mulan. I have  previously featured concept art of Mulan by Mark Henn in this post, but today’s concept art depicts a very different Mulan from the earthy, athletic girl seen in Henn’s drawing. This beautiful sketch of a graceful and feminine Mulan holding Cri-Kee was done by Disney character designer Chen Yi Chang.  Despite how different Chang’s design looks from the ones created by Henn, both artists’ sketches were equally important in contributing to the development of the complex character of Mulan.

Chen Yi Chang was an incredible asset to the design team for Mulan because he was born and raised in Taiwan, an thus had a stronger grasp on Chinese culture and art than many of the other crew members. In fact, the directors of Mulan, Tont Bancroft and Barry Cook, sight him as the film’s most influential artist. He drew character designs for not just Mulan, but all of the characters in the film. For Mulan’s design he took inspiration from soft s-curve design element often found in classical Chinese art, especially in depictions of running water. You can see this element in this particular drawing in her elegant willowy silhouette. This same soft elegance appears in her arms and their flowing sleeves, her thin, almost branchlike hands, and her long curtain of hair. Chang also took inspiration from elements of  classical Chinese art in Mulan’s facial features. Her features are based on those of idealised women in Chinese paintings, a round face with almond shaped eyes, willow-leaf eyebrows, and cherry blossom lips. Even Mulan’s pose in this picture has a sense of grace and femininity to it, a sharp contrast from the Mark Henn drawing I featured in my previous Mulan post.

I wouldn’t say that this concept drawing depicts a version of Mulan that is really that much of a departure from the character in the final film. Many think of Mulan as the “tomboy” Disney Princess or the Disney Princess that rejects traditional femininity altogether. That’s not entirely true. Mulan’s character really contains the perfect balance between traditional masculine and feminine qualities, both Yin and Yang. I  feel it is important to point out the fact that when Mulan defeats Shan-Yu and becomes the hero of China, she does so neither while disguised as a man in armor nor in her ultra girly matchmaker dress, but rather in a simple blue dress while using a fan and sword as weapons. Mulan does not fully reject womanhood, but rather changes the definition of womanhood away from the traditional Chinese qualities of weakness and silence towards intelligence and strength. This is why Mulan’s final design is really a blend of both Mark Henn’s athletic “tomboy” and Chen Yi Chang’s classical Chinese beauty.  She has both the sturdy muscles of Henn’s drawings and the delicate s-curve silhouette shown in those of Chen-Yi Chang. That’s actually a large part of what makes Mulan my favourite Disney princess.

I hope you enjoyed this look at one of Cheng Yi Chang;s character designs for Mulan. Personally I find Mulan’s concept art fascinating in regards to gender studies and feminism, which is why I devoted an entire chapter of my dissertation to her. Next week I should have the technical difficulties with my DVD player sorted out and will be featuring a very interesting piece of concept art which I had hoped to feature this week.

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

A Zootopia Masterpiece Monday

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As I’m sure you know, Zootopia recently won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It also recently had its first anniversary. Because of this, I thought I would feature a piece of concept art from the film in today’s Masterpiece Monday.This concept art was created by Zootopia‘s Art Director of Environments,  Matthias Lechner. It features a location that was deleted from the film, an amusement park called “Wild Times”  that was owned and operated by Nick Wilde. This concept art not only brings attention to a very interesting discarded early plot for the film, but also shows just how much attention was put into the details of the unique locations within the city of Zootopia.

The “Wild Times” theme park played a significant role in an earlier version of the film in which Nick, not Judy was the main character. In this version, Zootopia was a more dystopian city with a very blatant prejudice against predators. Prey animals ran the city and feared predators so much that they forced them to wear shock collars meant to tame primal urges like excitement and anger.  Nick created this amusement park to allow the predators to enjoy their more primitive urges and be free of their collars. The entrance was a fake medical clinic that contained a tunnel that lead to the park. Once they arrived, Clawhouser, who in this version was one of Nick’a friends, would remove the animals’ collars and allow them to enjoy the park free from the fear of being shocked. Although the park made Nick a lot of money, it was also illegal, and eventually Nick would have been arrested, which is where Judy came into the story. This version of the film was discarded for being too cynical and depressing, no one wanted to root for Zootopia to become a better, more accepting place because from Nick’s point of view, it was already horrible. Instead, the optimistic and naive Judy became the main character so that the audience could better see the good in Zootopia.

What I like most about this piece of concept art  is how it showcases one of the best aspects of Zootopia, the clever ways its environments are designed. Zootopia is a city built by animals for animals, and so the design of all the buildings had to reflect that both practically and stylistically. “Wild Times” is located in the Rain forest District of the city, and so it’s design reflects it’s location with its use of trees, both real ones and ones made of neon lights. The film’s crew studied a wide range of real cities for inspiration for Zootopia, and as a result it became a unique hodgepodge of many different styles of architecture.  The design of “Wild Times” was very clearly inspired by the bright lights of Las Vegas casinos. The inside of the building was also designed to reflect the fact that predator animals would spend their time there.The park’s main attraction was the “Roar-a-Coaster” which went both inside and outside the building. There were also games to test animal’s bite  strength, a whack-a-mole, a cat-apult, and even a ball of yarn pit. A huge amount of detail went into designing “Wild Times” to look like an environment that real anthropomorphized predators would go to for thrills.

It’s a shame that this wonderfully detailed and clever environment was never used to its full potential, but if you look closely you can see the theme park in the background during some parts of the film. In the end, the story worked better with out it, and it was not the only incredibly cleverly designed location within the film. Still I hope you appreciated this look at this gorgeous concept art for the deleted “Wild Times” theme park in Zootopia

Image Credit: www.matthiaslechner.com

A Black Cauldron Masterpeice Monday

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Now that I’ve finished featuring one piece of concept art for each Disney Princess, I thought I’d feature one of Disney’s forgotten princesses, Princess Eilonwy from The Black Cauldron. I’ve written a full article on the film previously, but disclosed very little about the princess within it. In fact, I originally intended to include this particular piece of concept art in the article, but eventually had to cut it. This early piece of concept art was drawn by Disney legend Andres Deja in pencil and magic marker. Just like so many of the pieces of early concept art I featured in the larger article, it displays a character design that would have made the princess a unique and intriguing character within the film.

This concept sketch comes from extremely early in The Black Cauldron’s development, and from extremely early in Andreas Deja’s career. Before he was hired by Walt Disney Animation, Andreas Deja heard about the studio’s plans to make a film out of Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydian book series. He was immediately attracted to the idea, and began making character sketches for the film which he then submitted to the company as part of his portfolio. This sketch of Princess Eilonwy was one of the ones he submitted. The studio liked his character designs so much that they not only hired him as an animator, but also seriously considered using his submitted designs for the film. While ultimately his designs were rejected, Deja became a very important member of the film’s crew.  He initially worked alongside Tim Burton on the film, translating Burton’s unique monster ideas into a more typical Disney style of animation. After Burton’s departure, Deja became one of the film’s main animators, contributing more final animation drawings than any other crew member. His experience on the ill-fated Black Cauldron eventually helped Andreas Deja  become one of the most accomplished animators at Walt Disney Animation Studios. He eventually went on to animate characters like King Triton, Gaston, Jafar, Scar, and Hercules. So this early sketch of Princess Eilonwy ended up leading Deja into a very long and fruitful career with Walt Disney Animation.

In this drawing and in many other early concept drawings, Eilonway looks much more like a servant than a princess, like Cinderella and Snow White in their rags, especially compared to her final design. This design actually follows the character’s description in the original books very closely. In the books, the princess is described as having reddish blonde hair, as she does here, not the light blonde she has in the final film. In the book series Eilonwy is almost always barefoot, again as she is in Deja’s concept drawing, but in the film she wears flats throughout. Although she is a princess, Eilonwy is being kept prisoner in the Horned King’s dungeon, so a dirty and shabby dress actually makes sense for her character. There is even a line in the final film where the Horned King implies that he has been making her work as a scullery maid, which would have made much more sense had she been dressed like this. This scullery maid dress lasted all the way up until the rough model sheets were made for the character, but ultimately, Eilonwy was made to look cleaner and more princess like in the final film. She was given a dress similar to Briar Rose in Sleeping Beauty and hair in the colour and style of Alice in Alice in Wonderland. Although Eilowny’s design was made to fit in better with the Disney women and girls who came before her, I’ve always admired how Deja’s designs stuck closer to the character’s depiction in the original book.

I hope you enjoyed this look at a discarded design for Disney’s “forgotten” princess, Princess Eilonwy. Who knows, maybe in the future when Disney makes a live action version of the Chronicles Prydain  they’ll look to Andreas Deja’s character design drawings for inspiration.  

Image Credit:http://andreasdeja.blogspot.com/2016/02/a-blast-from-past.html