A Tangled Masterpiece Monday

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I’ve talked so much about my excitement about Big Hero 6: The Series that I haven’t even mentioned that there is currently a Tangled: The Series on Disney Channel. I’ve written plenty about Tangled in the past, and even wrote a full length article about the film’s story problems. Today I’m going to feature some concept art of a discarded character from the film I really hope makes into the series in some way in the future. This piece of concept art depicts the discarded character of Bastion, who I’ve talked about briefly in my longer article, but I think he is interesting enough to get his own short post today.

This concept drawing of Bastion was created by Disney character designer Jin Kim, who has worked on many other Disney films including Moana and Big Hero 6. I recently discovered a whole set of drawings he did of Bastion. Bastion was an early idea of a male lead for the film back when it was called “Rapunzel” and was still being directed by Glen Keane. He was sort of a proto-type for Flynn, but with some major differences. The biggest difference being he was of Romani descent (Keane and others used the term Gypsy to describe him, but that is a bit of a loaded term so I am going to avoid it). Like Flynn, Bastion was a thief and incredibly charming, but to an even greater extent. He was a bit like Aladdin in that he was capable of charming his way out of any sticky situation that he got into. Bastion also fell in love with Rapunzel much faster than Flynn does. In this early version of the film Rapunzel was extremely afraid of the outside world, and Bastion spent a good portion of the film convincing her to leave her tower and go explore the world with him. So despite sharing many similarities with Flynn, Bastion was still quite a different male lead.

Design wise, this Jin Kim drawing of Bastion also shares some similarities with Flynn, but as Bastion is of Romani descent, he is darker and more ethnic looking. Due to his nomadic lifestyle, he also has a more disheveled and bohemian sense of style. He’s got a long dark ponytail, which in the few color drawings of him that exist is tied up with multi coloured bands. He has an earing and many necklaces and scarves and a vest with no shirt underneath, none of which you would ever see worn by the more clean cut Flynn. Both men are handsome, but were based on different types of handsome men. Flynn was designed to appeal to every woman and was essentially designed by a committee of women working in Disney Animation in what was called the “hot man meeting”. Bastion on the other hand was designed as a very specific type of handsome, a rugged, swashbuckling, bad boy type. In this particular drawing Jin Kim based him off of a young Johnny Depp, and it definitely shows. This was actually the reason he was rejected as the male lead for the film, because Keane thought he was a bit too pretty and eccentric looking. Although there are certainly elements of the character that would become Flynn Rider in Bastion’s design, he is still a very differentleading man.

There you have it, the little bit of information I can find about the character of Bastion. Wouldn’t it be cool if he appeared in Tangled: The Series some day? Maybe as a friend of Flynn’s? I certainly think so.

Image credit: artoftangled.tumblr.com

Another Big Hero 6 Masterpiece Monday

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As I said before I’m trying to write one post about all of the Big Hero 6 super hero team members before the new Big Hero 6: The Series cartoon show is released next fall. Today’, I’m featuring character design drawings for everyone’s favourite robot, Baymax. This particular piece of concept art is unique, as it was not created by any Disney animators. Instead, it was drawn by Japanese anime creator Shigeto Koyama, who was who asked by director Don Hall to provide drawings to help the animators design the robotic healthcare companion. He ended up having a huge influence on the characters design both in and outside of his armor. As you know from my previous articles, this was not the first time the Disney Animators asked an outside artist to help design a character, but it is always interesting to examine just how much influence these artists have on the final design.

How Koyama came to be asked to design Baymax is rather an interesting story. As I’ve said before, the directors were trying to add authentic elements of Japanese culture to the film. To help find inspiration, Don Hall traveled to Tokyo where he bought several Japanese toys to bring back to the studio and inspire the crew. One of these was of a character named Heroman, who was designed by Koyama. This lead Hall to meet with Koyama and ask him to help them design the look of Baymax. These sketches were some of the results of his work. Keeping in mind that Baymax was a health care companion, Koyama looked towards soft, round, white foods like mochi and pork buns for inspiration. Yet, he never fotgot he was designing a robot, and so many of his other drawings also show Baymax’s hard metal skeleton. He also designed Baymax’s armour, and really liked the idea of a soft squishy robot being hidden by imposing armour. Judging by the drawing in the upper right-hand corner, it seems he also liked the possibility of seeing Baymax try to disguise himself as a human. I personally wish this silly image of Baymax in a trenchcoat and beard had made it into the final film.

Of course, Koyama wasn’t the only one who contributed to Baymax’s design. The character designers at Disney also played a role in creating the character. They did a lot of research into new robotics technology and talked to researchers at the Carnegie Mellon institute of robotics. There they learned about “soft robotics” a new kind of robotics technology being developed using vinyl to create soft and flexible robots. They thought this new field of technology would be perfect for a health-care companion like Baymax, and so they designed him as an inflatable, huggable robot. But Baymax, couldn’t just be a piece of technology, he also had to be an appealing character. To do this they gave the robot cute but unusual features, like his waddle, which was inspired by a toddler. Baymax’s face carried on the film’s motif of Japanese inspired elements. It was based on the  look of the bells at the Suzu Shinto shrine in Japan. Don Hall felt this design would give Baymax’s face a more serene appearance. Many of these design ideas were already in place when Koyama was asked to help create Baymax’s design.

Thanks to sketches like these by  Shigeto Koyama and various pieces of concept art made by Disney character designers, Baymax’s design was eventually refined into the huggable robot we see in the final film. Baymax’s became a robot inspired a mix of Japanese culture and cutting edge technology.

Image Credit: https://akiba-souken.com/article/22338/

 

A Winnie the Pooh Masterpiece Monday

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I feel as though I have been neglecting the films of the “Dark Ages”. This is in large part because there seems to be so very little information about these films out there, except for those films that Walt had a hand in before he died. Today’s featured piece of concept art comes from one of those films, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Walt had actually been working on making an animated adaptation of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh books since the 1940s, and the first segment of the film Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree was released as a featurette while he was alive. This piece of concept art by an unknown studio artist comes from that segment, and depicts the live-action prologue with its twist on the classic Disney storybook opening. It highlights one of my favorite aspects of the film, the character’s almost meta awareness that they are characters in a classic children’s’ book.

It was not until the 1960s, after two decades of trying, that Walt Disney was able to acquire both adaptation and merchandising rights for the Winnie-the-Pooh . By that time Walt Disney was starting to have some doubts over the stories’s potential to be a successful animated feature. Disney had suffered several flops over the course of his career, and some of his least successful and most criticized films were those based on classic children’s books. In particular, Alice in Wonderland was heavily scrutinized by devotees of Lewis Carroll’s books. British Pooh fans were just as big of purists as Alice fans, while American’s were not nearly as familiar with the characters as children in Europe were and so Walt started to worry about the film finding and pleasing an audience. To top it off, the Pooh stories, while having fantastic characters, lacked many of the plot elements generally found in his most successful features. There was very little drama, no romance, and no villain. For these reasons, Walt decided to make two very important decisions regarding the film. First, it was to be released as a series of episodic featurettes, to introduce american audiences to the characters and make up for the stories dramatic plot deficiencies.  Second, it would be directed by animator Woolie Reitherman who was not a particular fan of the books, as he was best equipped to solve the problem of pleasing British audiences while still making a recognizably Disney product.

Reitherman’s solution was for the film to never lose sight of the fact that the characters were from a series of children’s books. This lead to the use of the storybook opening in the nursery as a framing device, as seen in this concept art, as well as the idea of having a narrator who read from the occasionally visible pages of the book. Even the characters were made aware of their existence inside a book and occasionally interacted with the physical text itself. Design wise, there were thoughts of closely following the original illustrations of Ernest H. Shepard. but the illustrations proved too difficult to animate. Still, the animators stuck closely to Shepherd’s stuffed toy designs, with button eyes and mitten-like hands, while making the characters a bit softer and more expressive.  The backgrounds also took inspiration from Shepard’s illustration in their design. They were painted in simple water colours, with bold ink lines that mimicked the cross-hatched shading of the original illustrations. While the films’ art style took heavy inspiration from the original books, Reitherman wanted to be sure not to make the film seem too stuffy and British. He wanted to attract American audiences so they would watch future Pooh films. He did this by adding broad humor and gags into the story, and by creating a new character for American audiences to embrace, the folksy American Gopher. Yet, even the creation of Gopher was done with a clear awareness of his presence as an interloper, as both Gopher and Pooh discuss how he is “not in the book.” It is this same humorous awareness of it’s awkward position as an American animated adaptation of a revered British classic that, to me ,makes the film so enjoyable to watch .

In the end, the first short based on the Pooh stories, Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree was quite well received on both sides of the pond, and the featurettes that followed were even more successful. Eventually, they were compiled like chapters in a book into the full length The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh which is now nearly as beloved and revered by audiences as the original books.

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