A Donald Duck Masterpiece Monday

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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.

Image Credit: http://cartoonresearch.com/index.php/happy-birthday-donald-duck-walt-disneys-the-wise-little-hen-1934/

A Treasure Planet Masterpiece Monday

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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.

Image Credit: disneyconceptsandstuff.tumblr.com