Tuesday, October 28, 2014


I love Disney’s 2004 short film Lorenzo. It was the last project Disney’s French Studio animated before closing. The award winning film showed where hand-drawn animation could go in the future. The idea of taking rich, fluid hand-drawn character animation and change its traditional look with the help of the computer is extremely exciting to me. Leave the cel-painted look behind and aim for something like rough brush strokes, watercolor or pastel. Anything is possible now, Lorenzo proved that.
At the time of the film’s brief release my excitement was shared by Disney, Pixar and other studios. For some reason that enthusiasm has faded within big studios. So has the love for organic, personal, hand crafted paper animation.

Luckily I see Lorenzo’s potential being played out in many extraordinary student films. And I know that it’s only a question of time until a commercial pencil animated feature film will be produced that could bring to the screen a new, breathtaking mix of drawing and cg. When you draw your animation first, then use the machine to help invent a new world, the level of magic and wonder can hit the stratosphere.

Image Disney/Heritage Auctions

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Milt's Llama

One of my all time favorite pieces if character animation is the Lake Titicaca sequence from the feature Saludos Amigos. The way the Llama interacts and reacts to Donald Duck and the little Peruvian Boy is so inspired, I could watch that section forever.
Milt had mastered the realistic locomotion of a different four-legged animal in Bambi.
With this character he just went to town. When the Llama tries to follow Donald’s flute playing, he comes up with some hilarious moves, including a charleston, but eventually looses his balance. I remember Milt talking about this long ago assignment: “Yeah, I did a llama there that was kind of screwy…not one of my better things, nothing to write home about.” Geeezz!
These frames come from Michael Sporn’s animation archive.

Go here for the full pencil test:

This is a Donald Duck watercolor sketch Milt did as part of the promotional material.

A while ago I found a B&W fuzzy reproduction of this Kahl sketch in a book. I couldn’t help it and recreated it in color.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Bit of Frank Thomas Magic

Frank and Ollie were perfectly cast on the There Fairies from Sleeping Beauty. These ladies have a warmth that is unique to the work of the two animators. This is part of a pose test that Frank did before getting to the final animation. I don’t know how else to describe it, but there is a SOUL in these drawings. Merryweather does a little dance in the cottage, and Frank’s animation is such a delight.
Even if Frank often had to struggle with his drawing abilities, he always won the battle. Internalizing the character and portraying the inner emotions is so much more important than fancy drawing.

Frank Thomas, great animator, great actor.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Wilhelm M. Busch, Early Works

These beautiful drawings were were done during the 1940s. Busch published them much later in a little book, in which he points out that most of his student work was destroyed during the war, but a few drawings, like the ones shown here, survived. 
You can see that he already tries different drawing styles, from realistic renderings to simple line drawings. Whatever the approach, his phenomenal power of observation comes through in every image.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Don Lusk

…will celebrate his 101 birthday on October 28. I had the pleasure of meeting him for the first time one week ago at a Disney event. Don has an amazing memory and didn’t mind recounting highlights from his long career in animation. He joined Disney in 1933 (!!) and left in 1960. Many shorts and most of the animated features include great animation by Don. He animated the fish ballet in Fantasia’s Nutcracker Suite, he drew Alice during that long fall down the rabbit hole, where her dress turns onto a parachute. When in Sleeping Beauty Flora and Merryweather start to  throw pink and blue pixie dust at each other, that was Don, too. One of his final assignments included Nanny from 101 Dalmatians, as she finds out that the puppies have been stolen and runs out into the street calling for help.
After Disney Don worked for Hanna Barbera and other studios as an animator and director.

I really enjoyed talking to Don, who is one of the most positive, forward looking artists I have ever met.

About a year ago Steve Hulett from TAG conducted a great phone interview with Don. Here are parts 1,2 and 3:

Friday, October 17, 2014

Lee Blair

We all know about his famous wife Mary, but it was Lee Blair who started first working for Disney in 1938. (Mary joined him in 1940). Lee was a master watercolor artist from a very young age. At Disney he produced pre-production art for films like Pinocchio, Fantasia and Saludos Amigos.
In 1941 Walt Disney went on a goodwill/research trip to South America, and both Blairs were chosen to be part of the small group of artists that observed and painted local folklore in preparation for films like Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros.
Here are a few of Lee Blair’s stunning watercolors from that trip. They show a sophisticated mix of color, composition and caricature.

A LIFE photographer took this beautiful shot of Mary and Lee at work. Great photo!

One of Mary’s many exquisite studies. As John Canemaker stated in the film “Walt & El Grupo”, “This trip changed Mary”.

Her sense of color became more abstract and unusual, but always aiming for the essence of a particular mood.  Marc Davis said:” Mary created color combinations that were completely unique. She was as good, if not better than Matisse.”