Disney Fine Art has just released a lovely new series by Canadian artist Denyse Klette called “The Stardust Collection”, and it felt worth a blog to me. I just added Denise’s work to the site, and I think it’s going to be very popular, especially to people who love stargazing!
Denyse has always wanted to be an artist, and loved art and drawing from a young age. In fact, she remembers copying images out of a Disney “How to Draw” book at the age of 4. By 16, she had her first piece published, a comic strip, in two local Canadian papers.
As a young wife and mother in Toronto, she began studying with a mentor, and they subsequently started a mural company together. Working steadily with that mentor was one of the most influential experiences in terms of developing her talent and learning color theory, something that would be important in her work as a Disney artist. For over 26 years, a 12 foot tall and 30 foot long mural created by her in 1993 could be seen on top of the Broadway Bridge in the city of Saskatoon. Two of the children represented in the mural are inspired by her daughters. That mural was instrumental in getting her commissions to do portraits, many of which are of high profile corporate and political subjects.
Denyse went on to create the art for the Belly Button Buddies series, which ended up including two award-winning books, a cd, and a live show, which became a popular tv show!
She has also done quite a bit of commissioned work, including a hotel and casino that features 39 of her originals and over 450 giclees in their rooms and public spaces. She has created many images that have been licensed and sold into the mainstream. In fact, you may have used one of the adult coloring books or puzzles she created through a licensing deal with Macmillan Publishing.
A major turning point in Denyse’s outlook on life and perspective on art happened during her mom’s treatment for cancer and the building of her new home. There was an accident in which Denyse severed her left thumb (Don’t panic, fans! She uses her right hand to paint!). This instilled a daily reminder not to take life and joy for granted, and to choose joyful subjects when creating art.
Of course the idea of choosing joy leads perfectly to her work with Disney Fine Art. A sculpture she created caught the attention of a gallerist in Florida, who put it on display at the Fine Art Expo at Disney World. Visiting the exhibit inspired her to create her first Disney painting, which she submitted to Disney Fine Art. Only a short time later, she was signing a contract to create official Disney art.
See how her choices brought her full circle from that 4 year old artist, and her first Disney “How to Draw” book to becoming one of the few artists selected as official Disney artists?
“Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. If you follow your bliss, doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”
Denyse Klette shows following your bliss can be a way to your best life. Nowhere is this better exampled than the new Stardust Collection, and you can see all the images by clicking HERE.
I asked Denyse to answer 5 questions about herself & the new series.
5 QUESTIONS WITH DENYSE KLETTE
What inspired the Stardust collection for you and what do you hope collections will be most moved by seeing the work?
I’m one of the official brand creators for Swarovski crystals so when I’m working on originals I use the crystals and embed them into the pieces.
Disney Fine Art came up with the beautiful stardust finish for the reproductions that gives them the magical sparkling touch. They are so so pretty in person! Can you ever have enough sparkles???? I hope that collectors will see my love for the characters and the little story I’m trying to tell in each piece.
“Infinite Possibilities” has multiple layers of meaning, because it sort of speaks to space travel as well as the imagination. Can you talk about that image?
I LOVE this one too! Even though this is a relatively simple design it made me think of several things.
1. There are moments with some friendships where no words ever need to be spoken…its the moment of time that you remember together.
2. The old question of what adventure is out there?
3. I love the peacefulness of this scene too. Just the two of them and the stars. You can practically hear the silence.
4. To me it is a reminder to stop and just take in the beauty of the world we live in.
Good Friends are Like Stars celebrates friendship but also captures the sweetness of the 100 Acre Woods characters. What was the inspiration for this piece?
We are fortunate to live out in the country, so we as a family have sat and just watched the sky. It’s amazing how you never get tired of shooting stars or the magic of the northern lights dancing for us. Even though it is beautiful if you are by yourself, there is something about sharing the magic with friends or family. The stars always remind me that we are so small, and to be thankful for the small things. After all Pooh said “Sometimes the smallest things take the most room in your heart”
What inspires you the most about creating art for Disney and how does it feed you artistically?
I think it’s the freedom that they have given me to create with my style and flare. I love experimenting with new mediums and techniques to make each one unique which definitely feeds me artistically!
The amazing collections of Disney characters and stories is so huge that I am constantly coming up with new ideas! My biggest complaint is I don’t have enough hours in the days! 😁
How does it feel to be the first Canadian official Disney Fine Artist?
I don’t think there are words for how exciting it was to sign with them. 🎉 It truly is a pinnacle in my art career. Like millions of other people, I grew up loving Disney so I try to remind myself every time I walk into my studio how incredibly fortunate and magical it is to create art for them.
See all the Stardust Collection images on our official Denyse Klette artist page, HERE.
This Valentine’s Day, ArtInsights is doing cupid’s work, and watched lots of sweet, poignant, and sometimes heartbreaking cartoon shorts in the hopes of bringing you a worthy list for the holiday. I got weepy so you don’t have to, or at least not as often! I wanted to find 10 great cartoons from a variety of studios that would represent love in many of its most positive and joyful forms. As long as I can remember, my parents have sent me a Valentine. In fact, I just got one from them. Valentine’s Day is just another opportunity to tell the many people (and creatures!) you love them. See our list below, set in chronological order of release, for an animated celebration of love you can share with your valentine, be they your parent, pet, partner, or paramour.
THE UGLY DUCKLING 1939
Though there was an earlier incarnation of this Hans Christian Andersen story brought to the screen by Disney in 1931, the better version was released in 1939, released on April 7th, as a Silly Symphonies short. It won the Best Animated Short Subject Oscar. It was the last of the Silly Symphony series, ending it on a high note. Several of the most famous and beloved animators in Disney history worked on the film, including Milt Kahl and Eric Larson, and featured the voice of Donald Duck, Clarence Nash, doing duck sounds. As love-related cartoon shorts go, this story is a timeless one that brings to life the experience of feeling lost and finding your clan, and the love that surrounds you when you do.
MR DUCK STEPS OUT 1940
Of all the entries on this list, Mr. Duck Steps Out, which features Donald Duck, Daisy, and his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louis, is the most specific to Valentine’s. Donald comes to call with a heart-shaped box of chocolates for his sweetie. This is a joyful short with dancing, romance, and fun, but also speaks to the patience and understanding sometimes needed in blended families. Here Daisy is presented as Donald’s permanent love interest for the first time. The story for Mr. Duck was created in part by Carl Barks and Jack Hannah, and animators on this short include Les Clark and Dick Lundy. Find art of Donald Duck HERE.
JOHNNY FEDORA AND ALICE BLUEBONNET 1946
This, for full disclosure, is one of my very favorite pieces of animation every released. Released as part of Disney’s animated anthology Make Mine Music, the whole story is told through song, sung by The Andrew Sisters. It was directed by Jack Kinney, who also helmed many of the best “How To” Goofy shorts. It’s about two hats who fall in love while on display next to each other in a department store, only to be separated when Alice is bought. Much struggle and many challenges later, there’s a very sweet happy ending. It’s about commitment, y’all.
FEED THE KITTY 1952
This is one of two shorts featuring a pup and kitty that love each other I’ve included in the list. Why? Well, for one thing, this cartoon has been rated as one of the top 50 best in history. Directed by Chuck Jones, Feed the Kitty, the first short featuring bulldog Marc Anthony and kitten Pussyfoot, is a masterclass in comedic timing, and character design. The great voice artist Mel Blanc, though uncredited, can be heard as a pained, clawed Marc Anthony. It’s the relationship between the dog and kitten that holds the whole thing together and makes it so memorable. It’s a reminder that (as in the case of Pussyfoot kneading Marc Anthony’s back and possibly drawing blood in the process) a little pain is part of a life of love, but it’s all worth it. Find art of Marc and Pussyfoot HERE.
THE DOT AND THE LINE: A ROMANCE IN LOWER MATHEMATICS 1965
Again, directed by Chuck Jones, but co-directed by artist Maurice Noble, and winner of an Academy Award, this short was released by MGM. It tells the story of a dot and line, and their romance, which goes through a number of challenges before all is said and done. Weird and wonderful, it’s an esoteric and visually fascinating cartoon, perfect for the more nonconformist animation fans.
Our only black and white entry, this computer animated short was directed by John Kahrs, who also supplies the voice of the male lead. Produced by Disney, it was the first short cartoon to win an Oscar since 1970. It takes place in the 40s, and is a story of missed and second chances, love at first site, destiny, and Cupid-help from an unexpected source. The whole thing is very romantic, with the lead character George inspired by George Bailey, the lead character in another memorable romance of sorts, It’s a Wonderful Life. Find art of Paperman on the website HERE.
Traditionally animated, Kimball is directed by female animator Rosanna Sullivan, and produced by Pixar. It became a sensation after being released on YouTube and racking up 93 BILLION views, and ultimately got nominated for an Oscar. It’s the story of a teeny homeless kitten who befriends a pit bull, and it’s just really a portrayal of pure, unconditional love in action. It’ll make you feel all your feelings and remind you of whatever favorite creature you’ve got now or had in your life that made your life fuller and more beautiful. The short was part of Pixar’s SparkShorts program, which offered opportunities to unknown voices in animation. Sullivan was inspired by the hand-drawn animation she saw as a child, and wanted to create animation that couldn’t be replicated inside a computer. Her work and commitment to 2D led to a wonderful, poignant film that will become one of your favorites, especially if you’re an animal lover.
HAIR LOVE 2019
I dare you to get through this one with dry eyes. Directed by Matthew Cherry and another Oscar winner, Hair Love centers on seven-year-old Zuri, who is trying, unsuccessfully, to do her own hair with hair tutorials. Enter her dad, Stephen, who commits to figuring out how to tame Zuri’s gorgeous hair into her desired do. The end, (and I reveal this for folks who don’t need this kind of surprise), shows Zuri and Stephen bringing Zuri’s mom home from the hospital, where she’s been getting chemotherapy. It’s actually a happy ending, and what can I say? Love is in every frame of this cartoon.
(Matthew Cherry: https://youtu.be/IAGHJRSsc6A)
Another potential tearjerker, written and directed by Steven Hunter, this is the 7th in the Pixar SparkShorts program. It is both Disney and Pixar’s first short to feature a gay lead character. It’s a bit convoluted, but very sweet, and celebrates familial and romantic love in ways not seen before onscreen. Love is love, and Valentine’s Day is for everyone!
US AGAIN 2021
3D computer animated short Us Again is a Disney release, written and directed by Zach Parrish. The film, which shows an older married couple reinvigorate both their bodies and souls through dance was inspired by his own grandparents and a viral video of married choreographers Keone and Mari Madrid dancing as an elderly couple. Female composer created the soundtrack before the animation was created to give the Madrids, who created the choreography for the short, music to work with. You can see this cartoon on Disney+, and watching it, at the very least, will remind you of a few things: you’re never too old to dance or be in love, love can help keep us young, and “thinking young” helps keep love partnerships healthy and vibrant.
As a reminder, the gallery has lots of great pieces of art that celebrate love in animation. You can find a nice collection specific to romance HERE. May you all have a happy Valentine’s Day, and may you always remember you are loved.
At ArtInsights, we have as many fans of Beauty and the Beast as we do for The Little Mermaid, and that’s saying something. Since we’re heading into Valentine’s season, the season of love, as it were, I thought I’d talk about the history, art, and fun facts about the tale as old as time.
IT’S A WINNER:
Disney’s 1991 new classic Beauty and the Beast is not only beloved by fans all over the world, it also represents a number of important firsts. The film was the first fully animated feature ever to be nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, and is a stunning example of what historians call the Disney Renaissance.
The film lost the Best Picture Oscar to, umm, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, a film that had the distinction of being one of only two film in history (along with It Happened One Night in 1935) in which Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Picture all went to the same film, so at least Beauty and the Beast lost to a worthy adversary. Composers Alan Menken and Howard Ashman DID win, though. Alan Menken won for Best Original Score, and he and Ashman were nominated for a Best Music Oscar for their songs “Belle” and “Be Our Guest”, and won the award with the unforgettable tune sung by Angela Lansbury, “Beauty and the Beast”.
The germs of the tale seen in Disney’s feature come from a tale written by female French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot, who included it in a collection called “La Jeune Américaine et les Contes Marins” (The Young American and Tales of the Sea), published in 1740. The Belle et la Bete segment is believed to be, in part, inspired by the life of Petrus Gonsalvus and his lovely wife, Catherine. Petrus Gonsalvus was born in 1537 with hypertrichosis, also known as Werewolf Syndrome, in which copious amounts of hair grow on all surfaces of a person’s skin. He began his life as an enslaved person, and at just 10 years old, he was given as a gift to the King of France. Gonsalvus lived in Henri II’s court for over 40 years, during which he was given the education of a nobleman, learning everything from Latin and poetry to military tactics. It was at court that he met his wife Catherine. They had 4 daughters and a son, several of whom shared their dad’s disorder, and were painted many many times by artists of the day. A few years after Barbot’s version was released, Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont condensed her story and turned it into largely what we recognize as the basis for both Jean Cocteau’s 1947 live-action romantic fantasy film, and Disney’s 1991 animated feature.
You can actually see the direct inspiration Gonsalvus provides for the Beast in Cocteau’s 1946 gem La Belle et la Bête. If you haven’t seen this version of the story, it’s a French film classic that critic Roger Ebert called “one of the most magical of all films”. Here’s a trailer where you can see the Beast’s design:
The Disney version was developed as far back as the 1930s, when Disney was looking for other stories to adapt into a feature. It was shelved back then, but in the late 80s, they brought the idea back and started working on a non-musical version of the story—another first, though, was the film hiring a screenwriter, rather than the film being developed via storyboards. Linda Woolverton wrote a draft and then worked with the story artists. They then shifted and retooled the story, hiring first-time feature directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, and Alan Menken and Howard Ashman to write songs and make it a musical, and Wise, Trousdale, Menken, Ashman, Woolverton, and producer Don Hahn collaborated to make what we all see onscreen.
Here is an interview with Kirk and Gary about their careers:
Angela Lansbury was, as you all know, the voice of Mrs. Potts, and to be honest, that was one of the main reasons I was excited to see the movie when it was the theaters for the first time.
Here she is, singing it live in concert 2001, and though she’s not in her voice’s prime, it’s pretty impressive at 76.
This amazing performer had an EGOT before it was cool, meaning she has been nominated for an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony. For her first film Gaslight in 1944 she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, then again for The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1945, and The Manchurian Candidate in 1962 (losing, if you must know, to Patty Duke’s performance in The Miracle Worker. Fair enough..) They gave her a lifetime achievement award, which I always think is sort of too little too late. Her work on Broadway was even more impressive. She recieved 7 Tony nominations, winning 5, including for Mame in 1966 (OMG i wish i’d seen that!!) Gypsy in 1975, and Sweeney Todd in 1979. Here she is performing as Mrs. Lovett showing just how fantastic she was and what stage presence she had:
As Jessica Fletcher in Murder, She Wrote she was nominated for an Emmy nominated 12 times in a row but never won. Philistines! Anyway, I enjoyed the rabbit hole I went down looking at videos of Angela Lansbury performances, and you might, too. There’s a treasure trove out there of her work.
Meanwhile, talking about great Broadway performers, you might only know Jerry Orbach, the voice of Lumière, as Lenny Briscoe on Law and Order. He was actually on tv way back in the 60s, starred on Broadway, even winning a Tony Award in 1969, and for all you Gen X’ers out there, of course played Baby’s dad in Dirty Dancing. Nik Ranieri, who also worked on Meeko in Pocahontas, Roger in Roger Rabbit, and Hades in Hercules, was the supervising animator for Lumière.
Broadway performer Paige O’Hara was chosen out of over 500 hopefuls to play Belle. What I think is really cool about Paige is she has loved art and painting even longer than she loved singing and acting. Inspired by her architect dad, she started drawing and painting as a child. She even sold her art to help support herself when she first got to New York as a starving actor! O’Hara was added to the Disney roster when a Disney art scout saw an original painting of Belle she brought to one of her signings. You can see all her Disney art HERE.
The poster for Beauty and the Beast was created by none other than famed campaign artist John Alvin. He had worked on only one other Disney movie at that point, though he went on to create posters for Aladdin and The Lion King, and the term “Alvin-izing” would be coined by a Disney executive about his magical imagery. It was the first time that a Disney movie campaign had 2 key posters, one geared for children and another, John’s poster, for adults.
We have one limited edition from the extremely sold out limited edition based on the alternate finish which was very nearly used as the key art for the adult movie poster. The piece, which is an Artists Proof from the Alvin family, isn’t on the site, but you can contact us via email if interested!
In terms of art used in the making of the film, there are no production cels from Beauty and the Beast. Though it was drawn in 2D, the drawings were scanned into a computer and colorized in there, so no cels were used. They did have an auction, as they did with a number of films from the Disney Renaissance, at Sotheby’s, where they sold original drawings with cels created by the ink and paint department especially for the auction. There were also hand-drawn limited editions from the movie created for the collector market. When I was touring the ink and paint department once back in the 90s, the ink and paint artists were working on the Beauty and the Beast limited edition set of two. I met a woman who had been working there since the 50s and had worked on Sleeping Beauty. I bought the cels she was inking that day, and those limited editions belong to a very happy fan of both movies! I currently don’t have any cel art created from Beauty and the Beast for sale at the gallery, but we do have lots of interpretive pieces created by official Disney artists.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, it’s lovely to know there continues to be interest and love for Beauty and the Beast. That’s in no small part because of the Broadway Beauty and the Beast musical stage play, which is yet another first, the first of many subsequent Disney Broadway productions. A number of famous stars of stage and screen have performed in the show, including Debbie Gibson, Andrea McArdle, and Toni Braxton as Belle. Then of course in 2017, the live-action adaptation was released directed by Bill Condon, starring Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, and tons of other great performers, Ok, let’s be honest, though…we came for Emma and stayed for 6-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald, who stole a movie that also starred Josh Gad, Luke Evans, and Emma Thompson. Here are cast members talking about their experience:
Director Condon has had a number of successful releases, including Chicago, Dreamgirls, and Breaking Dawns part 1 and 2 of Twilight. He’s always coming up with the next big thing, and I’m sure he’s going to announce whatever that is soon!
The most recent permutation of Disney’s B&B was Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration, which just aired in December of 2022, and starred H.E.R. , Josh Groban, Shania Twain, and David Alan Grier. You can get a tiny taste of what that was like here:
Feeling romantic yet? Hopefully this blog has taught you a thing or two or allowed you to see something new or unexpected in Beauty and the Beast. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in interpretive Disney artists’ takes on the original feature, GO HERE, but here are a few examples of available art:
Since this is the first blog of the new year, I wanted to ring in 2023 with something interesting and fun, and really tried to think what connected with starting over, new beginnings, turning over a new leaf and all that. I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, although I respect them in other folks. My new year, since I’m pagan, is the Winter Solstice. Still, there’s something magical about the turning of the clocks, and the fact that it happens all over the world. So. Let’s say we are ALL in need of a shift, and that we could use some inspiration by way of accountability.
Enter Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio’s official conscience.
THE HISTORY OF JIMINY:
Jiminy Cricket was first introduced as Grillo Parlante in italian novelist Carlo Collodi’s book The Adventures of Pinocchio: Story of a Puppet in 1883. The character appears in the book four times, and in every instance he represents common sense and Pinocchio’s own conscience, although the Italian Jiminy Grillo Parlente, is actually killed by Pinocchio, only to come back as a ghost, and then be resurrected. (!)
For Disney’s 1940 animated feature Pinocchio, Jiminy is given a much bigger role as Pinocchio’s companion, and his official conscience as appointed by the Blue Fairy.
Beyond being anthropomorphized, Jiminy’s design differs significantly from real crickets. Real crickets have very long antennae and have six legs, while Jiminy has four. He was designed to look like a gentleman from the late 19th century, with a top hat and spats. His name is based in what might be defined as the G-rated oath used instead of Jesus Christ, “Jiminy Christmas!”, which dates back to at least 1803!
Jiminy Cricket was designed by character animator and member of the collective known as Disney’s Nine Old Men, Ward Kimball. In addition to Jiminy, Kimball was known for his work on Mickey Mouse, some of the most beloved characters in Alice in Wonderland, including the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, and Tweedledee and Tweedledum, plus Gus and Jaq and Lucifer the Cat in Cinderella. He was a supervising or directing animator on Fantasia, Dumbo, Fun and Fancy Free, and The Reluctant Dragon, Alice in Wonderland, and Cinderella, and won an Oscar for his work on Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom in 1954, and the 1969 Disney education film It’s Tough to be a Bird.
For those geeky enough to get excited about seeing Ward Kimball on Groucho Marx’s What’s My Line, (like me!) here you go:
THE VOICE OF JIMINY:
As to Jiminy’s voice, the original artist for Jiminy in Pinocchio was Cliff Edwards, who was nicknamed Ukulele Ike. He was one of the most popular singers of the 1920s, and had a song that reached number one on the hit parade, “Singin’ in the Rain”, a song which he introduced. Yes, THAT Singin’ in the Rain:
He was actually one of the first singers to show scat singing on film, as exampled here with Buster Keaton in 1930’s Doughboys.
Edwards contributed Jiminy’s voice for both Pinocchio and Fun and Fancy Free, and sang one of the most popular and enduring songs in the Disney cannon, “When you Wish Upon a Star”, which is now largely considered the studio’s signature song. It was deemed culturally significant and added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2009, and the American Film Institute named it as #7 in the top 100 songs in the history of film.
Edwards had died in poverty in 1971, and when the folks at Disney Studios found out, they paid for his tombstone. They subsequently made Cliff Edwards a Disney Legend, an honored bestowed on him in 2000.
In more recent films, other voice artists were commissioned, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt for the 2022 live-action adaptation of Pinocchio. In Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, it was Ewan McGregor who did the honors, although in that film, the character is referred to Sebastian.
INCARNATIONS OF JIMINY CRICKET
There are a number of times in which Jiminy has appeared onscreen, which is important for animation art collectors who collect original production cels to bear in mind, because the value of art representing the character varies widely depending on which incarnation you are potentially adding to your collection.
First, Disney’s Jiminy appeared in Pinocchio. Here he is, doing the opening narration of the film after singing his most famous song:
Subsequent to that, he appeared in 1947’s Fun and Fancy Free.
He was represented in Disney TV specials, and the various incarnations of WaltDisney’s Wide World of Color or The Mickey Mouse Club, where he taught kids to spell ENCYCLOPEDIA! Here’s a great example of how Jiminy looks in the cartoons of the 1950s. Note the very thick ink line that outlines his figure:
He also appears in 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Here is a trailer for the cartoon from 1983.
More recently, Jiminy has appeared in the Kingdom Hearts video game, bringing him and his wonderful spirit to the youngest of generations.
IDENTIFYING JIMINY CELS:
All versions of Jiminy look different both onscreen and as art. Cels from Pinocchio and Fun and Fancy Free are mostly on nitrate cellulose, and are hand-inked. The eras are close enough together that you have to watch the cartoon to track down your cel, and that’s something I always recommend, no matter what era the cel you have or are considering for purchase. Cels from Pinocchio and Fun and Fancy Free will be presented as Courvoisier setups, with mats and backgrounds that are either wood veneer or simple hand-prepared backgrounds from the Courvoisier studios.
Of course, videos from The Mickey Mouse Club era are way harder to track down, and sometimes even impossible to find. MMC Jiminy cels will be presented as Disneyland Mat setups, and that means they’ll be cut down, will have small mats, litho backgrounds, and seals on the back. Disneyland Mat setups are almost always stuck to their backgrounds, and often are shown on backgrounds that don’t belong to the shows from which the cels are derived.
Cels of Jiminy from Mickey’s Christmas Carol are definitely problematic, in that most of the cels sold by Disney from that cartoon are laminated, cels of Jiminy included. Laminated cels from the Disney art program are mostly going to deteriorate in a way that makes them look shriveled and bubbly, and restoration doesn’t fix them. It’s a sad fact, but a true one.
Ultimately, if you love Jiminy and can save up for a cel from his most famous film and Disney debut Pinocchio, that would be best, but if you’re looking for the character without spending as much, a Disneyland mat setup would be a lot less money…and of course, you can get interpretive images created by Disney artists right here on this website. (you’ll see interpretive images of him below)
Jiminy remains a beacon for doing good and feeling compassion, as well as letting your conscience be you guide. That expression can’t help but bring images of Pinocchio’s conscience to mind. As Disney characters go, Jiminy is one of the most positive and uplifting. He was the embodiment of “if you can dream it, you can be it” and all that stuff made popular recently by books like “The Secret”. He’s everyone’s cheerleader. When all else fails to pull you out of a funk, try Jiminy singing “When You Wish Upon a Star”. At the very least, it will help.
A big part of Jiminy’s lasting legacy is the classic song, which has been covered repeatedly by a lot of big stars. The latest is Cynthia Erivo, who sang the song as part her role as the Blue Fairy in the recently released live action Pinocchio.
You can find all the Jiminy art available on our site HERE, or contact us if you’re looking for original production cels of the character, but for now, enjoy a few of the interpretive Disney pieces created of Jiminy and his friends in Pinocchio:
The holiday season is upon us, once again! It’s time to watch some Christmas cartoon shorts to get us all in the mood. There’s much trouble in the world, of course, but this year it seems we can actually spend time together and celebrate love and light, whatever that might mean in terms of belief, be it Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Pagan, Wiccan, Buddhist, or whatever else helps you make sense of why we’re all here. We bring in the new year with those we love most, whether they’re relatives or found family.
To put everyone in that joyful place, we at ArtInsights thought we’d offer some suggestions of a few of the sweetest Christmas cartoon shorts, some of which will be familiar, others of which may be entirely new to you. You don’t have to be Christian to love Christmas and Christmas cartoons, whatever they say. Yule, Santa, and all the beauty of the holiday can be enjoyed by anyone. It’s all story, after all! So here are 10 Christmas cartoon shorts from a variety of animation studios and productions for you, as we offer season’s greetings!
Mickey’s Orphans 1931
This early black and white Mickey short features the famed mouse along with his beloved Minnie Mouse and faithful pup Pluto. It takes place during Christmas time, features the voice of Walt Disney, and is Mickey’s 36th short. It’s a remake of a 1927 Oswald cartoon Empty Socks, which was only recently found in a library in Norway in December of 2014! (That cartoon is still not available to the public, or it would be on this list!)
The stage is set at the beginning of the short, with Minnie playing Silent Night, and Pluto sleeping by the fire. When someone leaves a basket on their doorstep, Pluto brings it in, and the household discovers it’s filled with orphaned kittens. Though Mickey and Minnie are determined to make the kitties feel at home, the babies go about destroying to place. This storyline will resonate with anyone who has a cat, especially a kitten who has toyed with carefully appointed holiday decorations!
Santa’s Workshop 1932
Also an early Disney short, Santa’s Workshop is part of the Silly Symphonies. It centers on Santa’s preparations for the night before Christmas, aided by his trusty elves. It also features Walt’s voice work, this time as an elf. It’s directed by Wilfred Jackson, who went on the direct Snow White in 1937, and Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan in 1950, 1951, and 1953, and won the Winsor McCay Award in 1983. Notable about this cartoon is it features prominently in the Scandinavian version of the Disney compilation featurette From All of Us to All of You, played every year just before the holiday. It is part of, in effect, the Scandinavian version of A Charlie Brown Christmas. It is a short of its time, and as such has a few racial stereotypes that have been since scrubbed from the cartoon.
The Night Before Christmas 1933
The sequel to Santa’s Workshop, The Night Before Christmas is also directed by Wilfred Jackson, and it’s one of the more joyful Christmas cartoon shorts ever released. As you might imagine, it’s based on Clement C Moore’s famous poem from 1823, originally released anonymously as Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas”. Moore’s work had an enormous impact on the perceptions and traditions of the holiday, and Walt Disney created this short to lean into those traditions. In it, St. Nick delivers toys to sleeping children, whereupon they come alive, dance, and have fun.
Alias St Nick 1935
This short was produced by Harman-Ising Productions and released by MGM as one of the Happy Harmonies cartoon series. It features a tough, skeptical baby mouse named Little Cheeser who makes clear his doubts of the existence of Santa Claus as Mrs. Mouse is reading A Visit from St. Nicholas to her whole brood. A cat overhears the mice and dresses like Santa to trick Mrs. Mouse and make a meal of her and her babies, but Little Cheeser thwarts his plans. Little Cheeser goes on to have a cartoon named after him, released in 1936.
The Pups’ Christmas 1936
Also released by MGM as a Happy Harmonies short is the very sweet cartoon in which two puppies experience Christmas for the first time. They get up to a lot of mischief in a script co-written by Bill Hanna of Hanna Barbera fame. The stars are the “two little pups”, who were introduced earlier the same year in, you guessed it, “Two Little Pups”.
Christmas Comes but Once a Year 1936
Here’s a cartoon short from Fleischer Studios as part of its Color Classics series. I absolutely love this cartoon. It features the character from Betty Boop Professor Grampy in his only appearance without Betty. Grampy discovers that kids in an orphanage have gotten worn out and broken old toys on Christmas, and sneaks into the kitchen of the orphanage to assemble new toys from household appliances, furniture, and other kitchen paraphernalia. Then, dressed as Santa, he changes Christmas for all the orphans.
Frosty the Snowman 1950
In 1950, just after the first release of this Christmas classic tune, the UPA (United Productions of America) Studio created a 3 minute cartoon short in the style of their most famous cartoon, Gerald McBoing-Boing. It was directed by Robert Cannon, known for his work at Warner Bros. famed Termite Terrace, and won the prestigious Winsor McCay Award in 1976. Filmed in black and white, Frosty premiered on Chicago tv station WGN-TV on December 24th and 25th, 1955, and has been playing every year since.
The Star of Bethlehem 1956
As much as most folks think Snow White is the first full length animated feature, Reiniger beat him by 11 years when she created The Adventures of Prince Achmed in 1926. She is known for using delicate silhouettes in creating her animation. This 1956 film retells the story of the nativity through her unique and artistic lens. You can read more about it HERE. (https://www.bfi.org.uk/features/lotte-reiniger-star-bethlehem) ..and here’s a great short film with Lotte that shows her process and art.
Christmas Cracker 1963
This Oscar-nomationed short is a mix of live action and animation, with segments directed by animation legend Norman McLaren (oscar-winning Scottish Canadian), Jeff Hale (famed for creating animation inserts for Sesame Street and founding the SF animation studio Imagination Inc), Gerald Potterton (best known for directing Heavy Metal and sequences in Yellow Submarine) and Grant Munro (Canadian animator known as a pioneer and animator of paper cut-outs). There are three segments: Jingle Bells, which uses cut-out animation, Tin Toys, which uses stop-motion animation, and Christmas Tree Decoration, (my favorite) which features a man working to find the very best and most inspiring topper for his tree.
Une Vieille Boîte (An Old Box) 1975
This is a charming and slightly more minimalist animated short by Dutch animator Paul Driessen. Released by the National Film Board of Canada, it tells the story of an unsheltered man who discovers a box that turns out to be magical and full of Christmas spirit. Driessen’s animated films have won more than 50 prizes all over the world, and he also won a lifetime achievement award at both the Zagreb and Ottawa animation film festivals. He is famed professor and two of his students have won Oscars for their work.
I hope you enjoy these shorts and they get you into the Christmas spirit! If you’re looking for art that can bring spirit to your wall, check out our HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE or consider a few of these gallery favorites:
You can see lots more snowy imagery that celebrates the coming of winter HERE, but for Star Wars fans, this evokes love, warmth (brought to you by the guts of a Ton ton) and found family:
One last suggestion, just to get you ready for all the sweets, the candies, cookies, and pies of the holidays, with this limited edition by movie poster artist and former animator Andrea Alvin:
This holiday season, many of us are less fearful of getting together with family and friends, even if we still might have to be cautious. That’s great news! It’s certainly been a tough few years, and now it’s time to celebrate the ones we love who are here and healthy, and raise a toast of gratitude.
Still, shopping online sure makes gifting a lot easier, especially for those of us that have folks that are really hard to shop for! Of course we’d love to see you at the gallery, especially for our 30th anniversary celebration on December 11th between 2-5pm in Reston Town Center, but for our distant friends and clients, we’ve put together the 2022 holiday gift guide with a few suggestions to take the struggle and down-the-rabbit-hole searches out of your holiday equation.
Animation and film art is a great gift for just about everyone, as long as they love movies or cartoons, and who doesn’t? It’s a gift you know is special and unique enough that they haven’t bought it for themselves. It’s also highly unlikely they’ll get it from a less inventive, creative giver. The nostalgia of film and animation art creates a feeling of warm memories and happy times. So let’s get to it. Let’s find the perfect art!
Holiday Gift Guide for the Marvel or DC fan in your life:
To see all the Alex Ross Marvel and DC art, click HERE. To see all the superhero one-of-a-kind original production art click HERE.
For the magical dreamer in your life:
The above limited edition by John Alvin of Ariel from The Little Mermaid comes from his estate and his hand-signed. The edition has been sold out for years, and we have only one for sale for $1950. It is gallery wrapped and ready to frame or hang on your wall. Contact the gallery at firstname.lastname@example.org to buy.
The above image is by Disney and Warner Brothers art director Alan Bodner, who also loves all things musical. You can see all his art HERE.
Holiday gift guide for your most esoteric traditionalist:
The above is a great image from the sold out Fantasia limited edition collection. You can see others, as well as all the art available from Fantasia, by going HERE.
The above beautifully framed image is an original concept graphite from Ben and Me. You can see more original concept art HERE, and original production drawings HERE, although we have more, so contact us for even more images.
Holiday gift guide for the Peanuts lover in your life:
There are some great sold out limited editions, original drawings, and original production cels available right now on our website. Find them all on the Peanuts page by clicking on the below image, or HERE.
We have several new key set-ups on the site, and are getting (and selling) new art every day. Check it out!
For the sci-fi and fantasy lover in your life:
These three images are all by John Alvin, and all are signed by the artist. To see everything available by one of the most successful movie campaign artists in film history, go HERE.
Great finds for your feminist friends or family member:
There’s so little approved and official art from Big Hero 6. The above image is a great representation of the film as a whole, but also stands beautifully as an ode to girlpower!
That’s right. Catwoman is the ultimate cat lady, and we love her like that. FYI cat ladies can be really into cats, love their independence, AND be super hot. #CatLadiesAreHot
But of course, you know feminists are comfortable in their own skin and love what they love, so CLICK HERE TO SEE EVERYTHING we have for sale in descending order of addition to our stock.
Gifts for swinger and cool cats:
What’s that you say? You want to bring romance to the holidays? We’ve got you covered.
Also remember we have hundreds of pieces in stock and ready for shipping, and are happy to make suggestions if you’re looking for that extra special gift or trying to match your budget with the best image for your loved one. You can see our curated collection of images ready to ship HERE.
It’s been our pleasure to work with you, frame for you, and find friendship with you for the last 30 years!
In the latest Disney Fine Art release, there is a wonderful collection premiered by Heather Edwards, and it’s all VILLAINS! Heather has been creating beautiful fantasy art from the beginning of her career, and became an official Disney artist over a decade ago. Her originals are snapped up before they’re even released, or are done as commissions. Every piece she creates is full of symbolism, often has hidden images, and, of course, hidden Mickeys! I’ll be writing a separate blog specifically speaking to each of her pieces and the symbols, images, and Easter eggs she includes, but first, collectors should get to know her as a person and as an artist, and see her new collection!
I spoke to Heather about her life in art, her inspiration, and her new collection, The Heather Edwards Graphite Collection, which is full of tasty, flamboyant “baddie” characters that don’t get nearly enough attention. Perfect for October and the coming of Halloween!
Leslie of ArtInsights: How did you get your start with Disney?
Heather Edwards: Well, this is a bit of a longish story. First thing’s first, while I loved watching Disney animated films growing up, I never dreamt of being a Disney artist. I was more interested in painting animals and horses and such. It wasn’t until I had been convinced to take my adventure into fantastical art that I stumbled, if you will, into the Disney realm. About ten years into my professional art show career, a gentleman crossed paths with me at my booth at SDCC and asked, rather simply, if I had ever created any Disney related artwork or had been interested in it. I told him, “no.” He then proceeded to ask if I would now be interested in doing so. I told him that I probably was not. (Again, I hadn’t ever dreamt of being a Disney artist and didn’t think it would be something I would be interested in–primarily for the fact that I was envisioning doing the animated versions of the characters. I was focused on employing classical realism in my artwork and those two styles are vastly divergent). The gentleman then proceeded to procure his business card to hand to me, on which it read that he was a marketing rep with Disney and he told me that if I was ever interested that I should give him a call. Lol, if I have a super power, it is the uncanny ability to put my foot in my mouth. Anyway, I took the card and he walked away. As it happens, a very good friend of mine who had watched all of this go down encouraged me to send some sketches to the Disney rep–but only in a style that was entirely my own, which was to bring the characters to life in a way that brought both reality and classical merit. So I did. There was much back and forth over the course of 18 months where things didn’t seem to go anywhere, and then, poof, the emails went silent. I didn’t know what to do. My good friend again advised “just do”. So I painted up Cinderella’s New Day (Cinderella), Elegant Warrior (Mulan), and Her Father’s Daughter (Merida).
Happily, everybody loved them and images of them went viral online after being hung (exactly two years after my first encounter with the Disney rep) at SDCC the year that I finished them. A month later we were hanging the same originals (plus I See the Light – Rapunzel) at the D23 Expo.
That’s where the paintings caught the eye of the folks at Disney Fine Art. A contract was the next step. And the rest is history.
Who are some of your role models as an artist and as a person?
I’m not sure I would say that any artist is particularly a “role model”—albeit I thoroughly admire their work and creativity and that inspires me. As for a role model as a person, I can unequivocally say that a very fine friend of mine by the name of Connie Lane is a star in my mind. She is the epitome of kindness, grace, strength and integrity—everything I am striving to become. Not to mention she was personally an Ambassador to Walt Disney while he was alive. Yeah, then there’s that. 🙂
Who are some of your favorite creators right now that inspire you?
My favorite creators right now are still probably the ones I’ve had for a very long time. I love the styling and sensitivity of the PreRaphaelites of the late 19th century. I also love the vast number of Renaissance artists that were their roots. That being said, however, I am daily delving into modern creative sources in order to find new ways to express my ideas. There has been no one singular artist or one singular style that has grabbed me, per se; I let an image strike me in the moment. I then ask myself why I stopped to look closer at it and if it is something that resonates, I let it “stay.”
I understand that your experiences being raised in and loving nature has had a huge impact on your work as an artist. Can you talk about that a bit?
Absolutely! There are many things my parents taught me growing up, but when it comes to art (and life, I guess!) one of the most impactful things I learned was to be observant and to find beauty in everything. Living a rather sheltered childhood meant that this was focused on my surroundings—and I preferred the out-of-doors. Unlike several of my siblings, during summers off of school, I would wake up as the sun rose to watch the effects the changing light had on and through the blades of grass in the lawn. I would examine the rust on the old metal porch chairs and sleep outside on stormy nights to study the ever-morphing clouds, inhale the moisture in the air and feel the reverberation of thunder. These are just the tiny number of things that I still enjoy doing, and all of it—visual, tactile, audial, etc—has an effect on the way in which I create.
Please give us an idea of a day in your life as a painter, what your process or your daily regimen is as an artist?
No two days are the same for me, honestly. But usually, it’s wake up, feed the cats and dog, take the dog for a walk, put the house in order, pick some weeds, smell some roses… yup, I still take time to observe the sunlight coming through the variegated purple leaves of my canna lilies, et al… make sure that everyone at home has what they need to succeed for the day, and then I head to my studio. You’d think that I would sit right down and get to painting when I get there, but no. There are emails to answer and bills to pay, orders to fulfill and a fire to light under my chair so I get motivated to get to work. When that finally has a chance to happen, I drop into my “zone” and nothing can stop me from painting until all the energy for it has left me for the day. Some days that’s 12 hours. Some days that’s one hour. For me, though, I cannot “surface” paint. I truly have to be in a creative “zone” in order to be successful. This requires a level of mental gymnastics to purge my brain of everything else so that I can focus fully on what’s in front of me. A meditation of sorts. Depending on the day, this can take a while or it can happen almost immediately. But once I’m where I need to be, it is very easy to let the creative juices flow.
How does music play a role in your creative experience? (or does it?) what kinds of songs do you play while painting or what most inspires your muse?
Music (or the lack thereof) is extremely important to my creative experience. I find that with certain creative endeavors, only a certain type of music will do. Music definitely sets a mood and it lends strength to the stories that are being told in my artwork. Generally, I go for instrumentals as I find that lyrics have a tendency to draw me away from my task at hand, and these can range from dramatic classical symphonies to drop-into-the-background game soundtracks. But sometimes, it actually brings more success when I have the opposite, such as alternative rock, jazz, or international music. Other times, if I have anything playing (let alone any noise at all), I am so distracted that I cannot accomplish anything I am trying to do. During those times, I literally meditate the entire time I am painting.
You are a mom with a big family. How do you balance your family with your artistry and how do those experiences feed each other?
Being a mom with a big family has been both a challenge and a blessing. Being able to work a flexible schedule—and up until recently, working from home—definitely helped. But it also made it hard, lol. Trying to paint while you’ve got a pair of identical toddlers crawling and climbing into trouble at any given moment keeps you on your toes (and away from painting)! Traveling for art shows used to be difficult, especially when there were little ones to tote around with me or leave behind with sitters. Now that the kids are grown (the youngest twins are now 16), things run a bit more smoothly. Both my art/career and family have had direct influences on each other, though. Some of my kids have latched onto that creativity and are running with it, and have even made notable money at it. And there is no question that my kids/family have influenced my work—as simply as some of my children being models for me, to full paintings being inspired by experiences I have had individually with them and that we have had as a whole family.
Where did the “DOG and DRAGON” name come from and what is it in reference to?
Before I married my husband now, we both owned and operated separate creative businesses. When we came together, we decided that we wanted something that was “ours”. One night at a Chinese restaurant while waiting for our food to arrive, we chatted over the Chinese zodiacs that they always put on the table as a place setting for diners. We discovered that he was a “dog” and I was a “dragon”. It kind of rolled off the tongue and we thought it sounded cool, so it stuck.
Who is your favorite Disney character? Why?
My favorite Disney character has always been Mulan.
The initial response I get from most people why that might be is usually for the fact that she’s strong and bold and doesn’t need a prince to save her. Absolutely, I agree, one hundred percent. However, it goes far deeper than that for me. Mulan truly resonated with me because I felt very intimately a version of her predicament. I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere. I was confused at who and what I should be and my role in family, community and society. I felt I understood my purpose, but didn’t at the same time. Like her, I have felt, and sometimes still do feel, conflicted about a future that is unknown. Yet, from Mulan I took courage and decided to fight against my fears and the expectations of negative influences around me and make my dreams happen instead—and I always will.
In your non-Disney fantasy art, you use a lot of symbolism. There are symbols in your Disney art, too? Can you give us a few examples?
Hahaha, I can’t seem to help myself when it comes to symbolism in my artwork, whether my Disney or independent work. A couple of examples? In Sewn in His Shadow, (Peter Pan and Wendy) there are symbols of Wendy’s journey and purpose in this painting.
I like to capture transitional moments and here Wendy is contemplating “growing up”, becoming a young woman, and in a way, leaving behind being a child. Amongst all the other visual indications of this, the symbol of it is found in the design of the rug beneath the two figures—of blossoming flowers from buds. In the painting Dig a Little Deeper, (Tiana, from The Princess and the Frog) the symbolism of the dreams of the characters of the film and how they conflict and/or coincide are found in the beignets, Tiana’s father’s copper pot and the background Art Nouveau design work of lily pads. There is, of course, much more to the explanation of that symbolism, but that’s it in a nutshell.
Did the pandemic have an impact on your creativity or your artistic perspective?
The pandemic, in and of itself (whether that be Covid-19 or the shutdown), did not have an impact on either my creativity or my artistic perspective, or furthermore, on the business aspect of creating (although it did shift). I just kept on painting and creating and doing the things I always did—only with a mask on, lol. Although, when I think back on it, in 2019 I had begun to tire of attending so many art shows and had thought to cut several, if not most, from my schedule. But when there weren’t any shows to attend for the next year and a half, I discovered how much I missed connecting with people! On the flip side, some of the unexpected aftermath of the pandemic (which I will refrain from enumerating here), did however have a lasting impact on my art, both in content and in the way I produce.
Let’s talk about your new releases of villains. First, what inspired you to create the series?
To be absolutely honest, what inspired these pieces was a bit of pressure from Disney Fine Art, ha! My new paintings, especially the Disney ones, sell almost immediately after they are completed. Because of that, whenever I end up at Disney shows (like Festival of the Arts in Orlando or D23 in Anaheim) I rarely have something by way of originals to offer to people. I’ve done nine of the Villains in the Graphite Series so far (six are released) and the first three were done for a gallery show. The following six were done a few months later for Festival of the Arts. All of them were done while either in a hotel or on an airplane under the stress of finishing them in time for those shows.
Can you go through and talk about each of these images: What did you seek to capture in each of the characters?
In hopes of not offending any of my audience who adore the Villains, but being entirely honest at the same time, I will state the following. I have never been a fan of putting the Villains as central figures of any of my paintings. The reasons are several, but the main thing is that, while I enjoy watching their characters in film and understand the subtle nuances of any multifaceted character, whether “good” or “bad”, I do not wish to immortalize any such character or glorify their villainy in paint. Perhaps that may seem a little harsh, but it is the way I feel and I always try to go with my gut. In creating the drawings of the Villains for the Graphite Series, instead of “bringing them into this world” as I try to do with my other character paintings, what I sought to capture in each of the characters was their “essence”—to give them life and reality, but stay accurate to their Disney design. With this approach, I believe that I am staying true to my core feelings on the subject and yet can fill a niche that folks have been wanting me to fill for a long time.
What were the challenges or ease of creating them?
I suppose the biggest challenge for creating them was doing them justice while at the same time refraining from overemphasizing their negative aspects. The easy part was the actual work. I spent years and years as a pencil artist, so returning to graphite was like “going home”. I love drawing.
What do you love about each of them?
Life’s Full of Tough Choices (Ursula):
I love Ursula’s tentacles! Of course, I love doing anything wildlife related, so this was pure joy.
A Most Gratifying Day (Maleficent):
I think my favorite thing about this image of Maleficent and Diablo is capturing their contemptuous expressions. Kind of a challenge with a bird.
Everybody’s Got a Weakness (Hades):
Hades’ contemplative frustration combined with the posing, wrinkles and even bloodshot eyes got me on this one. Even Villains struggle.
Friends on the other Side (Facilier):
I really liked the lighting on this one.
I’m Afraid I’ll Have to Destroy You (Mim):
Unlike most of the Villains, I don’t actually think of Madam Mim as a Villain. She’s more mischievous than anything and I think that’s why I like her so much. And she’s funny. And terribly underrepresented.
Let the Games Begin (Queen of Hearts):
With this one, it was fun to take a very simple character design (compared to many of the other Villains) and make her alive and full of complexity.
You can see all Disney art by Heather Edwards HERE.
The Story behind Tim Rogerson’s New Art: “Bros in Business” and “Making Movie Magic”.
I asked Tim Rogerson to give us a little insight into the new pieces just released that made a huge splash at D23 this year, Bros in Business, featuring Oswald and Mickey, and Making Movie Magic, starring Mickey and Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Pluto. Below, in his own words, are his inspirations and ideas behind them:
– The very first D23 Expo in 2009 was the event that changed my life and career. I had the honor of being the official artist and painted, “In Company of Legends”, which the original sits in the Disney archives. It’s still surreal to me that I have a piece of Disney history in my portfolio. Every D23 Expo since, I always try to up my game and paint something better and more special. This recent D23 Expo 2022 was no different. I wanted to paint something that celebrates the 100 years of the Disney Studios.
– First up was “Bros in Business” inspired by an old photograph of brothers Walt and Roy Disney standing out front of their new studio on Kingswell Avenue in Los Angeles. The studio was called, “Disney Bros Studio” and was the very beginning of the Disney company. I love staring at this photo and imagining if these guys had any idea of what that little studio would become. I knew right away, I had to paint Mickey as Walt and Oswald as Roy which took some convincing during the approval process we go through at Disney Fine Art. I’m thrilled everything worked out and I was able to bring this painting to life.
Tim Rogerson, 2022
– Next was “Making Movie Magic” which I wanted to show the studio in action. The first production at Disney Bros Studio was the film, “Alice’s Day at Sea.” The poster from that film is iconic with Alice riding a jumping fish and I thought it would be amazing to show the Fab Five creating that moment 100 years ago. What I love most about this painting is the whimsy of it all as it captures that good ‘ol Hollywood backlot studio feel.
ArtInsights has some strange and wonderful connections to the art of Sleeping Beauty, and further, to the artists who were integral to making the Disney classic. This blog will talk about that, and also offer a few great images of Sleeping Beauty art for Disney collectors!
First, take a look at the original trailer from 1959:
In July of 2022, we went to San Diego Comic-Con, producing and moderating a panel with some wonderful animation professionals, two of whom worked on Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Both made a significant contribution to the art of Sleeping Beauty. Jane Baer, who was a special guest of the convention, and was awarded the Ink Pot Award for her contributions to the animation industry, and Floyd Norman, “Disney Legend”, Winsor McCay and Ink Pot Award winner, went to the Art Center in Pasadena together in the 50s. They then wound up at Disney Studios at the same time, working on Sleeping Beauty with some of the most storied, famous artists ever to work at Disney.
Here for the first time, we publish the video of our panel “Legends Talk Animation”, where Jane and Floyd dish about the goings-on during the production.
This panel doesn’t just talk about Sleeping Beauty, it goes into the many other projects that became Disney, Hanna Barbera, and Filmation classics, on which Jane Baer and Floyd Norman had a major impact!
That’s not the only connection we at ArtInsights have with Sleeping Beauty. In 1999, we were fortunate enough to welcome Mary Costa, the voice of Briar Rose, to ArtInsights for an event. People say you should never meet your heroes, lest they fall short. I can’t say I was particularly a fan of hers, or felt one way or the other about her before I met her, but I was a fan of the film. It’s truly beautiful, and represents all the best of Disney animation, in invention and story, and has traveled through time really well, keeping a magical quality that has never faded. Once I met Mary, though, and spent time with her, I learned she was one of the most luminous, positive, joyful, and, I’ll even say, “magical” people, that I’ve ever met.
As someone who was raised Christian and had a bad taste in my mouth from my own experiences, Mary Costa showed me there are open-hearted Christians out there, who truly walk the path of what they believe Jesus did, showing kindness, openheartedness, compassion, and love. While it didn’t bring me back into the fold, she was revelatory. There ARE a lot of “followers of Christ” out there, and she is definitely one of them!
Here was my experience with her, and it is very personal: Our event was planned for Saturday, June 19th, 1999. She was arriving on June 18th. My sister Jane had been killed on December 17th of 1998, and the family had planned to bury her ashes on her birthday, which was June 18th. I called Mary a few days before she was arriving, to let her know why I wouldn’t be picking her up from the airport. Instead of being disappointed or put off, or just getting off the phone, she immediately asked me if it would be helpful for her to come to the event. She said she wanted to be present for our family. She said this as someone who had never met me. I was touched, and taken aback, but thanked her, and told her we’d just see her on the day of the event. We met a few hours before it started. She wanted to say a prayer beforehand, and asked that we all hold hands. I was cynical, and thought, “oh boy…” but she brought my sister Jane up, asked that she be there in spirit, and asked what other religions were represented in the circle. She called upon all the other belief systems, INCLUDING WICCAN(!) and then prayed that we all be blessed, and asked for a positive experience. When my family came, she stopped whatever else she was doing, and spoke to them about my sister. She told my dad she was honored he had come, and meant it. I think they even shed a few tears together, and this was when the gallery was full of people. For Mary, it was all about connection, first and foremost.
Just last night I went down a YouTube rabbit hole of interviews with Mary, and noticed again how well she listened and focused on those around her. It has been her gift a long time!
Once the event was over, we went to dinner together. It was just Mary and me. She had been married to a famous producer in the 50s and 60s, and talked about spending weekends with the rat pack. She shared great stories about Frank, Sammy, and Dean. She also shared, in whispered tones, she had a huge crush on Van Johnson for years. Then we went to see Disney’s Tarzan on the opening night. One of the main characters’ names was Jane, and the character looked like my sister, which we both thought was wonderful. She had lots of opinions about the voice acting and story, and it was all fascinating! What a trip it was to watch a Disney feature with one of the classic voices in Disney animation!
Perhaps some of you have met someone you think of as an “angel on earth”. I’d never really thought of that expression before meeting Mary Costa, and honestly I’ve never met anyone else who I think fits that description, but Mary Costa definitely does. Now when you think of Briar Rose, you can imagine that character being voiced by a truly wonderful person.
My other connection to the art of Sleeping Beauty was more accidental. I was traveling with movie poster artist Steve Chorney to his home outside of Santa Barbara, a place I’d never been. We drove together in his convertible, headed to the place he’d kept some of his classic original movie poster art. When we got there and drove into the driveway, I noticed a huge, gorgeous tree at the house across the street. I remarked to Steve that it looked like one of the trees in Sleeping Beauty. He told me that Sleeping Beauty concept and background artist Eyvind Earle had lived there, and that was where he had been inspired for the trees he drew in his work for Sleeping Beauty. That tree had been his inspiration!
You can see more about Eyvind Earle and his art in this wonderful, classic Disney film, which shows four Disney artists painting a tree. There’s a lot of art of Sleeping Beauty in this film…You should DEFINITELY watch this!:
I should have asked what tree it was, and taken a picture. I did neither. I was too overwhelmed! There, before my eyes, was the tree that we all know from Disney’s classic film! I guess it was one time when my Disney geekiness took over.
How much do you know about the art of Sleeping Beauty, or about the film itself? I’ve talked about it before in an ArtInsights blog from 2015 HERE.
Sleeping Beauty is based on a European fairy tale, the earliest version of which was in the 1300s. The more famous version of it, by Charles Perrault (who also penned Cinderella) was released late in the 1600s as La Belle au Boite Dormant. The Brothers Grimm also offered a version in the 1800s called Little Briar Rose. Of course there have been many versions told since then, including the famous ballet by Tchaikovsky in 1890, which was Disney’s favorite ballet, and one of his favorite pieces of classical music.
The 1959 Disney film was directed by Les Clark, Eric Larson, and Wolfgang Reitherman. The voices, in addition to Mary Costa’s starring role as Briar Rose, were supplied by a number of Disney favorites. Maleficent was voiced by Eleanor Audley, who also voiced Lady Tremaine in Cinderella. Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather were voiced, respectively, by Verna Felton (who also played Briar Rose’s mother, Queen Leah, the fairy godmother in Cinderella, and the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland), famed radio actress Barbara Jo Ellen, and Barbara Luddy (who played Lady in Lady and the Tramp and Kanga in Winnie the Pooh).
The art of Sleeping Beauty is unique in Disney history, in that it was a time of great experimentation, and also the last film that was completely hand-inked, so there was a level of meticulousness and specificity that is unparalleled. The hand-inking in Sleeping Beauty was more intricate and complicated than any of Disney film before or since. The drawings of the characters, especially Briar Rose herself (whether by herself or with other characters) were so intricate, the animators sometimes only completed one a day. That’s how much work these characters required! It definitely shows in the art left behind from the film.
Enjoy this great short film about the making of Sleeping Beauty:
Here are some new original pieces of the art of Sleeping Beauty available now at ArtInsights:
You can see all the original art of Sleeping Beauty available for a limited time on the ArtInsights gallery website as well as the limited editions currently available, by going to the art of Sleeping Beauty page HERE.
I’ve talked a lot about Snoopy Come Home here on this blog, especially HERE. If you read my blog regularly, you know it’s one of my favorite cartoons. It has a lot going for it, and is unique a lot of ways, in terms of Peanuts animated history. For one thing, it’s one of only 4 Peanuts cartoons that don’t mention Charlie Brown in the title. It’s also the only Peanuts animated feature with music composed by Disney Legends Robert and Richard Sherman, known as the Sherman Brothers. It’s also the debut of Woodstock, a Peanuts fan favorite, and Snoopy’s best fine feathered friend!
The main story of this feature is based on a series of cartoon strips created by Charles Schulz for publication in August of 1968.
2022 is the 50th anniversary of Snoopy Come Home. I’d say it feels like only yesterday, but a lot has happened in the last few years, and quite frankly, I think it might have aged ALL of us and wrecked our sense of time. This charming Peanuts feature film does feel like comfort. It feels like a celebration. It’s a plot as old as time: Boy gets dog. Boy loses dog. (To Lila, who is sick and needs comfort. Snoopy is a good dog!) Boy missed dog. Dog misses boy. Dog and bird-bestie return to boy. Time for a celebration!
In fact, Snoopy Come Home premiered in August of 1972, so I figured it was the perfect time to talk about this wonderful film. The Peanuts folks have been releasing Snoopy Come Home art all year, exceptional art (as you see right above) and some incredibly cute scenes. Now I’ve watched this cartoon many many times, so I know exactly where each image is from in the movie. It’s almost like the way I know Sleeping Beauty or 101 Dalmatians or any number of other Disney cartoons. I grew up with them, I’ve sold a lot of cels from them, and I love them completely. To be honest, I love Snoopy Come Home a lot more than some Disney movies. (now I guess is the time some of you will sign off. If you don’t get how awesome Snoopy is, go off and try to live your best life without him!)
In the last week, I’ve gotten some great new images I’ve really excited about from some of my favorite scenes from the cartoon, which brought me joy given 3 out of 5 of the pieces arrived exactly on the day of the 50th anniversary!
First, though, here are a just a few of the other originals and limited editions from Snoopy Come Home I sold this year:
As many of you know who collect or love Snoopy and Peanuts, I specialize in and am a huge fan of cels of Snoopy and Woodstock. Finding good images of the two of them together brings me a simple joy I can’t describe. Well, below are the ones I’ve jumped on, and am now offering here for the first time (click on the images to learn more or buy)! :
You might not know the scene with Snoopy crying and Woodstock consoling him, or Snoopy offering a smooch to Lucy. That’s the beauty of the internet. Enjoy:
There’s nothing quite like seeing the exact moment where the cel was used in animation. It’s so exciting for collectors, and even casual fans who just enjoy seeing the production art and how it was used! This film has been watched by millions over the years, and has been played in countries all over the world. Snoopy is understood in all languages, and that’s one of his best qualities. He’s Joe Cool, Charlie’s Best Friend, and Woodstock’s pal in ways people relate to everywhere across the globe.
I’m thrilled I’ve been able to mark what I think is a special movie on its anniversary by finding great images for my clients and seeing each of them in person. If you love Snoopy Come Home or are curious about it and want to see it, it’s available for rent right now, or of course you can buy it and have it to watch whenever you want! (we at ArtInsights are very much believers in physical media!)
Charles Schultz gave us all such a gift when he created Peanuts. Bill Melendez and the wonderful artists who worked with him at his studio added to that gift by creating animated features and specials we can watch on our own or with loved ones. Let’s celebrate that however we can!
The new Willow live action original series has a premiere date of November 30th on Disney+, which is not as far away as it seems, and fans of the classic 1988 feature film are starting to get excited. That premiere date was announced at the Star Wars Celebration in May, along with a teaser trailer:
As many already know, this new series will be picking up some 20 years after the events of the movie, and introduces a number of new characters. Obviously Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis, reprising his role from the film) and the new cast will get up to some magical adventures.
Here is a “Meet the Cast” video, released in November of 2021:
You may not recognize these folks, but allow me to jog your memory of where you’ve seen some of them. Starring in the Willow cast are Rosabell Laurenti Sellers (Tyene Sand in Game of Thrones), Erin Kellyman (of The Green Knight and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier), Tony Revolori (known as Flash in Spiderman: Homecoming and Zero in The Grand Budapest Hotel). Actors you may not know but are likely to become household names include actor/writer/directors Amar Chadha-Patel and Dempsey Bryk and Ruby Cruz, last seen in Mare of Easttown.
The official synopsis from the Disney+ page reads:
“An epic period fantasy series with a modern sensibility set in an enchanted land of breathtaking beauty, “Willow” features a diverse international cast with Jonathan Kasdan, Ron Howard, Wendy Mericle, Kathleen Kennedy, and Michelle Rejwan serving as executive producers. The story began with an aspiring magician from a Nelwyn village and an infant girl destined to unite the realms, who together helped destroy an evil queen and banish the forces of darkness. Now, in a magical world where brownies, sorcerers, trolls, and other mystical creatures flourish, the adventure continues, as an unlikely group of heroes set off on a dangerous quest to places far beyond their home, where they must face their inner demons and come together to save their world.”
Here you can see Warwick talking about Willow 2022:
Originally, John M. Chu would have helmed the pilot episode, but after both he and his replacement Jonathan Entwistle exited the project due to scheduling conflicts, director Stephen Woolfenden (Outlander) stepped in for the first two episodes. Four of the eight episodes are directed by female filmmakers, two by writer/director Philippa Lowthorpe (The Crown, Call the Midwife), and two by writer/director Debs Paterson (A Discovery of Witches, Harlots).
One of the most exciting aspects of the show to me and to the Alvin family, is the fact that they are using John Alvin’s logo treatment from the original feature film, which he hand-designed, to promote the film and as its title:
On the left is John Alvin’s Willow advance poster, and the second and third are posters used around the world at the film’s release.
He designed it pretty early on in the work for the 1988 Willow poster:
The three above images are comps for the Willow advance poster. John has already designed the typography and is using it as an integral part of the design.
The original Willow film was released in 1988, and though it wasn’t an immediate triumph at the box office, it became a huge cult classic, leading to the creation of a board game and a number of computer games.
John Alvin was brought in quite early in the 1988 production, and in those days, John, who was already storied for creating the E.T., Blade Runner, and Cocoon posters, had a lot of interaction with both Ron Howard and producer George Lucas. The Alvin key art for the Cocoon movie, which was also directed by Ron Howard, who was set to direct Willow, is a perfect example of that “Alvin-izing”, that drew fans to films with ‘the promise of a great experience’.
Here is another example of John’s typography, which he was integrating into his marketing design in a complex image including all the main characters.
Below are several images based in iconic archetype imagery, one that used that emotional and dramatic shadowing, and the other that included more of the kitchen sink style that showed the lead characters more distinctly.
Here are some good examples of comps for the “kitchen sink” poster that included all the lead characters featured in the film. Of course the title treatments are in evidence in all the images. Creative kitchen sink designs were used beautifully by Bob Peak and Richard Amsel, two other greats of film history.
Although Val Kilmer made a cameo appearance in Top Gun: Maverick, there has been no indication that he’ll do the same for the Willow series, something Warwick Davis has mentioned he hoped would happen.
Here for fans of the Val Kilmer-starring original, and for those who have no idea why Willow is such an enduring cult classic, is the official trailer for the 1988 Ron Howard film:
We celebrate John Alvin every day. When you watch the new series, think of his contribution to the beloved classic, and to the whole of film history.
*The estate of John Alvin is currently not accepting offers for purchase of single images from his Willow art collection. For more information about the work and art of John Alvin, contact Artinsights.
So far Alan Bodner has had a career that inspire aspiring artists, and should capture the imagination of animation and film fan, and it looks like he’s just getting started. The Emmy and Annie-award winning art director, illustrator, and fine artist has worked on many favorites from the recent past, and was even the art director of the beloved cult classic animated feature The Iron Giant.
Bodner grew up in the Pacific Northwest, in Portland, to a family that was forever inspiring to him. His aunt was a dancer who had worked in Martha Graham, and his dad had a toy business. His childhood was full of toys, and games, dance and music, and it stuck with him. Though he planned on studying to be a dentist, fate and his own talent had other plans. He wound up studying, instead, at the Art Center in Pasadena, then almost immediately got a job in the animation industry.
He began his career by working at Filmation Studios in the late 70s, surrounded by some of the best artists in the business, and was eager learn from them. He was also an immense talent, and started being recognized as such. One of those taking notice was Brad Bird, who was looking for an art director for his 1999 project The Iron Giant.
He has since worked at nearly every studio, as a background artist, in visual development, and as an art director. He was at Filmation in the early 80s, where he created backgrounds for She Ra, Flash Gordon and Blackstar, to name just a few. He was spent part of his career at Warner Brothers, where he worked with some of the greatest artists in animation history, and was a background artist on shorts like Daffy Duck’s Quackbusters, Invasion of the Bunny Snatchers, and Box Office Bunny. At Disney, he art directed for beloved fan favorites like Kim Possible and Phineas and Ferb, and won a Daytime Emmy for Tangled: The Series. He is currently art directing on Mickey Mouse Funhouse.
All through his career, he has set aside time to work on his personal art, which is inspired by his childhood, the nostalgia of bygone days, and the mid-century modern style of the 50s and 60s. We are thrilled to add original art to the limited editions recently announced and highlighted at the gallery.
We spoke to Alan about his life, career, and art. What were his inspirations? Who helped and inspired him along the way? What excites him as an artist? Learn all this and so much more in this exclusive interview!
ArtInsights: Tell us about your childhood and how it informed your work and aesthetic as an artist.
AB: I have to admit my childhood was extraordinary on so many levels. Number one, my father was a very creative person, and he was in the toy business with his brother, and they had a couple other partners, they had a toy distribution business up in the Northwest. They were distributors who serviced several states. There was this huge toy showroom, that was really the backdrop of my childhood. I would see all the new toys that came out, and I would get to see showcases for the different people who come in from different stores look at these things. There’d be demonstrations of the toys.
It was so overblown with color and design, but I feel like that just hit a chord with me from the beginning.
I just loved all that fantasy. Plus my dad also had a little connection to the celebrities of the local television station in Portland. Some of these guys had their own kids shows but we knew them because they were bringing commercials from the toy company to the television station. Of course, I didn’t really know a lot that was going on, but I had some pretty great moments. I had a birthday party as a little kid where I came through my kitchen and there was this guy by the name of Dr. Zoom, who had his own TV show. He was sitting there having breakfast with my dad and mom. Fantasy was brought into my life at a very early stage.
On the other side of my family, my grandfather was a women’s coat and suit manufacturer. There were tailors in my family from past generations and I just think that the artistry, from clothing to physical art, it seemed like it was a natural progression for me. I remember as a little boy going to my grandfather’s manufacturing company. He was at the tail end of that business, where a lot of it was like ghosts of the past. There was all these tables and sewing machines but there was nobody using them. It was really like I built in my active imagination all this stuff happening. So for me, I imagined in this showroom all these fashion shows with the coats and suits. My brother and I would pretending we were having fashion shows on full stage.
Did you actually see any fashion shows there?
Unfortunately, I never got to see those, but I saw them via my mother, because she was very fashionable, and there was, continuously, around fashion from the get-go. It didn’t affect my cousins or my brother, but for some reason it hit me and I just loved that stuff from the very onset, so I’m really thankful that happened.
What other influences did you have as a child?
As a kid I took dance lessons and singing lessons. I love my great aunt, which was my grandfather’s sister, in her early days, was a dancer with Martha Graham. She was one of her first students, and they had a lifelong friendship. I saw beautiful photographs of Martha Graham, and my aunt was like my Auntie Mame. She would take me to plays, and had us playing instruments in the house, and we’d be marching around, I mean, she was really great. I’m thankful that I had people like that, who also inspired me to be creative. I had another aunt who sang. My father, at one point, was the president of the Portland Opera Association, and for that year, and I was really a little boy when this was taking place, I remember being taken to the Portland Opera, and seeing that stuff on stage. It was just so incredible to me all that color and design in the costumes and sets. I think in the back in my mind I was just destined to do something with that stuff.
So you went into the arts immediately?
The funny part about my story is that I didn’t think I was going to be going into the arts. I really thought I was heading toward being a dentist, which is what I was studying all the way up to my first year of college. I wanted to be a dentist, because my uncle was a dentist and he was a fabulous person. I thought this until one day I was taking this class at University of Oregon. It was really an art class for my own enjoyment, and the instructor came over to me one day, he says, “What is your plan with your art?” And I’m like, “Nothing. It’s just fun.” He just said, “No. You need to be in a professional arts school. You’ve got to do something with it.” It was just like a lightbulb went on. I had been doing art all along, not really thinking seriously, “this is my path.” My passion took hold, and that fire just lit, and from that point out, I knew I had to find a way to do it.
Your personal work lands right at the intersections of nostalgia and art. The beauty of production and illustration art and the artists who create it, I think, is that with illustration, graphic, and so-called “commercial art”, the artist has to stick to strict guidelines and still create something with their own aesthetic and style, which is much harder than just being inspired and drawing whatever you like. I think that’s just so cool and very undervalued, although it’s changing.
You put it into really good words. That really resonates with me because I’ve had this conversation with other artists that I know who are fine artists and there was always this layer from their side of like “well, you’re doing commercial art. My work is fine art. But I still feel like my stuff is in the realm of real art. I mean, I like the fact that it’s commercial art. I love working at art from that perspective. But at the same time, I feel it’s just as just as good or just as valuable. I’m interested in making something ecstatically pleasing and beautiful at same time as it performs its function, whatever that is.
When an artist is creating something in which they have a brief to follow while at the same time making it aesthetically pleasing and recognizable as their work, I think that’s challenging. So I find that so impressive and exciting.
I love the collaboration that takes place with other artists, especially in animation. I really appreciate what other people do and what they bring to it, and finding my place in there is really wonderful. I learned so much about design and color from animation. There are so many great artists in the history of animation and to bring me into that industry as an apprentice and learn from some of the greats. It has had such an impact on me.
Talk about that! Where did you apprentice?
Well, my first job in animation was that Filmation Studio. It was a really great time because it was the late 1970s, and a lot of older animators and artists in the animation field were retiring and all of a sudden, they started to realize “We don’t really have a young core here, and we’re haven’t really been pushing this.” They really knew that they had to make a choice, and they started to have these apprentices. I started to call around to the animation studios, because I loved animation. I was so influenced by the commercials when I’d sit there watching these cartoons every Saturday. I thought, “Where’s that?” Because in art school, they never pushed animation. Their noses were very much up in the air about animation and never I brought it up in school because, like, “that stuff is not art”. And I was like, “Well, yeah, it is. It’s really beautiful stuff.” So I went into Filmation and showed my portfolio and the man who saw me was in their layout and character design. He looked at my stuff and he said, “You probably could do drawing here, but you have a color sense that’s nice. I’m going to take you down to the background department.” I had no idea with that, but I walked into the background department and was introduced to Erv Kaplan and on his wall were just these unbelievably beautiful paintings, these little tiny, beautiful paintings and scenes from all these shows that I had loved as a kid. too. And he says, “I like your work.” About a week later he hired me. I’m grateful to this day that he did that, because I learned so much. So so much more than art school, I went to a really good school, there’s no question about it. I was finally able to understand what it was that I was supposed to be doing. When I got this job, the artists in the department would really become mentors to me. There were so many amazing talents. These people were Disney artists, Hanna Barbera artists, and they were all in this room. Everybody had been in major studios, and to have these people literally take the tools out of my hand and say, “You need to do this when you’re painting.” There were so many things they helped me understand, and I was working hard but it was so much fun.
What were some of the projects that were really fun at Filmation?
On the Fat Albert series, there was this little section in there called the Brown Hornets, which had a design-y style that the kids in the show would watch on television, I remember. I loved that stuff, and I really started to gravitate toward the more stylized looking cartoons.I really got some amazing education there.
What were the steps that got you from Filmation to becoming the art director of The Iron Giant?
I was at Filmation, they went through a big strike about four years into my working there, and at that point it didn’t look like animation was doing all that well, so I went to New York and was working at ABC news there as a news graphic artist for four years. I made a connection before I left to go to New York with Dick Thomas, who was doing some art for a toy company, and I got to do some art for him. It turned out that Dick Thomas was this great background artist, and he was also working at Warner Brothers. And, and he had been with Warner Brothers, Disney and Hanna Barbera. He was really a seasoned talent, and we had a nice rapport. While I was in New York, I would periodically keep in touch with him just see how he was doing, as he was getting older. About four years down the line, I decided to come back to Los Angeles, and I connected with him and he said he wanted to hire me. That was the beginning of my 15 years stint at Warner Brothers, which absolutely is one of the highlights in my career, with some of the most incredible artists, who at that time were still alive.
At that point, yeah! Unbelievable. Geniuses, really.
That was a tremendous learning experience. It’s like I went from first grade through high school at Warner’s. It was absolutely wonderful. I learned so much about designing color, I got such a gift on that one. I was in Warner Classics, which was a very small boutique department. There were really only 30 or 40 of us at the most. We were doing shorts, art for the stores, and we did commercials, and it was a beautiful time period. I worked with so many great talents and was so honored to be part of that. Mel Blanc, Friz Freleng, and Chuck Jones were all working there then. These guys were really part of that those crews that did the most classic cartoons for Warner Brothers. I was so touched that Mel Blanc gave me a credit in his autobiography, he actually talked about me as one of “the new kids”. I went to Mel Blanc’s birthday party on the lot. I just thought, “Man, I really don’t know how it gets any better than this.” To be in the room with people like Kirk Douglas, who were his buddies, it was crazy.
That’s so funny, because I started selling animation in 1988 and just got to meet and get to know so many great artists before they passed. We were both so lucky, and I think we knew it even then.
I could not agree more. Just to be around Maurice Noble, I would show him my stuff. I was such a huge fan, and to have him there, when I was trying to sort of maintain the feeling of what he had been doing in the 50s and in his work on those cartoons. I’m very influenced by it, and I don’t have any problems saying that.
I see in your work influence from Maurice Noble, and that spectacular intersection of shape, form, and color. He was just in a class all by himself. When you see your work now, where do you see Maurice Nobl
In my shape language. I can really get things very abstract. I love working abstract, just to loosen me up. And I have lots abstract pieces that I just are all about interesting shapes against each other in different color combinations.
(see below for original 3D art by Alan Bodner, inspired by his love of abstract shapes and color designs)
And I think that’s something that Maurice nobles was a master of. It wasn’t so much that the perspective was right. I don’t really care about the perspective being right. It’s more about what shapes look good against each another? It’s a balance of shapes. I try to create art with shapes that flow into each other and show movement. I think that was a very big thing, even in What’s Opera Doc, the backgrounds and the shapes of those columns. The last thing he was thinking about was making sure that the perspective was correct. He was just trying to make sure everything was kind of weighted properly and it’s believable perspective, but it doesn’t have to be accurate. I love that because it’s so freeing. .I can just say, “This is what it is”, and the viewer believes it.
After saying that, I can your influence and your inspiration from Noble in your art direction for so many shows!
With so many creators you couldn’t get away with anything like that, because they were so interested in proper perspective. But who cares about that?
It’s a cartoon!
Exactly! That’s why I like stylized cartoons! Because it’s fantasy. That was not quite the case in Iron Giant. I had been doing all this Warner Brothers stuff, and going home and working on my own art, which I started to do about that time, and I was starting to do abstracts, I went in to talk to Brad Bird, and it was a friend of mine, Harry Saben, who recommended me. We had done all this stuff together at Warner’s. He went to art school with Brad, and Brad saw him told him he was looking for an art director and asked for recommendations. Harry was gracious enough to bring up my name.
(Below are some wonderful images created by Harry Saben and Alan Bodner together for the WB stores)
I really did not want to leave Warner Classics. I was enjoying myself. I really didn’t have any desire to go, because I was enjoying it so much. But I went and I saw Brad, and I saw the stuff on the walls, the development was so cool, the whole idea of a giant robot, and it was a feature. I’d never worked on a feature, and quite honestly, I was just beginning to be an art director. I had only done like a couple of things where I was being given the title of art director. I was really a background artist, and I loved being a background artist. When I went and I talked to Brad, he said, “Well, I really do need an art director. I like your work, but what I really like is your color and your abstracts.” I was showing him my own personal work. It wasn’t really my backgrounds from Warner Brothers that interested him, it was my fantasy stuff. Then he called me back and said he wanted to hire me. He wasn’t sure what exact position but he wanted me on the film. I knew that I really didn’t know what an art director fully did. I started to do what I thought were color scripts.
I’d go through the film and take out different moments and put together a little color script of these major moments. I was still painting. The computer was coming in, but it hadn’t hit me yet. I was trying to learn how to use the computer, but I was still painting traditionally, and there wasn’t a lot of time for me to be doing these little colored rendering, because my job included me going around to the background department and layout department, and talking with the heads of those departments, and then meeting with all of these artists, and I had never had to deal with 15 artists in each department.
That must have been a lot!
My day would generally be I would walk around to each department and see what everybody was doing. I would come back, and I would meet again with Brad, and he would look at it, and I would be with him. I really trailed him for a couple of years. It was like college education again. I’m learning from him. I’m hearing everything he’s saying. He’s making references to live action films. Now I’m watching live action films. I’m actually going through live action film, and copying scenes that look very dramatic. He was telling me “Don’t look at animation stuff. Look at live action stuff.” I started to do that, and I found it very fascinating, and I started to really go through it. I would keep on building, go back to my room and build that color script. I really wish that I had more experience on the computer back then. Now, I use computer every day and I love it. I remember at moments, I was excited and thrilled and at the same time scared half to death because I had to deal with all these artists. I’m very diplomatic. I don’t ride people. As a director, I just really want them to do the best they can and take ownership of what they’re doing and at the same time have fun doing it.
How has that changed over the years since now you’ve been an art director for many years.
If I love any aspect of the show I’m working on that I will take a lot of ownership of, it is in color scripts and color comps. I still like doing that, and I feel like, you know, I can keep a consistent and interesting look to the show. I don’t spell those things out to the Nth degree that I’ve painted the whole thing, I just give a very simple color direction. I’ve often felt that the simpler I can make this, the better it’s going to be for them, because then they have a lot they can bring. I don’t stifle creativity. I’m looking at the whole story.
That worked really fabulously on Tangled, because those stories, those are like little features. We were doing a feature for every episode. I could put in the color script in the characters and the backgrounds very simply, and get a whole point across. I’d have the director and the producer in my office every week looking at these color scripts, and we’d go through it, and once that was hammered out, then I’d hand that over to other stylists, and to the background painters. It worked out beautifully. It was consistent.
And you’re working on Mickey’s Funhouse now.
On Mickey’s Funhouse. It’s not so much about color scripts, as it is, the environments. I get really involved in, “What’s that environment looking like?” I want to make sure that it looks different from the other one, and I want to try out different colors. I don’t have to make blue skies, I’m not interested in that.
What other colors will make this thing interesting and fun and playful? I’m very involved with that, and I hand that stuff off to the background artists, and the color stylists, and layout department. It’s a joy to play to all the strengths of everyone working on the show.
Looking back on some of the shows and movies you’ve worked on, what is a great example that represents your aesthetic as an artist and something that examples the influence you’ve had?
If I was to think of a show that really resonated with my own styling, it would probably be Kim Possible, because I started just to tell myself how little can I get away with on this background and still feel like there’s lots of dimension to it, and how little I can put into these backgrounds texturally and still feel like it’s full and gutsy. That was really challenging and really fun, because, there’s a lot of depth designed to those things, and I got to work with some amazing talents on that show.
I’m going to shift a little bit to the art that that you’re doing now and have been doing for quite some time, your personal work.
I started doing these musical things, when I was at Filmation. I put them in a box and I let them go. But then as the years went by I started asking a question to a lot of people who were retiring, and getting older. “What are you going to do when you retire? What’s your plan? Are you going to do your own art?” They’d say, “Yeah, I got plans to do my own stuff. I don’t have the time to do it now.” And I watched this unfold. A lot of them didn’t. They’d say they’d be working for 45 years and they didn’t want to do art anymore. And something went off on me again, I just said, “You know what? I am not going to do that. I’m going to start doing my art now, and maybe I’m only working on it a couple of nights a week, but I’m going to do it now.” I started asking myself what I really loved and what I wanted to do for myself. What do I really enjoy?I just decided to take themes that I’ve always loved. I wrote a list. I love dance, music, movies, tv shows, commercials from when I was a kid.
(for his personal work, Bodner started with colorful images of women in music and dance images..)
To see all art available by Alan Bodner, go to his ArtInsights artist page HERE.
And I said, “Okay, so now you’re going to do 10 pieces of each one.” At least I set a goal. And I work a lot, but I committed a long time ago to keep at this list of what I’m passionate about and what brings me joy. I keep adding to the work as I go.
I absolutely love the cereal boxes and kid commercial stuff you’ve done. It’s everybody’s childhood!
I love those things. They’re really great designs. I want to do my homage to that stuff. I love my version of fan boy stuff. I’m not really a superhero kind of artist, but I thought maybe if I take the shows that I liked as a kid, I’ll find my voice in those things. Some of them became like a comic book page. I thought it was kind of fun, because It’s not just one piece, but it’s like I’m telling a little story. I love doing these things. I also love doing these dimensional pieces. They are just a joy to do.
I can tell you’re a fan of the Addams Family and the Wild Wild West and other shows that have this intense cult fandom. You get these little nuances in the art that show you loved to watch each episode. It’s clear you’re a fan.
All those shows are so incredible. I could watch them forever.
You have a list of shows you still want to do, right?
Oh yeah! Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Star Trek, Man From Uncle, Bewitched, Gilligan’s Island, Brady Bunch, Pee Wee’s Playhouse and Charlie’s Angels. But there are so many great shows. I love so many and I remember them from my childhood and from reruns and they are just so fantastic.
There are also musicians and musicals that have inspired you.
Oh yes. I love music from all eras. Sometimes I wonder how I have so many different kinds of music and styles existing in my head at once!
You said you wanted to mention one particular artist who was a great talent and a close friend.
Yes. Someone who was a great influence on me and is really one of those unsung heroes is Nyla Clayton. I met Nyla at Filmation. She was in the back of the studio airbrushing cels. And you’d never even know that this woman was Nyla of Beverly Hills in her day, which is an interior design house. She did these lavish, elaborate parties, and she was a larger-than-life figure, who was angry with life at the point when I met her, but we became friends. It turned out that she worked on Alice in Wonderland and the Enchanted Tiki Room, and snd she was in Imagineering at Disney for many years. She and Walt Disney kind of went head to head. She was a very strong person, and Walt didn’t like that, but she was very influential for quite some time. She was really good friends with Alice Davis. I inherited some things from Nyla, she gave to me. She was an assistant to Mary Blair for many years, and so I have a Mary Blair in my office here that was Nyla’s, and I have these little tiny totem poles that Nyla made that were the prototypes for the Enchanted Tiki Room. It’s hard to find pictures of her, but she was something else. When she came to Los Angeles, as a teenage girl, she went to live at this home that was like a hotel for aspiring actresses, and became really good friends with Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford. And I have a letter from Katharine Hepburn to Nyla. She was lifelong friends with these people. By the time I met her she was pretty embittered, but I was very, very happy to get to know her. I was in an art show at Filmation many years ago, and she came up and said she wanted to know who did that painting. It was a figure I did and some dance, and I was just starting to do these things. We became friends and I would you know visit her and talk to her. I know that she was a feiry fighter but she was very sweet to me. I always feel like there’s some thread of her work that comes out of in mine. She did these dimensional pieces that would have blown your mind, and now they don’t exist. Her family didn’t save this stuff. She had a lot to do with the Electric Light Parade in Disneyland. She was very influential. The only person who could really tell you in depth about her would be Alice Davis. It’s so sad that women like Nila from the history of Disney are unsung heroes.
You have to fit creating your personal work in between working full time at Disney, right? You’re art director for Mickey Mouse Funhouse.
Yeah, I’m art directing that, and we’re in our second season. It’s been a joyous show. And I was so excited because some of the influences that I was really hoping that we could look at and get influenced by were from the Mouseketeers, and the Mickey Mouse Club, and I put a wall together of pictures from Mickey Mouse Club and the sets that Annette Funicello and the Mouseketeers danced in front of. They were fun and so cool looking and I thought this is kind of what the world has got to feel like a reflection of for Mickey Mouse. This is his world. Let’s bring him back with his roots here. Of course his roots are also my childhood. We did that, and we looked at that and went to Disneyland and looked at buildings in Toon Town and the Alice in Wonderland ride, and said, “We’ve got to get influenced by this stuff again, and not try to make this show look like every CG show that’s on, so it really is kind of nice that the studio got behind that, and liked the fact that it was an homage to the history of Disney.
We are thrilled to be able to offer the art of Alan Bodner, and premiere his original art inspired by the nostalgia of his youth, and you can see them all HERE!
Time sure goes by fast for Disney fans. It’s the 20th anniversary of Lilo & Stitch! It seems like only yesterday Disney put out their 42nd feature film, introducing the world to the blue alien “Experiment 626” and the concept of Ohana. Stitch, as Experiment 626’s human friend Lilo Pelekai calls him after adopting him as a dog, has been genetically engineered to cause chaos. (Isn’t that what lots of puppies do, though?) Through the sweet story centered on found family as well as some pretty frenetic action, Stitch ultimately chooses to stay with Lilo and her sister, making the narrative a beautiful nod to larger groups, or wider nets of loving friends and blood relations. Lilo and Stitch was met with positive reviews by critics, and enthusiasm from Disney fans, and was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the 2003 Oscars. It had the misfortune to be up against one of Hayao Miyazaki’s best, Spirited Away, which walked away with the award.
The film was directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, which is 8 years before DeBlois brought us the first in the wonderful How to Train Your Dragon series as both screenwriter and director. He went on to direct HTTYD 2 and 3, both of which are glorious, and in their way also celebrate found family. I interviewed Dean about HTTYD2:
Lilo and Stitch was developed by Michael Eisner, inspired by 1941’s Dumbo, which was famously less expensive than the studio’s first 2 films. The original story was based on a children’s book pitch that Sanders had in the mid-80s, featuring the character of Stitch. It was decided early on to center the action in Hawaii, the look and feel of which went on to color the entire film. DeBlois had co-written Mulan with Sanders, so he invited him on to co-write and direct Lilo and Stitch.
It was on a research trip to Kauai that DeBlois and Sanders learned about Ohana. DeBlois said the tour guide seemed to know someone everywhere they went. That guide went on to explain the idea of family that extends way beyond blood, encompassing close friends and neighbors who support and love each other unconditionally, as is the case in many parts of the Hawaiian islands. The voices of Nani, Lilo’s beleaguered and responsible big sister, and David Kawena, Lilo’s boyfriend, are played by Tia Carrera and Jason Scott Lee, actors who both grew up in Hawaii.
Sanders supplied the voice for Stitch, who was animated under the supervision of Alex Kupershmidt. Kupershmidt also had a hand in the design and animation of Khan and General Li in Mulan, and the Hyenas in The Lion King. He also worked on technical animation for Zootopia, Moana, and Raya and the LastDragon.
It was the great animator Andreas Deja who was the supervising animator for Lilo, which, he once told me, was quite a departure for him. He’s often more connected to villainous or dramatic characters like Scar, Jafar, and Gaston, but he also lended his expertise as supervising animator of Roger Rabbit. Lilo was by far the calmest, sweetest character he’d ever worked on.
Here is an interview I did with Andreas:
The backgrounds in Lilo and Stitch were done in watercolor, a technique that hadn’t been used in decades, but one that created a look that was both detailed and drenched in color, perfect for evoking the sharp light and richness of color specific to Hawaii. It was also another a throwback to 1941′ Dumbo, which used watercolor for its backgrounds. You can see the specificity and richness in this limited edition based on an original background created by Lilo and Stitch background and concept artist William Silvers:
I spoke to Silvers about the deleted scenes he worked on that were cut from the original film. Originally in the 3rd act Stitch flew a Boing 747 jet through Honolulu, but after the September 11th attacks, the filmmakers decided to change that scene to have Stitch fly a spaceship through the mountains of Kauai. These changes postponed the release of the film by 7 months. You can read about Bill Silvers, his career, and his experience HERE. We carry limited editions from Lilo and Stitch by Bill Silvers, and you can find them all HERE.
A Lilo and Stitch live action film in the works, with Chris Sanders reportedly lending his voice to Stitch once again.
There are some wonderful images available by Disney Fine Artists available to all you Lilo & Stitch art fans. The art of Lilo & Stitch really blends the beauty and color of Hawaii with the strong character design for which Disney artists are celebrated. You can find all our Lilo and Stitch art HERE.
If you’re a huge fan of Lilo and Stitch, you’ll love watching this interview celebrating the 20th anniversary featuring Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders:
If I said I had a favorite movie poster and then touched my two index fingers, you’d know which poster I meant. The mark of a great movie poster is one that, when the movie is mentioned, it’s the poster image it conjures, not a scene from the movie. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is the ultimate example of that, and my friend, movie campaign artist extraordinaire John Alvin, is responsible for that glorious image. Saturday, June 11th marks the 40th anniversary of the release of E.T., so now is the perfect time to celebrate and go deeper into the making of John Alvin E.T key art., which represents one of the most iconic movie posters of all time.
John Alvin created hundreds of movie posters, many of them instantly recognizable. They include lots of classics from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, including Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Blade Runner, Gremlins, Willow, Dark Man, The Goonies, Cocoon, The Lion King, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Arachnophobia, and so many more. His career was cut short when he passed away in 2008 unexpectedly. Though there was much of the creative spark left in him, he still left a wonderful body of work behind, and had a long, storied career.
He got into the film business shortly after graduating from the famed Art Center in Pasadena. He had created some images for plays with advertising professional Anthony Goldschmidt. Anthony was working on the advertising campaign for Mel Brooks, and his movie Blazing Saddles. As Andrea Alvin, John’s wife and partner in Alvin and Associates, and author of the book The Art of John Alvin explains, “He and Anthony had worked together on posters for some plays, and Anthony came to John and said, ‘Mel Brooks is doing a movie, and I’m doing the titles for it. He hates everything that Warner Brothers is doing. Would you want to do a painting on spec where we’ll be partners and send it in and see if Mel Brooks likes it?’ They did that and Brooks loved it. That’s how John got started in movies.”
Andrea says that from the day Blazing Saddles was released, John never had another slow day as an artist. Word had gotten around about his work, and Brooks had become a fan. John worked as freelancer with Goldschmidt, who used him as his go-to artist through Intralink Film Graphic Design, which Goldschmidt started in 1979. “He can do anything”, he said, according to Intralink’s senior art director Judith Kahn. “He became Intralink’s de factor resource for executing the appropriate imagery wherever an illustration was needed. Whether the drill was functional, for example a deft hand needed for rendering a quick pencil sketch to convey the idea to a client, often for trailer graphics or a main title sequence, contexts for which John is little known, or fully collaborative, the ace artiste called upon to execute a key art image whose concept we’d pitched and secured approval on, John’s versatility proved second-to-none.”
Never is that more in evidence than the art John created for Steven Spielberg’s E.T. He started working very early on, way before it was shot, when it was called “A Boy’s Life”. Andrea recalls several title permutations. First it was called A Boy’s Life, then E.T. and Me, and then finally E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
One of the cues in the wonderful score by John Williams is called E.T and Me:
He was asked to do a lot of preliminary stuff, like the designs and images for the trades to promote and get buzz going inside the industry for Spielberg’s new film. One item was a big foldout trade ad. Andrea still has one of them in her collection, and she is allowing me to show it here:
John did a lot of work designing and tailoring a logo for the titles. Andrea explains the way he created the writing for the back of the trade brochure. “What they used at the beginning, which was done before the film was shot, they were doing a lot of logo exploration. John did a lot of hand-lettering, although this was designed from a typeface. Nothing exists exactly like this. He did the mask, and painted the sky inside the letters and the big swash on the R that goes to the end. That’s all hand done. For the brochure, it’s basically an artistic modification, whereas the lettering on the finished poster was created by John, and unique to him.” As she reminded me, there were no computer programs for graphics back in 1982, so the type was set, and any modifications were done by hand.
The idea of The Creation of Adam as a basis for the image was decided early on for the key art. That being said, what would the hand look like? The poster itself did not have to go through that many permutations before Spielberg and his team were happy with it, but John initially found it a challenge because he had not seen what the alien looked like and had no basis for design. Not wanting to reveal E.T’s true form, the filmmakers offered John a rubber hand to work from. It was, as I remember from John laughingly talking to me about it, “impossible”.
What they gave him was this flaccid, flat, dead or fake-looking greenish piece of rubber, and there was no way he could get the magic of this charming, soon-to-be beloved alien right with a piece of rubber. Ultimately they persuaded the E.T. team to get John a blueprint of Elliott’s hand, drawn by creator Carlo Rambaldi, and John used that as reference in creating the poster. I asked Andrea if she still had the drawing. “I wish! They took it back as soon as John was finished with it.”
With Rambaldi’s blueprint for E.T.’s hand, John was able to create that mysterious drama we all know and love. Remember, at the time, it was the only clue about what the alien would look like! As is always the case in the process of making a finished painting to use as key art, John created a number of images for approval before being able to proceed. At this point, he had really leaned into his signature style, using what is now known as “heavy light”, but what would the composition of the image be? Whose hand could he use as a model for Elliott? They had sent some photographs of kids’ hands, but nothing seemed quite right, so John took his pictures of his own daughter Farah’s hand in all the positions that might work for his image. It’s Farah’s hand in all the below graphite concept art, and, ultimately, the famous finished poster.
In addition to needing an accurate model for the alien and Elliott, John needed to get the titles exactly right. He wound up creating it himself. Here’s what he used to make E and T on the poster, which Andrea still has in her collection:
Says Andrea, “The reason he made this was so he could spray through it, and have it kind of blurry on the edges, so it was soft. If he had cut a mask for it, it would have been very hard-edged. In keeping with the poster that all that this “heavy light” he made this mask, which is on the back of a 14 x 16 tracing pad, and he cut it out and sprayed through it. You can see the paint that’s still on it from when he did it. They wanted, on the finished poster, something that looked a little more hand-made, so it’s not like a typeset logo.” She goes on to explain why John chose to create this particular kind of design, which has become iconic and recognized all over the world, for the letters. “They wanted something that had a more casual feel about it. The movie is about kids, really, and this is more of a hand-lettered look. By the time the movie was getting ready to release, they knew it was about kids and more visceral.”
The key art was painted in a very large format, and the process was, well, what would now be called old fashioned. Andrea relates, “It was a big piece of art. It was like 30 x 40, okay, or 40 x 60, because they had to do it large, so that when they took a transparency of it, it had all the details. Now you can take a picture of a small thing at a high resolution, but they couldn’t do that then, so they had to do a big, big painting. I was was in the room with him when he was doing it. I mean, we didn’t to wear masks. We’d end up blowing our nose blue for a couple of days from all this overspray!”
So. What was his process? John Alvin was famously vague about how he worked, although he mentored many younger illustrators coming up in the industry. He didn’t want to take the magic away from the finished product by dissecting the way his key art was made. Still, Andrea can answer that question. “In the case of the E.T. art, it followed the way John’s process would be generally. If there were a lot of details, like on the alien hand E.T, which has a lot of texture, he would do that with a paintbrush, in acrylic paint. He masked that off, and then he painted the sky with the airbrush. He came back in and did airbrush work over the top of the painting, and then he put in details on top of that with Prismacolor pencil.” That’s why it’s so common to see “mixed media” in the description of an illustration original!
John Alvin’s poster, which won the Best Poster Art Saturn Award in 1982, was used for releases all around the world, and then for nearly all the merchandise.
Did John Alvin know it would be such a huge hit, shattering box office records that took years to break? According to Andrea, “Until the movie was released, we didn’t know that it was that big a hit. Then, as it became released, they took his finished art and put it on everything. I happened to go to the Los Angeles Gift Show that year, for whatever reason, and it was, I mean, from keychains, to bath towels, to sheets, it was on everything. So you can still find a lot of the merchandise with his image on it.”
One of the most remarkable stories connected to E.T. and the Alvins is that, by sheer coincidence, they wound up moving to the neighborhood where some of the film was shot in the Porter Ranch area of the Valley. They bought the house, moved in, and then discovered it was where the Halloween and chase scenes were filmed!
John always believed he was creating, as he called it, “the promise of a great experience”. In the case of 1982’s E.T., not only was it an enchanting feel-good film, it also had John Alvin’s magical touch, which, without even revealing the characters or plot lines, or, as is the case now, using a photograph that promoted one lead actor, had an enormous impact on turning movie lovers into E.T. audience members. It was Spielberg that made good on the promise of a great experience. The snowball effect that led to E.T. holding the record for the highest grossing movies for years started even before the first move trailer. It started with a poster. It started with John Alvin. On the 40th anniversary of the release of E.T., let’s thank John, wherever he is.
You can celebrate the 40th anniversary by seeing E.T. the Extra-Terrestrialin theaters in IMAX this August! It will play exclusively on IMAX starting August 12th.
For more fun and fascinating info on the making of E.T., check out this documentary:
If you’re in the mood for some serious fan service, as well as a healthy dose of advertising, there’s a 2019 E.T. sequel of sorts in the form of a 4 -minute holiday ad starring Henry Thomas called “A Holiday Reunion”:
When I started doing research for this blog, I had no idea the wealth of fun and info Pixar has created for its fans. Sooo much cool stuff! It was a joy to discover. Hang tight and you’ll be able to discover it, too, through this blog!
For many years, we didn’t have access to the fine art of Pixar. For sure, there were a few stunning pieces out there. They were created by folks in visual development who actually worked on the concepts for Pixar movies. There was work by Daniel Arriaga from Up and Brave, and a wonderful piece called “The Pixar Storyline” that they created a deluxe edition of in only 10 images that I loved, especially knowing it was made by someone who had worked on these films!
Then there’s the work of Lorelay Bové, who started at Disney in visual development during Princess and the Frog and then worked her way up to assistant production designer on Encanto. This image from Ratatouille is based on her own visual development for the film:
2007’s Ratatouille, the 8th film produced by Pixar was not only loved by critics, but won over 50 awards, including winning an Oscar for best animated feature, but it was also nominated for best screenplay, music, sound mixing and sound editing Oscars. It was developed by writer/director Jan Pinkava starting in 2000, but was picked up by Brad Bird when Pinkava left Pixar in 2005. Bird and other creatives on the film went to Paris for inspiration, and visited some of the top restaurants in the city. Michael Warch, the sets and layouts department manager, had been a culinary academy trained professional chef before working at Pixar, and helped consult with animators about making the computer generated food look appealing and artistic. The final dish of ratatouille served in the film was created in real life by a famous chef, Thomas Keller, who had allowed Brad Lewis, the producer of the film, to intern in the kitchen of his restaurant. On the less savory and delicious side of the food spectrum, compost piles the rats ate, depicted in the film, were based on photographed images taken by the art department of 15 different kinds of produce in the process of rotting.
Patton Oswalt was hired by Brad Bird to voice the lead character after he heard him doing a comedy routine about food. Bird created a test by using the audio from the routine and putting it together with footage of Remy. Here’s a recording of the (NOT SAFE FOR WORK and FULL OF CURSING) routine to show just how inspired Bird is in his casting:
Here’s Patton talking about the experience of voicing the character. By the way, Patton Oswalt grew up literally 5 miles from ArtInsights, in Sterling, Virginia. In fact, one of my friends remembers him from his brief stint as a wedding DJ. His parents used to come into the gallery from time to time, and they were lovely.
Remember I mentioned how much great stuff has been created by Pixar for the fans? Well here is the first one, from their “Pixar by the Numbers” series:
Now back to the art of Pixar…recently, Disney Fine Art started releasing more images celebrating Pixar films created by their artists, including Tim Rogerson, Stephen Fishwick, Michelle St. Laurent, and Tom Matousek. You can see all the Pixar art available on our gallery page for Pixar, HERE. Of all the recent releases, I particularly love Rogerson’s Incredibles to the Rescue, even though it doesn’t Edna Mode, my favorite character from the movie.
I loved the film so much, especially the Grammy-nominated music by Michael Giacchino. It was his first Pixar score. He went on to get nominated for an Oscar with Ratatouille, and then won for his work on Up. Director Brad Bird was looking for something specific, basically the future as imagined in the 1960s. If you think his score sounds like a James Bond movie, that’s no accident. The first trailer used John Barry’s music from On His Majesty’s Secret Service.
When Brad Bird’s pitch for The Incredibles was accepted by Pixar, he brought many of the artists and creatives from his work on the failed but wonderful The Iron Giant. The Incredibles two Oscars, one for sound editing and the other as best animated feature that year. It also won a whopping 10 Annie Awards, including one that went to Brad Bird for his voice work as Edna Mode! Originally, Bird had hoped Lily Tomlin would voice the character, but she told him she couldn’t possibly do a better job that he was doing.
There’s a great article on the making of on the Disney site, talking about the first in a series of the videos called “Pixar Scenes Explained” on this storied Pixar YouTube page, which is where all that fun I mentioned can be had. It features Director of Photography Patrick Lin and Lead Layout Artist Robert Anderson talking about the film’s finale. You can read all about it HERE.
And that brings us to another super cool and very informational video created by Pixar I want to include in this blog, one that explains rigging specific to The Incredibles. You’ve been wondering what the heck that is for a while, right? Well, digital rigs are ‘the virtual bones, joints, and muscles that allow models to move’. A rigger starts with a 3D model of a character, and figures out how that particular character should move and then creates hundreds of points on that subject where motion can be controlled and manipulated.
I have pretty much loved all the Pixar movies, but Up and Monsters Inc. are two movies I’ll watch whenever they’re on, (even with the sad first minutes of Up). The image below just reminds you of how many great characters were developed for Monsters Inc. I couldn’t pick a favorite (although Randall is right up there).
The first time I saw it, Monsters Inc. just seemed so inventive and original, and even after many viewings, it still does. Here’s a video that explains the importance of story, and how stories get revised to ultimately craft the finished product we love.
Of course Randy Newman won an Oscar for his song “If I Didn’t Have You”, but he was also nominated for his score. He won his only other Oscar for the song “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3. It’s pretty crazy that will all the great scores he’s written, he’s only won for songs! I mean, have you HEARD the score to The Natural? Also, Monsters Inc. was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar that year, but lost to Shrek. That didn’t age well. How often do you watch Shrek vs Monsters Inc.?
For no reason other than I just love it, here’s a video Pixar made as part of their “Pixar Remix” series, relating to Monsters Inc.:
If you’re as big a fan as I am of the movie, you’ll want to go to the Pixar page for Monsters Inc. to see all sorts of other quirky, inspired, artistic making-of information HERE.
Here’s another from their “Pixar Remix” that I love, and I bet you will, too!
Here’s a beautiful image from Disney Fine Art that I think captures the love between Wall E and Eva, and it does so in such an artistic and edgy way, it really compliments the movie and makes a great addition to the art of Pixar. I wish they had more art from this film!
Up is like the most heartwarming movie that could possibly exist for deeply cynical, grumpy people. Who better to capture that aesthetic than Ed Asner, who many of you know I have loved for years, met once, and and wrote about when he passed. In writing the character he plays Carl Fredricksen, writer/director Pete Docter said Asner’s award-winning portrayal of Lou Grant was essential to getting the right balance of kindly older man and unlikeable curmudgeon. Bob Peterson, (who appears in the above video “Story is King”) voiced Doug, and wrote the line “I have just met you, and I love you.” based on what a kid told him when he was a camp counsellor in the 1980s. Here’s another of those “Pixar Scenes Explained” videos, this one of Doug!
Tim Rogerson created an image similar to his Incredibles piece for Up, and I love how he captured the ingratiating and joyful expression that pretty much lives on Doug’s furry face. It really says, “I have just met you, and I love you”:
Pete Docter’s inspiration for Carl was, in part, working with Disney Legends Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and Joe Grant. Grant gave advice on building the story of Up before he passed away in 2005. Docter said, though, that it was Ellie, Carl’s intrepid, optimistic wife that was closer to Grant’s personality. Speaking of Ellie and Carl, here’s a really cool video from the “Pixar by the Numbers” series about Pixar couples:
The newest release of the art of Pixar is my favorite, created by concept artist and surfer extraordinaire, Jim Salvati, inspired by Soul.
I interviewed Soul Art Director Daniel Lopez Muñoz for the Motion Picture Association’s The Credits about working on the film and specifically about the character of Joe, and how he and the animators specifically studied the hands of Black jazz musicians as they played piano to figure out how to draw Joe’s hands when he’s playing. Jon Batiste, who shared an Oscar with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for their combined work on the score, was instrumental in capturing the essence of Joe Gardner as a jazz pianist. The animators examined video footage of Batiste’s hands to see how they his fingers moved on the keys. Batiste is on fire right now, having just won 5 Grammy Awards in 2022! If you don’t know his work outside Soul, I heartily recommend you check it all out on his website HERE.
Lastly, there are two other favorite videos I found while researching Pixar which are part of their “Studio Stories” series. One is about the fact that they actually have a Battle of the Bands on the Pixar campus:
The other is about the costume contest they have every Halloween in which they seem to completely lose their minds:
I only touched on a few films here, obviously. I love Toy Story, too, where it all began! There are Pixar art images from most of their films, and I just didn’t have the time to write about every one of them. We at ArtInsights created a page specific to Pixar art, though, showing all currently available images, and you can see them HERE.
Now that you know how much great content Pixar has out there for fans, have you gone to their YouTube page and subscribed? Because this kind of fan service should be rewarded! If you’ve watched others you loved, let me know in the comments.
If, like me, you’re a diehard fan of all things Peanuts and Charlie Brown animated specials, you’ve seen the 1974’s Emmy-nominated It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown!. When my friends at Bill Melendez Studios found some great art from the special, I thought it might be time to not only feature the art but talk about the history of the cartoon. The image of Snoopy bounding through the grass doing the happy dance and offering painted eggs to all the children of the neighborhood and frolicking with bunnies runs in my head on repeat this time of year.
Of course the origins of Easter are based in the pre-Judeo-Christian pagan worship of the Anglo-Saxon Goddess Oestre. As part of a festival dedicated to the renewal we see at Springtime, eggs, which represented the dawn of Spring, were buried and eaten. As with many other traditions adapted by Christian missionaries, Oestre was celebrated as a way of encouraging conversion. In this case, eggs were symbolic of the renewal through Christ’s resurrection, and new life given through the forgiveness of original sin.
Many pagans and Christians mark the holiday with Easter traditions like egg hunts, fancy hats and dress, and family gatherings for a feast. In Catholicism, that feast means the first time many can eat and drink what they gave up for Lent, which originally included eggs, because dairy products weren’t eaten during Lent. Many give up wine and chocolate (or alcohol and sweets, if you prefer), and Easter is the first time they can indulge in these delights! In the US and Europe, that’s partly why there’s so much chocolate that has made its way into Easter celebrations.
Painted eggs have been traced back over 2500 years, when the ancient Persians painted them for Nowruz, the Persian New Year. In the 12th century, England’s King Edward I gave over 450 eggs painted with gold leaf to his relatives during the Spring season. In 17th century Germany, gifts to children and Easter egg hunts became popular. Queen Victoria popularized the tradition by having egg hunts and filling artificial eggs with candy for the children. The US got into the spirit by having its first Easter egg roll in 1878, during the presidency of Rutherford B Hayes. Interestingly, though the Easter egg roll was meant to be secular, some imbued it with the symbolism of the rock being rolled away from Jesus’ tomb, allowing followers to see he had been resurrected.
Cut to Peanuts and Charles Schulz. As is clear from A Charlie Brown Christmas, Schulz was Christian. His faith and spirituality had a big impact on his work from the beginning. As examined in Stephen J Lind’s book “A Charlie Brown Religion: Exploring the Spiritual Life and Work of Charles M. Schulz”, more than 560 of his Peanuts strip contain a spiritual, theological, or religious reference, with 40 that directly mentioned prayer. His first animated special in 1965 explored ‘the true meaning of Christmas’, with Linus famously quoting from the bible, a rarity for a primetime cartoon special. One of the beauties of the Peanuts strip and of its creator is he believed there were many paths to the sacred, including many outside the Christian faith. He also valued joy and kindness, and showed it through is characters and stories, especially those involving Snoopy and Charlie Brown. So it makes sense that in 1968, he introduced another of Snoopy’s alter egos, The Easter Beagle.
His first appearance in the strip was April 14th, 1968, but it wasn’t until April 11th, 1971 that he was called The Easter Beagle:
The strips that made up the story of the Easter Beagle is what they used to construct the 1974 cartoon, which was the 12th Peanuts animated tv special, and the 4th to commemorate a holiday. It was first broadcast on April 9th, 1974.
If you know the special, you know there’s a scene where Snoopy dances, holding the paws with a circle of bunnies. Those bunnies are based on the Snoopy’s favorite (fictional) storybook series, “The Bunny Wunnies”, written by Miss Helen Sweetstory. They were first introduced on July 26th, 1970.
Here he is in the special. No, I haven’t seen any cels of these sweeties in about 20 years, but that doesn’t stop me from loving it onscreen and continuing my search for them!
Notice in the above scene, when he approaches the Bunny Wunnies, he happily shouts, “Hey!” It is one of the only times Snoopy ever speaks in a cartoon.
One of the most joyful sequences in all of animation, here’s Snoopy delivering painted eggs as the Easter Beagle. The music that accompanies him is not by part of the score Vince Guaraldi created for the special. It is the Allegretto from Beethoven’s 7th Symphony in A Major.
We got a small and very wonderful selection of original production cels from It’s the Easter Beagle Charlie Brown to sell from the Bill Melendez Studio. You can find some of them in the above clip! If you love It’s the Easter Beagle Charlie Brown, seek out these images before they sell. You can find them all now on our site for a limited time, at a special Easter price, HERE.
All of this is to say, this time of year is a time of celebration. I’m writing this blog during the Pink Full Moon, which for pagans is a big deal, and also a time of renewal and new life. For Muslims, Ramadan has been going on since April 1st, and will continue through to May. Whether you are pagan, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, a secular humanist, or atheist that just loves Snoopy dancing with bunnies, may you find joy in your weekend safely, and perhaps even with the aid of Snoopy as the Easter Beagle in this timeless Peanuts classic cartoon.
You can watch It’s the Easter Beagle Charlie Brown on Apple TV. While you’re there, check out the new Peanuts special, just released on April 15th, created in commemoration of Earth Month and in time for Earth Day. The cartoon features a charming new song by Ben Folds, part of which you can hear Sally singing in the trailer:
I can’t believe after more than 30 years selling Disney art, this is the first time the art Disney’s Haunted Mansion has become available. It inspired me to write about my favorite Disney attraction.
In the many times I’ve gone to Disney World and Disneyland for work or for fun, the Haunted Mansion has always been a highlight, and I’d even say one of the main reasons we’ve gone to the parks. There was one visit in which Disney Studios had closed the park for us to wander around unimpeded, and we went through the mansion repeatedly at near midnight with only friends surrounding us. Those experiences only enhanced what is a magical experience even after waiting hours to ride it, and I should know. I’ve done that, too. That made me curious. What was the process the famous artistic and engineering geniuses at Disney Imagineering that resulted in a ride that has withstood the test of over 50 years and multiple generations? What secrets does it hold?
The Haunted Mansions for both Disneyland and Disney World were built at the same time, in 1969. By then, they already knew they’d be opening Disney World, so they made two of every element of the attraction.
The idea for it came before Disneyland, way back when Walt was going to create his park across from Disney Studios. The first illustration that included some version of the attraction was drawn by Disney artist Harper Goff, then Disney assigned Imagineer, director, and animator extraordinaire Ken Anderson to create a story, which he did, based on a dilapidated antebellum manor styled after those in and around New Orleans, which he studied copiously in the process of his designs. His house had swarms of bats, boarded up doors and windows, overgrown with weeds. Walt rejected it, thinking a run-down house inside his park sent the wrong message. Instead, he suggested as inspiration the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, and Anderson took that and ran with it, writing stories about former residents turned evil ghosts. Two imagineers known as integral to the design and engineering of the attraction, Rolly Crump and Yale Gracey took his stories and brought them to life for the park. The Haunted Mansion was expected to open in 1963, and construction started in 1962, with the exterior finished by 1963.
It was largely inspired and modeled after a Victorian Era manor called the Shipley-Lydecker House in Baltimore Maryland.
Famed animator and background artist Marc Davis and Claude Coats partnered in the feel of the ride’s interior, with Coats contributing the scarier elements and Davis bringing a comedic and less spooky quality. Plans for an opening stalled first because of the New York World’s Fair, then because of Walt’s death in 1966. After Walt passed, there were a few major changes to the ride. They scrapped an idea for a “Museum of the Weird, which would include a restaurant like the Blue Bayou at the Pirates of the Caribbean. What was once going to be a walk-through attraction became one with what became the famous “Doom Buggies”.
The Haunted Mansion at finally Disneyland premiered opened with a press event at midnight on August 12th, with an opening for the public later that morning. It was an immediate success. Within a week of opening, Disneyland celebrated its highest single-day attendance.
One thing that makes the attraction special is the wonderful Ghost Host. Foolish mortals are welcomed to the mansion by a disembodied voice, originally supplied by one of the most famous voices in animation, Paul Frees. Even legendary voice artist Mel Blanc called Frees “The Man of a Thousand Voices”. Not only did Frees have a long and storied career with Disney, he also provided voices for Rocky and Bullwinkle’s Boris Badenov, was featured in nearly every Rankin Bass stop-motion cartoon, he was also the voice of Mr. Granite in The Flintstones, and played both John Lennon and George Harrison in a Beatles cartoon. The Ghost Host is also known as Master Grace, named in tribute to Yale Gracey.
Here is a vid with some early outtakes of his recordings as the Ghost Host:
As to the features of the attraction itself, there’s so much to love. A friend of mine bought the original stretching portraits from the Haunted Mansion a few years ago when Disney was foolish enough to get rid of them and that made me curious about their origin. There are four portraits, including a balding man, an old woman, a brown-haired man, and, my favorite, a tightrope walker. In an early script for the Haunted Mansion, the balding man was an ambassador named Alexander Nitrokoff. The old woman stretches to show her late husband’s bust. The brown-haired man is identified in the comics created in 2005, he and the two men sitting on each others’ shoulders are gamblers called Hobbs, Big Hobbs, and Skinny Hobbs. The tightrope walker has many alias, with Disney cast members calling her Lillian Gracey and the comics dubbing her Daisy de la Cruz. They say she’s a witch who turns men into crocodiles. I LIKE IT! Madame Leota might be the most popular character inside the mansion. She is a psychic medium originally voiced by Eleanor Audley, who voiced both Cinderella’s Lady Tremaine and Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty. Her face is based on imagineer Leota Toombs.
Of course one of the best moments on the ride is the ballroom dancers, usually called the Waltzing Dead by fans. There are a total of 12 dancers, 6 women and 6 men, that dance as couples. In the Ghost Gallery, which is a notebook written by cast members at the Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion in which they created biographies for all the attractions’ characters, the ballroom dancers are meant to be souls of folks who attended a party at Gracey Manor, only to be cursed by Madame Leota for neglecting her.
Lastly and perhaps most memorable, the ride features the groundskeeper, his mangy pup, and the hitchhiking ghosts. The groundskeeper is sometimes referred to as The Caretaker, and there’s some question as to whether the shovel he holds is for his grounds work or for a second career grave robbing. In the comics, he is identified as Horace Fusslebottom.
The hitchhiking ghosts have become a thing of their own legend. They are referred to as Gus (The Prisoner), Ezra (The Skeleton) and Phineas (The Traveler), but those names are believed to have been invented by cast members and subsequently spread by visitors to the attraction. The Ghost Gallery imagines them as three cellmates at the Salem Asylum for the Criminally Insane.
It was a thrill when I was surprised a few days ago with what felt like, after so many years without any art, an avalanche of interpretive images of The Haunted Mansion was released by Disney Fine Art.
Click on any image above to find out more about the art, or you can see all the Haunted Mansion images by going to our Haunted Mansion art page HERE.
I’ll leave you with a wonderful clip from a 1970 Wonderful World of Disney episode in which Kurt Russell guides us through the Haunted Mansion at Disney:
The Jungle Book was my gateway drug into the addictive world of Disney feature films. I had always been a movie geek, from the first time I can remember watching a movie. As a Gen X baby, I was generally unsupervised in my viewing, often to my detriment, but I was also a very stubborn child, so if one of the actors I loved was featured in a film, I’d watch it no matter what the subject matter. Starting at the tender age of 5 or 6, I accrued a number of early and persistent favorites. Watching Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid taught me, even at 6, that I very much liked boys. Gene Kelly and his physical style of dance taught me that too, I I fell for him when I watched Cover Girl, but not nearly as hard as I did for Eve Arden. She taught me being a wise cracking dame was an option. Sidney Poitier was just grace personified, and super cool in my introduction to him in To Sir With Love. Roman Holiday brought Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck into my life, but then I watched Wait Until Dark to see Audrey again, and it scared the bejeezus out of me. One of the weirder crushes of my 6 year old self was on George Sanders. He played Simon Templar in 4 or 5 The Saint movies I watched over a period of only a few days. I mean..the accent! His suits! His savoir faire!
I watched Wile E Coyote and Road Runner and Bugs shorts from infancy, but how many animated features did I watch as a young child? Probably none. Honestly I don’t remember any before I saw The Jungle Book at age 8. I had recently been accidentally introduced to the horror genre when my oldest sister Pam was babysitting me and had friends over to watch The Night of the Living Dead. I’m pretty sure that’s the same weekend I saw the a French adaptation of Murders in the Rue Morgue. I have vivid memories of this black and white scene of a detective finding a woman stuffed up a chimney. I. WAS. SEVEN. Needless to say, I was primed for some more positive, joyful cinematic fare. It came in the form of the newest movie I found that featured George Sanders. Jungle Book not only had him, it had JAZZ!
Along with being a little kid that loved movies, I was also obsessed with jazz. I don’t remember how or when I saw the trailer for The Jungle Book, but it really sold the jazz element of the movie.
Since my first record was by Louie Armstrong, and my second was an Ella Fitzgerald album, I was all in when it came to that musical genre. So here was a movie that not only had George Sanders, one of my favorite actors, who I’d seen at this point playing villains in Rebecca and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, but it had The King of Swing, Louie Prima! Interestingly, Disney’s original choice to play King Louie was Louis Armstrong. Wiser heads prevailed, (since a Black performer playing the King of the Monkeys would have rightly been seen as..uhh..problematic?) and Prima does a wonderful job.
Basically, The Jungle Book gave me a bit of a respite from what I thought were permanent night terrors and dreams of zombies twirling intestines. I wanted more, and that led me to watching all the Disney movies I could find. I must have seen The Jungle Book on a military base, because I saw it in English. The first time I saw Cinderella and The Aristocats, they were in French. All I know is The Jungle Book opened up a whole new world of film for me, one where there were no spilled guts, and happy endings were a given.
There’s something about The Jungle Book though that has always stuck with me in a way none of the other Disney movies could. I know they say you always remember your first, but it’s more than that. The Jungle Book is about friendship and sharing joy in music and caring for each other.
As an adult, I’m aware one can definitely rip the movie apart for its connection to Rudyard Kipling, the book’s original author. He was the colonialist and racist who wrote the poem “The White Man’s Burden” in 1899, in which he encouraged the American annexation of the Philippine Islands. Interestingly though, Kipling began writing The Jungle Book while living in the US. Though it takes place in the jungles of India, it was in part inspired by the wilderness of Vermont, and had as one of its themes the personal growth through adventures in the wild. That aspect of the story led to a friendship between Kipling and Theodore Roosevelt, then a civil-service commissioner in Washington. Abigail Disney has decried the film’s racist overtones. Developed in the mid-60s during desegregation in America, Disney’s The Jungle Book was sending a message about sticking to your own kind. When I rewatched it on Disney+ a few days ago, it carried a pre-screening warning:
You can find more information about the advisory council and their work towards inclusion HERE.
All that being said, there’s a reason it was the 4th highest grossing film in 1967. Released in December of 1967, the reviews at the time were almost universally effusive. Charles Champlin of the LA Times said, “It is a labor of patient love (nearly four years in the making) as remarkable in its visible man-hours as a wall-sized tapestry and mosaic. It is beautiful to see.” Howard Thompson of The New York Times said, “A perfectly dandy cartoon feature, “The Jungle Book,” scooted into local theaters yesterday just ahead of the big day, and it’s ideal for the children. Based loosely on Rudyard Kipling’s “Mowgli” stories, this glowing little picture should be grand fun for all ages, for in spirit, flavor and superb personification of animals, the old Disney specialty, the new film suggests that bygone Disney masterpiece, “Dumbo.” Life magazine said, “The story men, forgetting all they may have picked up about mythology’s relationship to mankind’s collective unconscious, have given the artists first class low-comedy gag sequences to work on and there are some simple bouncy songs to further enliven the proceedings.” In Time magazine, one reviewer explained its appeal this way: “The reasons for its success lie in Disney’s own unfettered animal spirits, his ability to be childlike without being childish. In his Jungle safari, he obviously aimed for the below-twelve market by stuffing his scenario with pratfalls and puffing it with the kind of primitive tunes that can be whistled through the gap left by a missing front tooth.”
The financial success of The Jungle Book was probably bolstered by a nostalgic remembrance of studio founder Walt Disney, who had died only 6 weeks after a lung cancer diagnosis in December of 1966. Still, it is beloved and appreciated to this day, and had a huge influence on the animators of the New Golden Age of Disney. It is Scar, Afar, and Roger Rabbit animator Andreas Deja’s favorite Disney movie, and Pocahontas director and animator Eric Goldberg, character designer for Aladdin’s Genie, calls the work on the film “possibly the best character animation a studio has ever done”.
Watching The Jungle Book in the last few days to find screen caps for our new production cels and concept art, I am once again drawn to George Sanders. Shere Khan is by no means my favorite character in the movie. That honor is shared by Bagheera and King Louie. Even in animation, Sanders is magnetic, stealing his scenes just as he did in every live action film he was ever in. In his Oscar-winning role as critic Addison DeWitt in All About Eve, he has Marilyn Monroe on his arm, and your eyes still follow Sanders. Speaking as one of his legion of fans, we are indebted to fellow thespian Greer Garson, who had been a secretary working at the same advertising agency as Sanders. She’s the one who suggested he could have a successful acting career. If you love George Sanders as much as I do, you’ll enjoy knowing he also tried his hand at singing and songwriting. Here he is singing a song from his 1958 album The George Sanders Touch: Songs for the Lovely Lady:
I was so excited to get some Jungle Book original production cels that hadn’t been restored and were in good condition! Most production cels from the film were sold as Disneyland mat setups, that is, they were sold at the art corner at Disney back when the movie was released, and so they are all stuck to their backgrounds. It’s inherent to the era. I think no one should restore Jungle Book production cels unless they are so damaged they can’t be enjoyed as they are. This is rarely the case for Disneyland mat setups, so I do wish dealers would just leave them alone. Isn’t it better to have the entirety of the art intact as photographed in the making of the movie? Anyway, here are the Jungle Book production cels we just got in, which, along with the realization that Jungle Book turns 55 this year (!!) inspired this blog:
10 THING YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW ABOUT DISNEY’S THE JUNGLE BOOK
1 – With Shere Khan, George Sanders became the first Academy Award-winning actor to voice a Disney character. He had become friends with Walt after starring in 1962’s In Search of the Castaways, and got the role after Walt saw him in early concept drawings of the character.
2 – The Jungle Book was Verna Felton’s last movie. She died a little less than 2 days before Walt. Playing the elephant matriarch Winifred, Colonel Hathi’s wife, she bookended her experience with Disney studios with elephants, since her first vocal role was the elephant matriarch in Dumbo.
3 – The music for the film’s opening overture was written for the 1964 World’s Fair.
4 – The Jungle Book was rated G by the Motion Picture Association of America. It was the last Disney animated film to include the 1945 MPAA logo, and the last animated Disney film to be released during the Hays Office Code before its elimination in 1968.
5 – The Beatles were supposed to voice the vultures and sing the song That’s What Friends Are For”, but John Lennon refused. Lennon was quoted as saying: “There’s no way The Beatles are gonna sing for Mickey f*cking Mouse. You can tell Walt Disney to f*ck off. Tell him to get Elvis off his fat arse, he’s into making crap f*cking movies.” Tell us how you really feel, John!
6 – Gregory Peck, the president of the Academy at the time, lobbied heavily for The Jungle Book to be nominated for Best Picture, as well as the inclusion of animated features for consideration in Best Picture nominations. It didn’t happen, and he resigned over it. (Go Gregory!)
7 – Legendary story artist Bill Peet was originally the one who suggested The Jungle Book to Walt as an animated feature. Peet actually created the character of King Louie, who wasn’t in the original stories. His version of the story followed the dark tone of Kipling’s book. Walt insisted on script changes, and Peet refused. Dramatic and intense arguing ensued, leading to Peet quitting Disney altogether in January 1964.
8 – The Bare Necessities, the only song in the movie not written by The Sherman Brothers, was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to “Talk to the Animals” from Doctor Doolittle, “sung” (or spoken, really) by Rex Harrison. Rex Harrison never did voice acting, but Friz Freleng tried to hire him to voice Pink Panther. He demured, and Rich Little was hired to do an impression of him for two cartoons, 1965’s Sink Pink and Pink Ice.
9 – Louis Armstrong was the first choice to voice King Louie. Phil Harris, the voice of Baloo, improvised most of his lines. All the scatting by both Harris and Louis Prima was entirely improvised during recording sessions.
10 – The wolf cubs in The Jungle Book are all based on the puppies from 101 Dalmatians.
In the just-released HBO Max releasing Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: A Return to Hogwarts, Harry Potter film franchise production designer Stuart Craig is mentioned and called up fondly by a number of cast members. For good reason! Apart from the cast, Stuart Craig, who worked on the entire series, is one of the players that kept the continuity and look of the films consistent from beginning to end. A 3-time Oscar winner for Gandhi, Dangerous Liaisons, and The English Patient, Craig has been in the film business since he started in 1967 on Casino Royale as an assistant, bringing tea, running errands, and studiously avoiding Peter Sellers. Needless to say, I’ve loved having Stuart Craig Harry Potter art in the gallery.
He was hired from the very beginning of the Harry Potter series, designing the look of Hogwarts and the extended world of the boy who lived, interpreting and bringing to life the spaces and environments as written by JK Rowling.
Now here we are, 20 years after the first film’s release, and Warner Brothers celebrated by releasing a new documentary featuring all the major players from the film (though sadly missing Alan Rickman, Richard Griffiths, and Richard Harris, and Helen McCrory, among other cast and crew no longer with us). Neither Stuart nor any other below-the-line artist was interviewed, but that doesn’t diminish the importance of their contributions to these magical movies.
One of the subjects around the reunion that created controversy was whether it would include Rowling herself. In recent years she has, to put it mildly, put repeatedly her foot in her mouth on social media by clearly being trans-exclusionary. You can read all about it HERE. Ultimately, they used about 2 minutes (out of 2 hours) of footage from 2019. This brings us to why my post is titled “last available Harry Potter art”.
Since the books were released, I’ve been a champion of Harry Potter art. I’ve even been a panelist on several Harry Potter fandom panels at San Diego Comic-Con! (Here’s one video of us talking HP from 10 years ago, and yes, that IS a pre-Glee, shaggy-haired Darren Criss sitting next to me!)
I have definitely sold more Mary GrandPre and Harry Potter concept art than anyone else. I even got to release two exclusive limited editions. Regardless of how much of a fan of the art, the books, and the movies I might be, when Rowling started her row with the world about what is and isn’t male and female, and why, I had to reconsider my stock, and think about whether I wanted to put another penny into her pockets. The answer was no. At the time, I was well-stocked with official limited edition art from Harry Potter, both the books and the movies. Though until now I’ve done it below the radar, I slowly sold off what was available through ArtInsights, and vowed to myself I would stop selling the art when all the Harry Potter art in my current inventory was gone.
Should one of the artists I know who worked on the films and has original art comes to me, I’ll still be willing and able to promote and find great homes for their art, but the days of supporting the limited edition market are over, but for the last remaining pieces I have, which are all pieces I’d put aside by Stuart Craig, many of which are Artists Proofs.
So: If you’re interested in the movies, and love the characters and the movies as much as I do, check out all the Stuart Craig Harry Potter art HERE.
A large part of why I fell in love with the Harry Potter movies was the look and feel of them, and that’s entirely to the credit of Stuart Craig.
I interviewed Stuart in 2011, before the release of the last Harry Potter movie. I spoke to him about how he got started, artist’s block, his inspirations, and advice for aspiring production designers, among other things. You can listen to it on the video below, or scroll down to read the transcript.
Stuart Craig interview transcript
So, how did you get started? What led you to becoming a production designer? Did you love movies as a child?
It wasn’t movies, specifically. When I was in school in my hometown, there was a tradition of doing musical operettas, Gilbert and Sullivan particularly. I wasn’t a great academic student and I was always, you know, hanging around the art room. My mother discovered quite late on in her life that she had a talent for painting. She was 65. Anyway, there was a Gilbert Sullivan thing, and I was painting scenery, painting the stone wall of the Tower of London, and somebody behind me admired it, and, I was totally surprised, really, that I created any interest at all from anybody else, and that was a little trigger. Later on in my school life, I did some amateur theater work painting scenery for two complimentary tickets a week. There were two theaters in my hometown, and I work in both of them. At the same time, I pursued my art, went to the local art school, then went to a London art school, and did work in London theater. My day work was as a student at London art school. As art school students do here, at the end of my course, I looked for a kind of postgraduate course, and the Royal College here in London had a course in film design. I thought, ‘well, I can maximize my chances of getting in here just using my theater experience.’ So that was it. I was being pragmatic, really, in going to film school thought that is the way to develop the experience I have possibly, even a way to have a slightly better paid career, so that’s what I did, and it was film forevermore after that, really. When I left the Royal College, I got a job on the first Casino Royale film, the one with everybody in it. Peter Sellers, David Niven, Woody Allen, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it.
I think I’ve seen almost everything you’ve ever done, with the exception of Saturn City that I have not seen.
As a quick introductory course to film technique, it was pretty good. I have to say it couldn’t be better, in fact.
You were doing art direction for that?
No, I was very, very junior. I made the blueprints and made the tea. There’s very much a tradition of that in the movie industry, that you start in one of these junior positions, and serve an apprenticeship, and then you kind of work your way up.
Making tea for Peter Sellers, that’s kind of entertaining though.
I didn’t dare go anywhere near Peter Sellers. I was making the tea for the art directors and the guys in the art department.
So then from there, you got involved in terms of working with Richard Attenborough?
Yeah. Well, I served in quite a lot of apprenticeships, for about 12 years. From that tea boy to draftsman to art director was about a 12 year process. I worked for RIchard Attenborough actually on Gandhi in that period, but it was one of those false starts that he had. I mean, he tried to make that movie for 20 years. We set up an art department, and did some work. I was working for another designer called Michael Stringer at that stage. It fell through, it didn’t happen, so I went on, did other things, and then eventually, 12 years later got to design the first film of my own. I think either the second or third film I did was Ghandi, which was huge for one so green and comparetively new as a designer, That was a big challenge.
When you got the job of doing Gandhi, did you feel like you had built up enough knowledge and experience that you felt like you were ready for it? Or did it feel just enormous at the time?
Over my 12 year apprenticeship, I did begin, towards the end, to think ‘I can do this’, so was ready for it in that sense. I was also smart enough to choose two very, very good art directors to go with me, both of whom were older than I, and had more experience than I had. Looking back on it it was a pretty smart move.
What’s your take on the way you use color? Because for instance, in The Elephant Man, I see a lot of shadow and light, and almost using your gray tones as color. But then you also do definitely use color almost as a character in your movies.
I think that’s true. I think there’s a tradition here in England, maybe here more than in America, or certainly more than in California, of kind of limiting the palette. Maybe it’s because we live in a gray, rainy place. You know, our sensibility is just different. But with Stephanie McMillan, the decorator, I consult all the time on matters of color. We do have this technique of limiting the palette, very, very severely, so that the subtlest of color changes register quite strongly. I also do love, obviously, to have built sets with potential for dark shadows, and consider initially each set as something abstract, and as a piece of sculpture, literally, pieces of abstract sculpture, with a lot of thought given to how it might be lit. Now obviously, it’s a communal activity, and I need to talk to the director of photography about that. So I have tried, as well as consulting with the director right off, then the cinematographer as soon as they are available, becomes an essential part of the plan.
You start out with a limited palette and then you add color based on what calls for it and where it makes sense?
Well, certainly in Hogwarts, almost every color is muted, or has a lot of gray. So we work in sort of gray greens, gray ochre, and it’s limited in that way. Occasionally, you might go for sharp color, or go for reflective color. In the Harry Potter films, we’ve used a lot of gold leaf, or actually brass leaf, because gold is fairly expensive. We’ve used brass leaf but it gives it a kick, and it has a quality that gold spray paint could never have.
So even if you pull out all the color, you’re still going to get a slap of color by using the brass?
Yes. But it’s more for its reflective qualities than for yellow gold color. Well, I guess it’s a combination of both.
So it’s playing with light as well as color.
When you’re doing all of these projects, you’ve got the the producer and the director, and then in the case of Harry Potter, you’ve got the author, how does the involvement work? Who gets called in first? And how do you figure out the process and the collaboration with all those people together?
There was a promise made by David Heyman, the producer, to JK Rowling, that we would be faithful to the spirit of the books, but she understood that we could never include everything. There had to be huge omissions. And I think she was very brave in allowing the films to be their own separate entity. She quite accepted from the beginning that books and movies could be separate, and so we consulted her initially. She literally gave me a map of Hogwarts, a map of the world. She did the drawing over the first meeting in a hotel lobby, and that became a massive aid or a starting point from her. We consulted her throughout the series when there were questions. As to the director/producer relationship, the designer would always address the director first, and have an initial conversation to understand his priorities, and then I would prepare a sketch or model in the art department, and go back to him and show it, and then at that stage, maybe introduce the producers to the idea, so that they were up to speed on what was happening. But it’s really that dialogue between the director and the designer, which is essential and you follow that path wherever it leads.
This is after the script has been written, and you’re reading over the script. Do you go back, whether it’s Harry Potter or some of the other movies you’ve worked on that are based on books as well, or novels, do you read the novels over and over so that you get a sense of some of the elements in the novels, or do you try to stick strictly to the script that’s written in the screenplay?
I think the background information is important as well. Quite early on the Harry Potter books were issued as spoken books on CDs, so that helped. I would read the novel, and then listen to it in the car on the way to the studio several times.
Stephen Fry’s version of Harry Potter?
Yes! It’s essential, and not just that and reading the novels, but then there’s a researcher, Celia Barnett, who worked with us on all the films, and I find that process important too. She was researching things like medieval clock mechanisms, because in the Prisoner of Azkaban this clock is important. She would research medieval architecture, and the tapestries in the common room. Celia found the tapestry for the Gryffindor common room, those bright red tapestries, from a museum in Cluny, in Paris.
In terms of the Harry Potter movies, has there been something where you’ve done everything and it’s been filmed, and then you look at it and you realize it just doesn’t quite have what you’re after, and you have to go back and change something?
One big thing. In the beginning, the Sorcerer’s Stone or the Philosopher’s Stone, we were obliged to use existing locations quite a lot, because we didn’t have the time or the money to build the entire world. When we then cut to a big exterior of Hogwarts, those are real places, like Gloucester Cathedral, Durham Cathedral, and Christ Church College at Oxford, all had to be incorporated into the complex which was Hogwarts School. This gave, I must say, a not a very satisfying silhouette, and I was at pains in subsequent movies. Fortunately, the script made different demands anyway, and required different geography. You know, if we had had all seven books from the beginning, then certainly those early decisions would not have been made or those early choices of location, because they didn’t fit with the action in later books. But anyway, we didn’t have that. So we used bits of cathedrals, and bits of Christ Church college. Then, when obliged to make those changes in subsequent movies, I did use take that opportunity to improve the silhouette of Hogwarts, just to make it more magical. It was confused. Although it was always huge and complicated, it did progressively get more elegant. Nobody seemed to mind, they seem to expect that it was just part of a magical world.
I would imagine, though, not having all of the books at once was a source of excitement for you, since you have worked on all of them.
What would you say in the last book were a couple of the elements that you were really excited about getting an opportunity to express visually?
Absolutely. I mean, the ministry suddenly appeared, and that was a huge challenge. Every book produced something new. In the last book, the seventh book, which we split, as you know, into two two movies, the challenge of the first part is that we don’t go to Hogwarts at all. The entire film takes place with the kids on the run from Voldemort. The ministry has turned bad, and they’re hunted, and on the run, so it’s a series of locations, physical locations, and sometimes built sets. There’s a frozen forest with a frozen pool, and the sort of gryffindor at the bottom of the frozen lake. That’s a set on a soundstage here in London, which has to be integrated with a bit of real forest that proceeds it. So, that was a challenge there. Something we were quite unfamiliar with really was traveling to distant locations for landscapes. Specifically. In part two, the great challenge is the destruction of Hogwarts. And you don’t just knock holes in what you’ve got, you really have to consider that as a new set. And again, this all important idea of strong profiles making strong images.
and all that fire, and the light coming through, and all these big sections of the castle that are knocked down.
The sun rising behind the smoke, all those considerations. But as I say, the big big challenge was these massive remains of destroyed walls, the entrance hall, the front of the Great Hall, part of the roof of the Great Hall, completely gone. So, yeah, a big challenge, and an enjoyable one, too, really. Maybe it helped help me and the guys in the other departments prepare for the end. We we demolished it before we had to strike it completely.
That might have been good catharsis. When I think about the two last movies, I was trying to imagine what would be really fun to design. The Lovegood house, and the wedding, and then at the beginning at the manor with the body hanging.
I think you’re right. Malfoy Manor is a very strong architectural set. The exterior is based on an Elizabethan house here In this country called Hardwick Hall, and it has massive windows and these windows are kind of blinded out, the shadows are drawn, and so they’re like blind windows, which have a real kind of ominous presence. So that gave us the basis of a good exterior. There’s an extraordinary magical roof added and surrounded by forest, which isn’t there in reality, but again, this is one of our devices to make it more threatening, more mysterious. Tthen the interior, two floors, two sets on stages, very, very muscular architecture, very strong architectural form. So that was great to get into that. The Lovegood house is a tower. JK Rowling says it’s a black tower in an empty landscape. That’s exactly what it is. But we took great care over the sculptural shape of that tower.
The interior is fantastic.
Luna and her father certainly both have eccentric interests. We asked Luna, Evanna the actress who played her, to actually help us with this, that she would have painted or decorated the interior with, like decorations on the wall murals.
Evanna painted for you?
She proved herself very good at this in Harry Potter six, where she wore the lions mask, or the lion headdress. She designed that, and so we thought, ‘ha! we’ll harness this ability again, this talent again, and ask her to do these wall paintings, and so she did designs for them which we then reproduced.
And Xenophilius Lovegood is new to that movie, right? So it’s exciting to be able to create the world of a new character.
Exactly. And he prints with his printing press, and one floor of this black tower is entirely consumed with his printing operation for The Quibbler, the magical world magazine. The press was good, and all that printing apparatus was great fun for Stephanie, the set decorator.
Did you make all of the furniture in curves?
Not exactly. There is a sort of spiral staircase, and some sort of fitted bits are made to fit the curved walls, but it’s it’s eccentricly furnished.
One really interesting aspect of the film is juxtaposing the wedding against the beginning of the movie, with its sharp contrasts and the dark and the shadows. There’s this little joyful moment in the book that takes place at the wedding, which is beautiful, and there’s a lot of light. And so how did you work that contrast?
We decided with the wedding that the wedding reception, as they often are, should be in a tent or a marquee, and that marquee should sit in this flat, marshy, weedy landscape outside the Weasley house. The big question was, do I make it the same, an extension of the Weasley house with the same kind of eccentricity, the same kind of rather amateurish, homemade feeling about everything, or do we do something different? Well, obviously the fun thing is doing something different. Since Bill Weasley was marrying Fleur Delacourt, we could say that her parents had a big influence on this wedding. In fact, that Monsieur Delacourt would probably pay for it as the father of the bride. That permitted us a French influence, and so we really went for that. There’s a soft, very refined interior, painted silk the tent is lined with, there are floating candles in little French 18th century candelabra, and so the whole thing has a very elegant and quite un-Weasly look about it.
How much would you say of your own artistic aesthetic gets put into the work that you do, specifically Harry Potter, because that’s what we’re talking about right now, but also on the whole?
I think in different categories, there’s probably a different answer. Everything architectural, I have a great deal of, not just control of, but it is what I’m passionate about, and reflects my interests and input. Along with Stephanie McMillan, the set decorator that we’ve already mentioned, we’ve worked together as a team for a long time now, since Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin, I think was the first time. So there’s already understanding that of the architectural part and the decoration of that thereafter. There are a team of concept artists working in the art department with me. Two and three of them sometimes were concerned exclusively with creatures, a lot of magical creatures in Harry Potter, like Thestrals and Hippogriffs. so, these guys, Rob Bliss, they have a fantastic facility for designing anatomically correct and credible, but extraordinary magical creatures. In the case of creatures, I am the facilitator, you know, as you say, the head of the department that in which they work, but it’s their creative input that that gets us there. They draw absolutely spectacularly well, you know, they draw like Raphael like Leonardo, they do. So, beautiful drawing. There’s another illustrator who is Andrew Williamson, an architecteral illustrator. I will do a rough doodle of a set the Lovegood House or the Malfoy Manor, and we’ll also do a plan and an elevation, quite a rough preliminary one, but nonetheless to scale, because I love to think I imagine it from with dealing with real dimensions right from the beginning, knowing exactly how big it is and exactly the size of one thing against another. And I give those early pencil sketches and plan and elevation to Andrew, he will then build a digital model in the computer and together we will spin it, walk through it, choose an angle, and say ‘okay, that it’, and render or illustrate that. Over the 10 year period, he started with pencil drawings and watercolor washes, but you know, technology has changed so fast. He does these amazing renderings which become so well finished that you can barely tell them apart from from stills directly from the movie. You can mistake some of these concept sketches for shots from the movie.
Does he still create analog art after you’ve gone through and seen all of these digital images? Or is it pretty much all inside the computer?
It’s all inside a computer now.
When did that switch completely?
It didn’t switch suddenly. In the beginning, he would take my things and then apply a pencil drawing to watercolor paper and put watercolor washes on it. Then, having gotten a computer, there was a period in the middle, where he would make the drawing on the computer, print it out onto watercolor paper and still do the sort of the washes. and then took the big leap and then the whole thing was on the computer. Also, I think, what Andrew took from us, and from the movie tradition of art director sketches, designer sketches, the idea of lighting, he came from architectural practice, helped architects do these overviews of architectural schemes, but the lighting in those traditionally is fairly bland, whereas lighting on movie sets is often dramatic and spectacular. And you see, from the first film to the last film, the lighting in these concept sketches has changed enormously, and has gotten much stronger and better and more exciting.
Do you as a film goer or somebody who appreciates movies, are there some in particular that you go back to just in terms of being a fan and using them as inspiration?
I have design heroes like Ferdinando Scarfiotti, he worked for Bertolucci. I think Scarfiotti was certainly the best designer of my generation. He died tragically young and didn’t get to do so much, but that Italian classicism that he was born with, and it was in his blood. He just had such a facility for doing things beautifully and elegantly.
Is there a particular movie that you love the most of his?
The Sheltering Sky is beautiful, and The last emperor. There’s a quirky movie called Toys, which he did to Barry Levinson, which wasn’t a successful movie, but it was very beautifully designed.
That’s a little bit like the beginning of the series with Harry Potter underneath the stairs. Those shots are really tight.
There’s a great American designer Dean Tavoularis, who worked for Francis Ford Coppola. Tavoularis has as a kind of great classical way of doing things and has a great eye and he’s all about making pictures, making sculptures, and he’s another hero of mine. There’s a movie about Las Vegas, that Coppola did. He took over a studio in Hollywood called Zoetrope, and I was working in a building, in an empty shop, next to Zoetrope, preparing for a film with Mel Brooks, and Tavoularis was working, and I remember walking onto one of their stages one day, and just seeing that he was using the most theatrical techniques, I mean, painted ground rows, painted backing, forced perspective, all these things which I tried to do in my work, but he is certainly a master of that. I remember that and taking encouragement from that. Okay, if you can do, perhaps I can do that.
I was just going ask you about that Kings Cross Station scene at the end of the movie. Did you have to think about that for a while? Sometimes when you’re creating a scene or a part of the movie, do you have to sit on it for a while and think about it?
Absolutely that. I think flashes of inspiration for me are quite hard to come by. I often sit in front of a blank sheet of paper and struggle and struggle and use the eraser a lot, but eventually something will form. Something like that is a very difficult concept. I mean, you’re talking about the thing with Harry between life and death?
At least in the book, there’s not a lot of direction in terms of how this scene is meant to look.
It was quite a protracted process, really. But we did experiment. W had the sense of it e being very burnt out. We experimented with underlit floors, and with different kinds of white coverings, white paint, and white fabric. The cameraman was involved. We needed to figure out how much to over expose it, so a series of camera tests were done. So we got there, but with a great deal of preparation and research.
Did it take way longer than any other scene to work out?
Given that the end result was really a very simple set, a very simple white platform surrounded by whiteboards, and there’ll be some visual effects enhancement there, the architecture will be put in, but there was there was a sketch that Andrew and I prepared, which became the kind of template, and after that, all these materials were experimented with.
And you just were touching on a little bit, but do you get a form of artists block?
Is it hard to take yourself to the drawing table and sit in front of a white sheet of paper. It’s really hard to do that. But what I’ve learned over the years is, once I do it, something will come. It will, and it always has, and I pray that he always well. You can get an idea in your head, and just the act of making marks, and then the marks become very simple forms, and the simple forms become architecture. And then the architecture has a texture, has an antiquity, is lined with book,s or is lined with paintings. The initial one or two stages are the important ones that get you going, and then the thing starts to flow faster.
Do you recall any particular flash of inspiration?
I think Picasso, and there was a famous Hollywood designer John DeCuir, certain very, very lucky people can see an image in their head complete, fully formed, fully rendered fully colored. And all they have to do is just reproduce this picture in their head. I think that’s a very rare talent. And I don’t have it at all. John DeCuir, by the way, is legendary for taking plane trips, and setting off with a sheaf of letter sizede regular paper, and he would sit on the plane, and he would start drawing in the top left hand corner, and work his way down to the bottom right hand corner, and take the next sheet of paper, start in the top left hand corner, and draw down to the bottom right, and would step off the plane with maybe 12 small sheets of paper, walk into his art department in the studio, give it to the junior assistant and say, ‘stick those together’, having made the most wonderful pencil drawing of this big panoramic scene, and all the 12 images fit together beautifully. I’m sure that’s exaggerated, but essentially, true, what he was what he was able to do.
If you get to the same place, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a flash of inspiration, or it takes sitting at a blank sheet of paper and building it slowly. If the end result is beautiful, it doesn’t matter which way you come from.
I think that’s true. Absolutely. I think that it is gratifying that if you work at it, it does come.
I think of production designers as being perfectionists. Do you think it can be difficult creating work that is seen over and over again, especially when in film there can be so many compromises in the process of production, and as an artist there’s often something that in retrospect you feel you could do better or differently?
I think years ago, what was captured in camera was it. It was there forever, and you’d see that movie 20 years later, and you would see the thing you hated and it would be just as painful as when you compromised in the first place, for whatever reason. Now it’s not as painful. I think you get smarter as you get older. Fortunately, you get smarter about spotting and heading off the compromises. But also, the tools are different. Visual effects have certainly in the Harry Potter movies have such a big part to play that they are able if something does go wrong, something I regret even, they are able to change it for the better. That’s quite an expensive process. But also digital grading can make a huge difference. I would be able to say ‘I just think that wall there is just receiving too much light’ or ‘the color of that piece of furniture is particularly ugly’, Andit can be adjusted relatively easily. So technology has made that process easier. And so is now very gratifying to be able to work with the digital grader and the DP and be part of those decisions.
Do you see the sketches in the art that you do in the process of making these finished visual scenes as fine art, do you see them only as a means to an end, or do you see them as both?
I think they are just a means to an end. I think they are really part of the craft. I think somebody like Rob Bliss who designed the Thestrals, designed Dobby, is able to draw. so beautifully, that it does lift off into something slightly more sublime.
You see yours more as directions?
Mine are pencil sketches. They are sketches. I mean, I love drawing, and I love fine art drawing as opposed to architectural drawing or as well as architectural drawing. So I do, take that passion with me into the work, but these guys that sit and draw all day long and draw human anatomy, creature anatomy all day long, they start out extremely talented, and they refine their talents to such an extent the results are absolutely exquisite.
And you would add Andrew Williamson as well in that list. But you do infuse a little bit of your own artistic sensibilities in your drawings.
On two levels. I consider it initially as a piece of sculpture, as a piece of art, of architectural form, that is sculptured in an abstract kind of way, and then I’m also very keen on architecture, architectural detail, I’ve enjoyed studying it all these years, I enjoy getting it right, and it frustrates and annoys me when I see it being gotten wrong about other movies. On those two levels, I am definitely trying to put my stamp on it and, and hold on to it, too, as it goes through the process. Technical draftsman draw the blueprints, then go to the craftsmen that make it. There are several stages, in which something could go wrong, something could get changed, could get compromised. So I absolutely sit on that. And make sure that those things don’t happen.
So many film artists don’t see their work as ‘real art’. I just did an interview with the curator of the Norman Rockwell show in Washington, DC, and she was talking about the fact that Norman Rockwell never sold his art because he didn’t see it as art. He gave it away. To him it was a means to an end, because it was advertising art.
I think it isn’t quite clear cut, is it? I think because it’s storytelling, that there’s a significant difference between fine art and the kind of art we’re talking about, this art serves the purpose of the story and tells the story, this narrative art, in a way that fine art can be, but it doesn’t have to be. A fine artist can start painting and can end up anywhere. It doesn’t matter where it takes him. But these guys have to end up having told us a specific story and represent a specific place, so it is illustration as opposed to fine art in that sense. But nonetheless, they get so good at it, that I think the responses to their own work are the same as they would be for fine art, because they’re so damn good at it, and because what they do is kind of exquisite.
There’s an argument to be made that the fact they have to arrive somewhere specific, and they’re still able to imbue the work with their own beautiful skills and talent, I think that’s even more a statement of their talent, and their flexibility and creativity.
I agree. Absolutely would agree.
So what would you say to artists, new filmmakers, and people who want to do what you do for a living who are younger, and just getting into it? Do you have any advice to impart?
I could do, given an hour or two, but in a sentence or two it’s pretty difficult, isn’t it? The world is changing so fast. I think visual effects are a bigger and bigger part of modern moviemaking. I know there are a great deal of inexpensive documentaries made because video equipment so inexpensive. Hollywood films, though, by and large, are more and more driven by visual effects, and the effects themselves are becoming cheaper. It will go on doing so, and the physical set will become more expensive than the virtual one. Those guys come from a different tradition. They’re computer technicians. So I think there’s something to address there. I think designers coming up have to get a double education, and make sure that they’re equally proficient in both.
Specifically too, to not neglect or forget about the history of art, because without that, then you can be incredibly proficient on the computer, but without that kind of knowledge, then you don’t have anything to back it up.
That’s exactly it. In the 18th 19th century, any builder could build an elegant house, in that it was a tradition. He followed traditional methods, traditional aesthetic, traditional proportions, it was part of him and he grew up with it. Nowadays, there’s been a great sort of rupture in that continuity of tradition, with modernism, but also with computer programs that kind of does it for you. So now, the ordinary builder isn’t able to build an elegant home at all. Only good architects build good buildings these days, it seems to me. That, in a way can, can and is happening in the movie industry. Those guys who studied classicism and the history of painting, the history of art, if they’re not careful, they’ll kind of fall off a cliff as as technology takes over, or has already taken over. So the technicians need to get a fine art background, and designers and artists need obviously to understand the technology and maybe grow closer together and become the same department eventually.
We’re incredibly excited to announce the art of Alan Bodner, which is inspired by mid-century modern design styles, is now available at ArtInsights. The first release will include limited editions featuring classic tv, great Broadway shows, and your favorite musicians from all genres. As you know, we are committed to highlighting artists that actually work in the industry. The art of Alan Bodner fits perfectly with that mandate.
To people in the animation and film industry, Alan Bodner needs no introduction. Fans best know him as the award-winning art director of animation projects as diverse as the Bugs Bunny short Carrotblanca, the cult classic animated feature film The Iron Giant, and Disney’s popular shows Kim Possible, and Tangled: The Series, for which he won a Daytime Emmy Award. Animation insiders, however, know Bodner well. He’s been working in Hollywood since his first gig as a background artist at Filmation. He started in 1979, with The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse and Heckle and Jeckle. The Tom and Jerry Comedy Show and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids soon followed. He was destined for success.
If kids who grew up in the 80s and 90s were to list their favorite Saturday morning cartoons, no doubt he’s worked on a significant share of them. He lent his talents as background artist to Ghostbusters, She-Ra: Princess of Power, and a slew of Looney Tunes shorts. The wonderfully wacky Daffy Duck shorts Duxorcist, Quackbusters, and The Night of the Loving Duck number among his projects. In the 90s and into the new millennium, he painted backgrounds for Garfield, Rocko’s Modern Life, The Avengers, and Phineas and Ferb, just to name a few. Proving his range and skill with a wide variety of art styles, while developing a look of his own that would be recognizable, Bodner began getting hired as art director. In that position, he could dictate and orchestrate the look and feel of entire projects.
However, it wasn’t his art direction in animation that got him the gig as art director on The Iron Giant. Bodner had been at Warner Bros. Classic Animation, working under legendary background artist Dick Thomas, when storyboard artist Harry Sabin brought his name up to Brad Bird. Though Alan showed the core team his work, he later found out it was his fine art, his abstract paintings and his use of color in them, that inspired Brad Bird to hire him, even though Bodner had never worked in feature films.
Bodner found the experience immensely educational. He says it was through that project that he learned how to create a cohesive and inspired look. He explains, “It wasn’t just about a single painting; I was really learning to understand how to tell a story through color. I think that’s what Brad imparted to me. I watched movies with him and he would point things out to me. It was like I was going through a college course in cinema. I remember taking frames of black and white films and just copying the lighting. A lot of the films were film noir, filled with mood. The challenge with The Iron Giant was to go from a happy place to a very dangerous one with the film’s color.”
Alan continued his ascent to well-known and respected animation art director with Kim Possible in 2002 and 2003, art directing the first season, and laying the groundwork for the show’s visual palette. He went on to both create backgrounds for and art direct on Phineas and Ferb, and art direct the critically acclaimed Tangled series.
Most recently, he’s been art directing a new project on Disney Junior, Mickey Mouse Funhouse. It has been particularly rewarding for Bodner, because he was able to draw on his memories watching The Mickey Mouse Club as a kid when considering the styling and feel of the new show. As he told Jazz Tangcay of Variety, the bold colors used in 1951’s Alice in Wonderland were an inspiration for “Mickey the Brave”, the premiere episode of the series. You can watch Mickey Mouse Funhouse now on cable, or many of your streaming providers through Hulu + Live TV and DirecTV Stream. It’s perfect for little kids, and the colors are joyful and eye-popping.
All this background about Alan’s storied career should make it clear why we’re so exciting to be able to get art representing him for our clients. The artist has a singular style and vision that’s super fun and joyful but also harkens back to the look of the great movie poster artist Saul Bass and other famed mid-century modern masters. He himself says he has been very influenced by the art of Warner Bros. background artist Maurice Noble, and you can see how he’s expanded upon that influence and made it his own.
Alan will continue to create visual worlds for Disney and other studios in the coming years, so it’s exciting to know you can get both original and limited edition art from this award-winning animation insider.
Prices and timing for commissions have not yet been ironed out, but do start thinking about what might groove you. Alan also creates some art in 3D, and those pieces are a sight to behold!
The program is starting with this first release, but there are lots of other wonderful pieces coming soon, all of which you can see on Alan Bodner’s website. That site offers the opportunities to buy other collateral products like phone cases, pillows, shower curtains, and a host of other cool doodads that you’d be buying directly from Alan, so by all means, check all out. Here’s a link to a lot of other images from classic tv, many of which will be turned into limited editions as the program catches wind. Honestly, I can’t wait for the Adams Family piece to premiere! There are lots of other categories, like music and Broadway, but I’m a Little Shop of Horrors fan from way back, so that’s my favorite for sure. His website also has more info about his career and projects. You can explore HIS WEBSITE HERE.
If the above images spark joy in your heart, contact us soon. We have low numbers for these new limiteds right now, and can deliver them quickly, but who knows how fast they’ll go? He’s pretty great, and at the very least the Rat Pack and Fab Five images will blow through and sell out soon!
Lastly, please contact us if you’ve already figured out what you might want as a commission, because we can put you on the waiting list. He still works full time with the studios, and doesn’t have unlimited time to create these beauties!
We’re so excited about our Alex Ross Black Panther and Catwoman art! On November 24th, just in time for the holidays, and perfectly timed for the official release of the new Black Panther #1 created by Oscar winner John Ridley and Juann Cabal, ArtInsights is releasing the gorgeous cover art by Alex Ross as a giclee on canvas called “Wakanda Forever“, which it’s a worldwide holiday exclusive! Also, in honor of Chadwick Boseman’s unforgettable portrayal of King T’Challa, and in the spirit of the season, $50 from each Wakanda Forever sale will be donated to the Colon Cancer Alliance.
Also as a worldwide exclusive, we have a sexy, playful, and girlie-in-the-best-way image of Catwoman originally used at a variant cover for Batman #50, the wedding issue, called “Catwoman: Meow“. It comes as a giclee on paper, and shows the feline femme playing with her kittens. Wakanda Forever features T’Challa, as well as the art debut of some of the best and most powerful Black female superheroes in Marvel, including Nakia, Ayo, Shuri, Aneka, Okoye, and other members of the Dora Milaje, who are appearing in an Alex Ross art release for the first time.
Catwoman: Meow is one of the only images used as covers for Batman #50 (the infamous wedding issue) that presents Selina Kyle without Bruce, surrounded only by her feline friends. I absolutely love that, and as art, it makes a wonderful feminist statement about self sufficiency, and speaks to the power of animals to comfort and heal.
Pre-orders begin November 19th at 12am. Here are the images, which you can click on to buy the art, or for more information:
Here is the official press release, which offers lots more information about the art:
ArtInsights Gallery Releases Exclusive Alex Ross Limited Edition Art
“WAKANDA FOREVER” Based on the Black Panther #1 Cover
To Coincide With First Issue Release of the New Marvel Series Written by Oscar winner John Ridley
Reston Town Center, VA – ArtInsights Animation and Film Art Gallery commemorates the new Marvel Black Panther comic series by releasing a worldwide exclusive limited edition by artist Alex Ross called Wakanda Forever based on the image used for the cover of Black Panther #1. Black Panther #1 is the first in the new Marvel comic book series written by Academy Award-winning writer John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) and drawn by Juann Cabal. Both the comic book and the exclusive ArtInsights limited edition will be released on November 24th. For every piece of art sold, Alex Ross Art and ArtInsights will partner to donate $50 to the Colon Cancer Alliance, in honor of Chadwick Boseman’s unforgettable portrayal of King T’Challa, and to help the fight to end colorectal cancer in our lifetime, a disease that disproportionally effects our Black and Brown communities. Wakanda Forever is a giclee on canvas sized at 31 x 24 1/2 inches and is priced at $995. It will be signed by artist Alex Ross, and is limited to 50 in the edition, with an additional 15 each of Artist Proofs, Printers Proofs, and Executive Proofs. Also on November 24th, AtInsights will be releasing the worldwide exclusive of an Alex Ross image of Catwoman called Meow, perfect for feline fanciers and lovers of women who kick ass. Meow will be released as a hand-deckled giclee on paper for $395 in an edition of 50, also with an additional 15 each of APs, PPs, and EPs, and will be signed by Alex Ross. Both images will be available for preorder on Friday, November 18th on the ArtInsights website.
Discussing the release, gallery owner Leslie Combemale explains, “We’re very proud to have a worldwide exclusive of an image that includes a number of Avengers characters in addition to Black Panther, but really puts Black superheroes front and center. It is also the first limited edition to feature some of Marvel’s most compelling and powerful Black female superheroes, including Nakia, Ayo, Shuri, Aneka, Okoye, and other members of the Dora Milaje. This piece isn’t just about the drama and strength Marvel superheroes are known for, it’s also about representation. Honestly, it’s about time. Of course King of Wakanda T’Challa, aka Black Panther, is awesome, but these women are spectacular, great role models, and equally deserve to be celebrated.”
Combemale believes Wakanda Forever offers a unique opportunity this holiday season to give and give back at the same time. “If giving a gift to a Marvel fan this holiday season, knowing part of the sale goes to make a difference in the fight against colorectal cancer makes giving them Wakanda Forever all the more meaningful.” As to the Catwoman limited edition, Combemale relates, “The image is based on a variant cover for Batman #50, the famous wedding issue. This image is one of the only ones created for that issue that features Catwoman, aka Selina Kyle, without Bruce, surrounded by her feline friends. For folks who know how that comic ends, they’ll recognize this art is making a powerful feminist statement.” Combemale ends by saying, “I’m such a Black Panther fan that I have a black cat named T’Challa, and I’ve always loved Catwoman, so these exclusives both hit a place in my heart, and I suspect others will feel the same, for their own reasons.”
ABOUT THE NEW BLACK PANTHER SERIES:
On November 24th, Academy Award-winning writer John Ridley and Marvel’s Stormbreaker artist Juann Cabal launch an all-new BLACK PANTHER series with an action-packed espionage story that will upend everything in T’Challa’s life and have ramifications for the entire Marvel Universe. About the new series, John Ridley told the New York Times, “It’s a hybrid espionage-superhero thriller, but at its core, it’s a love story, and I don’t mean just romantic love, although there’s some of that as well. It’s love between friends. We’re coming out of a summer where we saw Black people fighting for our rights, standing up, fighting in ways that we haven’t had to do in years,” Ridley added. “And it was really important to me after the year we had where we can have these conversations with Black people and we can use words like love and caring and hope and regret and all these really fundamental emotions that everybody has.”
ABOUT ALEX ROSS
Considered one of the greatest artists in the field of comic books, Alex Ross has revitalized classic superheroes into works of fine art with his brilliant use of gouache paint. Ross has transformed comic books by building on the foundation of great artists who came before him. His paintings have revolutionized the comic book industry and transcended the newsstand origins of his profession. The prolific award-winning cover artist has created images for some of DC and Marvel’s most recognizable comic series. The art of Alex Ross is part of permanent collections in museums around the world.
Since 1994, representing a wide range of film and animation art at the gallery in Reston Town Center, ArtInsights focuses on original film production art, and proprietary projects and artist representation relating to the history of animation and film, and the celebration and examination of popular culture by artists working in the film industry. With production art representing films as diverse as Fantasia, Beauty and the Beast, Blade Runner, and Star Wars, and representing artists like iconic movie poster artist John Alvin, studio concept artists William Silvers and Jim Salvati, and Marvel and DC cover artists Alex Ross, the gallery builds collections of original and limited edition art for their growing worldwide collector base. See the work and read the blog on www.artinsights.com.
Here are a few great videos with Alex Ross:
Alex Ross, talking Black Panther:
On Chadwick Boseman’s legacy:
Here is Alex featured on CBS This Morning:
And lastly, I leave you with Alex’s take on how to stay inspired, something we all struggle with when news or the pandemic gets us down, or holiday plans overwhelm:
Ah, Mickey and Minnie, that quintessential Disney couple…with the holidays coming up, families and couples all over the country are planning their holidays alone or with beloved family. It’s about making memories that will last with family and friends that mean the world to you and bring you joy. Since there are lots of interpretive Disney images featuring Disney fan favorites Mickey and Minnie Mouse showing the power of togetherness and celebration, whether it’s unwinding by the beach, or traveling around the world together, it seemed like a perfect time to talk about the iconic Disney couple, and show a bunch of delightful images of them making memories. Maybe you’ll see yourself or your family represented in one of them.
If the mood strikes you and it seems the perfect gift this holiday season to bring joy in the form of cartoon critters, peruse your options on our website at your leisure. Get your favorites ordered by the end of November to be sure and get your order in time for Christmas.
You can see all the art featuring Mickey and Minnie together HERE.
Walt Disney made Mickey and Minnie’s relationship clear early on, saying in 1933, “In private life, Mickey is married to Minnie. A lot of people have written to him asking this question, because sometimes he appears to be married to her in his films and other times still courting her. What it really amounts to is that Minnie is, for screen purposes, his leading lady. If the story calls for a romantic courtship, then Minnie is the girl; but when the story requires a married couple, then they appear as man and wife. In the studio we have decided that they are married already.”
As many of you know, Mickey Mouse was first animated for an ode to Charles Lindbergh, Plane Crazy in 1928, but that short wasn’t released until after March 17th, 1929. It was Steamboat Willie, released November 18th, 1928, in which he made his first public appearance. He did so with his future lady love Minnie as co-star. Did you know Steamboat Willie was a parody of the Buster Keaton film Steamboat Bill, released in May of that year? Walt Disney himself not only directed Steamboat Willie, but supplied the voices of both Mickey and Minnie for the short.
From the very beginning, Mickey was meant to have a love interest. Concept images of him showed a female mouse by his side. As with many relationships, however, it took a few years for them to become a steady couple. The early cartoons show Mickey wooing the flirtatious, musical mouse, and Minnie repeatedly rebuffing Mickey.
It’s in 1929’s Mickey’s Follies, the short that follows Steamboat Willie, in which we learn Minnie’s name and her place in Mickey’s heart is made clear. It was in the song MIckey’s You Hoo, which went on to become a theme song used over the next 90 years. It included his first direct address to the audience, in which Mickey says ‘he’s got a sweetie’ who is ‘neither fat nor skinny’ and that ‘she’s my little Minnie Mouse’. 12 more shorts were produced with Mickey in 1929, but Minnie only co-starred in seven of them, largely playing the role of damsel in distress.
Did you know Pluto started out as Minnie’s dog? In 1930’s The Picnic, Minnie introduces Mickey to her pet dog Rover, marking the first, albeit misnamed, appearance of Pluto. Cat lovers know she also appears in her own shorts with her cat Figaro, who was first introduced in Pinocchio.
Both characters underwent a character redesign in the late 1930s and early 1940s, replacing their rubbery squash and stretch-friendly shapes with more fleshed out figures. Minnie’s new look was introduced in the 1939 short Mickey’s Surprise Party. At the same time, Mickey’s character went further away from troublemaker and more towards everyman. Minnie’s roles started diminishing around this time, going from 50 shorts in the 30s, to a total of 10 in the 1940s. In part, the fact that Marcellite Garner, an ink and paint artist who had become Minnie’s official voice for 1930’s The Cactus Kid, left the studio in 1941 had a huge impact on the character’s inclusion in subsequent cartoons. She voiced over 40 cartoons while continuing to work in the ink and paint department, partnering with Walt as he continued to voice Mickey. Walt was very supportive of Marcellite as she developed Minnie’s character, carving time out between recording sessions to describe and act out all the parts.
Much like Mickey, who didn’t appear in any shorts released theatrically between 1955 and 1983, Minnie has a long break starting with a brief cameo at the end of 1952’s Pluto’s Christmas Tree and lasting until she joined Mickey in his first appearance since 1955, with 1983’s Mickey’s Christmas Carol, where they play Bob Cratchit and his wife.
One of the most romantic stories involving Mickey and Minnie begins with the introduction of artists Wayne Allwine and Russi Taylor as the voices of the the cartoon couple. Allwine was only the third person to provide Mickey’s voice, and did so for 32 years, from 1977 till his death in 2009. Taylor, who was also an award-winning sound and sound effects editor, won the role of Minnie in 1986, when she beat out over 200 other hopefuls for the job. Allwine and Taylor worked closely together for years, falling in love in the process and secretly getting married in 1991 in Hawaii.
Explains Bill Farmer, the voice of Goofy, “Everyone saw it coming. Just watching them work together, I could see their relationship develop into something deeper than a working relationship.” They kept their marriage private because they didn’t want it to color how fans saw the characters, who had remained unmarried. (As far as we know! The two mice might have had a secret wedding too!) Both Wayne Allwine and Russi Taylor were made Disney Legends for their contribution to Disney history. They were said to have made each other better people, which is what love should do. It was after Russi passed away that Farmer is quoted as saying, “When they were together, like Laurel and Hardy, they were just meant to be together as a team, and as a lifelong team. They were just so in love and so wonderful together. I think that love came out in their performances, and gave it a little something extra.”
There were a number of cartoons during the couple’s heyday that celebrate activities couples do together.
From dancing, playing instruments, singing together, or going out on the town in The Barn Dance, Mickey Steps Out, The Shindig, The Whoopee Party, and Mickey’s Gala Premiere…
…going on international adventures or navigating exotic climes as they do in cartoon shorts like Mickey in Arabia, The Klondike Kid and Hawaiian Holiday…
…to celebrating holidays together in Mickey’s Surprise Party, Mickey’s Birthday Party, and Pluto’s Christmas Tree…
There are the times they just show their love, like in Puppy Love and Mickey’s Christmas Carol, but they also enjoy sports or practical activities, as in On Ice, Camping Out, Plane Crazy, The Beach Party, The Barnyard Olympics, Building a Building and The Steeple Chase…
Of course they are always getting each other out of scrapes and jams, as good partners do, like in Shanghaied, The Firefighters, The Gorilla Mystery, Pioneer Days, The Dognapper, and Brave Little Tailor.
Whatever the scenario, this couple is enduring and steadfast, as their 90+ years together attests! You can watch a fair number of these cartoon shorts on Disney+ (although they don’t have a section specific to shorts, remarkably) or of course if you’re curious about any of the many cartoons in which these lovebirds co-star, you can find them by typing them into google or searching on YouTube. Meanwhile, here’s hoping you all get up to some fun and fancy free activities together this holiday season whether at home or off on an adventure. Remember to find some joy and stay safe, and when the stress of family gatherings or holiday shopping makes you feel crazy, watch some cartoon shorts with your favorite Disney couple!
You can see all the art featuring Disney’s iconic couple, Mickey and Minnie HERE.
Soon it will be Thanksgiving. Regardless of the complicated origins of the holiday, because of its focus on gathering with friends and family and showing appreciation and love to one another, it has always been and continues to be one of my favorites. In light of the pandemic, this year in particular it will be a time for giving thanks for the continued safety and support of those we love. That brings us to all the various traditions and celebrations so integral to the holiday. Gathering as a family (and sharing stories, or arguing, or both), eating, watching football, and, of course, watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. This blog is dedicated to the classic TV special, and I’m happy to say, I’ve got some art surprises in store!
But first, I’d like to share my perspective on the holiday, which I’ll warn you is both very personal and a bit of a downer, but I promise I get happy at the end. You can skip the paragraphs between the lines if you’d rather just read about Peanuts, but people ask me all the time why I have such a love of cartoons, and this, as much as anything, explains that.
I have a strong connection to Thanksgiving. It has always been my parents’ favorite holiday, and nearly every year, my stepmother Mary (whom I refer to as my ‘second mother’, given the negative connotation Disney inflicted on the title of stepmom) has invited her sister, her brother and his family, and several close friends to join us. Since my parents recently sold our family farm and moved to a condo in Alexandria, the party will be quite a bit smaller this year, and it will take place at my house. I’ve never cooked a turkey in all my life, but there’s a first time for everything, and it’s my turn this year to make it happen. There’s a reason I want to make sure we actually have a gathering, however small, on the holiday.
The Thanksgiving holiday is complicated and weighted for me by the fact that it was the last time I saw my little sister Jane alive. In 1998, Jane, who was 16 1/2 at the time, died in a car accident a week before Christmas. That day I was actually in the gallery, working with Michael, which was a rarity even then. My dad called and told me she’d been killed. It was early afternoon on December 17th. I remember it was both raining and sunny out. That very short conversation between my dad and I played over in my head about every two minutes for over a year. Suffice it to say the loss of a family member, a sibling, a spouse, or especially a child, is the club nobody wants to join.
The year before, we’d had a huge Thanksgiving, with something like 15 or 18 people. Jane and our sister Coco, who was 14 at the time, drew really cute paper place settings with turkeys and all our names on them. Though 20 years their senior, I was really close to both Jane and Coco, and I remember we all sat down and watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving together, and it brought us a lot of joy that day. It was a cartoon I’d watched many times with them and my dad, who had raised both his older kids, my sister Joëlle and I, and his younger kids, Jane and Coco, on all things Peanuts.
At first, after losing Jane, it was really hard to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. In fact, I pretty much hated even having to see other people happy and celebrating. I went at least 10 years not watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Though it’s taken time, over the years I switched from hating the holidays around the anniversary of Jane’s death to embracing the joy and celebration of the time. Jane was a huge fan of both holidays, so I’m glad I could find my way back. Now I watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and A Charlie Brown Christmas, dare I say it, ‘religiously’ every year. I still remember the scenes where Jane and Coco and I, (our other sister Joëlle lived in Hawaii for much of the time Jane and Coco were growing up), would speak the lines or stare at the screen contentedly. I held both of their hands multiple times when we watched these specials together. For the Thanksgiving special, our favorite part was when Snoopy cooks the popcorn, but isn’t that true for everyone?
I’m glad to say the Peanuts tv shows don’t break my heart anymore. They only give me warm memories of great times. I find I am thankful, not just for what I have now, but for the 16 years I had my with my sister Jane. When I watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, I think of her. I even think of her whenever I eat popcorn. That’s the power of Schulz’s strip, characters, and cartoons. They really were and still are a part of our story, and, I think, so so many family stories around the world.
The Emmy Award-winning A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is the 10th primetime animated special created in partnership between Peanuts created Charles Schulz and animation director Bill Melendez. It first aired on November 20th, 1973.
One of the best aspects of the cartoon is the wonderful music. Of Peanuts composer Vince Guaraldi’s early work for the Peanuts animated specials, producer Lee Mendelson said, “There’s no doubt in my mind, that if we hadn’t had that Guaraldi score, we wouldn’t have had the franchise we later enjoyed.” We all enjoy his great music in the Thanksgiving special, but did you know that while the song Little Birdie was of course written by the famed musician, he also sings the song? His singing style in both this song and Joe Cool was inspired by Jack Sheldon, who performed songs for Schoolhouse Rock, which was released around the same time.
Vince had a wonderful voice, actually, that I think was way underutilized. The song Joe Cool was featured in You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown and There’s No Time for Love, Charlie Brown.
In the mid-2000’s, Vince’s son David found master tapes for seven 70s-era Peanuts specials scored by his dad. They included You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown, There’s No Time for Love, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, It’s a Mystery, Charlie Brown, and You’re a Good Sport, Charlie Brown. Vince was instrumental in remastering these pieces and putting them together into a release called The Lost Cues from the Charlie Brown Television Specials. During Vince Guaraldi’s lifetime, there had been only two Peanuts-related releases, “Jazz Impressions of a Boy Named Charlie Brown” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, so adding these lost cues allowed fans to hear a lot more of his work for the Peanuts animated specials. There are 2 volumes in all of the lost cues, and you can find them on a number of music streamers and on physical media, so you should check them out. It might offer an alternative this holiday season to just playing the Christmas special music!
There’s also a great covers release where B.B. King sings “Joe Cool”, and Joe Williams does “Little Birdie”, (and while I’m at it, I’ll say that Patti Austin does a great cover of “Christmastime is Here” on the release as well!) and you can check that out wherever you listen to music.
Todd Barbee was the voice of Charlie Brown for the Thanksgiving special. He had just turned 10 years old at the time of recording the show. Chuck Barbee, Todd’s dad, was the director of photography for Peanuts producer (and writer of the lyrics for “Christmastime is Here”) Lee Mendelson. Lee mentioned that they were having auditions for Peanuts character voices, so Todd tried out. Barbee started out doing voices of secondary characters, then graduated to Charlie Brown in 1972 on You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown. He always did his recordings alone in the studio, with Bill Melendez helping to guide him through. Explains Barbee, “Bill would always work with us kids in the sound room that had just a podium, a stool, a script, and a big boom mic. Bill would kind of walk us through each scene with his thick Spanish accent and then would leave the room and watch us through the glass with Lee and the sound engineers.” After all these years, Todd is still friends with the voice of Lucy, Robin Kohn.
Many of the artists credited on this tv special worked on lots and lots of Peanuts cartoons, because Bill Melendez made an effort to keep the artists he had on the payroll working as much as possible, and, by all accounts, he was also quite a pleasure to work with. A lot of folks on A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving have long lists of other credits to their names. Bill Littlejohn won the June Foray Award for his contribution to animation. He worked on some great MGM shorts in the 30s and 40s, including some classic Tom and Jerry cartoons. Don Lusk, winner of the Windsor McCay Award at the Annies, worked at Disney on Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, and Sleeping Beauty, leaving to work at other studios after 101 Dalmatians. Bill Melendez Studios was the lucky recipient of all his experience. Al Pabian worked on Looney Tunes and the very first Wile E and Road Runner cartoon, Fast and Furry-ous in 1949, as well as 1953’s Duck Amuck, before joining Melendez at his studio. Sam Jaimes, who directed a number of Peanuts specials, started at Disney with Sleeping Beauty, moved to Hanna Barbera for The Flinstones, and moved to Melendez Studios in the late 60s and worked there for over 20 years. Delightful badass Carole Barnes did animation checking, producing, ink and painting, and concept work, starting at Disney on Sleeping Beauty, then for Tom and Jerry shorts, then for Melendez Studios, where she remained for over 30 years.
Bill Melendez Studios built their own kind of family, which I experienced when I went to a gathering of former employees in person for the 50th anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas some years ago. I’ve rarely experienced the kind of warmth I felt while watching the many artists who had worked there over the years visiting with each other.
Whether it’s turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, a tofurky, or the preferred Peanuts spread of toast and margarine, popcorn, pretzel sticks, and jelly beans, Thanksgiving is about family. Whether built or born, by blood or by choice, gathering and being grateful for each other and for the good in our lives is what makes the holiday so special. How nice that we can celebrate with the tradition of watching a Peanuts cartoon together!
Michael and I at ArtInsights wish all of you a safe and happy Thanksgiving!
Right now, I’m giving thanks to the folks at Bill Melendez Studios, who offered up 3 great production cels from the Thanksgiving special for me to offer to collectors and fans of the 1972 classic cartoon:
You can see all the Peanuts art featuring A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving HERE. Folks snapped up all the pieces available for purchase almost immediately, so if you’re looking for original production art from the special, contac the gallery and we’ll see if we can find anything more…
I’ll leave you with a great scene that will prepare you for watching the whole special: Snoopy Chef!
With Halloween coming, it’s the perfect time to talk about the Art of Snoopy in general, and Snoopy as the World War 1 Flying Ace specifically, because the Flying Ace made his first animated appearance, in all his heroic glory, in It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown right before Halloween on October 27th, 1966. Of all animated characters ever, Snoopy is my very favorite. In part, it’s because my dad read us the comic strip when my sisters and I were little. We had all Schulz’s books of published Peanuts strips in both French and English. We weren’t alone. Peanuts had fans all over the world. By the 70s, the Peanuts strips had been translated into 21 languages and sold in over 75 countries. You can read a hilarious take on how the French fell for Peanuts in this archived article from 1975 in the New York Times.
We watched the special together as a family before I could even talk, and I’ve watched it every year ever since. Of course I remember the rest of the cartoon, like Charlie getting a rock, Lucy wearing that gaudy lime green mask, and Linus showing he was and always would be an eternal optimist. What struck me though, and made it most memorable, was the sequence with Snoopy climbing up on his Sopwith Camel and fearlessly fighting the Red Baron.
There’s very little distance in time between when the Flying Ace was introduced in newspapers on October 10th, 1965, and his inclusion in Great Pumpkin barely a year later.
Schulz created this incarnation of Snoopy just months after the US started sending troops to Vietnam. At first it wasn’t the plan to parallel Snoopy’s trials with the goings-on in Vietnam, but in time he began using the Flying Ace and his challenges as a means to express his opinions about the horrors of war. He himself had been drafted into World War II, so he had a lot of compassion and empathy for the soldiers over in Vietnam. In fact, he had to leave his mother, who was suffering with cervical cancer at the time, to report for duty, and she died only a few days before he left for basic training. From very early on, soldiers would use images of Snoopy the Flying Ace on their equipment, and created banners and patches of the character in various guises. They proudly carried or wore them as they attempted to survive what must have been hell on earth.
Snoopy was introduced to the Peanuts comic strip on October 4th, 1950, with his first interaction with Charlie Brown happening on October 10th of the same year.
Schulz came up with the name because his mother said if they got another dog, they should call him Snoopy. Little did she know part of her legacy would be naming one of the most famous fictional dogs in history! Snoopy’s first appearance landed shortly after the US entered the Korean War on June 27th, 1950. Peanuts had been nationally syndicated in 1950 and started getting really popular in the late 50s. By the mid-1960s, it became the most widely read comic strip in history.
There are references about the Korean war early on in the strip’s continuum, as exampled by this strip from May 3rd, 1954.
There are lots of inspirational stories about Snoopy from the Vietnam war. One of the best is one in which his name was used for a frequently airborne canine mascot that a sergeant in the 554 Recon Squadron kept in Vietnam. This sergeant related that Snoopy had repeated scuffles with a very territorial mascot pup of the 388th squadron, coincidentally named the Red Baron. Snoopy flew all missions with the 554th squadron, but his frequent flyer status changed when his owner Robby Robinson, who survived his time in the war, went home. He went on to live a full civilian life riding in cars, boats, and motorcycles in Michigan, California, and Texas, and died an old pup in 1980.
Other references to Snoopy as the Flying Ace include a psychedelic band that used the name Sopwith Camel. They were one of the first San Francisco psychedelic bands to record for a national label.
In 1966, the boys in a band called The Royal Guardsmen were inspired by the character from the comic strip for their song ‘Snoopy vs the Red Baron’, which sold 3 million records. It debuted at #122 on the ‘Bubbling Under the Hot 100’ on December 10th, 1966, and peaked at #2 on The Hot 100 the week of December 31st, 1966. It’s interesting that Great Pumpkin, which debuted Snoopy Flying Ace, was released in October, and the Royal Guardsmen released their song in December of the same year.
Schulz was not amused. He and United Features Syndicate sued the Royal Guardsmen for using Snoopy’s name without permission. UFS won, and all the publishing revenue from that song went to them. Schulz did let the group write more Snoopy songs, though, like this Christmas song ‘Snoopy’s Christmas’, which appeared on the album ‘Snoopy and His Friends’ in 1967.
As far as the art of Snoopy as the Flying Ace goes, it’s nearly impossible to find. Part of why I was inspired to write this blog is because we got one from a Rival Dog Food Company commercial dating back to somewhere between 1969 and 1973.
Rival has a fascinating and storied history. In 1932, they were the first company to promote canned dog food, when most folks were still happy to just feed their pups table scraps. Rival held their products to a high standard (which included NOT using horse meat in their formulas), creating food nearly up to human standards. It helped transition dogs into the house to be treated as family members. Rival dog food was so well-made that when the US entered World War 2, Rival stopped creating dog food and pivoted to create rations for the troops. Their plant was already operating under government inspection, meeting the stringent requirements for canning human food. Rival ultimately shipped over 200 million cans to US servicemen. They continued successfully through several company shakeups, and in 1973 were sold to Nabisco, ringing the death knell for the famed brand. It was in the late 60s and early 70s that they enlisted Snoopy to promote their brand, with the last materials being created in late 1973. You can read all about Rival HERE.
Here is the one limited edition available celebrating Snoopy as the World War Flying Ace:
That brings us to my favorite Peanuts cartoon featuring Snoopy. It’s the absolutely classic animated feature Snoopy Come Home, released in 1972. I watched that cartoon many times, but what had even more impact on me was the board game I used to play with my sister, Joëlle. We used to sing “No Dogs Allowed” repeatedly while playing it.
Though our game was thrown away in the 80s, I guess, I finally bought a replacement when doing research on this blog. It should be here any day!
Snoopy Come Home has lots of special features unique to it as a Peanuts release. First, it is one of the only Peanuts animated cartoons not using Charlie Brown’s name. It’s also the only Peanuts film released during his lifetime with music composed by someone other than Vince Guaraldi. The music is all created by famed Oscar-winning duo, Disney Legends Robert and Richard Sherman. The producers figured that since this was a full length feature, not a TV special, it should have a feel that was different from the specials. You know that ‘No Dogs Allowed’ song? It was sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, who is also famous for singing ‘You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch’ in the 1966 tv movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Here is a video featuring the many voices and songs of Thurh Ravenscroft. He was wonderful and prolific!
Snoopy Come Home also features the on-screen debut of Woodstock, Snoopy’s BFFF (Best Fine Feathered Friend) which you can see the original trailer leverages, using music by the Sherman Brothers.
My friends who work with Bill Melendez Studios (Bill created all the traditionally animated cartoons based on Schulz’s comic strip) scoured their archives for something special for me to offer, as we enjoy the Halloween holiday and enter into the Christmas holiday season. I specifically asked for older Snoopy art, and they did not disappoint.
Speaking of the art of Snoopy, here is a production cel featuring nearly every major character from the Peanuts specials, also including some really hard-to-find secondary characters. In fact, this scene is quite historic. It is the first appearance EVER of Franklin in animation. It includes the original cel setup and the layout background from the scene.
We also have one-of-a-kind rare cels of Snoopy and Woodstock from these scenes:
And we talked them into going into their archives, and letting us sell their very last piece in this very sold out limited edition, “Home Coming” from Snoopy Come Home.
Which you can see in the last scene from the cartoon:
It’s almost time for Halloween, and if your family is anything like mine, it’s at least equal to Christmas in importance and excitement. In our house, we have The 31 Days of Halloween. We watch a horror movie or a movie with a great villain, listen to soundtracks like Psycho, Halloween, and, of course, songs from Disney’s The Headless Horseman. This seems like a perfect time to consider a few of Disney’s villains. Villains have played an important part in my love of animation and appreciation for Disney films, and I’m sure some of you can say the same!
I remember back some years ago, before the folks at Disney figured out there were lots of villains fans like me. I would comb the stores all over the parks looking for merchandise featuring Chernabog (not a morning demon), The Evil Queen (a misunderstood crone), Cruella De Vil (I’ve got nothing. She’s bad. She wanted to make a coat out of puppies..) and Shere Khan (voiced by George Sanders, so of course I love him. Don’t be mad at him just because he’s a hungry tiger.) It was extremely rare for me to find anything. Then Nightmare Before Christmas became retroactively popular, and Disney figured out there are scores of fans who loved all the (supposedly) bad guys and gals.
Ever since I started selling animation in 1988, I’ve had loyal fans of villains. Some of them aimed to collect cels or drawings of every single one of them. Others had very specific favorites, and only collected them. Over the years, I’ve sold hundreds of cels and art of Disney villains. It became my specialty. Over the years, they’ve become highly prized, (as I expected), and finding good art in great original condition has become very challenging. Of course, I still try!
What makes the Disney villains such a big deal? For one thing, they are always the character that gets the most story told in the least amount of time. These characters aren’t in a lot of scenes, but the ones featuring them are always some of the movie’s most important moments. In both storytelling and visual quality, they are always the most memorable.
In Snow White, the scene when the Queen turns into the hag is a stunning piece of animation.
The hag isn’t in Snow White for very long, but she’s a gorgeous example of character animation.
The witch, or the Queen as an old hag, was designed by Joe Grant.
The witch was chiefly animated by Norm Ferguson, who was a supervising animator on the film. She was voiced by stage and screen actress Lucille La Verne, who also voiced the Wicked Queen. As someone who had been performing since 1876, performing Juliet and Lady Macbeth back to back at 14, it was her final film performance.
Chernabog steals the whole movie in his sequence Night on Bald Mountain in Fantasia.
Chernabog is perfect for Halloween, because he is based on a Slavic god who rises from the top of Bald Mountain on Walpurgis Night (The Witches’ Sabbath) which might be on April 30th in Europe and Scandinavia, but the holiday mimics Halloween in the US. It is celebrated by dressing in costumes and conducting rituals to keep evil spirits at bay. In Finland there is much drinking, especially of sparkling wine, and the towns have a carnival-like atmosphere.
In Night on Bald Mountain, clearly there isn’t enough going on to ward off evil, since Chernabog calls forth his minions from the fiery pits of hell. He is definitely Disney’s most purely evil villain. The Night on Bald Mountain sequence was animated by Vladimir ‘Bill’ Tytla, one of Disney’s Nine Old Men, and my favorite Disney animator. Conceptualized by a mixture of talented artists including Heinrich Kley, Albert Hurter, and Kay Nielsen, who created the model sheet for Tytla’s animation. The animator was Ukranian, and well aware of the character’s mythology. He was once seen working on the animation in total darkness other than the fluorescent light of his drawing table. Bill Tytla, by all accounts, was an intense, serious man, and captured great emotions in his characters, which also included Yensid, Stromboli, and Dumbo. His last work was directing the animation on The Incredible Mr. Limpet.
Just watch a video of his work, and you’ll understand why he’s a fan favorite:
Cruella is one of Disney’s ‘funny’ villains, but she’s still terrifying, not least because she thinks nothing of killing over a hundred dogs to make a coat. She is immediately unforgettable when makes her first entrance in the film, barging into Roger and Anita’s house.
Cruella originates from the 1956 children’s novel by Dodie Smith, which was originally serialized in Women’s Day as The Great Dog Robbery, with Perdita being called Missis. The animation of Cruella for the original animated feature was done by Marc Davis, from designs by Davis, Ken Anderson, and Bill Peet. Cruella’s half black and half white hair, black dress, and oversized mink coat are all from Smith’s novel. Her skeletal shape and a chain smoking were added by the Disney artists building her look. Her cigarette holder was modeled after the one Marc Davis himself used. The bright red of her coat was an Allusion to her demonic nature. Her character was inspired by actresses Tallulah Bankhead, Bette Davis from All About Eve, and Rosalind Russell from Auntie Mame.
Here is a great little video profile on Marc Davis.
She was voiced by the gorgeous Belly Lou Gerson, known for her voice work in the 40s and 50s, including on Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar, and Lux Radio Theater. She was in the 1958 horror classic The Fly and guest starred in The Twilight Zone. Fans of the under appreciated animated feature Cats Don’t Dance will love knowing she provided the voice of Frances for the film.
These characters resonate with us for a reason. They represent archetypes known all over the world, many of which were examined and studied by psychologists and philosophers throughout history. Carl Jung is most famous for exploring and explaining archetypes, which allow us all to understand life through symbolism (and put people in neat little categories which can be damaging, especially to women.) He believed the path of life makes more sense and can be walked with more understanding and finesse if we know these timeless, recognizable categories in which the human psyche is driven to place everyone they encounter in their daily lives. Knowing what they are allows us all to play with them, lean into them, or mix and match them, should we so choose. They include The Innocent, The Everyman, The Hero, The Rebel, The Explorer, The Creator, The Ruler, The Magician, The Lover, The Caregiver, The Jester, and The Sage. These archetypes can even be leveraged or manipulated in branding and marketing, as explained HERE.
Joseph Campbell talks about the eight types of characters in the hero’s journey in The Hero of a Thousand Faces. They include the hero, mentor, ally, herald, trickster, shapeshifter, guardian, and shadow. You can read more about there HERE. I’m sure you already know Star Wars was cribbed almost entirely from The Hero’s Journey, which you can see HERE. Most of the Disney villains represent the shadow, but might also have a second archetype, as the hag, who is both shadow and shapeshifter, does.
One of Disney’s first focuses on the villains as a team was in 1981, for a special in The Wonderful World of Disney, which included the Evil Queen’s mirror, Captain Hook, Edgar from The Aristocats, Wille the Giant from Mickey and the Beanstalk, Kaa from Shere Khan, The Evil Queen, Cruella, Madam Medusa, and Maleficent. Disney has created more than 127 villains in films, sequels, tv, video games, books, and theme parks. The more recent villains franchise is a collection with villains that have primary members, which includes the Evil Queen, Chernabog, Queen of Hearts, Captain Hook, Maleficent, Cruella, Ursula, Jafar, Scar, Hades, and Dr. Facilier.
We have this piece, which was the basis of an early incarnation of the villains ‘team’, before Dr. Facilier (Disney’s first Black villain) had been introduced. It’s the color model for the Disney sericel, “Dungeon of Doom”.
Of course there’s a sub-franchise called Disney’s Divas of Darkness, (folks in the know call it DDD for short). That includes Evil Queen, Lady Tremaine, Queen of Hearts, Maleficent, Cruella, Madam Mim, Madame Medusa, Ursula, Ysma, and Mother Gothel (who was inspired by Cher!). Now THAT sounds like a garden party I’d love to attend.
In my research for this blog, I found there is also a sub-franchise called Disney’s Sinister Cats. It includes bad kitties Lucifer, the Cheshire Cat, Si and Am, Shere Khan, Felicia (from The Great Mouse Detective) and Scar. Who knew? Now I need to find some merchandise from this.
Of course there is a lot of of art created by Disney fine artists celebrating villains. You can find our collection of villains, from Disney and elsewhere, HERE.
One of the most endearing qualities of Charlie Brown, and why we all relate to him, is that he is an eternal optimist. He doesn’t think much of himself, and some folks can relate to that, too. Creator Charles Schulz made the character, not only in his own image, but in that of the everyman. The latest art release in the Peanuts Lexicon Series, “Chomp: Charlie Brown vs. The Kite-Eating Tree” really captures Charlie’s positive perspective, as he faces defeat once again, with that ‘stupid’ Kite-Eating Tree chewing up his kite and ruining the prospect of his and Linus’s kite-flying fun. Given the last 18 months we’ve all endured, Charlie Brown is all of us, and like Charlie Brown, we’ll make another kite and go out again to fly it tomorrow and every day, until the wind raises it to the sky.
The Kite-Eating Tree, a favorite of Peanuts fans, has a long and storied past. In his strip, Schulz considered it one of the series’ 12 major set pieces. Inspired by his own experience losing kites into the trees of his childhood home as well as when flying them with his kids, the first time he mentions a kite getting caught in a tree is way back on April 12th, 1956. Then Charlie names his nemesis the Kite-Eating Tree on March 14th, 1965:
The kite-eating tree went on to great popularity, and Schulz created a number of strips featuring the non-human character.
In January of 1969, the Kite-Eating Tree showed his truly voracious appetite in a series in which they ate Schroeder’s piano:
The Kite-Eating Tree appears again in 1977, on February 22nd:
As part of this storyline, Charlie Brown bites the tree, after which he gets a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency. Lucy says he’ll get ‘thrown in the slammer’.
The last appearance of Kite-Eating Tree was on a Sunday strip on February 26th, 1995:
Given its popularity, It was inevitable that the Kite-Eating Tree would be featured in Bill Melendez’s animation of the Peanuts stories. The first cartoon from Melendez was of course the Christmas Special in 1965, but the Kite-Eating Tree made its first appearance in the opening sequence of 1969’s A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Here is a layout drawing showing the character with Charlie:
Here is the opening sequence from the cartoon. Interestingly, the parts with the grinning tree were cut out of the version that plays on Hulu (where you can stream the cartoon if you have an account)
The limited edition was designed by Director of Art Development Sandy Thome, who works with the BIll Melendez Studios, and Emmy-winning animation director Larry Leichliter. It is inspired by an original drawing that Schulz sent to Bill of Schulz as Charlie Brown, which was tacked up in the studio for many years. There’s a great story that goes with it…
Larry Leichliter explained it when I spoke to him about the new piece.
“There was this gag with a kite-eating tree. There was a cartoon, a single strip, that was part of the inspiration for the limited edition. The story is that Bill would send out a small Christmas gift to just about everybody that he knew at Christmas time, and it was something simple, like a T shirt, or a little letter opener, or some some little gadget of some kind. One year he made a kite with “Bill Melendez Productions on it, and sent it out. Everybody really liked them, because they were they were fun to play with. Pretty quickly, Schulz sent back this cartoon showing him posed as Charlie Brown looking up at his tree with his string going up to the tree, saying ‘That stupid tree ate my Melendez kite’, and the tree is saying, ‘It tasted like a taco.’ Obviously because Bill Melendez was Mexican.”
Larry Leichliter, speaking to Leslie Combemale of ArtInsights in September of 2021.
What’s really cool from my perspective as gallery owner, is that, having worked with the Bill Melendez Studios for many years, I’ve gotten dozens of Christmas gifts. They’ve sent them every year, and I’ve loved them all. We’ve gotten an umbrella, a phone stand, a notebook, a backpack, a measuring tape, a hat, a puzzle… I’m not even remembering the weirder items. I never knew the tradition was based on the one they had in-house, and now I appreciate them all the more.
Here is the Chomp limited edition cel and the accompanying giclee of the ‘making of Chomp’ graphite drawings made and signed by Larry:
As usual, Larry drew many many drawings in an effort to capture the mix of incredulity and frustration on the face of eternal optimist Charlie Brown. There’s a ton of nuance that goes into the design, and lots of back and forth between Larry and Sandy, both of whom worked for years with Bill Melendez. They really want to capture the essence of both Bill’s directive as director of A Boy Named Charlie Brown, and Schulz’s character design. There are dozens of permutations before they choose the final possibilities. Here are a few that didn’t make the cut:
I asked Larry, how the development of the limited edition progressed, and how it came together:
I think the first correction I made to it was the size of the tree, because when I first drew it, I drew it way too small in relation to Charlie, and I realized that he could just strangle the tree and pull it down, so I made it bigger! Then I decided to add the teeth and that sort of thing. All the time, I was working on his expression and his attitude. There was a lot of back and forth between Sandy and I, about what what would be the best pose? And at some point, we added Linus I mean, originally, it was just going to be Charlie Brown, and the tree, and the word CHOMP, you know, because we wanted to do this small series of limiteds as a tip of the hat to Schulz by putting these words across the screen. He would put mostly sound effects, or kids laughing, which we used on the first limited edition…the letters onscreen were used pretty often by Schulz, and it was fun when it translated to animation. We really liked doing them.
Larry also talked about his challenges in creating just the right image for Chomp:
Charlie Brown had so many expressions connected with his moment when the kite gets stuck in the tree. There’s frustration, and disappointment and distrust and even outright anger. But mostly it’s just, ‘poor old Charlie Brown’. Resignation. So I was trying to get a dismayed look, because the grimace and the sidelong glance just didn’t seem quite right. Also, at some point, we decided to add Linus to it. Just because Linus is Charlie’s support. In the process, we just try one expression, one drawing after another, until something seems to fit.
As far as the difficulty in drawing Charlie Brown in general, Larry had this to say:
It’s gotten to where it’s not that difficult. Really, Schulz had a great designing sense, and once you kind of tap into it, then you know when you got it right, and when you don’t. He definitely has a different look when he’s facing forward and when he’s in profile, and there are certain proportions, of his hand to his body, the height of his legs and the width of this neck, things like that, that you get used to. One thing is I try to face him towards the camera if I can, because I think most people like that, and I like seeing Charlie Brown looking at the world, but in this case, the profile seemed to work best, so that’s what we went with. As far as what I enjoy about it is just, that, again, the design Schulz has for this character, there very few characters where the design makes them so easy to draw. Another one is Mickey Mouse, and of course he’s iconic as well.
Of course, I figured I’d might as well ask about animating Charlie Brown, as well.
As far as animating Charlie, he really isn’t that easy to animate, because of certain things like the shape of his head, and how it changes when he turns, but then all of the Peanuts characters are like that. They have a different design in profile than they do straight on. There are techniques that you can use in animation to fool the eye into not seeing how the head changes when a character turns. Then there are other things, like the fact that they have very short arms. What do you do if you want him to scratch his nose or take his hat off, all places that his arm won’t reach? You have to stretch his arm to do that. There are ways around it, which Schultz, in many cases, has already thought out for you, and all you have to do is refer to his work. If you don’t see exactly what you’re looking for, you’ll see something that will inspire you to to do it in a way that Schulz would approve.
But why stop there? I asked which characters WERE the hardest to animate.
The hard ones are the ones that you don’t get to draw very often. Like Frieda, for instance. She’s got all this crazy, curly hair and animating it, trying to keep it from just wiggling all over the place, can be a challenge. That challenge can distract you from what you’re trying to do in the first place, which is animated character with some personality and movement. But the more you work with a character, the easier it becomes. Linus is difficult, partly for the same reason, his hair can be very distracting, but also the shape of his head. Linus, Lucy, Frieda, and Schroeder. There are two different head shapes, basically. There’s Charlie Brown’s head shape. And then there’s Linus’s head shape. All of the characters have one or the other. I would say Charlie’s head shape is a little easier to work with than Linus’s. The most difficult is Snoopy, believe it or not, but he’s also the most fun, because both drawing him and animating him is a challenge.
The Peanuts Lexicon Series is really about celebrating the collaboration between Peanuts comic strip creator Charles Schulz and director and animator Bill Melendez, who, along with his team of artists, translated Schulz’s work into the beloved classic cartoons we love.
When I spoke to Sandy, she explained that Charles Schulz was integral to the development of story for Peanuts animation. He always got writing credit for the shows and specials, but it wasn’t a vanity credit, he was really involved in creation.
Mr. Schulz would show Bill strips he’d worked on, and they’d create the storyboards from those strips. We still have a lot of copies in our archives that really represent the seeds of the animated shows.
Sandy Thome, speaking to Leslie Combemale on September 27th, 2021.
Larry added his thoughts on the origins of both the Lexicon Series, and Chomp.
The Chomp kite-eating tree limited edition was actually an amalgam of a couple of shows. Everything really goes back to Schultz and his strip. When we were doing the shows, we were constantly referring to his strip, because one thing that everybody realized early on was that he really enjoyed working on the shows. Bill would go up and meet with Schulz, and the two of them would hammer out a story and Bill would come back and we’d work on the board together. Just the fact that Schultz enjoyed the process of filmmaking as an extension to his strip, I think, which made us more conscientious about studying his work and understanding his drawing, and his characters, and sense of humor…all those things. So you’ll see a lot of his strip in our shows. And that’s why.
Here are two interviews. One that shows Schulz’s personality on an interview with Dick Cavett, and the other that captures Bill Melendez, who famously was considered one of the nicest people to work for in all of animation, as interviewed by animator and historian Tom Sito.
I wanted to go back to the cartoons and find a few examples of those scenes where they interpreted Schulz’s use of lettering. There are many more, and I bet you can even guess some of the expressions (like POW! and Snoopy’s howl OOOOOOoooo!), but I just wanted to give you folks a sense, so I found moments from the below specials, and made screen caps. The only one I can get for a collector is the Snoopy image. The rest have been sold for over 2 decades. There are only a few cel levels with words for each scene, so Sandy explained that once she put together about 4 cel setups, the scene was gone!:
I was fortunate enough to get some original drawings and cels that capture Charlie Brown’s struggle with the Kite-Eating Tree. If you’re interested in buying any of them, you can find them all, along with all our currently available Peanuts are, HERE.
And remember, whether you can relate to Charlie Brown, the Kite-Eating Tree, or both, you can buy the limited edition for $1700 HERE. There are only 50 pieces in the edition and will sell out quickly, so get to it if you are so inspired!
Meanwhile, can YOU guess what the third limited edition after Chomp will be in the Peanuts Lexicon Series? They won’t tell me, so I don’t know, but there are lots of great choices, and I can’t wait to see what they release!
Write your thoughts about Chomp in the comments, and don’t hesitate to contact the gallery via email (artinsights at gmail) if you have any questions.
Meanwhile, here’s hoping you all stay as positive and optimistic as Charlie Brown is. It comes in handy and is the best possible trait when times are tough!
This weekend Reston Town Center is hosting the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival from Friday through Sunday, with over 200 artists displaying and selling their original and limited edition art and craftwork. Straying from the usual date in May because of COVID, this weekend promises to be great weather, and since the entire event happens outside, will be sure to limit the chance of sickness for those who attend.
As part of supporting these artists and the sale of their work, ArtInsights is offering 20% off of all framing while the festival is happening.
Come by, find some new art at the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival, (which you’ll be buying directly from the artists and thereby supporting their artistic endeavors), and bring it in for framing at our gallery. Of course you can always just stop by and say hi! on the way in or out of attending the fest!
Hope to see you this weekend. Those concerned about safety or coming in for a visit, remember to bring your mask.
Friday / Saturday / Sunday 10am-5pm
From sponsor Tephra Institute (formerly Greater Reston Arts Center):
Now in its 30th year, the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival will take place on September 10–12, 2021 and will highlight more than 200 artists who are creating unique, handmade works in the fields of fine art and craft. Drawing upon a robust exhibitor and collector base coupled with Tephra ICA’s contemporary art foundation, the Festival has become one of the region’s most anticipated events, attracting approximately 30,000 people to the unique, outdoor environment of Reston Town Center. The Festival is comprised of one-on-one experiences, performances, and special events leaving an exciting, thoughtful mark in the region. Scroll down to learn more about this marquee event.
Safety precautions will be implemented this year including but not limited to, hand sanitation stations; vaccination requirements for Festival volunteers; and encouragement of social distancing and face mask-wearing in artist booths.
See all the artists coming to the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival HERE.
See all the events and children’s activities happening at the fest HERE.
Ed Asner passed away on August 29th at the age of 91, after living a fascinating life with uncompromising integrity, a tenacious curiosity, and, despite exhibiting a gruff, tough guy exterior, an open heart to both loved ones and strangers. Though beloved by Disney fans for his role in Pixar’s 2009 film UP and appreciated by hardcore tv and film fans since the 1950s, many are unaware of his incredibly diverse career as a voice artist for other animated tv and feature films. He was also a staunch and avowed liberal who fought for and won artists’ rights. He’s a personal favorite of mine, and I have followed his career since I was a baby tv and film geek. I even met him, and he lived up to every expectation. (More about that later in the blog.) So today’s blog is a tribute to Ed Asner.
AWARD WINNING WORK
Asner often played the sort of old school father figures a lot of us could relate to: a tough guy with high expectations, an irascible man who had quite a bark, but also a soft side he showed exactly when you needed it. He won two Emmys on two different shows playing a guy who fit that description as Lou Grant, the newsroom boss in Rhoda, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and later, Lou Grant. Over his career, he portrayed characters both good and bad, from Axel Jordache in 1976’s Rich Man, Poor Man and a slave trader Captain Thomas Davies in 1977’s Roots, to, most memorably, Lou Grant, who famously hated Mary Richards’ spunk but always had her back, Santa in 2003’s Christmas cult classic Elf, and the grumpy but surprisingly openhearted widower Carl Fredricksen in UP. He was in so many classic tv shows there are too many to list, but many fans remember the episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Untouchables, Route 66, The Outer Limits, Gunsmoke, The Fugitive, The Wild Wild West, Mission Impossible, and Mod Squad in which he appeared.
Here he talks about his love of the show The Outer Limits, and his disappointment in his episode, “It Crawled from the Woodwork”:
Here is a great video that hits some of the actor’s career highlights shown when he was given the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Washington West Film Festival, which takes place right here in Reston Town Center:
It is impossible to separate Ed Asner from his politics, and he wouldn’t have wanted you to. An old school Democrat through and through, he came from Kansas City, Kansas, where the right vastly outnumbered the left. He also fought in WW2, so he had every right to expect the best from the government that sent him to war. He was a democratic socialist before Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made it cool. In an interview in 2019, he said, “a real Democrat is a euphemism for socialist. I like it. I think Americans were shucked into equating socialism with communism. People have been placed badly by that equation. They’ve screwed themselves. Until they get over that prejudice, our social progress will be slow.”
While working in film and tv, he was also making a name for himself as a trade unionist and political activist fighting for union and labor rights, including during his time as president of the Screen Actors Guild. He was an outspoken critic of former SAG president Ronald Reagan’s support of the right-wing military government in El Salvador and raised money for medical relief in the country. His activism led to CBS cancelling his show Ed Grant in 1982. He also took part in protests opposing the invasion of Iraq, and was instrumental in crafting the petition “Not in Our Name”, a declaration of dissent signed by thousands of people against US military involvement.
When asked why he decided to write the book (which was co-written by Ed Weinberger) he explained, “As a progressive, it’s a story I believe and believe in. If right-wingers truly understood what the Constitution meant they wouldn’t use it as a crutch every time they screw over the poor and the disenfranchised.”
VOICE ARTIST EXTRAORDINAIRE
Many of you know Asner voiced Carl Fredricksen in UP, but in over 30 years he won awards for lending his talent to dozens of major and minor characters on your favorite cartoons, and worked for nearly every studio. He was Goliath’s mentor Hudson, the founding member of the Manhattan Clan in Gargoyles. For DC, he played Perry White in All-Star Superman, Granny Goodness in Justice League Unlimited, and Roland Daggett in Batman: The Animated Series. For Marvel, he was Jonah Jameson in Spider-Man: The Animated Series. He was also featured on The Simpson, American Dad, King of the Hill, Family Guy, The Boondocks, and tons of other shows you know and love.
Here’s a great video compilation of his work:
Star Wars is another colossal franchise in which Asner played a part as voice artist. Not only did he play Master Vrook Lamar in the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic video game, he was Jabba the Hutt in the official LucasFilm radio drama of Return of the Jedi, which you can listen to in its entirety here:
Of course to many Carl Fredricksen will always be their favorite Ed Asner role. He talks about that role here:
MEETING A HERO
I was fortunate enough to meet the actor and activist and chat with him for quite a while at D23 a few years ago. I was behind the conference hall waiting to be picked up, and so was Asner. The process of reaching us was convoluted, so it took both our drivers quite a while to get through the maze of checkpoints. I said hello, told him I was a huge fan, and started asking him about his politics and activism. That has always been, to me, one of the most impressive parts of his career. Many artists and performers keep their business and their beliefs separate, but I have always believed those in the limelight should use their platform when they can. Gratefully, I knew his history. He was surprised and pleased with the direction of our conversation, since I think he expected just another delightfully enthusiastic Disney fan. We talked for almost half an hour, and honestly it got pretty deep, including thoughts on death, dignity, integrity and personal responsibility. If I hadn’t already loved him, I would have after that conversation. He reminded me of my dad, who is also big and burly and has never been afraid of deep conversations. When our cars came, we said our goodbyes. His daughter Liza was there, and she’s still my friend on Facebook. She took these great pics of us together:
If you’ve ever wondered if he was a nice guy, I can tell you he really was. For that half hour, especially after signing autographs and talking to fans for hours just beforehand, he couldn’t have faked being nice in the kind of interaction we had. I’ve also heard and read lots of stories since his passing from other folks about what a lovely person he was, whether meeting him for a minute, spending days with him on the road, or as part of a production. I think probably everyone except Charlton Heston was a fan of his!
One of Asner’s last voice projects was for Disney+, on the newly released and incredibly charming Dug Days. Dug Days is a series of 5 shorts from Pixar starring Dug (voiced by animator Bob Peterson, screenwriter and co-director of UP, who also wrote and directed all Dug Days episodes), the lovable dog whose high tech collar translates thought to speech, and his human guardian Carl (Asner). Each episode features a different theme, including Science, Puppies, and of course, Squirrel!. The production took place, in part, during the pandemic, which meant the voice artists had to improvise where they recorded their dialogue. Peterson’s ‘recording studio’ was a spider-infested closet in his house. The fact that Peterson was calling the shots meant that he could add little Easter eggs. Carl and Dug’s new home is #333, the same house number that Peterson’s grandmother lived in back in Ohio. Also look for a reference to Toy Story: 4 in the “Flowers” episode. The Ferris wheel is the same as the one in that feature. As a lover of below the line artists, I love knowing that the camera on one of Carl’s shelves is named after Mark Nielsen, production designer on Dug Days.
The trailer shows you all you need to know about why you should put a little time aside for this new series:
If you love the Genie from the 1992 animated feature Aladdin, Phil from Hercules, Louis from The Princess and the Frog, or enjoyed 1995’s Pocahontas, you love the work of Disney animator Eric Goldberg. He co-directed Pocahontas and was responsible for some of the best character designs in the New Golden Age of Disney. The artist knew he wanted to be an animator by the age of 4, started making flip books at 6, and began making films at 13, after he got a super-8 camera for his bar mitzvah. His most important mentor was Roger Rabbit director Richard Williams, who offered him his first professional job animating on Raggedy Ann and Andy, then invited him to come to London and work at his studio. Goldberg’s diverse illustration and art training at Pratt came in handy working with Williams, whose projects required being well-versed in many artistic styles.
Goldberg was also a fan of caricature artist Al Hirschfeld from childhood, and Hirschfeld’s influence can be seen in his art from the very beginning of his tenure at Disney. It is once again in evidence on his new Disney project, coming soon to Disney+.
ERIC GOLDBERG GIFTS US NEW GOOFY SHORTS
Goldberg is the director of a new series of 3 HAND-DRAWN shorts releasing on DisneyPlus in August, Walt Disney Animation Studios Presents Goofy in How to Stay At Home, featuring ‘everyman’ (or should I say ‘everydog’?) Goofy in “How to Wear a Mask”, “Learning to Cook” and “Binge Watching”. Goldberg pitched the cartoons to Disney execs Jennifer Lee and Clark Spencer in the fall of 2020, and they loved the idea. While he directed all three shorts and was the supervising animator on “How to Wear a Mask”, he enlisted two other longtime colleagues in traditional animation, Mark Henn and Randy Haycock, to act as supervising animators, Henn on Binge Watching and Haycock on Learning to Cook. They’ll play on Disney+ beginning on August 11th. Of course Disney Legend Bill Farmer, who has voiced Goofy since 1987 will bring the character to life with his delightful vocal stylings.
It’s a well-balanced mix of the classic look Goofy had in the ‘How To’ shorts of the 40s and 50s and the more modern style of contemporary animation. There are also some homages to older Disney shorts. In How to Wear a Mask, there’s sampled music from 1942’s How to Play Baseball. In Learning to Cook, Goofy is wearing the outfit he wore in 1942’s MIckey’s Birthday Party, and the new short uses the same score as the classic short. In Binge Watching, the use of squash and stretch, one of the basic building blocks of Disney’s classic traditional 2D animation, is essential to making the humor work and the story hold together.
Can you see Hirschfeld’s influence in the new Goofy shorts? Goldberg himself would say you can see the power of line in all great animation, but specifically in these new cartoons, he wanted a thicker yet crisp line and great flow that would give the character an updated look, but, perhaps not coincidentally, harkens back to the style for which Hirschfeld is so famous.
ALL HAIL HIRSCHFELD
Goldberg has long had a fascination with and was highly influenced by the work of caricaturist and illustrator Al Hirschfeld, whose work he’d followed since high school. Hirschfeld was inspiration for many of the character designs in Aladdin, especially Goldberg’s Genie, which was created with flowing lines, based on the curvilinear drawings for which Hirschfeld was known. Animating Genie was a completely different experience from the norm, in that the film’s directors and co-writers Ron Clemens and John Musker created the character with Robin Williams in mind.
To pitch Robin Williams on doing Aladdin, Goldberg, at the suggestion of Musker and Clements, took some lines from Robin Williams comedy albums and animated Genie to them. One day after he had a few scenes done, Jeffrey Katzenberg walked in with Robin Williams, and they showed him Goldberg’s work. He had animated from the famed Williams routine talking about schizophrenia. He had created a second head for Genie to talk to himself. He made him laugh and it helped persuade Williams to play the character. Much of his scenes were ad-libbed. Goldberg would review his recorded dialogue, then select the best lines and animated the character around them for each scene.
Musker and Clements loved the Hirschfeld-ian design of Genie, so they decided to have all the roles drawn in the same style. Glenn Keane was animating Aladdin, and Goldberg partnered with all the other animators to create a cohesive look in all the characters, making this unified cast. When Hirschfeld saw Aladdin, he gave the team of artists the ultimate compliment and confirmed they were successful by saying, “It all looks like it was drawn with the same hand.”
For Fantasia 2000, Eric directed and wrote two traditionally animated sequences, “Rhapsody in Blue” and “The Carnival of the Animals”, aided by and his wife Susan, who took on the role of art director. Rhapsody in Blue, chosen by Goldberg because it’s his favorite piece of classical music, was a complete artistic love letter to both New York and Al Hirschfeld, and the artist actually came onto the short as official artistic consultant. As part of his desire to be true to his hero’s style and aesthetic, Goldberg actually hid Hirschfeld’s daughter Nina’s name, just as the artist himself did in hundreds of drawings, in various locations in the short, like in Duke’s toothpaste tube and Margaret’s collar.
GOLDBERG DISNEY-FIES HIRSCHFELD FOR SHANGHAI DISNEYLAND
When Shanghai Disneyland was being developed and built, Imagineering wanted to build a Brown Derby or Sardi’s style eatery decorated with Hirschfeld style drawings of Disney characters. Dave Bossart, head of special projects at Disney at the time, looked to Goldberg to create the over 200 drawings. They made a book of all the images called “An Animator’s Gallery: Eric Goldberg Draws the Disney Characters, and displayed some of the original drawings in person at D23 in 2015. If you ever go to Shanghai Disneyland, you can see his finished work at Mickey and Pals Market Cafe.
Goldberg himself explained what makes Hirschfeld such a remarkable artist. “Hirschfeld’s poses were always very strong, very clear, very readable. And my favorites of his work are the ones that are very simple. I think those were his favorites as well. He used to say, ‘When I don’t have the time I make a complex, fussy drawing and when I do I make a simple one.’ Because it does take some effort to boil things down to their essence and Hirschfeld was a master at that. It’s just amazing.”
Goldberg got to spend time with his hero when they had become genuine friends. The studio had him out to Disney a year after Aladdin was released. Eric and Susan Goldberg got to take Al and his wife Dolly to Disneyland. Over the years he was able to get to know the artist very well personally, and the man didn’t diminish, but rather enhanced the legend. Eric and Susan requested Hirschfeld to allow them to use his style for a new short, and after some contemplation and time, he gave permission to use any and all characters he’d drawn in his career. Ultimately, Hirschfeld worked as artistic consultant on what became Rhapsody in Blue, which was one of the best sequences in Fantasia 2000.
GOLDBERG, HIRSCHFELD, AND JONES
To allow Goldberg to express his love for the Hirschfeld line, the folks working with Warner Brothers and the Chuck Jones family engaged him to do his treatment on the classic characters of Chuck Jones. They’ve turned them into limited editions signed by Eric Goldberg himself. In each drawing, he has captured not only the characters but the Hirschfeld style. It’s not easy to encapsulate Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, or Marvin Martian and K-9 with such simplicity. We now have all Eric’s Chuck Jones images from the Fine Line series available for purchase on our site.
Peppermint Patty is not just a quirky kid with, as she herself puts it, ‘hair full of split ends’, she’s an icon, and rightly so. In this Peanuts Profile, we take a look at the art of Patricia Reichardt, or as she’s better known, Peppermint Patty.
Here’s Peppermint Patty, coming in hot from the very beginning, showing she is casual, comfortable with herself, and a great but competitive athlete:
Let’s start by getting one thing clear. Though at the very least, we know that Peppermint Patty is gender queer, Charles Schulz himself said that Peppermint Patty and Marcie were not lesbians. That doesn’t mean they can’t be wonderful, inspiring icons for feminism and queer pride. After all, at her debut on August 22nd, 1966, tomboys and girls who were wearing more butch (read comfortable) clothing, were often mocked and ridiculed, or even arrested for wearing predominately men’s attire. It was only the 1969 Stonewall Riots of June 28th through July 3rd that helped end that kind of discrimination. Though we are all used to it now, a comic strip character that spoke her mind, wore what she wanted, could best both boys and girls at every sport she played, and had a clear feminist agenda, was groundbreaking at the time.
Arguably the most well-developed character outside of Charlie Brown and Snoopy, it was through Peppermint Patty that Schulz took a committed stance on gender equality for women in sports and elsewhere.
Peppermint Patty, or Patricia Reichardt, is a Peanuts anomaly. She is being raised by a single father, is the only character in Peanuts to wear sandals, which she is passionately committed to because her dad gave them to her, and she can beat everyone, boy or girl, in every sport she plays. Initially, freckle-faced Patty was inspired by Charles Schulz’s cousin Patricia Swanson. Her last name was taken from his secretary Sue Reichardt.
In the cartoons, she was voiced by both young male and female actors. For Peppermint Patty’s appearances in animation, Vince Guaraldi created a theme specifically for her. Peanuts Producer Lee Mendelson, who wrote the lyrics to Christmastime is Here, was particularly fond of her theme.
Schulz often mentioned his friendship with Billie Jean King, which began in the early 1970s. King was a strong proponent of equality for women in sports, and was instrumental in getting Title IX passed, which prohibits sex discrimination in all federally funded school programs, including sports. It had a huge impact. Since Title IX passed, female participation at the high school level has grown by 1057 percent, and by 617 percent in college. As Schulz had always believed women could do and should be allowed to do anything men could do, he got behind Title IX and equality for women in sports, in his strip and, by extension, in animation, chiefly through Peppermint Patty.
In 1974, King started the Women’s Sports Foundation. Within a few years, Schulz became a member of the board of trustees. In terms of their friendship, King said she always knew when ‘Sparky’ wanted to talk to her, because he’d put her name in the strip. He was fearless enough to have played doubles with King at the Snoopy Cup tennis tournament in 1984. Though Schulz already felt strongly about equality for women, his longterm friendship with King inspired him to mirror his beliefs in Peanuts. With over 300,000,000 readers at the height of its popularity, the Peanuts comic strip was a powerful tool he could wield to help normalize female athletes.
Here is a series of strips from October, 1979, which was, in part in reaction to the continued backlash against Title IX, and to help push the public towards acceptance of gender equality in sports. Peppermint Patty goes full advocate, sometimes even using actual statistics, and it’s a glorious thing:
Also unique to Peppermint Patty in pop culture and certainly in comic strips is the fact that she has a loving single father (we are never told her mother is dead, but its inferred), who celebrates her for exactly who she is. It’s the reason she is so hell-bent on wearing her sandals every day. She asked him for them and he got them for her, calling her a ‘rare jewel’. Though Patty has a few issues around how she looks, she knows she is lovable because of her dad. Schultz’s wife Jean also said Patty sleeps in class because she stays up late waiting for her dad to come home from work. Awwwww.
Although, as mentioned in his Peanuts Profile, Franklin was a character that Schulz wasn’t entirely comfortable representing because he himself was not Black. He had a daughter who loved sports, however, and spent a lot of time with Bille Jean King, and both were inspirational in bringing Peppermint Patty authentically to life. She is a character that has always been and continues to be a symbol of independence, equality, and self expression. If she can wear her beloved Berks every day, we can let our own freak flags fly, whatever they may be.
Ah, the art of Franklin…When Franklin made his first appearance in a Peanuts comic strip on July 31st, 1968, he did it without any fuss. He showed up at the beach, having found Charlie Brown’s beach ball. “Is this your beach ball?” were his first words. He notices Chuck is attempting to make a sandcastle, but, as Franklin says, “It looks kind of crooked.” to which Charlie replies, “I guess maybe where I’m from I’m not famous for doing things right.”
The next day, on August 1st, 1968, the second strip appeared. In it, Franklin and Charlie Brown are building a better sandcastle together, creating a nice metaphor I hope we can all get behind.
On August 2nd, the third day in a row Franklin makes an appearance, Charlie asks if Franklin can come over and spend the night. Friendship officially started!
In all the years between that first appearance and the last time an original Charles Schulz Peanuts comic appeared in print on February 13th, 2000, Franklin never made fun of or said a bad word to Charlie.
This blog is called The Art of Franklin, not just because ArtInsights got some great original art from the Peanuts specials featuring Franklin (shameless plug but also rare art! yay!!), but because there is definitely an art to Franklin. He may not be the most verbose member of the Peanuts gang, but he is beloved by children and former children all over the world. The fact that he’s entirely positive as a character, smart, a good athlete, a great friend, inquisitive, and self-assured, is the subject of some discussion. Is he too perfect to be interesting? As one of literally millions of Franklin fans, I’d say absolutely not. Though he would have been more three dimensional with some foibles, it’s no surprise Franklin, or as we learn many years later, Franklin Armstrong, was a pillar of the Peanuts community. Charles Schulz was very much a supporter of civil rights, but he had serious reservations that, as a white comic strip artist, he could do justice to a Black character.
In 1968, at the time of Franklin’s debut, had been a very difficult year for America, and this is especially true for Black Americans. Martin Luther King had been assassinated on April 4th, leading to widespread riots across the country. Robert Kennedy, a huge proponent of civil rights, was gunned down on June 6th. The Vietnam War was in the news every day, and the news wasn’t good.
It was in the midst of all that a retired LA school teacher and mother of 3, Harriett Glickman, appealed to Charles Schulz in a letter to the Peanuts creator.
She explained her inspiration for the letter in an interview at the Charles M. Schulz Museum: “It isn’t something that you wake up and decide to do just one day. My sister and I were both raised in a home where our parents, just through the way they lived, kept us understanding our role in the world and our sense of responsibility for others. It was the kind of thing we took into our consciences without having to be taught. It was just the values we had, the respect for other people, and all of which we learned from our parents. In the early days, our parents marched in demonstrations for the rights for workers and for unions. There were so many issued throughout the years that needed my involvement. Then I had small children. Writing a letter was what I could do at the time. However, that letter was the result of my whole life. It was seeing racism in this country, knowing that no matter what there was ugliness and violence, and my letter was nothing compared to the little girl who stood in the doorway to integrate a school with crowds of people spitting at her.”
Schulz wrote back to Glickman, and his response was that he didn’t think he was qualified. He doubted he could write a Black character without unintended condescension.
Seeing he was hesitant, she enlisted two Black friends and parents, Ken Kelly and Monica Gunning. Here’s the letter from Ken Kelly, who was a space engineer who worked on the Surveyor lunar vehicle, and later became an important LA housing advocate. He died on February 27th, 2021 at 93.
It was the combination of these entreaties that led to Schulz creating Franklin. He let Glickman know he’d gotten the other letters, and that she’d be pleased with an upcoming Peanuts story. When United Features Syndicate questioned whether it was a good idea to run the strips, Schulz told them to run the strips as is, or he’d quit. On July 31st, 1968, they ran Franklin’s debut.
The addition of Franklin to the Peanuts gang was not without controversy, and it has continued to this day. The way the characters in the strip speak has a sort of old world charm and simplicity that can be taken entirely the wrong way, or just doesn’t work when dealing with the complex issues of racism, privilege, and inclusion. There’s argument around some of the depictions in the animated specials, famously, when Franklin was seated on his own side of the table at Thanksgiving in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, or the fact that he leads the kids in a dance to a rap song in It’s Spring Training, Charlie Brown. In the case of the Thanksgiving special, the animators say it was a practical matter of making it so all the kids could be seen, but perhaps it would have been better to put Snoopy by himself? The dancing in Spring Training, (which was released in 1992) made the special a product of its time, and was meant to appeal to all kids of the era.
Based on the repeated backlash that began in 1974 and continues to this day, Schulz was right about the difficulty of white artists representing a Black character, but he knew the power that 100 million readers could have on systemic or societal change. Although he always said he just wanted to make a funny strip, he tried to make a difference when he could. There’s no denying the power and influence of seeing a Black child represented in print and onscreen to the many many Black kids who read the comic strip, or watched the TV specials.
In fact, one such kid, Robb Armstrong, who saw the first strip in 1968 as a 9 year old, was inspired to a career in comic art from seeing a Black kid that looked like him in print. His comic strip Jump Start has become the most widely syndicated daily strip by an African American in the world. When his strip was first syndicated, he learned he was in great company, as Peanuts was also published through United Feature Syndicate. He asked to meet one of his artistic heroes, Schulz, and was turned down by the higher ups at the syndicate. Several years later they did meet, and became very good friends. In the 1990s, when a video was being released in which all the characters needed surnames, Schulz asked his then longtime friend Robb Armstrong if he could give his surname to Franklin, who was honored, and thus the iconic comic character became Franklin Armstrong.
In the new documentary about Charles Schulz called Who Are You, Charlie Brown?, a number of well-known personalities, including Al Roker, talk about Franklin’s influence, and the importance of seeing a Black kid as part of the Peanuts gang. A comic strip that over a hundred million people read every week had the potential to have a huge influence over how kids saw the world, and each other. Schulz knew he could make a difference, and even over his own concerns, he created Franklin as the cool, smart, talented, kind Black kid who deserved being treated with appreciation, respect and love. To both Black and white kids who grew up reading him in the funnies and watching him in the specials, he had an enormous impact.
Here are all the films in which Franklin makes an appearance:
As with all art, in which sometimes it takes a while to get the nuances exactly right, the art of Franklin as a character continues to be a work in progress. Speaking of progress, times change. The creation of Franklin was something to celebrate in 1968, but in both print and animation there were bound to be growing pains along the way, especially, as Schulz himself said, when a white artist is bringing a Black character to life at such a volatile time in US history. In the latest feature, 2015’s The Peanuts Movie, Franklin is just one of the gang. He’s as smart as ever (he’s in the student council) and organized (he’s running the school talent show), but he isn’t singled out, and his ‘Blackness’ isn’t part of the story. Regardless, he’s the favorite character of many a Peanuts fan, and is a legitimately important figure in the civil rights movement.
There’s a ton of great Peanuts content on AppleTV+. Have you checked it out? There’s a new Snoopy show which is about to have another season, and a mocumentary on Peanuts and NASA called Snoopy in Space, and even older shows and tv specials you might not have seen. Just released is a new documentary the chronicles the life and work of Charles Schulz called Who Are You, Charlie Brown?, which is an official documentary created with the blessing of his family. Narrated by Lupita N’yong’o, it includes interviews with his wife Jean Schulz, as well as famous folks inspired by the comic strip and subsequent animated specials and shows like graphic artist and author of “Only What’s Necessary: Charles M. Schulz and the Art of Peanuts” Chip Kidd, directors Paul Feig and Kevin Smith, and tennis legend Billie Jean King.
The documentary has a score by composer Jeff Morrow, who has worked on all the new Peanuts shows and specials on AppleTV+. It’s quite an honor to have been selected to follow in the footsteps of the great Vince Guaraldi, who created the wonderful, iconic music for A Charlie Brown Christmas, among many other Peanuts scores.
Guaraldi grew up inspired by his uncles, who both headed jazz big bands in San Francisco. Early in his career, he worked with famed vibraphonist Cal Tjader before going out on his own, releasing music that would have kept him in obscurity had a DJ not played a B-side with Cast Your Fates to the Wind on it, which garnered him a Grammy Award. Peanuts producer Lee Mendelson heard Cast Your Fate while driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, and sought out Guaraldi to compose for a documentary on Peanuts called A Boy Named Charlie Brown in 1963. It was the start of a long career composing for Peanuts specials. Guaraldi’s music for A Charlie Brown Christmas in 1965, which was his 8th studio album, is consistently one of the top selling Christmas albums every year to this day, and is in both the Grammy Hall of Fame and the National Recording Registry. His last recording for a Peanuts special was for 1976’s It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown. Only several hours after finishing the recording, Guaraldi died suddenly of a heart attack just moments after leaving the stage of a live performance..
Following Guaraldi, composer Judy Munsen stepped in, working alongside Ed Bogas to create music for specials like What a Nightmare, Charlie Brown!, Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown, and It’s Magic, Charlie Brown. In 2000, jazz pianist and producer David Benoit released the memorial album Here’s to You, Charlie Brown, in recognition of Charles Schulz’s passing. He was involved variously in recording interpretations of Guaraldi Peanuts songs and creating music for specials. Benoit also played piano for the recent The Peanuts Movie, on a score with a mix of music by Guaraldi, and new compositions for orchestra created by Canadian composer Christophe Beck. That’s where Jeff Morrow comes in.
Morrow had been working with fellow Canadian, Emmy and Annie Award Christophe Beck, when Beck began work on The Peanuts Movie. It was through his mentorship with Beck that Morrow got the gig as the new composer for all things Peanuts. I spoke to Morrow about what inspired him to become a composer (animation fans will love knowing it involves The Lion King), how the self-ascribed music geek got into the business, and why Peanuts characters are all the inspiration he needs to create music that fits right into the discography for the iconic property.
ArtInsights:You have said you’ve always been really into film music. What scores were or are the favorites that influenced you?
Jeff Morrow: When I was really young the one that I feel like hooked me was The Lion King, by Hans Zimmer.The music is high emotion. Very dramatic. It was the first time I remember really noticing music in a film. I was nine years old. At that point in my life I was very nerdy and into classical music. I think when I was in third grade I said my favorite music was Mozart. You know that the score for The Lion King actually gets quite classical times, in the part where his father dies especially. It could be Mozart, it’s very much in that sort of vein of music.
Then as I got older, I got really into the more classic stuff for a while, like Bernard Herrmann’s North by Northwest.
The way I got into film music was, I didn’t actually grow up thinking I wanted to be a film composer, because I grew up in Toronto. I didn’t know anyone who was a film composer, so I didn’t really think of it as a thing I could do, until until much later after I had a bit of a career going as a professional musician. Being a composer, it helps that I’m just very much into all kinds of music. I was definitely, for one period of my life, a total jazz snob. Now I’m very omnivorous in what music I listen to.There’s a Duke Ellington quote where he says, “there’s only two kinds of music, good music and bad music.”
Tell me how you got involved in scoring for Peanuts in the first place, which was on The Peanuts Movie working with Christophe Beck.
I had a sort of career going in Canada, scoring kid TV shows and some TV commercials and little low budget films, short films, and features. And then, through this program at the Canadian Film Center, I met Chris down here in LA, in a meeting. We sort of hit it off and and I kept in touch with one of his assistants. Two years later I got an email saying, ‘Hey, Jeff, remember me? We need help. Do you live in LA?’ And I said, ‘No, but I can live in LA. Just give me two weeks.’ And, yeah, two weeks later, I was down here in LA. I was making coffee for Christophe for a couple of weeks, and then he asked me to write something, and he must have liked it, because from at that point on, I was co-writing with him, and ended up getting to write a bit of music for The Peanuts Movie, which was amazing. It was recorded at the Fox stage here in LA, with the 80 piece orchestra.
So how did you connect with Apple for the new Peanuts projects?
Wildbrain and Apple, this is now a number of years later, were getting together to produce all of this new peanuts content, and through Chris I was recommended for for the job. That’s basically how it happened. They asked me to demo. I got together 3 of my now-favorite musicians, but people I just met, into an incredible jazz trio, Ryan Shaw, Jordan Siegel, and Trey Henry. We got together in the studio old school, with everyone of the same room like they used to do, not all of us sectioned off in booths. Apple and Wildbrain loved the demo, and I got the job. So the first thing I did was this little mockumentary for NASA. Jeff Goldblum and Ron Howard were in it. So I thought that was it was kind of a fun way to start. Also, given that Vince Guaraldi actually started scoring Peanuts with a documentary, it seemed like perfect symmetry.
The way that you connected with Christophe Beck and stayed in touch, is that sort of similar to the way you packaged your little demo and took it to Eggplant Productions in Canada? That shows some pretty impressive determination.
Yeah, a little bit, I guess. I feel, of course, very privileged to grow up with supportive parents who encouraged me to do that kind of thing, and whatever cultural norms that suggest that I should be doing that, because I know not everyone has that sort of opportunity to get out there and be connected with some of these people. I just put together a jazz CD of my weird trombone music, googled “music production, Toronto”, and then dropped it off at a few places. The local newspaper in Canada actually did like a little piece on me getting a job there called “Cold Calls Lead to Hot Jobs”.
The first thing you must have been thinking about for Who are you, Charlie Brown? was how to work with a very famous existing music. Also, here you are creating music the story of Charles Schulz, that’s a big deal. What was your strategy from the beginning?
I knew I wanted to sort of pay homage to the sound of The Peanuts cartoons. I kind of the thought was if it was on in the other room, you would recognize it as being in the same world as what you’ve heard. The music Guiraldi wrote for the original stuff was written for kids. I don’t mean viewers, I mean, it’s written for the characters. This documentary is a story about a real life of an adult human. So it needed definitely a slightly different approach. The starting point was the instrumentation, with piano, bass and drums, but then expanded on that to include cello, flute, and clarinet, then vibes.
A number of cues start with solo bass, which is great.
Using bass is a good way to get in under people’s voices. It’s a very supportive sound. If someone’s talking and the bass comes in, you can get into a piece of music without it really announcing itself so much.
There’s definitely inspiration to be found in Guaraldi’s work.
Exactly. It’s not like Vince Guaraldi came up with this stuff in a vacuum. The reason the music sounds like it does is that he wrote it based on the characters. They’re simple kids, but there’s a profoundness to most of them. If I sat there at the piano trying to come up with the next Peanuts Guaraldi theme, it would be too much pressure. So I was mostly thinking about their characters, like Charlie Brown and Linus, and about how serious or philosophical they are. In terms of Schulz himself, he’s just such an empathetic guy, which is why his characters have so much depth to them. It becomes clear in the documentary that when he’s in the room with someone, he’s fully understanding them and picking up on characteristics from them. He’s clearly a person who notices people and takes it all in. I was just thinking about that and what, musically, could represent that?
With your jazz trio, was there a lot of improvisation on the way to creating the cues?
Always. It’s one of the great joys of working on this whole Peanuts world is working with these amazing musicians, just to let them loose on on some of the stuff. These days, working on a film, usually your computer demo is very accurate to what the final is going to be. I had to have a pact with the directors and producers the beginning. In order to get that indescribable vibe you can get from musicians in a room improvising together, it’s gonna be slightly different than what the computer demo sounds like. Thankfully, everyone’s been really receptive of that. It’s such an amazing thing to write a framework for the musicians in some of these cases, and then just watch them bring it to life. As composer, there’s this sort of knob that I turn towards improvisation and then back towards the more compositional throughout, to track the story.
You’ve said all your scores have a concept behind them. What was the concept behind Who Are You, Charlie Brown?
Well, I find especially with documentaries it’s nice to box yourself into a certain set of parameters. I find you end up with something much more interesting. It’s definitely more of a challenge for me, but that’s where it gets fun. So in the case I knew I wanted it to be this small ensemble score, and I want to be able to accomplish every emotion or feeling required within that instrumentation. The piano bass, drums, vibes, cello, flute, and clarinet, that was my limiting factor, basically. It was essentially my imagining The Peanuts band got together, invited a couple of friends, and then had to score a documentary, but those were the only tools they had. No symphony orchestra or synthesizers.
You’ve worked with Henry Jackman and Christophe Beck. What did you learn from them that you’ve taken with you and has informed your work?
What I discovered working with people like Chris and Henry, who have done this for a long time, and been very successful, is that when they get a note from a director, or producer, editor, or assistant producer, they really take it to heart. It’s actually quite impressive. If they just spent the last week working on this couple of minutes of giant symphonic music, and then someone says, ‘I don’t think that’s really working’, they have no ego about it, which is a skill that I feel requires a rewiring of your brain. You can’t just wake up one morning and be totally cool with any kind of changes people want to make to your music. It’s a skill that has to be developed over time. With them, that’s one of hundreds of different things, but as an example that’s something I learned from them. What it allows for in the creative process if that’s your perspective, going into a project, is that it’s really a collaboration.
What was your understanding or experience with Peanuts before you started composing for the property? Did you listen to the Christmas music growing up?
Of course, I listened to it every Christmas growing up, and, you know, became a jazz musician. So there’s definitely something there that inspired me in my life. That music is up there with Miles Davis Kind of Blue. It’s certainly as or maybe even more famous.
How has your perspective on the characters changed since you’ve been working on the Peanuts scores?
It’s just such a thrill and a privilege to be able to work in this world with these characters. To get to write music for them is means I get to dive into their personalities a little more. I just feel like I have a much deeper understanding of where they’re all coming from, and have empathy for them. I might have found Lucy a bit annoying as a kid. I don’t feel that way now.
Who is your favorite character?
Well I would have said Schroeder, because he’s a musician and plays piano like I did when I was a kid. I was a little bit of a Schroeder at some point as a kid, a bit snobby about music. I’m much more in the Linus camp now. I love his soliloquies and his general philosophy.
I love Franklin, and in the documentary you really learn about the impact he had on pop culture and on Black Americans who saw themselves on tv and in the comic strip.
I learned about that from watching the documentary when I was working on the score. Speaking to Schultz’s empathy, to present just a kid with no fanfare when he was introduced, which is, I think, a beautiful thing, and then he gave him huge both a humility and a realness that just placed him in the scene without fanfare but just smart, good friend. I spent a lot of time on the piece of music that goes with that segment of the documentary. , It’s a very important moment. These characters so compelling that if I’m tracking what they’re doing, and their emotions, and how they are onscreen, then it makes the job enjoyable. There’s always hair being pulled out, but it’s very enjoyable.
Are you working on anything right now?
I’m actually working on more Peanuts music, because there’s a lot more great stuff coming to AppleTV+. You and your readers will have to stay tuned because you’re going to love it!
You can watch Who are You, Charlie Brown?now on AppleTV+. The score by Jeff Morrow for Snoopy in Space is available now on Apple Music, with the score for Who are You, Charlie Brown? coming soon.
This week, Disney confirmed to CNN that Rachel Zegler is, indeed, the newest live action Disney princess. She’ll be starring in the upcoming live action remake of Disney’s first full length animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, released in 1937. Zegler will no doubt be a household name after Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake, in which she plays Maria, releases this later this year. She is also already signed on to Zachary Levi’s DC sequel Shazam: Fury of the Gods. Her singing videos on social media have already gleaned her millions of fans around the world. Here’s one where she proves she’s got the Disney princess vocal chops:
Directing and producing Snow White is Marc Webb. Webb, who is best known for 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man 1 & 2 (these are the ones with Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone), has ample credentials filming musical performances. He’s the director behind nearly a hundred music videos from the early 2000s, for bands and musicians including Green Day, Fergie, My Chemical Romance, Miley Cyrus and Evanescence. More recently he has executive produced 11 TV shows, including the quirky musical comedy My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, so he should be an expert at casting projects well! Writing the remake is Erin Cressida Wilson, a former professor at UC Santa Barbera, Brown and Duke. She wrote the adapted screenplays for Secretary and The Girl on the Train, both of which we can fairly assume (and even hope) are as far in tone and subject matter as you can get from what a Disney Snow White remake will offer.
All this information about yet another live action version of a Disney classic makes me curious about the history of Snow White, beyond the 1937 Disney animated feature and first official version published by the Grimm brothers. Let’s tuck into a little history, and backstory of the girl we all know as ‘the fairest of them all’.
The Grimm brothers published her story 1812 as Tale 53 in Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Present in that first version were the Evil Queen, the seven dwarfs, a poison apple, a magic mirror, and the icky glass coffin. With only a few changes, the Grimm plot is surprisingly close to that of the Disney feature…
In the *2nd and best known version of the Grimm tale, a queen shallowly wishes for a daughter ‘with skin as white as snow (yikes..this explains why Nazis used the original story in teaching their master race theory to German children), lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony’, then promptly dies in childbirth. As is the custom in old fairy tales, the father picks his second wife very badly. *In the original version of the story, the cruel, evil mother was Snow White’s biological mother, but it is believed they changed that to make the story more palatable to kids…
After seven years of the new queen’s mirror telling her she is ‘the fairest one of all’, the hyper-honest mirror informs her that Snow White has usurped the title.
The queen tasks a huntsman to kill this attractive 7-year-old (?) and bring back, not her heart, but her lungs and liver (which, by the way, in the tradition of the best cannibal queens, she plans to eat..), but he can’t bring himself to do it. Snow runs into the forest, finds the dwarf cottage, and falls asleep in one of their beds. They find her after searching for a prowler, and she explains she had to escape to save her life. The dwarfs say she can stay if she works as their housemaid (child labor laws having yet to be invented..). Ten years pass, and she has grown even more beautiful. When the queen queries her mirror, it tells her Snow White is still top of list and hiding out with the dwarfs.
The queen decides to kill Snow White herself. First, disguised as a peddler, she offers Snow silky bodices as a present, and laces them so tightly that the teen collapses.
The dwarfs show up just in time to loosen the laces and revive her. Next, the peddler gives Snow a poisoned comb that overtakes her (a story point that was originally considered for the 1937 Disney feature), but the dwarfs come and take it out of her hair, reviving her. Finally, the disguised queen brings an apple that Snow bites, putting her in a coma. The dwarfs, thinking Snow is dead, put her in a glass coffin. (This borders on creepy, right? How did they know she wouldn’t decompose? Or didn’t they care? Creeeeepy.)
A prince happens upon Snow the next day, and after hearing her story from the dwars, they give him permission to take her home for a proper burial, but along the way her coffin gets jostled. This dislodges the poison apple slice from her throat and revives her! He declares his love for her, and they marry. (Mais, bien sur!)
Once again, the queen discovers there’s someone fairer, so she toddles off to the wedding to investigate. Finding Snow, she attempts filicide, but the new bride explains all about the queen and her dirty deeds. The prince condemns the queen to wear a pair of scalding iron slippers and dance until she drops dead, giving new meaning to killing it on the dance floor.
There is a lot of conjecture as to the inspiration for the Grimm tale. At the time of publication, none of the first tales were seen as suitable for children, but they were, in fact, all based on folk tales and stories they’d collected from friends and acquaintances. The Grimms were also hardcore historians, and they might have injected some history into Tale #53. Recently it was uncovered that Snow White may have been based on the life of Countess Margaretha von Waldeck. She was famous for her beauty, had a very strict stepmother, and died at 21 under mysterious causes that, in retrospect, might have been poison.
Margaretha’s father owned several copper mines in which the majority of workers were children, (???) and it has been suggested the 7 dwarfs were inspired by the children laboring at the mine. Similar to dwarfs, the children used to live by the dozens in a single room house.
The first time the dwarfs got names was in the 1937 Disney feature. Originally they had a pool of about 50 names for the 7, including Jumpy, Deafy, Dizzey, Hickey, Wheezy, Baldy, Gabby, Nifty, Sniffy, Swift, Lazy, Puffy, Stuffy, Tubby, Shorty and Burpy. Of the many versions of the story between 1812 and 1937, Disney’s is also the only one in which the prince and Snow White meet before she is poisoned.
There are many versions of this story that have existed as oral tales or put in print around the world. In Italy, one of many variants has the ingenue running away from home riding an eagle, which takes her away to a palace inhabited by fairies. In France, one story has dwarfs played by Korrigans, dwarf-like creatures from the Breton folklore, another incorporates three dragons with whom she lives at the bottom of a well. In the Scottish version Gold Tree and Silver Tree, Silver Tree is the queen, and Gold Tree is the far superior (and younger) beauty. Silver pretends to fall ill and declares only eating her daughter’s heart and liver will cure her.
Later versions exist in film and on tv. The first two are silent films, one made in 1902 that is lost, and another that still exists made in 1916.
There are several more risqué versions of the story, including a 1969 German sex comedy and other even more colorful ones, but no need to elaborate on them here. There are horror flicks like Snow White: A Tale of Horror, and of course more recent live action films that include 2012’s Mirror Mirror, starring Julia Roberts and Lily Collins, and the Hunstman series starring Charlize Theron and Kristen Stewart. Here is behind the scenes footage from Snow White and the Huntsman.
You’d be surprised to know that Disney is not the first animated version of the story. In 1933, Fleischer Studios released a Betty Boop cartoon called Snow White. It is considered a milestone of animation and was added to the film registry at the Library of Congress in 1994. What makes this short particularly wonderful is that it features Cab Calloway as Koko the Clown. Koko dances while he sings “St James Infirmary”, and that scene is rotoscoped from footage of Cab Calloway.
Even with all the alternate versions of the story released in comics, theater, in literature and elsewhere, in 2013, the US Patent and Trademark Office granted Disney a trademark for the name “Snow White”, which covers absolutely any and everything you can imagine, from internet to radio to all media, only excepting literary works of fiction and nonfiction. Given that, let’s hope the upcoming Disney live action film will satisfy fans of the classic tale. At least it looks like Rachel Zegler is up to the task!
I leave you with a video of the full 1933 Betty Boop cartoon, in which even playing against wonderful voice artist Mae Questel, Cab Calloway steals the show.
As ever, ArtInsights has art representing Disney’s first animated feature, the classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. You can see all the art HERE, and please contact us if looking for original production art from the film!
With all the Father’s Day gift guides out there, I thought it was time to create a Father’s Day gift guide specific to animation and film. Dads love movies and cartoons, so we’ve curated a collection of fun images of superlative cartoon dads and great characters the whole family will love.
Pulling those images together got me thinking about some of my favorite dads in cartoon and film. Some are decidedly dysfunctional, while others set the bar very, very high. Not all are dads in DNA, but all help shape those in their care, for better or worse. Let’s get to it, shall we?
Bob Parr aka Mr. Incredible
In the Operation Kronos database, Mr. Incredible is given the threat rating of 9.1, the highest of all the supers, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a beleaguered dad just trying to get through the day without one of his kids burning the house down or another disappearing into an existential crisis from which there is no recovery. He shows great respect for his wife and partner Helen, stepping up when she gets chosen as the face of the superhero legalization campaign. Bob is voiced by Craig T Nelson, who has played a number of classic dads in film and TV, including Steve Freeling in 1982’s Poltergeist and Zeek Braverman in the small screen version of Parenthood.
Goofy and Pluto
In various spots on the internet (including official Disney sites!) it says Goofy is the only one of the fab five, which includes Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pluto, to have a son, but that’s not true. Pluto and Fifi have puppies in 1937’s Pluto’s Quin-puplets. This very sweet and pup-tastic short shows a dad who isn’t quite up to the task of watching his little ones, but what parent with 5 babies wouldn’t find wrangling them a challenge?
Goofy, on the other hand, has a long and storied relationship with his son Max, who first appeared as ‘Goofy Jr’ in 1952 in Fathers are People. Imagine one of those ‘How To’ shorts like How to Ski or How to Have an Accident at Work that starred Goofy, but call it ‘How to Father’. It’s a spoof on the many classic live action shorts that capture life in the 50s. They couldn’t seem to decide on the name for Goofy’s son, calling him George in 1953’s Father’s Day Off (This short is the one time Jr/George/Max is voiced by voice artist extraordinaire June Foray). Max finally became a permanent name for Goofy’s son in Goof Troop. Max has his dad’s laugh and is as often as accident prone as Goofy. What’s special about Goofy’s fatherhood is we see an arc in which he and Max deal with father/son issues and grow from them.
Bruce Wayne appears to have been a busy guy in terms of building family, and it’s no wonder after the losses of his childhood. Is he a great role model? Probably not, but he definitely has a strong work ethic, and even as a vigilante he does have an unbendable moral code. What skills as a father he does possess are probably from Alfred, who is not only his butler, but a genius and father figure. There’s a long list of adopted kids in Wayne’s history. First is Dick Grayson, aka Nightwing, who arguably surpassed his mentor/adopted father in skill and positive public perception. Jason Todd, aka Robin and Red Hood, became Wayne’s second son after he met the street kid trying to steal the tires off the Batmobile, but their relationship is complicated. Tim Drake, aka Red Robin, is also adopted by Wayne, after Jason Todd is killed (but before Todd is resurrected. Ahh, comics…). Wayne also has several biological children, including Damian Wayne aka Robin, and Helena Wayne, who is the daughter of Bruce Wayne and Selena Kyle (aka Catwoman). Whether or not Batman is a great dad, he certainly tried to show acceptance and love of a sort to many a lost child. As to whether all things Batman are great as Father’s Day presents, that depends on the dad in question. Most fathers I know would love anything from a Batman c, to a coffee cup, to the original Batmobile, which sold in 2013 for 4.2 million.
Probably the best of all cartoon dads, Mufasa (which means king in Swahili) is king of Pride Rock, and loves his son with all his lion-heart. He has a great relationship with his son Simba, teaching him how to be respectful of all things, show courage, and understand the circle of life. He also sacrifices himself to save his son. His appearance as spirit is inspirational to those who believe their lost loved ones are looking over them. It’s interesting to note that James Earl Jones, the voice of Mufasa in both the animated feature and the live-action film, also has one son, Flynn Earl Jones, who has followed in his father’s footsteps as a voice artist. You can find some of his work on Audible.
Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi
Perhaps you thought I was going to choose Darth Vader. Vader really is one of the most famous fathers in film history, and probably the best of parental cautionary tales, but I’m going another direction. I submit that Yoda and Obi Wan are better and stronger father figures to Luke, teaching him self-reliance, strength of character, courage, and the power of the force. Luke was lucky to have two masters of the force as mentors, and not all those who inspire are parents. If we could only learn and live by Yoda’s words, ‘there is no try’, the world would be better off.
Finally, my very favorite animated dads are from Finding Nemo. Crush watches over his baby boy, Squirt, but also chooses to help even random strangers, as he does with Nemo and his dad Marlin. Teacher, Australian current surfer, and all around rad dude, the 150 year old green sea turtle is all about doing good and bringing joy. That might explain why he’s voiced by Finding Nemo’s writer/director Andrew Staunton. Marlin, as neurotic, pessimistic, and overprotective a clownfish as he is, is still a great dad. His love for his son sparks a fearlessness and determination that leads to powerful change in himself, and also leads the way to his lost son. Marlin and Crush are polar opposites showing all kinds of dudes can be wonderful parents to their sons and daughters.
Another Memorial Day is here, and it’s always a good time to celebrate our brothers and sisters, both veterans and those actively in the military with Memorial Day cartoons.
At first I was going to write about the many really impressive propaganda cartoons of WW2, because I’ve always been fascinated by propaganda of all eras. The problem with propaganda cartoons is they are invariably racist to one group or other, the worst being the representation of the Japanese and Chinese. There were Japanese-American soldiers fighting in World War II who came back to find their families in internment camps. Actually, our friend and animation legend Willie Ito experienced the horrors of the Japanese internment camps, and you can hear his stories about that HERE. There is also, as far as I know, only one cartoon representing Black soldiers, released during WW2 on January 16th, 1943, which is Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs, written and directed by Bob Clampett. Unfortunately it has such stereotyped characters that in April of 1943 it was protested by the NAACP, who called on Warner Bros. to withdraw it. It became one of WB’s “Censored Eleven”. I went through all eleven cartoons, and… yikes! They are a strong argument for why people of color have always needed and still need to have positive representation onscreen.
I also thought about posting some anti-war cartoons, but again, that doesn’t really highlight how lucky we are to have people in the military who have in the past or who are protecting and defending our country or standing for those around the world needing to be protected, as the military did in World War II. What’s happening right now, and how much politics enters into who we help and who we don’t, doesn’t lessen the importance and value of what the individuals who serve do.
That being said, if you DO want to watch several of the the most famous anti-war cartoons, there are three that immediately come to mind:
Peace on Earth (1939): This is an MGM cartoon directed by Hugh Harman which has become a yearly Christmas staple in my house. It is a gorgeous and poignant short which features Mel Blanc as the voice of Grandfather squirrel, and captures a post-apocalyptic world in which only animals exist. War destroys man, and the animals, inspired by a book that speaks of loving one another, rebuild the world as non-violent and peaceful. Peace on Earth was nominated for an Oscar, but lost to The Ugly Duckling.
Mickey Mouse in Vietnam(1969): Originally titled Short Subject, this underground animated short was directed by the Whitney Lee Savage, father of Adam Savage of Mythbuster fame. It’s short and sweet, coming in at a minute and ten seconds. An award winner at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen in 1970, it’s not a happy flick, but you can watch Mickey Mouse do his brief military duty below.
Graveyard of the Fireflies (1988): Although director/screenwriter Isao Takahata is an anti-war advocate, he vehemently denies his film, which is based on the 1968 short story by Akiyuki Nosaka, is anti-war. Arguably the most depressing piece of animation anyone could ever watch, (name another if you have a sadder one, by all means), the story takes place at the end of World War II, and tells of a brother and sister who die of starvation after Kobe is firebombed. Watch at your own peril, and with your anti-depressants close at hand.
For the main substance of this Memorial Day Cartoons blog, instead of writing about pure propaganda or anti-war shorts, I wanted to find cartoons that in some way celebrate or highlight the sacrifice of those in our armed forces, but also speak to the importance of supporting them and each other in hard times, such as we’ve had during the pandemic. I also wanted to include really 2 really important cartoons that literally changed the course of World War II.
With that in mind, here are some cartoons that will keep your attention and capture a moment in America you can watch in honor of Memorial Day:
Let’s start with a great featurette released in 1983 on Memorial Day as a prime-time special, and was introduced by Charles M. Schulz.
What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown? (1983): If you’ve ever watched Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (1980), you know that Charlie Brown, Linus, Snoopy, Woodstock, Peppermint Patty and Marcie took a trip to France. This adventure takes place during that trip, though it isn’t mentioned in Bon Voyage. Schulz explained, “I kept thinking how interesting it would be if they should somehow get lost on this little trip and end up at Omaha Beach and envision the scenes of the famous D-Day Invasion of World War II. I even thought that they might pass through Belgium and we could show some landscapes affected by World War I, and how emotional it could be if one of the characters somehow could be made to recite the immortal poem, John McCrae‘s In Flanders Fields.”
Of course Linus does indeed recite the poem, and here’s a clip of that:
You can see the whole featurette on Daily Motion, complete with Marcie giving motorists a piece of her mind in French. It’s pretty great, especially if you’re a fan of everyone’s favorite philosopher, Linus.
Then there are two cartoons released by Disney I especially l love, one that promotes buying war bonds, and the other than asks us all to use all our brain and heart power, and not succumb to bigotry and hate when at war (or, I might add, at any time).
All Together (1942): Walt Disney created four educational and propaganda shorts in partnership with the National Film Board of Canada. They were part of an attempt to keep the studio afloat, after the outbreak of the war in Europe lost them an important market for their films. This 3-minute cartoon was released theatrically, and asked Canadians to support their troops by buying war bonds. Directed by Jack King, it features Walt himself voicing Mickey Mouse, which is the only time Mickey is in a WW2 propaganda film. It shows a parade of Disney characters including Pinocchio, Donald Duck, the Seven Dwarfs, and Pluto, carrying banners about buying bonds. The cartoon was later used in the US theaters, after it entered the war.
Reason and Emotion (1943): Nominated for an Oscar upon its release, you’ll recognize this Disney propaganda short as a major influence on Pixar’s Inside Out, as confirmed by director Pete Docter. Essentially the message is the US version of ‘Keep Calm and Carry On”. Animators Ward Kimball and Ollie Johnson worked on this cartoon, which argues it is essential to use both your head and your heart, not just your heart, or rather your emotions, lest you be manipulated by Hitler’s fear-mongering. The film is also trying to make people aware of how propaganda works, so they could better recognize it when faced with it. You can watch Reason and Emotion on Daily Motion.
Representing all the armed forces wasn’t possible, but I do have three out of four, with the Army, Navy, and Air Force, and apologies to all the Marines out there. I guess the Marines didn’t need cartoons?
The Mighty Navy (1941): Popeye’s 100th theatrical short made him an iconic member of the US Navy, and gave him the white uniform he would often wear in the future. Onboard a Navy training ship, Popeye encounters challenges, especially with the stringent rules and the complicated equipment. When the ship gets surrounded by the enemy, Popeye takes matters into his own muscled hands. In the end he is honored by being adopted as the official insignia of the Navy Bomber Squadron. Reality followed fiction in this case, as images of Popeye started being used on insignias and as nose art.
Donald Gets Drafted (1942): Released on May 1st, 1942, this famous WW2-era Donald short is a favorite among Donald fans and animation art collectors, and is the first time we hear Donald’s full name, Donald Fauntleroy Duck. The short shows Donald enthusiastically heading to the draft board after getting his draft notice, and although he wants to join the Air Force, it is the Army that takes him. After he runs the gauntlet of a number of tests during basic training, Donald winds up in a room full of potatoes with KP duty. What is most interesting about the cartoon, though, is that pacifist Carl Barks, who co-wrote the cartoon, infused it with anti-military messages. He was against the US’s involvement in the war. Barks wanted to show the difference between the reality of wartime Army experience, and the recruitment propaganda that glamorized the life and heroism of military service. Donald was a wartime star, and the most famous of his cartoons from that era, Der Fuehrer’s Face, won an Oscar.
Victory Through Air Power (1943): Based on Alexander P de Seversky’s 1942 book of the same name, this short is extremely important to the outcome of the second world war. Financed personally by Walt, the New York Times devoted a half page to pictures and captions from the film just before its release. The studio had converted itself to a propaganda machine after Pearl Harbor, and the main target of this film was to gain the attention of people in power and realign their way of thinking. It was a success in that way. It influenced both FDR and Winston Churchill in significant ways.
We can’t forget our four-legged veterans and military ‘personnel’. Dogs have been essential during both times of peace and war.
War Dogs (1943): MGM, by way of Hanna and Barbara, celebrated dogs on duty with a short that features one of the less intelligent of the pups in service. Though it does have a brief, unfortunate caricature of a Japanese soldier, the rest of the cartoon is quite sweet in how it explains, even in the midst of the comedic elements this mockumentary uses, the true value of canine recruits.
Lest you believe even a small percentage of pups are as daft as the one represented in War Dogs, I’ll leave you with a live action short released by the Department of Defense as part of the “Big Picture” series, which highlighted aspects of the armed forces. It was filmed in the 50s, and shows the uses and training of Army dogs in Korea and Germany.
That’s it for today’s blog! I’ve had World War II and wartime animation art before, and if you’re interested in this wartime cartoon art as a collector, let me know and I’ll be on the lookout for art from this historic era. Happy Memorial Day, my friends!
As part of our 40th anniversary show for It’s Magic, Charlie Brown, we are giving original drawings by Larry Leichliter that are hand-dedicated by the artist with purchases of any Peanuts art. Pick well.. it’s one drawing per family, not per piece of art purchased!
Order now, and you can choose one of these three drawings:
Snoopy and Woodstock Happy Dance:
Charlie Brown and Snoopy: Suppertime
Snoopy and Lucy: Dog Kisses
This awesome Peanuts art be hand-drawn with or without a dedication (as you prefer) by Larry Leichliter.
You might think about getting the new limited edition just released for the 40th anniversary of It’s Magic, Charlie Brown. MAGICIANS TAKE NOTE!
Leichliter’s career in animation began in 1974 when he worked on BE MY VALENTINE, CHARLIE BROWN. This was followed by numerous other Peanuts specials that he was a crew member of throughout the late 1970s and 1980s. Since then, he has worked on many animated television series, particularly those made for Nickelodeon, which includeHey Arnold!, ChalkZone, The Fairly OddParents, CatDog, SpongeBob SquarePants, The Mighty B!, and Catscratch. Leichliter more recently was a director for the Cartoon Network original series Adventure Time, for which he directed 114 episodes and the original short. Adventure Time also garnered him three Primetime Emmy Award nominations in the category “Outstanding Short-Format Animated Program” in 2010, 2011, and 2012. He is now retired and creating limited edition designs for Sopwith Productions. You can read about Larry HERE.