A Big Hero 6 Masterpiece Monday

tumblr_nfavxqkb3H1t2ae3oo1_1280

Today’s post is the first in a series of Masterpiece Monday posts I hope to create periodically throughout the summer. I love Big Hero 6 and I am super excited for the new Big Hero 6: The Series  that comes out this Fall so I want to do one post featuring a piece of concept art of each member of the team before the show premieres. Today’s concept art is an early character design for Gogo Tomago by the film’s lead character designer Shiyoon Kim. This is actually part of a set of very dark character designs done by Kim that I have been in love with since I first saw them (I’m a big Gorillaz fan and I swear Gogo looks like she came straight from one of their music videos in this piece). If you’d like to see the rest of the set you can find them on his webpage. I love imagining what this darker version of the super hero team would have been like.

As the film is based on a comic book set in Tokyo, much of the film’s art style takes its inspiration from Japanese culture, especially from Japanese manga and anime. The idea of East meets West was also center-most to all of the artists in the film was epitomized in the film’s setting, the fictional city of San Fransokyo, a San Francisco rebuilt by Japanese immigrants after the 1906 earthquake. This design concept can be seen in this drawing of Gogo, where Western military gear meets clothing inspired by Japanese ninjas.  In incorporating East-Asian elements to the character designs it helped that the lead character designer was Korean-American artist Shiyoon Kim, who was very proud to incorporate some of his culture into the character designs.

Gogo was conceived as the tough adrenaline junkie of the team. Animators referred to her as a female Cline Eastwood type, effortlessly cool and silently stoic. Gogo is Disney’s first Korean character, and was a bit of a pet project for Shiyoon Kim because of this. He designed her with Korean “tough girl” stereotypes in mind and studied female Korean speed skaters for inspiration. He also gave her a shorter and stockier body type than is typical for animated Disney women, basing her on a very specific kind of korean body-type called “radish legs”.  Keeping with the East meets West inspiration, Kim also based his designs of Gogo on female San Francisco  bike messangers, in particular their style of dressing and their many tattoos. You can see that this particular concept art of Gogo depicts some of these potential tattoos, although they did not make it to her final design. In the end, it was Shiyoon Kim’s drawings like this one that I feel most contributed to Gogo’s design.

I hope you enjoyed this look at a rejected design for Gogo Tomago from Big Hero 6. Although I love the design of her real supersuit, its fascinating to look at this concept art and imagine what a darker and grittier version would have been like.

Image Credit: http://www.shiyoonkim.com

A Hunchback of Notre Dame Masterpiece Monday

tumblr_npqy4e9oeo1s5ptf3o3_500.jpg

 

Today’s artwork may seem a bit odd compared to my normal posts, because I am featuring a type of art work I have never talked about before. This piece from The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a type of art called a colour key. It is one of the most important tools used by the background art department of an animated film. I have not been able to positively track down the artist for this particular piece, but it was most likely created by Lisa Keene, the Background Supervisor for the film, or one of the many background painters that worked on her team. I have been wanting to write a post discussing the importance of the background department and color keys for a long time, and I felt The Hunchback of Notre Dame  was the perfect film to do so with because of its breathtaking backgrounds. This colour key in particular depicts one of the most stunning shots in the final film and had a huge role to play in making the final shot look as dramatic as it does.

The term background art department might seem a bit self-explanatory, its the department that creates the background paintings for hand drawn animated films, but actually. there are  two departments that create  the background.  The first is the layout department, which is a complex entity in itself. For the context of this post, they’re sort of the set designers, they draw out all the backgrounds for an animated film. The background art department is a combination of set painters and lighting designers, they paint the fleshed out version of the background that the layout department draws. They choose what style each background is painted in, whether it be the medieval tapestry style of Eyvind Earle or the quirky modernist style of Mary Blair. This includes choosing what colour to use for each and every part of each background. This may be one of the most important parts of their job, because color creates the lighting, and by extension the mood of each shot. Background artists for animated films have more freedom than any lighting designer for a live-action film. They don’t have to rely on realism or nature, but can easily use their paints to give a sad scene all blue tones or a tense scene all red tones, thus heightening the mood of each sequence. It is this power that makes the background art departments one of the most subtly important departments in animation.

Colour keys are small concept paintings that help the background artists plan these colours and create the lighting and the mood. The background artists will make one colour key painting for ever sequence in the film, plus some extras for any strong changes in tone mid-sequence. Then they’ll  pin all the paintings up next to each other so that the Background Supervisor and the Directors can get an overall picture of the colour scheme of the film and how the mood changes from scene to scene. You’ll notice from this particular colour key  that people and objects are often just represented by simple shapes, and that details are vague or missing all together. That’s because the role of the colour key is focused on the bold, the colours and moods of a shot. This The Hunchback of Notre Dame colour key expresses this purpose incredibly well. Its focus is on the bright orange lighting coming from the blazing fires within the scene as well as the deep shadows surrounding Quasimodo and Esmeralda. Later on in the production process this colour key was used by the background artists  to create the dramatic background paintings of Notre Dame in the final version of this climatic scene.

So now you know a little more about the Background Art Department and how they used colour keys like this one to set the mood of this thrilling scene in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Image Credit: http://livlily.blogspot.com/2012/07/hunchback-of-notre-dame-1996-character_08.html

 

An Inside Out Masterpiece Monday

inside-out-concept-art-joy-3-512x600

I realised recently that I’ve featured hardy any Pixar films on my blog so far, so I decided to change that today by writing a little about one of my favourite Pixar films Inside Out. This piece of character design concept art for Joy was created by Albert Lozano the character art director for the film. What I like about this particular drawing is it does a lot to express the unique qualities that make Joy and the other emotions different from most other animated characters. It also illustrates many of the specific qualities the character designers gave Joy so that she would better express her particular emotion and be an interesting and likable main character.

One of the most noticeable aspects of this piece of concept art are the small energy particles that radiate off Joy’s skin. When designing Joy the artists kept thinking of her as a little ball of energy and comparing her to sparklers and champagne bubbles. To reflect this inner quality of Joy’s the artists were constantly depicting her with a little aura of bubbles and sparks surrounding her. The technical side of the animation team knew that this aura of particles would be difficult and expensive to create, but director Pete Docter liked the idea, so he told them to try and if it got too expensive they’d cut it from the film. When John Lasseter saw the tests of Joy’s animation, he loved the particle aura and ordered it to be used on all the emotion characters. He felt this would give them a abstract “electro-chemical” quality. You’ll also notice that in this image Joy’s limbs bend in a cartoonish noodley way. This was another animation choice that was made for all the emotions in the film. As the embodiement of emotions they were allowed to bend and stretch in exaggerated caricature-like ways, something Pixar had never done before. All of these choices were made to clearly separate the emotions from the film’s human characters.

As an individual character Joy came with her own challanges. You’ll notice that Joy’s skin in this concept art gives off a bio-luminescent light. The character designers felt that since joy the emotion was associated with light, Joy the character ought to have a glow to her. Again the animators on the technical side of the film thought portraying this light in CG animation would be nearly impossible, but with a lot of hard work they did it. They made her glow a sort of replacement for her shadow, so that she was constantly shining light on the settings and places around her. Another unique quality about Joy is the star shape to her body, created by her very long limbs and spikey hair. This was the result of an effort from the character designers to have even the very shapes of each character’s body reflect ideas sorrunding that emotion as a concept. One of the few major differences between this drawing of Joy and the final character is her outfit. Here she wears a sort of  play suit meant to make her seem like a more childish character, as Joy was also seen as the embodiment of childhood by the character designers. In the end, they had her wear her green dress instead, but kept her with bare feet to give a sense of childish freedom to the character.

Hope you enjoyed this look at a concept drawing of Joy and all the challenges involved in bringing the emotional characters of Inside Out to life.

Image Credit:https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/movies/2015/06/18/pixar-inside-out-making-the-emotions-characters/28648779/

A Jungle Book Masterpiece Monday

unnamed.jpg

Today’s Masterpiece Monday post is going to be a short one as I am currently hard at work researching my Atlantis: The Lost Empire article. I am featuring a sketch from The Jungle Book, a film which is admittedly not very high on my list of well-liked Disney films. In fact, the only scene in the film I really like is the final scene, where Mowgli sees Shanti and is instantly fascinated by her. That is why I choose to feature a sketch of this scene in today’s post. It is partially a character sketch used to experiment with the design of Mogwli and Shanti, but is also a story sketch, used to illustrate an idea for one of the key moments in the film. It was drawn by Ken Anderson, one of the story artists on the film who also had a history of serving as an art director as well.

Shanti was not a character in the original Rudyard Kipling novel, she was actually invented by Walt Disney  while trying to come up with a way to end the film. While the original script for the film, written by story writer Bill Peet, followed Kipling’s book very closely, Walt found it too dark for a Disney film. Peet ended up leaving the studio and Walt got together a new group of story writers, including Ken Anderson. He instructed them to use the characters from the book in their script, but to discard the plot entirely. The animators ended up working on the film from the middle out, starting with the sequences featuring fun characters like Baloo and King Louie, and then figuring out how the story would begin and end. When they did finally start animating the film’s end, the story writers got stuck. The characters they had created were so fun no one could come up with a good reason for Mowgli to want to leave the jungle. Walt came up with the idea of having him become smitten with a young girl  which causes him to follow her into the man-village. The story writers and animators hated the idea, they thought it was a cheesy and cliche ending that would feel tacked on. Eventually, they can to realise it would be a satisfying ending, so long as it was handled carefully.

This drawing depicts a very different possible direction for the scene than the one that ended up in the final film, a version that probably would not have worked as well. It would have been more broad and comical, showing Mowgli  unaware of how to interact with a human girl. The final version of the scene is more subtle about Mowgli’s attraction. One of the most important ingredients for creating a sense of subtle sincerity of this scene was Shanti’s song “My Own Home” written by the Sherman Brothers. Composer George Bruns wove the song’s melody into the score throughout the film to foreshadow the ending, giving the feeling that everything in the film had been slowly leading up to that moment. The song was sung by child actress Darleen Carr, who was at the studio working on another film at the time, and had a beautifully haunting voice that Walt loved when he heard it on the song’s demo. The final sequence, animated by expert animator Ollie Johnston, tied the perfect bittersweet bow onto the end of the film.

I hope you enjoyed this brief look at my favorite character in The Jungle Book and now better understand the importance of her brief role in the film.

 

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

A Research Expedition

atle21

 

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written a full length article, but I am happy to announce that one should be posted in the near future. Since wrapping up my article on the Black Cauldron I have been undergoing the long and difficult process of researching the history of one of my absolute favorite Disney films, the often forgotten Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Atlantis is truly an underappreciated Disney film, and you rarely hear very much about it, which does make the research process quite difficult. Luckily, I’ve been a huge fan of the film since it first came out in 2001 and have a rather large collection of materials that were sold around the time of the film’s release, including the original two-disc DVD, which is a treasure trove of bonus materials. Much of my free time the past few months has been used sorting through this material, including over a thousand pieces of concept art and a copy of the original annotated script, in order to uncover the true history of the making of Atlantis: The Lost Empire. It’s been another great example of why I often like to call myself a “film archaeologist” and an experience that reminded me much of Milo’s own academic expedition in the film.

One of the elements of the film I’ve always really enjoyed is =how unique the city of Atantis is. It is a far cry from the stereotypical under-water greek ruins that many others have depicted it as. While researching the development of the film, I have discovered just how much effort went into building the word depicted in Atlantis: The Lost Empire. The filmmakers had to conquer the challenge of creating an entire Atlantian culture that would be like nothing the audience had ever seen before.  A ton of effort went into creating this entire culture, and much of the work was never meant to be seen on screen, but simply to make even the animators feel as though they were creating a very real place. This process of building an authentic feeling original fantasy world and culture is absolutely fascinating to me, which is why I have chosen it as the topic of my next full-length article.

So stay tuned for an article about Atlantis: The Last Empire that will be posted sometime in the near future. The film is in my top 5 favorite Disney films and I’m so excited to write about it.

Image Credit: Atantis: The Lost Empire Special Edition DVD

A Good Fairy Masterpiece Monday

slb1

My mother’s birthday was last week, so I thought I’d honour her in today’s Masterpiece Monday post. My mother absolutely adores the three good faeries from Sleeping Beauty,  especially Merryweather, so today’s featured concept art is a set of character design drawings of Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. These drawings were created by animator Marc Davis, though they are not done in his typical style. That is because his designs were heavily scrutinized by the film’s key concept artist, Evyind Earle, who was appointed by Walt Disney  to oversee the art style of the entire film. It was especially important for the animators to get the look and personality of the three fairies just right as, despite the title, they are actually the main characters of the film.

As I said last week, Walt Disney was tired of his animated films not truly reflecting the unique concept art that inspired them. For Sleeping Beauty, Walt sought to change this once and for all by giving concept artist Evyind Earle complete creative control of the look of the film. Earle looked towards medieval and renaissance European art for inspiration, in particular he took inspiration from tapestries like the Unicorn Tapestries and illuminated manuscripts like Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. He also took some inspiration from non-European art like Persian miniatures and Japanese prints. The goal was to create a flattened, geometric world for the film, where every bit of the background would be in just as much focused detail as the foreground. Along with his bold geometric shapes, Earle choose to use bright and highly contrasting colors throughout the film, in a manner reminiscent of the avant-garde  UPA style of animation that was becoming popular in the ’50s.  His style choices applied to the characters as well, which is why this Marc Davis drawing of the fairies depicts them in such a sharp geometric  style. The colours in Davis’s drawing are also much more saturated than anything seen in a previous Disney film, with an eye-popping  contrast between their dark capes and bright dresses. This drawing comes from a time in the film’s development when Earle was in tight control, and everything had to follow his style exactly. Unfortunately, his designs were incredibly difficult for the animators and background painters to work with, often inhibiting their work and slowing down the film’s production considerably with their complexity. As time went on, both he and the character designs would soften slightly.

As the three fairies’ designs began to be refined the animator’s started seeing them less as fairies and more as maiden aunts. They became more delicate, rounded figures than those shown in these designs and that in turn helped to make them the warmest and most human characters in the film, adding some much needed life into the story. The animators also started to develop individual personalities for each fairy. Initially Walt wanted them all to act the same,  but the animators quickly talked him out of the idea.  Flora became the natural leader who was always coming up with a plan, Merryweather became the practical one who often questioned Flora’s ideas, and Fauna became the sweet yet vague peace keeper between the two. The fairies’ supervising animators, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, even went around watching the interactions of the little-old-ladies they knew in order  further develop the fairies’s personalities, paying attention to how the women walked, talked, and gestured and applying it to the characters. Designing these three main characters took a lot of trial and error, even finding the right signature colour for each fairy took some time. Yet, eventually the animators and designers chose the colours we know the three good fairies by today.

Hope you enjoyed this little look at the process that went into designing my mother’s favourite characters. Happy Birthday mom!

Image Credit: Sleeping Beauty: Platinum Edition

A Rabbit Themed Masterpiece Monday

mary_blair_alice_in_wonderland_concept_art_02

Since Easter is coming I thought I’d write a post focusing on a Disney bunny, in particular my favorite Disney bunny, the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. You may remember that I featured some David Hall concept art for Alice in Wonderland in a previous post. The whimsical concept art of Alice and the White Rabbit I’m featuring today obviously goes in a very different direction. That is because it was painted by Mary Blair during one of the most imaginative and fruitful periods in her career.  In my opinion, Alice in Wonderland captures the creative spirit of Mary Blair’s concept art better than any other film did during Disney’s Silver Era.

If you’ve been reading my blog you already know about how Mary Blair came to find her unique modernist style By the 1950s, Mary Blair was the top concept artist at Walt Disney Animation, and Walt Disney’s personal favorite artist. Walt became very frustrated with his animators around the time Cinderella was reaching completion. He felt they were failing to realize the  unique qualities of Blair’s artwork on the screen and were instead coming up with a more generic looking product. The animators, on the other hand, complained that her concept art was too flat and unrealistic to easily replicate in animation, especially for a relatively human and realistic story like Cinderella. Luckily their next film, the whimsical and nonsensical Lewis Carroll story Alice in Wonderland left them more opportunities to come closer to  Blair’s art. The original idea for the film was to make it darker and closer to the traditionally Victorian illustrations of John Tennial, but Walt ordered them to follow Mary Blair’s style, which ultimatly helped to move the film in a more fun, comical, and musical direction

Although the likeness isn’t exact, I think Alice in Wonderland did a better job at capturing Mary Blair’s style than any other Disney film. Compare her depiction of the White Rabbit to the character in the final film and you’ll  not find that many differences. The White Rabbit in the final film is more dimensional, a bit more round and fluffy, but he retains many of the elements from Blair’s concept art. He retains his spectacles, his wide whimsical ruff, and the modernist red and white contrasting colour scheme of his clothes. Alice too retains many of the elements contained in this design. Though the final character is older and more human looking, the exaggerated silhouette of her dress  with its bell-like skirt, large puffed sleeves, triangular apron, and overly cinched waist remained. The card-soldiers in the final film look almost exactly as Mary Blair drew them here, because as cards they were allowed to look flat and unusual. If you examine Mary  Blair’s concept art and compare it to the final film you’ll find many of her imaginative ideas were incorporated. Shapes, colour schemes, and even camera angels were lifted directly from  her paintings. This is especially true of many of the backgrounds in the film, which look almost like they were painted by Blair herself. In my opinion, Disney’s Wonderland could just as easily be called Mary Blair land.

Now you know a little bit more about why the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland looks and  dresses the way he does. Hope you enjoyed and have a very happy Easter if you celebrate it.

Image Credit: ohmy.disney.com

Another Moana Masterpiece Monday

tumblr_oh54itDCzn1rkq0ruo1_1280
I first wrote a Moana post months ago, before the film had been released so I thought I’d feature another piece of Moana concept art in today’s Masterpiece Monday post. This  concept art was created by Walt Disney Animation  Character Designer Jin Kim. Jin Kim is a fantastic artist who has worked on all of the studio’s recent hit films. For Moana he created character design drawings for all of the major characters in the film, but focused especially on Moana herself. This particular set of drawings is part of an even larger set Jin Kim created to display Moana in different poses and with facial expressions. The purpose of these explorations was not to focus on small details like her clothing, but rather to help her personality come to life on the page, and later on the screen.

Drawings like these are incredibly helpful for the animators in pinning down a character’s distinct personality. Animators are often called “actors with pencils” or in the case of Moana computers. This is because they have to figure out exactly how the unique character they are drawing would express each emotion, what expressions and gestures they would make, and what poses they would hold while they do so. That’s how these particular kinds of character design drawings come into play. The character designer will draw hundreds of little drawings of each character like these ones, and then sit down with the directors to decide exactly which poses and expressions best represent their idea of who the character is as a person. Those particular drawings then become a guide for the animators who create the characters various expressions, movements, and poses in each scene. In the case of Moana, both the Jin Kim and directors Ron Howard and John Musker found it very important that she expressed herself like an authentic teenage girl.  They even studied footage of Auli’i Cravalho’s face as she recorded Moana’s lines, since she is an actual teenage girl herself.

You’ll notice that hair plays a particularly important role in these drawings of Moana. In these and many of Jin Kim’s other drawings, she is shown playing with her hair. Giving Moana realistic looking hair was a major goal of the filmmakers. They observed how Auli’i Cravlho and other teenager girls in their lives would constantly play with their hair and use it to express themselves, and they wanted Moana to be able to do the same. Many of the animators also missed having the ability to move hair around for effect as they had with hand-drawn animated heroines like Ariel and Pocahontas. Unfortunately, hair is a big challenge in  computer animation. Despite the progress made for characters like Rapunzel and Merida it was still extremely difficult for animators to manipulate character’s hair, and especially hard for them to have characters touch their hair. So the animators had to convince the studio and the directors that having Moana play with her hair was an important part of her personality and that it was worth putting the time and money into developing new software to do so. Jin Kim’s expression drawings played a huge part in proving this importance, as did Randy Haycock’s hand-drawn pencil tests (which you can watch here). Eventually, work began on researching and creating new technology for Moana’s hair. The simulation department studied pictures and videos of Auli’i Cravalho’s hair as well as of the hair of a Samoan woman named Fiona Collins. They watched their hair as the ran, jumped, and even tied it up into a top-knot. The result was a new simulation program called Quicksilver, which allowed the animators to manipulate character’s hair in a manner similar to hand-drawn animation while still having it appear incredibly realistic on screen.

I hope you enjoyed this look at the artistry and technology involved in making Moana look like and have the attitude of an authentic teenage girl. I’m still working on the research for a new full-length article, but my life is pretty busy right now, so stay tuned for that.

Image Credit:  /cosmoanimato.tumblr.com/

A Mary Poppins Masterpiece Monday

mp1

I decided to do something a little different for today’s Masterpiece Monday post and take a look at some concept art from a live action Disney film. Today’s piece of concept art depicts Mary Poppins and Bert in the “Jolly Holiday” sequence of Mary Poppins. Not everybody realizes that Disney creates concept art for their live action films almost as frequently as they do for their animated films. Although the characters in the film are played by real  people, the costumes, props,  sets, etc all still need to be designed. This is where concept art comes into play. Just like in animated films, concept art for live action films explores the different stylistic  and thematic possibilities for the film. Concept art can also display in a very tangible way the tone the director intends to set for a particular sequence. It helps guide the decisions of the cinematographers, lighting designers,and even editors towards a collective style and tone. Concept art is especially useful for the creation of live action films that move away from realism like Mary Poppins. That is why I find this piece of impressionistic concept art for the film so fascinating, especially since it depicts a scene that would combine live action with animation.

Mary Poppins was intended to be an impressionistic picture-book  depiction of London in the 1910s. The concept art made for the film reflected this goal, as the artists used mainly pastels and crayons as their medium. This technique appeared most frequently in concept art for the “Jolly Holiday”, as the director wanted to keep a chalk drawing quality throughout the sequence. The illustrated version of England was then transferred over into the live action production. The sets were built by Broadway set designers to look like they were meant for the stage. Most of the  backgrounds were then added in later with matte paintings created by Peter Ellenshaw, who again stuck to an impressionistic style for his London streets and skylines.The costumes were made artificially bright and colourful for the era, and the lighting was designed to be anti-naturalistic, reflecting the mood of the scene more than any real life natural lighting sources. All of these elements within the live-action film took their cue from impressionistic pastel concept drawings like this one, just as any animated film would.

The pure fantasy of the film was  furthered with its use of whimsical special effects, especially in its use of animation, both stop-motion and hand-drawn. The stop motion effects were done by Xavier Atencia and Bill Justice. The hand-drawn animation for the “Jolly Holiday” sequence took a lot more people and a lot more work. Using concept art like this  as a guide, bits of live action props and sets were built and then painted to match the chalk-drawing style of the animation. Anything that Mary, Bert, and the children would interact with directly had to be made in real life to look animated. This included big things like the carousel and less noticeable things like the garden gate Mary and Burt walk through. Platforms for Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke to dance on were built and painted to look like a hand-drawn country road. All of these props and platforms were then set up in front of an orange sodium vapour screen, which would not show up on film. The sequence was filmed in front of this set-up, and then later Peter Ellenshaw would add his matte paintings to the footage to create the backgrounds, again guided by the concept art. Finally, the animation would be added in. The animation unit was headed by the Disney veteran Hamilton Luske, while most of the penguin animation was done by one of the “Nine Old Men” Frank Thomas.  When all of this footage was put together, you got a wonderful fantasy sequence that perfectly matches the picture-book style of the original concept art.

So as you can see, when it comes to Disney live-action films, the concept art isn’t just gorgeous to look at, but also as integral to the production process as it is for animated films.  Hope you enjoyed this look at the “Jolly Holiday” sequence of Mary Poppins. Keep an eye out in the coming days, I’m hoping to announce the theme of my next full-length article very soon.

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

Another Mulan Masterpiece Monday

design 30007

I initially planned on featuring a piece of concept art from a different film in today’s post, but due to technical difficulties with my DVD player I have to postpone that post until next week. Instead, I am writing this rather last minute about a film and a character I know extremely well and could talk all day about, Mulan. I have  previously featured concept art of Mulan by Mark Henn in this post, but today’s concept art depicts a very different Mulan from the earthy, athletic girl seen in Henn’s drawing. This beautiful sketch of a graceful and feminine Mulan holding Cri-Kee was done by Disney character designer Chen Yi Chang.  Despite how different Chang’s design looks from the ones created by Henn, both artists’ sketches were equally important in contributing to the development of the complex character of Mulan.

Chen Yi Chang was an incredible asset to the design team for Mulan because he was born and raised in Taiwan, an thus had a stronger grasp on Chinese culture and art than many of the other crew members. In fact, the directors of Mulan, Tont Bancroft and Barry Cook, sight him as the film’s most influential artist. He drew character designs for not just Mulan, but all of the characters in the film. For Mulan’s design he took inspiration from soft s-curve design element often found in classical Chinese art, especially in depictions of running water. You can see this element in this particular drawing in her elegant willowy silhouette. This same soft elegance appears in her arms and their flowing sleeves, her thin, almost branchlike hands, and her long curtain of hair. Chang also took inspiration from elements of  classical Chinese art in Mulan’s facial features. Her features are based on those of idealised women in Chinese paintings, a round face with almond shaped eyes, willow-leaf eyebrows, and cherry blossom lips. Even Mulan’s pose in this picture has a sense of grace and femininity to it, a sharp contrast from the Mark Henn drawing I featured in my previous Mulan post.

I wouldn’t say that this concept drawing depicts a version of Mulan that is really that much of a departure from the character in the final film. Many think of Mulan as the “tomboy” Disney Princess or the Disney Princess that rejects traditional femininity altogether. That’s not entirely true. Mulan’s character really contains the perfect balance between traditional masculine and feminine qualities, both Yin and Yang. I  feel it is important to point out the fact that when Mulan defeats Shan-Yu and becomes the hero of China, she does so neither while disguised as a man in armor nor in her ultra girly matchmaker dress, but rather in a simple blue dress while using a fan and sword as weapons. Mulan does not fully reject womanhood, but rather changes the definition of womanhood away from the traditional Chinese qualities of weakness and silence towards intelligence and strength. This is why Mulan’s final design is really a blend of both Mark Henn’s athletic “tomboy” and Chen Yi Chang’s classical Chinese beauty.  She has both the sturdy muscles of Henn’s drawings and the delicate s-curve silhouette shown in those of Chen-Yi Chang. That’s actually a large part of what makes Mulan my favourite Disney princess.

I hope you enjoyed this look at one of Cheng Yi Chang;s character designs for Mulan. Personally I find Mulan’s concept art fascinating in regards to gender studies and feminism, which is why I devoted an entire chapter of my dissertation to her. Next week I should have the technical difficulties with my DVD player sorted out and will be featuring a very interesting piece of concept art which I had hoped to feature this week.

Image Credit: Design: Walt Disney Animation Studios: The Archive Series