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.