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.