A Jungle Book Masterpiece Monday


Today’s Masterpiece Monday post is going to be a short one as I am currently hard at work researching my Atlantis: The Lost Empire article. I am featuring a sketch from The Jungle Book, a film which is admittedly not very high on my list of well-liked Disney films. In fact, the only scene in the film I really like is the final scene, where Mowgli sees Shanti and is instantly fascinated by her. That is why I choose to feature a sketch of this scene in today’s post. It is partially a character sketch used to experiment with the design of Mogwli and Shanti, but is also a story sketch, used to illustrate an idea for one of the key moments in the film. It was drawn by Ken Anderson, one of the story artists on the film who also had a history of serving as an art director as well.

Shanti was not a character in the original Rudyard Kipling novel, she was actually invented by Walt Disney  while trying to come up with a way to end the film. While the original script for the film, written by story writer Bill Peet, followed Kipling’s book very closely, Walt found it too dark for a Disney film. Peet ended up leaving the studio and Walt got together a new group of story writers, including Ken Anderson. He instructed them to use the characters from the book in their script, but to discard the plot entirely. The animators ended up working on the film from the middle out, starting with the sequences featuring fun characters like Baloo and King Louie, and then figuring out how the story would begin and end. When they did finally start animating the film’s end, the story writers got stuck. The characters they had created were so fun no one could come up with a good reason for Mowgli to want to leave the jungle. Walt came up with the idea of having him become smitten with a young girl  which causes him to follow her into the man-village. The story writers and animators hated the idea, they thought it was a cheesy and cliche ending that would feel tacked on. Eventually, they can to realise it would be a satisfying ending, so long as it was handled carefully.

This drawing depicts a very different possible direction for the scene than the one that ended up in the final film, a version that probably would not have worked as well. It would have been more broad and comical, showing Mowgli  unaware of how to interact with a human girl. The final version of the scene is more subtle about Mowgli’s attraction. One of the most important ingredients for creating a sense of subtle sincerity of this scene was Shanti’s song “My Own Home” written by the Sherman Brothers. Composer George Bruns wove the song’s melody into the score throughout the film to foreshadow the ending, giving the feeling that everything in the film had been slowly leading up to that moment. The song was sung by child actress Darleen Carr, who was at the studio working on another film at the time, and had a beautifully haunting voice that Walt loved when he heard it on the song’s demo. The final sequence, animated by expert animator Ollie Johnston, tied the perfect bittersweet bow onto the end of the film.

I hope you enjoyed this brief look at my favorite character in The Jungle Book and now better understand the importance of her brief role in the film.


Image credit: The Walt Disney Film Archives. The Animated Movies 1921–1968

A Research Expedition



I know it’s been a while since I’ve written a full length article, but I am happy to announce that one should be posted in the near future. Since wrapping up my article on the Black Cauldron I have been undergoing the long and difficult process of researching the history of one of my absolute favorite Disney films, the often forgotten Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Atlantis is truly an underappreciated Disney film, and you rarely hear very much about it, which does make the research process quite difficult. Luckily, I’ve been a huge fan of the film since it first came out in 2001 and have a rather large collection of materials that were sold around the time of the film’s release, including the original two-disc DVD, which is a treasure trove of bonus materials. Much of my free time the past few months has been used sorting through this material, including over a thousand pieces of concept art and a copy of the original annotated script, in order to uncover the true history of the making of Atlantis: The Lost Empire. It’s been another great example of why I often like to call myself a “film archaeologist” and an experience that reminded me much of Milo’s own academic expedition in the film.

One of the elements of the film I’ve always really enjoyed is =how unique the city of Atantis is. It is a far cry from the stereotypical under-water greek ruins that many others have depicted it as. While researching the development of the film, I have discovered just how much effort went into building the word depicted in Atlantis: The Lost Empire. The filmmakers had to conquer the challenge of creating an entire Atlantian culture that would be like nothing the audience had ever seen before.  A ton of effort went into creating this entire culture, and much of the work was never meant to be seen on screen, but simply to make even the animators feel as though they were creating a very real place. This process of building an authentic feeling original fantasy world and culture is absolutely fascinating to me, which is why I have chosen it as the topic of my next full-length article.

So stay tuned for an article about Atlantis: The Last Empire that will be posted sometime in the near future. The film is in my top 5 favorite Disney films and I’m so excited to write about it.

Image Credit: Atantis: The Lost Empire Special Edition DVD

A Good Fairy Masterpiece Monday


My mother’s birthday was last week, so I thought I’d honour her in today’s Masterpiece Monday post. My mother absolutely adores the three good faeries from Sleeping Beauty,  especially Merryweather, so today’s featured concept art is a set of character design drawings of Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. These drawings were created by animator Marc Davis, though they are not done in his typical style. That is because his designs were heavily scrutinized by the film’s key concept artist, Evyind Earle, who was appointed by Walt Disney  to oversee the art style of the entire film. It was especially important for the animators to get the look and personality of the three fairies just right as, despite the title, they are actually the main characters of the film.

As I said last week, Walt Disney was tired of his animated films not truly reflecting the unique concept art that inspired them. For Sleeping Beauty, Walt sought to change this once and for all by giving concept artist Evyind Earle complete creative control of the look of the film. Earle looked towards medieval and renaissance European art for inspiration, in particular he took inspiration from tapestries like the Unicorn Tapestries and illuminated manuscripts like Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. He also took some inspiration from non-European art like Persian miniatures and Japanese prints. The goal was to create a flattened, geometric world for the film, where every bit of the background would be in just as much focused detail as the foreground. Along with his bold geometric shapes, Earle choose to use bright and highly contrasting colors throughout the film, in a manner reminiscent of the avant-garde  UPA style of animation that was becoming popular in the ’50s.  His style choices applied to the characters as well, which is why this Marc Davis drawing of the fairies depicts them in such a sharp geometric  style. The colours in Davis’s drawing are also much more saturated than anything seen in a previous Disney film, with an eye-popping  contrast between their dark capes and bright dresses. This drawing comes from a time in the film’s development when Earle was in tight control, and everything had to follow his style exactly. Unfortunately, his designs were incredibly difficult for the animators and background painters to work with, often inhibiting their work and slowing down the film’s production considerably with their complexity. As time went on, both he and the character designs would soften slightly.

As the three fairies’ designs began to be refined the animator’s started seeing them less as fairies and more as maiden aunts. They became more delicate, rounded figures than those shown in these designs and that in turn helped to make them the warmest and most human characters in the film, adding some much needed life into the story. The animators also started to develop individual personalities for each fairy. Initially Walt wanted them all to act the same,  but the animators quickly talked him out of the idea.  Flora became the natural leader who was always coming up with a plan, Merryweather became the practical one who often questioned Flora’s ideas, and Fauna became the sweet yet vague peace keeper between the two. The fairies’ supervising animators, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, even went around watching the interactions of the little-old-ladies they knew in order  further develop the fairies’s personalities, paying attention to how the women walked, talked, and gestured and applying it to the characters. Designing these three main characters took a lot of trial and error, even finding the right signature colour for each fairy took some time. Yet, eventually the animators and designers chose the colours we know the three good fairies by today.

Hope you enjoyed this little look at the process that went into designing my mother’s favourite characters. Happy Birthday mom!

Image Credit: Sleeping Beauty: Platinum Edition

A Rabbit Themed Masterpiece Monday


Since Easter is coming I thought I’d write a post focusing on a Disney bunny, in particular my favorite Disney bunny, the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. You may remember that I featured some David Hall concept art for Alice in Wonderland in a previous post. The whimsical concept art of Alice and the White Rabbit I’m featuring today obviously goes in a very different direction. That is because it was painted by Mary Blair during one of the most imaginative and fruitful periods in her career.  In my opinion, Alice in Wonderland captures the creative spirit of Mary Blair’s concept art better than any other film did during Disney’s Silver Era.

If you’ve been reading my blog you already know about how Mary Blair came to find her unique modernist style By the 1950s, Mary Blair was the top concept artist at Walt Disney Animation, and Walt Disney’s personal favorite artist. Walt became very frustrated with his animators around the time Cinderella was reaching completion. He felt they were failing to realize the  unique qualities of Blair’s artwork on the screen and were instead coming up with a more generic looking product. The animators, on the other hand, complained that her concept art was too flat and unrealistic to easily replicate in animation, especially for a relatively human and realistic story like Cinderella. Luckily their next film, the whimsical and nonsensical Lewis Carroll story Alice in Wonderland left them more opportunities to come closer to  Blair’s art. The original idea for the film was to make it darker and closer to the traditionally Victorian illustrations of John Tennial, but Walt ordered them to follow Mary Blair’s style, which ultimatly helped to move the film in a more fun, comical, and musical direction

Although the likeness isn’t exact, I think Alice in Wonderland did a better job at capturing Mary Blair’s style than any other Disney film. Compare her depiction of the White Rabbit to the character in the final film and you’ll  not find that many differences. The White Rabbit in the final film is more dimensional, a bit more round and fluffy, but he retains many of the elements from Blair’s concept art. He retains his spectacles, his wide whimsical ruff, and the modernist red and white contrasting colour scheme of his clothes. Alice too retains many of the elements contained in this design. Though the final character is older and more human looking, the exaggerated silhouette of her dress  with its bell-like skirt, large puffed sleeves, triangular apron, and overly cinched waist remained. The card-soldiers in the final film look almost exactly as Mary Blair drew them here, because as cards they were allowed to look flat and unusual. If you examine Mary  Blair’s concept art and compare it to the final film you’ll find many of her imaginative ideas were incorporated. Shapes, colour schemes, and even camera angels were lifted directly from  her paintings. This is especially true of many of the backgrounds in the film, which look almost like they were painted by Blair herself. In my opinion, Disney’s Wonderland could just as easily be called Mary Blair land.

Now you know a little bit more about why the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland looks and  dresses the way he does. Hope you enjoyed and have a very happy Easter if you celebrate it.

Image Credit: ohmy.disney.com

Another Moana Masterpiece Monday

I first wrote a Moana post months ago, before the film had been released so I thought I’d feature another piece of Moana concept art in today’s Masterpiece Monday post. This  concept art was created by Walt Disney Animation  Character Designer Jin Kim. Jin Kim is a fantastic artist who has worked on all of the studio’s recent hit films. For Moana he created character design drawings for all of the major characters in the film, but focused especially on Moana herself. This particular set of drawings is part of an even larger set Jin Kim created to display Moana in different poses and with facial expressions. The purpose of these explorations was not to focus on small details like her clothing, but rather to help her personality come to life on the page, and later on the screen.

Drawings like these are incredibly helpful for the animators in pinning down a character’s distinct personality. Animators are often called “actors with pencils” or in the case of Moana computers. This is because they have to figure out exactly how the unique character they are drawing would express each emotion, what expressions and gestures they would make, and what poses they would hold while they do so. That’s how these particular kinds of character design drawings come into play. The character designer will draw hundreds of little drawings of each character like these ones, and then sit down with the directors to decide exactly which poses and expressions best represent their idea of who the character is as a person. Those particular drawings then become a guide for the animators who create the characters various expressions, movements, and poses in each scene. In the case of Moana, both the Jin Kim and directors Ron Howard and John Musker found it very important that she expressed herself like an authentic teenage girl.  They even studied footage of Auli’i Cravalho’s face as she recorded Moana’s lines, since she is an actual teenage girl herself.

You’ll notice that hair plays a particularly important role in these drawings of Moana. In these and many of Jin Kim’s other drawings, she is shown playing with her hair. Giving Moana realistic looking hair was a major goal of the filmmakers. They observed how Auli’i Cravlho and other teenager girls in their lives would constantly play with their hair and use it to express themselves, and they wanted Moana to be able to do the same. Many of the animators also missed having the ability to move hair around for effect as they had with hand-drawn animated heroines like Ariel and Pocahontas. Unfortunately, hair is a big challenge in  computer animation. Despite the progress made for characters like Rapunzel and Merida it was still extremely difficult for animators to manipulate character’s hair, and especially hard for them to have characters touch their hair. So the animators had to convince the studio and the directors that having Moana play with her hair was an important part of her personality and that it was worth putting the time and money into developing new software to do so. Jin Kim’s expression drawings played a huge part in proving this importance, as did Randy Haycock’s hand-drawn pencil tests (which you can watch here). Eventually, work began on researching and creating new technology for Moana’s hair. The simulation department studied pictures and videos of Auli’i Cravalho’s hair as well as of the hair of a Samoan woman named Fiona Collins. They watched their hair as the ran, jumped, and even tied it up into a top-knot. The result was a new simulation program called Quicksilver, which allowed the animators to manipulate character’s hair in a manner similar to hand-drawn animation while still having it appear incredibly realistic on screen.

I hope you enjoyed this look at the artistry and technology involved in making Moana look like and have the attitude of an authentic teenage girl. I’m still working on the research for a new full-length article, but my life is pretty busy right now, so stay tuned for that.

Image Credit:  /cosmoanimato.tumblr.com/