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.
Image Credit: https://ohmy.disney.com/movies/2015/06/19/17-pieces-of-stunning-mulan-concept-art/