Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Milt Kahl Book

I have talked before about my proposed idea for a series of books, each volume would celebrate the art of a particular Disney animator (not only the Nine Old Men). I had meetings about the book series when I was still at Disney. At that time the studio was working on the Disney Archives series, and I was told that these individual animator books would be too similar.
You might agree when I say that the time has come to re-visit that idea. The other day I had lunch at the Disney commissary with a small group of people, one of them was no other than Fred Moore's granddaughter. I had met her before way back in 2002 over at Ollie Johnston's house.
Anyway, it was great to find out that another member of the lunch group is working on a book on Fred Moore!!
So I here declare that after I finish my film Mushka, one of my main projects will be to publish a coffee table sized book on the art of Milt Kahl. I still have a lot of artwork by Milt that didn't make it into my Nine Old Men book. That art needs to be out there to inspire!
To give you an example: This gorgeous partial scene of King Hubert from Sleeping Beauty.

In the previous scene we see King Stefan looking out the window, sighing: "No sign of her yet, Hubert."
Scene 5 from seq. 13 follows. The Disney draft says: King Hubert at table, gorging greedily on food, talks to o.s. King Stefan. "'Course not, ha! Good half hour 'till sunset, ha. Ah. excellent bird! Ah, come on man, buck up! Battle's over...(girl's good as here!)"

Look at how Milt added overlapping action (in red pencil) on Hubert's sleeves in some of the last rough drawings. (Yes, this is rough animation, before clean up!)
All keys from this scene might end up in the Milt Kahl book.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Watercolor Backgrounds

Most painters will tell you that watercolor is the most difficult medium to work in. You pretty much have to finish the painting while it is still wet. Once dry, no corrections can be made. Oil or acrylic paints are much more forgiving. You can make changes whenever you want.
It is astonishing to see the background artistry of early Disney features and shorts, all painted in watercolor. Just look at the piece above. A background from the 1940 short Tugboat Mickey. The lighting and subtle use of color is just incredible.
The next piece is from the unproduced Mickey Mouse short film.

This one is from the Goofy short Baggage Busters, 1941.

Polar Trappers, 1938. What I like about Disney films is the fact that often the sky doesn't have to be blue or white. The painters used a color that fits the mood of the scene.

A great original Tom & Jerry set up, even though, I think the colors have faded a bit over time.

When we started production on Lilo & Stitch, it was decided that the film would benefit if presented in a vintage watercolor technique. The problem was that most background painters at that time weren't capable of painting that way. It took a lot of practice, trial and error and above all valuable lessons from Maurice Noble, who had painted backgrounds for Snow White. I was told his advice was incredibly important for re-capturing the magic of watercolor painting. From Snow White to Lilo & Stitch, what a legacy.
I believe these two paintings are pre-production. Beautiful!

Images Heritage Auctions

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Private Disney Apartment

Most of you probably already know that Walt Disney kept a private apartment at Disneyland, located just above the fire house. This photo shows Walt relaxing in the company of his wife Lilian, his daughters Sharon and Diane as well as Diane'e husband Ron.
These days the park's management gives tours of the apartment on special occasions. A while ago I had the honor to visit this extraordinary place along with some friends. One of them was carrying a bulky backpack. While a lovely Disneyland vip hostess showed us around and explained the apartment's history, my friend turned, and his backpack hit the vintage gramophone's horn. I'll tell you, that horn wobbled for quite a while before settling. Our Disney hostess was aghast...well, we all were. The unimaginable might have happened.
Lesson learned: When visiting Walt's apartment, leave your backpack in a locker downstairs!! (and don't bring clumsy friends.)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Hercules Screening

I did this drawing for Ollie Johnston in 1997 when he was celebrating his 85th birthday, which is on Halloween, October 31.
The reason I am thinking about Hercules right now is because I just returned from a screening of the film at Hollywood's vintage El Capitan theater. The movie palace is currently screening all of John Musker's & Ron Clements' animated films, leading up to their brand-new and first CG Disney movie Moana.
As far as my impressions regarding the animation in Hercules, Nik Ranieri's Hades and Ken Duncan's Meg sure stand out. My character Hercules as well as some of the others seem to work best when not "over animated", meaning when the acting reads clearly and feels natural. Some of the scenes I animated way back hold up, while others scream to be done over again. For some reason the sentimental scenes I did still work for me, when Herc is being humiliated by Hades, or when he is coping with Meg dying. Some moments with Meg at night on their first date look ok, too.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Drawings from Peter Pan

A selection of rough animation drawings from Disney's classic film Peter Pan. These Milt Kahl poses  explain once again why Walt Disney needed to have Milt do the title character. The solid draughtsmanship alone with great attention to animatable anatomy made this animator casting obvious. Since there were several animators handling Pan, the original pencil tests revealed him in all kinds of different looks, from cartoony to too muscular. After Milt hit the roof, he then re-drew some of those key drawings so that clean up would have an easier time keeping the character on model.

Hal King animated this beautiful scene with John and Michael.

Woolie Reitherman handled most action scenes with Captain Hook. Frank Thomas of course focused on the main acting sequences,

Norm Ferguson did some great work on Nana, a curious mix of pet and house maid.

I don't know who came up with these early charming design concepts for some of the The Lost Boys.

Ward Kimball drew the final designs for these lively characters, but I don't believe he did any animation on them.

The Indian Chief was Kimball's main contribution to the film. What fantastic animation! So inventive (as usual). I remember thinking about this character frequently when animating dialogue scenes with Jafar. It's so much fun to come up with weird mouth shapes, as long as they work with the dialogue reading and the character's personality.

Drawings Howard Lowery, Van Eaton Galleries and Heritage Auctions.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Lady Kluck

One of my favorite Milt Kahl characters, and I am not alone in this regard. Eric Larson kept a framed montage of Lady Kluck rough drawings on one of his office walls.
The 1970s at Disney might not go down in history as great storytelling years, but the level of character design as well as acting remained very, very high. Lady Kluck's main shape is basically a triangle. Narrow at the head and wide at her feet. Milt animated her as your fun loving aunt. She speaks her mind, while maintaining a cheerful attitude toward life.
The badminton sequence with Maid Marion is priceless. There is some fun dialogue as Lady Kluck is anticipating Maid Marion's next move: "As your Lady in Waiting....I'm waiting!"
I think I mentioned before how much I admire the way Milt articulates her wings as hands. The fingers remain feather thin as she is holding her badminton racket or her dress. And she moves with utterly believable weight. Another Kahl masterpiece!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Wendy & Michael Redrawn

Milt Kahl's superb draughtsmanship was again needed when it came to putting a John Lounsbery scene on model. Wendy has just caught her brother Michael as he came flying down.
Louns didn't particularly care for animating pretty realistic girls like Alice or Wendy, and I think that's evident in his rough animation drawing below. For that matter Milt didn't enjoy those character types either, it's just that he was able to do them masterfully anyway.
While doing this beautiful drawing for Lounsbery, Milt was probably cussing and swearing as he often did. "Nobody can draw his x!# around here...." The teddy bear needed to be there for scene continuity.

A frame from the final scene.

Her is the rough Michael model sheet comprised of Kahl drawings only.