Another Mulan Masterpiece Monday


I’ve been super husy, and tired, and just plain cranky this past week, so I thought I should return to my favorite Walt Disney Animation film for this week’s post, Mulan. While I’ve previously focused mostly on character design in my Mulan posts, today I thought I’d focus a bit more on the overall style of the film. I believe this piece of visual development art was created by Sai Ping Lok, one of the visual development artists for the film. The reason I selected this particular piece is that, besides being stunning to look at, it illustrates how the  overall visual style of the film was heavily influenced by traditional Chinese paintings.

I have previously discussed films like Hercules and Bambi, that had one artist whose style guided that of the entire film. This was not at all the case for Mulan. For this film, the artists had to come up with a unique style for the film in a more organic way, by studying and experimenting with various art styles and taking what they liked best from each and throwing away what they didn’t. To help the lead film’s visual development artists through this task was the production designer Hans Bacher. Bacher was an experienced visual development artist who had worked on Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, and Hercules. He began the task of finding Mulan‘s style by studying traditional Chinese art from various dynasties. He also studied photographs of many of the most picturesque location within China. This task was helped along by visual development artists with a familiarity with Chinese art like Sai Ping Lok. Lok created many beautiful visual development paintings like this one, influenced by various styles of art from throughout Chinese history. From these paintings Bacher and the directors of the film were able to better pin down exactly which elements of which periods of Chinese art they wanted to borrow from for the film.

Eventually Bacher and the directors settled on a style based upon Tang Dynasty era paintings. These paintings focused on bold graphic and simplistic shapes with few details. This style was a huge departure from the more heavily detail orientated art styles of the animated films that came directly before Mulan. The art style of Mulan instead focused on strong shapes with small positive details added in. It also focused heavily on playing with positive and negative space in a very graphic way.  Bacher and the visual development artists eventually came to refer to the film’s style with the phrase “poetic simplicity.” It was this motto that was used to guide all the layout artists, background artists, and other who worked on creating the final film.

Now you know how visual development paintings inspired by traditional Chinese art, like this painting of Mulan and Khan, helped the film’s crew create the unique yet distinctly Chinese art style of Mulan. Hope you enjoyed this look at one of my favorite films.

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Another Big Hero 6 Masterpiece Monday



Today I continue my summer of being super excited for the release of Big Hero 6: The Series by focusing on the 4th member of the team, Wasabi. To do that I am featuring a piece of early character design concept art by Shiyoon Kim, whose influence on the characters  I have discussed at length in previous posts. I have mainly focused  on the characters in their super hero suits, but today I thought I’d offer a change in pace by featuring a piece of concept art depicting Wasabi in street clothes.  Wasabi went through some of the most massive changes to his personality. This evolution is clearly illustrated by his very different appearance in this concept art, which depicts an extremely early version of the character.

Wasabi, or Wasabi No-Ginger as he was initially called, was not always the anxiety ridden neat-freak  we see in the film. In his earliest versions, he was a big tough guy with a stoically zen personality. Because of this zen personality, he would have would have mostly had a stoic look on his face like the one shown in this drawing. Wasabi would have also had a side job, as a chef and owner of a sushi food-truck. This side job would have both explained Wasabi’s nickname, and why he used blades as his weapon of choice in his super suit. This little detail about Wasabi being a sushi chef is actually something  I hope comes in to play some where in the new series. Slowly Wasabi’s character began to change as the film’s development continued. The directors and animators realized that the stoic tough black guy character was something they had seen plenty of times before. They instead made Wasabi a compulsive neat-freak, thus contrasting with his burly appearance. Wasabi was changed further when Damon Wayans Jr.  was cast as his voice. The animators wanted to study and take advantage of the actor’s own expressive faces when he was recording his lines. So artist Jin Kim created model sheets for the character based on photos of the actor’s expressions in the recording both. This transformed the character into a much more expressive and outgoing character than the one in this drawing.

Interestingly enough, despite the personality changes, some of Wasabi’s personal style of clothing remains the same in both this early piece of concept art and in the final film. A large part of this was because even in the earliest stages, the character designers were still following the east meets west, San Francisco meets Tokyo aesthetic in their designs. This came across particularly well in the character’s clothing designs. I recently discovered that fashion stylist and vintage clothing store owner Danny Flynn served as a consultant for the costumes in the film.  Flynn suggested various styles of traditional Japanese clothing as well as elements of Japanese street style for the characters. Much of this came out in both Wasabi’s early concept art and in the final film. In this concept art he wears a patterned shirt loosely based on a kimono, he wears a similar, though more understated, kimono jacket in the final film. The use of drop-crotch pants found in Japanese street style and seen in both this concept and the final film was also an idea that came from Flynn. While Wasabi does not wear the Japanese style sandals seen in this drawing, his footwear in the film also retains elements of traditional Japanese clothing. Wasabi wears shoes with tabi toes, based on traditional Japanese socks, but also frequently incorporated into shoes in modern Japanese fashion. As you can see, incorporating elements of Japanese culture applied not only to the team’s super suits, but to their everyday clothing as well.

Now you know a little more about the development of Wasabi as a character. You also found out a little bit more about how the fashions of the members of the team were influenced by both traditional and contemporary Japanese fashion. The premiere of Big Hero 6: The Series is getting closer and closer and I hope these posts are starting to make you as excited for it as I am.

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A Donald Duck Masterpiece Monday


Today I thought I’d share some art work of a character that is becoming very near to my heart, Donald Duck. Since I showed some of Ub Iwerk’s earliest drawings of Mickey Mouse, I thought today I’d share some drawings of Donald’s first ever cartoon appearance, in the 1934 short ,”The Wise Little Hen.” Believe it or not this was not a Mickey Mouse short, but a Silly Symphony short where Donald Duck was a side character.  This model sheet by a Disney studio artist. comes from this early short. As a model sheet, it is also an interesting type of artwork that I have never discussed on this blog before.

Donald Duck’s first on-screen appearance was in the Silly Symphony “The Wise Little Hen”, alongside the title character and his friend Peter Pig. The short was directed by Wilfred Jackson and loosely based upon the Russian folk tale “The Little Red Hen and the Grain of Wheat”. The character’s in the short, including Donald Duck, were designed by Disney Artist Albert Hurter, who you may remember later worked on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio. Much of his character design can still be seen in the version of Donald Duck we know today.  It was Hurter’s idea to dress him in his now iconic Sailor suit and hat. At the same time there are sill clear differences in this early Donald Duck. As you can see he looks more like a realistic duck, with a longer neck, smaller head, thinner beak, and wings instead of fingers. Despite these differences, Donald’s distinct quacking voice was also present in this short, provided bu voice actor Clarence Nash, who would continue to voice Donald until his death in 1985. Nash once held the record for the longest continues voice for one animated character.

While Mickey Mouse’s first appearances were mostly animated by Ub Iwerk’s, Donald Duck was animated by several animators in “The Wise Little Hen”. His group of animators included Art Babbitt, Gilles de Tremaudan, Dick Huemer, and a team of junior animators lead by Ben Sharpsteen. With all these animators working on the short, it was super important to ensure that each character was drawn in a consistent way throughout.  This is where model sheets like this one come in to play. They serve as a guide for all the animators working on a character. The character is drawn both in full and in portraits displaying different emotions, poses, and angles. This way all of the animators can draw Donald Duck in more or less the same way in the short regardless of what he is doing in their sequence. Examining a character’s model sheet also gives you a good idea of the key points of a characters personality. Donald’s model sheet, for example, with its various poses of laughing, dancing, and faking a belly-ache, shows the character’s mischievous side. Although Dona;d’s personality has evolved since his first on-screen appearance, that aspect has remained present even today.

I hope you enjoyed this look at the birth of Donald Duck. As you can see,  though much has changed about this famous duck over the years, much has also stayed the same. If you’d like to see Donald’s first appearance in “The Wise Little Hen” you can watch it here.

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A Treasure Planet Masterpiece Monday



For today’s Masterpiece Monday post I am featuring this visual development painting of Jim Hawkins and John Silver for the film Treasure Planet. I recently started reading Disney Pirates: The Definitive Collector’s Anthology by Michael Singer. It discusses all of the Disney film’s that involve pirates, and there is a small section on Treasure Planet. The film is a particular favourite of mine, because I love anything with pirates in it, and I feel that it does not get nearly enough acknowledgment. While skimming through some concept art for the film, I discovered this gorgeous visual development painting and just had to feature it. Unfortunately, I have not been able to track down the artist, but nonetheless I just had to share it with you all.

Director’s John Musker and Ron Clements first had the idea for Treasure Planet all the way back in 1985. The idea came from their experiences watching an Italian mini-series entitled Treasure Island in Space. They liked the idea of creating a sci-fi updated version of Treasure Island, and thought the concept would work even better in animation. That year Disney executives Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg held a meeting called the “Gong Show” where animators proposed ideas for new films to them. Coming off their success on The Great Mouse Detective, Musker and Clements proposed two film ideas at the meeting. One of these was Treasure Planet the other was The Little Mermaid.  While the executives had no interest in Treasure Planet, the idea of The Little Mermaid did catch their attention, and so Musker and Clements went on to direct that film. Years later after the release of Aladdin, Musker and Clements once again proposed Treasure Planet and were once again told no. So they struck a bargain with the executives, the team would direct the adaptation of Hercules that the studio was currently developing, if afterwords they were allowed to finally direct Treasure Planet. The deal was struck and in the late-nineties they finally began developing  Treasure Planet. In the end, the years of delay worked to the film’s benefit, as by that time animation technology had developed to a point that allowed the directors to better achieve their vision of a spectacular outer-space action-adventure film.

I choose this particular visual development painting to feature today because it illustrates  the style Musker and Clements chose for the film so perfectly. Although Treasure Planet is a sci-fi film, the director still wanted to be able to incorporate some of the 18th century pirate elements of the original book. To encourage this they created a “70/30 law” for the artists. The style of everything in the film was to be 70% traditional adventure film, and 30% sci-fi. Going along with this mantra, the film’s visual development artists took inspiration from the Brandywine School of illustration and gave their concept art a warm, painterly feel. They took particular inspiration from the work of N.C. Wyeth, who illustrated the 1911 edition of Treasure Island. The painting I am featuring today was part of a set of visual development paintings inspired specifically by  Wyeth’s Treasure Island illustrations. As an avid collector of beautiful editions of classic novels, I immediately fell in love with the quaint traditional style of this painting of the cyborg John Silver and Jim Hawkins. I feel it is the perfect illustration of the film’s blending of traditional and sci-fi.

Hope you enjoyed this  look at visual development art for Treasure Planet. I really feel that the style of this art really came across well in animation, and it’s part of why I find the film to be such a unique and enjoyable film.

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