Dec 29, 2007

Your Friend the Rat-the Little Golden Book version

If you haven't been by Jim Capobiano's blog lately you might not yet know that there's a new Little Golden Book out that's going to be a must-have. It's a companion piece to his wonderful short film "Your Friend The Rat" that debuted on the "Ratatouille" DVD release.

I snagged the above image from the Amazon website, which is where I suspect Jim got the cover shot he posts on his blog; he says the color is off and he'll soon post a more accurate one(it's really got to annoy when one works so hard on these things to see wrong color advertising it anywhere). For more information about it, hie yourselves over to Jim's blog pronto.
He's been busy putting up some very interesting posts with behind the scenes tidbits about the making of his film-this is really gold.
photo of Scott Morse by Jim Capobianco, courtesy of his blog

I love seeing the process and reading about what people go through at work. Jim had a special added investment, something usually extracurricular to a director/story person's normal plethora of jobs: he cowrote the song that ends the short film. That little song, sung in character by "Remy" and "Emile" was so charming...also pretty darned clever--and the visual accompaniment a tasty treat.

I'm sure the short needs no touting from me to entice anyone to watch it, but honestly, along with the feature itself(a film that I think plays better with repeated viewings-what a pleasure that is to say), it was such a great gift to put it on the DVD. Superior work by everyone, and lots to be inspired by.

Dec 24, 2007

Happy Holidays!

It's been 18 months since these were first posted, and as it's the right time of year and I haven't a new post ready, I repost them here for your enjoyment.

Have a lovely holiday, everyone.

all the rare material here appears--as before--through the generous courtesy of James Walker

...and here's one more for the road, from my house:

Merry, merry!

Dec 22, 2007

Disney's 1956 Holiday Card

Another old favorite, originally posted when I started this blog two years ago: the Disney Studio's 1956 Christmas card.
It looks much better in person.

Click on the images to enlarge them.

Christmas 'round the corner

A million things to do, and with work steaming along right up to the brink of the break, posting has become an intangible dream at the Blackwing factory. Just for kicks I'll post a few of the entries of Christmas past this weekend; fun graphics and perhaps entirely new to more recent visitors.

Hope everyone's doing their duty in the malls and byways of the planet, taking time to breathe--and enjoying the filmic qualities of this most noisy/twinkling time of year. My own (early 20th-century street designed)street has transformed into Bedford Falls lately--the happy version.

Dec 12, 2007

Nico Noël

Like most of my ilk, every year I save those holiday cards that are either sentimentally precious or very appealing-or both.
The thing is, after I put them away I rarely know exactly where I've put them. Here's an example from lo, these many years past(1994 actually); it just fell out of a pile of saved paper.
The artist is the prodigious and wonderful Nico Martlet. He handmade and painted all his cards that year-lucky me!

Dec 3, 2007

Daniela Strijleva... my new hero.

She's just started a sketchblog and it's a visual feast--already full of beautifully observed work.
As if her own drawing wasn't enough, she's also gone to the trouble of posting quite a few illustrations from Ronald Searle's must-have Paris Sketchbook, a task I'd intended to do but not yet got around to.

Pay her a visit:
Daniela Strijleva

Dec 2, 2007

Show and Tell-Mickey Mouse Ephemera

click to view at a decent size

I've been tidying my drawing area trying to cull the unnecessary stuff, and just for fun I thought I'd share this keen pencil box, a birthday gift from my friend Elinor. I've had it on my desk for ages, propped up where I can look at it--the colors and general fun of the thing are a nice bit of eyecandy for the workspace.

Nov 26, 2007

What if? Kimball and Jones...

above image from the Cartoon Modern blog

Michael Barrier has a new post up today with some very interesting ruminations on what might have been regarding Disney's "Sleeping Beauty". Well worth your time.

Nov 5, 2007

Podcast and Post alerts

A quick heads up to let readers know that Clay Kaytis has just posted a new episode of his Animation Podcast, this one an interview with Disney veteran Dale Baer. He's a man with a long and distinguished history as well as an enormous amount of goodwill in the industry; I've known dozens of people who worked with or for Dale and not one had anything but very happy memories.

an example from the pen of Dave Pimentel
And on Drawings From a Mexican there's some very good tips about drawing an uninspiring model. Dave Pimentel has been even busier than usual lately, so an update from him is always welcome.

And one more [technical] thing: although I like the "new" template that you currently see here(in particular its organizing sidebar that directs the reader to just how obsessive I am about Fred Moore and other subjects), the interface for adding links is a huge pain; they must be done one at a time, laboriously. Anyone who has a way around this, give me a tip, won't you? I cringe at losing all my links to blogs I love and want to point the reader to...but this one-by-one thing is for the birds.

Nov 4, 2007

Nov 1, 2007

Lou Redux

Lou Romano" "The House"

The mailman just now brought my household the Nov. 5 issue of the New Yorker. Flipping it open, I am looking at a page of artwork, all by various artists. One is obviously a John Currin...William Wegman's costumed weimaraners on the opposite page, and--what's this one at the top? Another lovely painting by--Lou Romano! With a cute character sketch underneath!

Lou's work is in the magazine again(he did a cover for them a while back) as part of a portfolio of artists' variations on the theme of Hansel and Gretel, to celebrate the Met's remounting of that opera in New York. All the art will be on display, the magazine tells me, at the Metropolitan's Gallery Met(I didn't even know they had a gallery, but it makes sense) from November 16 through February. I'd scan it but maybe you should buy the New Yorker and check it out. It's a good magazine.

As Steve Jobs would say "Pretty cool, huh?".

ETA: The New Yorker's online edition has much more from the exhibition posted on its website; there are two more of Lou's paintings there, including the image I linked to at the top of this post. Check it out by all means.

Oct 31, 2007

Happy Birthday, Ollie! With love and thanks for everything

Thanks to an alert by John Canemaker, I know that today, Halloween 2007, is Ollie Johnston's 95th birthday.

Really, what can be said about a man on such a day when he's lived so long that he's influenced millions--both professionally and personally--and it's all been said before, often by people who knew him well, worked with him and love him dearly?
It's a tough one. I met Ollie just once at his home many years ago, shortly before "Illusion Of Life" was published. I saw him speak at festivals and animation events; mostly I know him through his animation, which has always entertained and touched me, and always, always expertly fooled me into completely and utterly believing his drawings were alive.

Happy Birthday, Master Animator!

It's hard to find an image of Ollie alone in a shot--of course, for virtually all of his working life he's most often pictured with his dearest friend, the late Frank Thomas, as above. From David Nethery's blog I swiped the other shot of Ollie at his desk at the very beginnings of his illustrious career. Three guesses who's giving some guidance while Ollie looks on.

Oct 21, 2007

Fred Moore and family-previously unpublished

Here's a wonderful photograph: Disney animator Fred Moore, his first wife Virginia (for the record, his second wife was also named Virginia) and one of their two daughters, probably taken about 1938 or so.

Of course all we animation fans love the glimpse into the private, candid life of a legendary Disney animator, but as someone else (someone not in the business) pointed out upon seeing it: "it's great to see these kinds of images of people from seventy years ago. It's so vivid and casual-it's as if you're in the moment with them and makes you see them as real people, not caricatures, not just names on the credits or in a book." Indeed. The scene looks strikingly contemporary--the young Mrs. Moore could easily be my mom 30 years later, Fred one of my friends in the story department mugging with their own babies.

When's this insouciant artist going to get his own book? Until then, I'm grateful to be able to pass this happy snap along to Diary readers.

Oct 17, 2007

The return of the Carthay Circle

Here's some good news for lovers of animation and film history-and theme parks that could most certainly be a lot better:

Disney's California Adventure will be vastly rehabbed, including a reproduction of the long-demolished Carthay Circle theater.

From the article:
"Favorite California Adventure attractions -- including the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, one of several added in an effort to address criticism that the park had too few blockbuster rides -- won't be dismantled. A host of new attractions will include several based on Pixar animated films such as "Cars" and "Toy Story."
The entrance plaza will be redesigned and iconic structures reminiscent of old-time Hollywood will be added, including a replica of the Carthay Circle Theatre."

The Carthay was where "Snow White" had its lavish Hollywood premiere; in a generous gesture--considering that A list stars like Marlene Dietrich and Shirley Temple were crowding the theatre for the unveiling of Walt's 'folly'--Disney had arranged for all his key artists to be invited to the black tie occasion.
Years later, several of them recounted what it felt like to be there with the creme de la creme of the movie business going nuts over the film they'd slaved on for the longest couple of years of their lives: incredible.

What a neat idea to do this. I can only imagine who came up with it. Thanks, whoever you are.

Oct 7, 2007

One Moment Please...

Miss Mary Pickford catches up on her correspondence, circa 1917

I just wanted to note that in choosing a new template for the Diaries, I've inadvertently wiped out all my links. This after sagely counseling someone else that it was possible to put it all right again/not lose links. Uh, yikes. Well, I did save a text file with all the raw linkage so as soon as I'm on that computer I'll do my best to restore the good stuff.

The thing I like about this differently-written template is the ability to organize posts by tags(although I'm chagrined at all the tags being represented at right; there are quite a few that aren't that important). Now the "Fred Moore" and "story" posts can be accessed easily, instead of by searching.

So, just an FYI. More anon.

Sep 16, 2007

More Dance of the Hours illos

See the previous post--I'll be updating it further today and later during the week. These scans are tedious work, but I'm happy to be able to share them.

Fantasia "Dance Of The Hours" storybook

This is an interesting little book I just acquired.

It's dated 1940; 20 pages, a first edition--although I'm pretty certain there weren't any other, later editions. If I remember correctly, this was published for a specific purpose.
Way back in 1981 I was visiting the Disney Archives, hosted by Dave Smith(still there, I believe). Then as now the Archives were filled to bursting with all kinds of rarities on display. There was no Frank Wells building then--but there was a much bigger backlot instead(all the much-filmed Disney homes were there: Fred MacMurray's, Hayley Mills', Zorro's street, etc.).
The archives were on the first floor of the Roy Disney Building that also housed Buena Vista and other corporate divisions.

Things were awfully quiet on the lot then. It was easy to wander around the manicured grounds, meeting no one save the occasional "traffic boy" on a bicycle delivering interoffice mail, and daydream about the great animators of yore as younger men and women.

So back to the archives: I'd look throught the tip of the iceberg of material there, bookshelves with all sorts of rare volumes of Disney publications. There was a series of slim picturebooks, each with a title relating it to one of the segments of "Fantasia". I believe Dave told me these were published to establish the copyright to Disney's version of what were public domain musical compositions. The book itself wasn't meant for big sales, just to exist in the marketplace as token objects. Without them, presumably, any producer could have rushed out a short with elephants and alligators, say, dancing to ballet music(after all, those animals were public domain too--and Henrich Kley's drawings were available as freely to anyone as they were to the Disney Character Model department)...but with the book, the exact actions and look of the whole thing could be protected. And thus the books are all filled with lovely character art too.

I'd never owned one of these books before now, and reading the text I think I remember the story correctly. This isn't so much standard storybook style at all--it's a literal recounting of the sequence--exactly the way a story man would pitch it to Walt. The resulting writing makes for curious reading.
A sample:

The chorus forms a semi-circle around the pool. One elephant comes to the center, dips her trunk in the water and drinks deep. Then she lifts her trunk high and blows a bubble of tremendous size, far larger than any of the others. Gently she breaks it from the end of her trunk, and then, as it floats slowly across the stage she runs quickly after it, leaps in the air and lands astride the bubble. It carries her gently about the stage as the other elephants blow it from one side to the other. Suddenly the bubble breaks, and the elephant lands on the floor, as gracefully as possible under the circumstances.

It goes on like this--loads of minutely descriptive text while the accompanying pictures seems almost randomly chosen from the film's visual development. There's also (as you can glimpse in the text reproduced here) a hint of what may have been originally intended to be animated, but was cut. It was ever thus!

If there's interest I'll post more of the pages, adding them to this entry.
EDIT: Okay, here's more:

There's plenty more, but it's the weekend and the day is waning. Later!

Sep 15, 2007

Don Shank's Kurt

A lot of artists love to moonlight with girlie drawings, and many are superb at it. Few do the same with guys, likely because 99% of the artists are guys themselves and they'd prefer to work with a little more curvature when they're goofing around having fun.

Don Shank is tops with both genders on the pages of his sketchbooks. Back in the Turner development days Don had a fat sheaf of his girl drawings so choice that he was always granting requests for copies; I have one (and I wish I knew where I pu the darn things); they're completely wonderful--great designs and attitudes.

But since his blog has been up I've enjoyed his character Kurt even more than the ladies. Here's a guy I feel I know, who'd fit right in at a party, bar or in a 1961 film kibitzing with Bobby Morse or someone. It's definitely worth a trip to Don's blog to backtrack and vist the various Kurt posts--but be warned: the vast majority are rated G but a few aren't family-friendly.

"Dumbo" publicity

Here's another still I picked up from the same dealer as the last one(at Cinecon a couple of weeks ago--all of you in this area should get on their mailing list for next year, by the way). It's from the reissue release in 1949--you can tell by the numbers along the bottom there on the lower right: [19]49/278.

Judging from the overall look of the image I don't think it's a scene still that's exactly corroborated in the film--I'll check later. Not as cool as a story or rough sketch, but what the hey.

Sep 14, 2007

All The Cats sketch

This is a publicity still dating from the original release of "Make Mine Music". The caption is still affixed to the back and reads in part:

"THE JOINT IS JUMPIN'---These 'ickies' and 'alligators'[?] cut a rug when the jam session gets under way[sic] with musical and vocal backgrounds supplied by Benny Goodman's orchestra and The Pied Pipers. The scene is from "All The Cats Join In" sequence, one of the highlights of Walt Disney's latest full length comedy musical in Technicolor "Make Mine Music".

I wonder if this is an actual story sketch from the boards, rather than something drawn just for publicity? It looks like the former. I was just rereading Michael Barrier's biography of Disney; in an interesting anecdote it's mentioned (by one of the story men) that Walt looked at a pitch of the early rough boards for this sequence and was singularly unimpressed, telling them to "tighten it up", try again or something along those lines.

Instead, the guys had Joe Rinaldi take the drawings down and trace over each one, inventing nothing new but making everything look a heck of a lot better. When Walt next saw it, he approved the "changes" and this great number was good to go. This does look as if Joe Rinaldi drew it.

Sep 5, 2007

Fred Moore & Pete Emslie

Here of course is a lovely, interestingly unfinished Fred Moore painting. It appears courtesy of the generosity of Pete Emslie, cartoonist, collector, caricaturist, blogger, Sheridan Collge teacher(animation) and all-around nice guy, judging from his posts.
He's a very thoughtful man as well as a prolific artist, and I can't recommmend regualr visits to his blog too emphatically. Here's a sample of a recent post's illustration(by Pete):

Pete's gesture drawings of model Heather

In addition to the Moore above, he posted yet another painting by Fred he's acquired, as well as several centaurette cleanups that are a must see. Really lovely.
Thanks for sharing, Pete!

Aug 16, 2007

Christmas in August--a Marc Davis greeting

This is one of my Comic Con purchases: one of many Christmas cards designed by the superlative Marc Davis (with a self-caricature).

I'm not sure when this was done--how young would he have been to have looked as slim as he's depicted here? It's a wonderful drawing and I was glad to find it at the Van Eaton Galleries booth.

What's the Art happening on Flower Street?

Since I never seem to remember to ask my friends when I talk to them(and since those I do remember to ask don't know): what in the world are those placards placed over at WED advertising? What sort of show is it?

I apologize to non-locals for the crytpic nature of this post and promise I'll post something of less arcane interest soon, but I've really just got to know. Whatever it is, it's only for employees of the Disney Company.

Aug 14, 2007

Toy Stories

What's your story, buddy?

ETA: Jeff's toy just received an excellent review at the Plastic and Plush blog. Congratulations again to Jeff for garnering such kudos.

I've been catching up with a lot of the blogs I link to lately--ones I mean to visit regularly but too often procrastinate checking in on. Since the Comic Con, however, I've had a new motivation: what did all those fellow travelers I missed seeing there think of it, and how did the sellers I know of do?

So I've been making the rounds and enjoying the stories and pictures. One entry particularly stirred me up enough to begin a post about it the other day, though I put it aside until I'd have more time. Oddly, an article in today's New Yorks Times offered a quote that fit the old post here it is--the post, first:

* * *
Jeff Pidgeon blogged about an encounter he had at the Comic-Con involving the vinyl "Happy Beaver" toy he designed and was offering there. Apparently a vendor expressed interest in this appealing orange guy, and asked him what the character's story was. Jeff was forced to admit that...well...he didn't have a story, exactly; he had drawn a fellow he liked the looks of and wanted to see as a toy(Jeff is one of the animation world's preeminent cool toy collectors, by the way--more on that in a minute).

This woman was kind of amazed that Jeff didn't follow the toymaker's script--how could he have bothered to commission a sizeable retail toy with no story for it?
He was nonplussed at the expostulating from this stranger...after all, he is a story artist of long experience(at Pixar, no less). Wasn't it okay for him to indulge himself in a fun project of three-dimensional toy design? Does every figural thing with eyes, nose and tail have to have a backstory?
* * *

Well, that was as far as I got the other day. I put it aside and reflected on whether or not I was making too much of this little anecdote, but it did needle me for some reason. Then I read this in this morning's paper an article about the over-management of children's play--of adults inserting themselves and their notions of what "play" should be into a private world where children would otherwise think and invent and fantasize spontaneously. Here's the passage that really popped out at me--the article is reported by Patricia Cohen. She's quoting a professor at Brown who's written a book about children's play throughout history:

"Mr. Chudacoff...explain[ed] that with so much commercial licensing, toys have become more of an offshoot of the television and film industries than elements of play.
One result is that a toy comes with a prepackaged back story and ready-made fantasy life, he said, meaning that “some of the freedom is lost, and unstructured play is limited.”


Now, Jeff's vinyl toy isn't meant specifically for children, it's a fun object designed for adults like Jeff(and myself, and a passel of other animation people and artists)who enjoy fun objects around our environment for various reasons. Call it whimsy, maybe. But I think part of the reason that we do enjoy these things is that they both please our sense memories of childhood play and at the same time keep striking those synapses that we use all the time in our work. Stories beget characters--but also, very often characters beget their own stories--ones we couldn't tell until we get to know their players a little better. That's what I'd surmise about Jeff's character--why it isn't a boo-boo to have gone so far as to create him without The Story at hand, readymade, to reel off to a wholesaler or bystander. Jeff might well disagree, however.

Anyway, there is no hard and fast rule to this. It goes back to that old question" "where do your ideas come from?" Where? It's part nature, part nurture, part--who knows what?

And speaking of toys, for anyone with a passing interest in the glory days of strange and wonderful, make-your-own-backstory toys of yesteryear, have a look at Jeff's Flickr pages.

We had this around the house when I was a preschooler; I thought it was the most magical thing in the world.

a bootlegged toy knocking off a character from the Disney film "Chicken Little"
all the images are by and appear courtesy of

Aug 12, 2007

Dog days of summer-animal analysis

Michael Barrier has quite a few interesting emails and links lately; one that pushed one of my animation hot buttons grew out of his and others' reactions to "Ratatouille". It involves the handling of animals as characters in animation. Mike links to a post by caricaturist, Sheridan College instructor and blogger Pete Emslie. Pete's thoughts are fairly brief but clear and pointed, and as he says, there are many permutations to the types of characterizations he lists in his post.

Barrier himself writes something I couldn't put any better:

"To me, anthropomorphism like that in so many Hollywood cartoons has most often been a sign not of infantilism—the common accusation—but of an openness to the potential of artistic devices that more fastidious minds reject out of hand. You can do things in animation and the comics with animal characters that you can't with human characters; and as Pete's handout suggests, the more alert the artist is to the possibilities and limitations inherent in the different kinds of animal characters, the better the odds that something exceptional will result."

Boldface is mine. The misuse or dismissal of this truism Barrier mentions has frustrated me in the process of doing story on a couple of projects in the past, before my present job.

There were instances where opportunities to add something special were missed, involving animal characters that while able to "talk" didn't ever speak to human beings and were supposed to be real animals in a "real" environment.
Those projects worked from a script, but there was (supposedly) ample room for some visual, physical interpretation and ideas from the story artist. In some cases, however, I found myself thinking that the characters--instead of being birds or dogs--could have been mice, cats, horses or buffalo and virtually nothing but the character design would have changed.

There was literally no thought given to how a dog would react to a situation versus a parrot. It was all plot and dialogue, all the time. The fact that a story might revolve around a canine in a human household was only a gloss, not the crucial factor it should have been.
As someone who's lived with dogs, parrots, horses, fish and cats(to name a few), this really drives you around the bend in its waste of potential animation gold just sitting there waiting to picked up, drawn and presented to the audience. So, whether it makes it into the film or not, you continually try to insist on not just having a character get from A to B, but have him get there the way a puppy would. This doesn't mean cramming all kinds of diversions and asides into a scene but being judicious about where, when and how much depending upon that character at that moment.

Few films achieved this as brilliantly as in the handling of all the animals in "Lady and the Tramp". It's a lesson in thinking along those lines, and in the process turns scenes that might be a heck of a tough sell today("they put the puppy to sleep in the kitchen with a newspaper, but she won't stay put") and turns it into the universal, lovingly familiar experience that everyone who's ever raised a dog has experienced--and as a bonus we get to see it from not only the humans' but the puppy's point of view. It's scenes like that, just as much as the old "Bella Notte" number or "He's a Tramp" that make this a classic. Incidentally, those musical numbers are both examples of the story crew really pushing the limits they've set for themselves in terms of how anthropomorphized the dogs are--but (in my opinion at least) they get away with it as they do all through the film by never leaving out the "dogginess" they need to sustain the fantasy and tether it to reality.

This isn't to say that degrees of "faithful" anthropomorphism can't be mixed within a film with success in the best efforts of animation. I stumbled on a bit of "Dumbo" on TV yesterday, and the crows, Timothy Mouse and the Stork have little relation to their real life counterparts other than the use of their wings-those that have them-and the fact that they have beaks or tails. In "Dumbo" the brasher characters are also "free"--free of the strictures of being working circus animals, they can come and go as they wish and boss about or rag on human beings and animals alike, acting as a Greek chorus. They exist in a kind of limbo between the "real" elephants and kangaroos and tigers and the full-on humans such as the ringmaster. Timothy would gain little or nothing to push more elements of real mouse onto him--he doesn't need it. He's more [Fred]Moore than Mouse.

images courtesy of this site
Obviously one could go on about this all day--"Ratatouille" offers a lot to chew on on this subject, and I've already written a bit here and elsewhere about how well I thought those animals were handled, with attention paid to extreme subtleties of rats that made for an almost subliminal layer of reality to Remy and the others(but especially Remy). I don't know how much was instigated by the animators, but knowing Bird I would surmise that there are no accidents in anything on that score; the phrase "with a gimlet eye" was invented for Brad Bird, believe it.

Still, there are some shots where I'd sure like to wring that animator's hand.

Aug 10, 2007

Mary Blair's Cinderella visdev

Coming out later this month from Disney Press. Kudos to them.
I had completely forgotten about this new book, and was surprised when it popped up today on my Amazon "recommended" page(gee, wonder how they guessed that one?).

Visit Ward Jenkins and learn about the enigmatic yet sunny Lou Peters

Ward Jenkins has singlehandedly amassed one of the best collections of fun 50s-60s illustration I've seen anywhere, and he blogs about it regularly and well. His most recent post is chock full of charming graphics by an illustrator named Lou Peters, Go see it!

Aug 9, 2007

Bruce Timm's sketchbook cover

Of all the items to miss at the con...I didn't even know he was doing them. This is I believe #3.
Bruce has been a big influence on a lot of people who in some cases might not even know it. Back in the day I never saw anyone, anywhere so facile with a brush pen and markers...and with such singularly appealing results. He's got a great color sense and I was agog at the rare watercolor(or gouache) of his that I'd see.

So I've got to track one of these babies down. Stuart Ng has them, at a price.

Aug 5, 2007

An Earl Oliver Hurst Monday

image courtesy of American Art Archives
If he wasn't in animation, he sure could have been--but then we'd likely be out all those fantastic covers and illustrations.
Posted here to porvide a little charm and inspiration for what's sure to be a busy week for wielders of Blackwings and styluses.