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:
Disney and Star Wars concept artist William Silvers, ‘Bill’ to his friends, has the sort of Olympic level of chill a traffic controller would envy. He looks like a surfer that just stepped out of a particularly bitchin’ wave. The only time he doesn’t have a mellow smile on his face is when he’s concentrating on his painting, and even then, one sneaks out from time to time…and why wouldn’t he smile? He’s living the life most artists only dream of, and he knows it. What’s more, he appreciates it.
Bill was born in a small town in Ohio to hardworking parents. He remembers from his very first memories being inspired by his dad, who was also an artist, but tucked away his aspirations to work at a factory to keep his family in food and shelter. His dad supported Bill’s love of drawing, and applauded him when, even as a young child, he copied cartoons from the paper. Explains Bill, “My happy place was drawing for hours and creating different characters. This was my escape from the reality. Even as a child I already knew I was going to leave the small town.” It wasn’t an automatic he would go to college or study art past high school, though. With six kids in a household struggling to make ends meet, financial resources were limited. Thank goddess for his teachers, who believed in him and pushed him his senior year to do whatever it took to pursue his art after graduation.
Once again inspired by his dad’s work ethic, Bill took factory jobs and worked in restaurants while keeping up his studies, all to raise the money for college. He attended Bowling Green University and left Ohio at 23, heading to the big city of New York. There he found endless inspiration from the artists he met and connected with, all of whom believed in him and offered a sort of cheerleading that made him determined to succeed.
It was having some of his art featured on Seinfeld episodes, Season 5 Episode 17 “The Wife”, and Season 4, Episode 19 “The Implant” (which featured Teri Hatcher), that brought him to the attention of Disney.
You’ll know the Teri Hatcher episode from this little gem:
They approached him about a position as a background artist in the Feature Animation Department for the film Mulan. He took the job, and has been working steadily and successfully ever since. You will see his backgrounds in some of the best films of the New Golden Age at Disney, including Tarzan, Lilo & Stitch, and Brother Bear.
He relayed a story to me about how important working fast was during his time at Disney. He got used to painting both very precisely and very quickly, because time was always in short supply. The problem was, he painted way faster than some of the other folks working there, so he’d be done with his daily projects hours before anyone else. He still can paint very quickly, but likes going back through his work and adding even more layers. It’s why his originals, regardless of the style in which he paints them, have such visual depth.
William Silvers has clocked time at nearly every film studio, on some of the most beloved properties, including Star Wars. He worked for Industrial Light and Magic, a division of LucasFilm, in 2004. In Revenge of the Sith, if you watch the scene where (spoiler alert!) Anakin strikes down the young padawans, you’ll see some of his gorgeous work.
He relayed the story to me of one day when he was working on that scene. No one who goes into the studio is able to bring in anything, including cell phones or computers, lest they leak important plot points or images. Everyone signs a non-disclosure contract. During a break, he was checking in with his wife Ewa, and told her he couldn’t tell her anything about what he was doing, but to remember that day. When the film came out, he showed her that scene, and told her he knew that day he had worked on the darkest storyline he’d ever be part of. He says he still feels that way, all these years later.
In addition to Star Wars and multiple films at Disney, he also lended his artistry to the backgrounds in The Day After Tomorrow, as well as DreamWorks films How To Train Your Dragon 2, (where he created backgrounds for the scene where they discover the secret home of the dragons, among many other scenes), Mr Peabody & Sherman, The Croods, Rise of the Guardians, Puss in Boots, and the Kung Fu Panda franchise. He also worked with Warner Bros, and Sony on a number of films.
All these projects brought him to the attention of Universal, who hired him as senior designer, and he has since been involved in the design of their theme parks worldwide. If you’ve ever ridden Skull Island: Reign of Kong and enjoyed it, you have him, in part, to thank!
Some years into his career at Disney, he started working creating Disney Fine Art with several of the official companies, ultimately landing in the enviable position of dealing directly with Disney at the theme parks. He always has the support and help of his wife Ewa, who, to be honest, is the perfect partner and compliment for Bill, with her personality traits of gentle kindness and sensitivity, as well as her listening skills. She is always in attendance when he is featured at the artist special events throughout the year. You can meet him in person during one of these events and see his smile and experience his laid back attitude in person the next time your visit to Disney World coincides with an art event there.
Here are some great limited editions available through ArtInsights, that you can find by going HERE.
We at ArtInsights are blessed to not only be friends with Bill and Ewa, but also represent his art at the gallery, with images of his artists proofs from before he worked with the parks. From Lilo and Stitch to Disney Princesses to some great images from the Star Wars saga, we’ve got exclusive images that come directly from Bill, and what’s more, you can access both art designed much like the backgrounds he created during his stint there, as well as art created in a more fluid, subjective style that he also loves to do. You can only get these images through ArtInsights! From time to time, we also have access to original art, so keep checking back to see what goodies we’ve gotten from our very artistic, joyful, and inspired pal.
Bill knows he is incredibly lucky to do what he loves for a living. He attributes his success to his background. The trick is to keep going, and do what only you can do. He reasons, “What I realize now is my small-town upbringing and limited resources, as well as my heritage, has preserved in me a personal code and standards. These are the things I live by every day and teach my children; to retain your individuality, to work hard with dedication, to follow your dreams, but stay grounded.”
What I love most about Bill is his sense of optimism and inclusivity. He believes every time we help each other win, we all win. When it comes to art, being the very best isn’t as important as doing your best, and finding joy in that journey of always working to be better. Says Bill, “There will always be someone with skills greater than your own. I’m not looking to follow others or pull them down. I don’t compete with anyone but myself and I’m myself am my most harsh critic! I don’t create art just to make money. Throughout my career, I’ve been blessed by amazing opportunities to work for the best studios in the filming, gaming and theme park industry. I’ve work among some of the most influential and creative individuals. I’ve been truly blessed, and that’s my greatest reward! I guess I’m the proof that ‘all our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them’, even if you are just a small-town kid. “
We asked William Silvers a few questions about his life and career:
What is your favorite movie you worked on and why?
Mulan was a perfect film to kickstart to my film career. I was able to start on the film in the early stages of development, taking me through the entire process of preproduction all the way to post. The experiences and knowledge about the film industry I gained was invaluable. Mulan will always have a special place in my heart.
What is one of your best memories in terms of learning experiences as part of your career?
Although the Disney backgrounds were traditionally created in Acrylics, the directors for Lilo And Stitch decided to use the watercolor technique abandoned since the 40s. This made Lilo And Stitch one of the most challenging and fun films to work on over the years. As a training exercise, the background artist would take trips to paint in watercolors throughout the Disney parks. We also studied the film classics, like Snow White and Pinocchio.
Can you describe your process in creating art for film?
As background artist, we were responsible for the mood and color of the films, we created the entire environment the animated characters lived in. Theatrical staging was a key feature of the backgrounds painted for Disney films. Similar to backdrops on Broadway, the backgrounds were painted to enhance the main characters and not distract or overpower them by attracting too much attention. Although Mulan was a stylized film, we looked to Bambi for inspiration on staging and painting style.
You have two distinct styles. What about each of them feeds you as an artist?
I have a natural tendency to paint in a very detailed way, so I love to challenge myself to be as loose and impressionistic as I can. I believe this is good exercise to help me be more creative in the painting process.
List your 5 favorite movies:
Pinocchio, Snow White, Bambi, Mulan, Lilo and Stitch and Star Wars.
You listen to music when you paint, yes? How do you decide what you’ll play, and what are some of your favorite pieces or songs to listen to when working?
Music to me is very important when I am painting. During the block-in stage, I listen to hard rock. I have a tendency to lose myself while I’m painting, as my concentration is focused on the painting. The block-in stage can be intimidating, so the music helps to keep me focused. After the block-in stage is finished, the detail work is done with softer, more meditative music, more Andrea Bocelli and less Guns and Roses!
What do you find is consistently the thing that brings you most inspiration as an artist?
There is truly nothing more exciting then challenging yourself and broadening your creativity with some of the best artists in the film industry. Disney Feature Animation was at the height of popularity during the Mulan years, and all the artists were treated accordingly. It was during a visit from John Lassiter to the Disney Animation Studio that I realized the wave would not last forever. John brought with him the first finished sequence to Toy Story to screen for the studio. I was blown away by what I’d seen, and immediately bought a computer and started preparing for the inevitable shift from 2D to 3D animation. I found out I love working on a computer as much as I do in the traditional way, with paints in my hand.
If you weren’t an artist, what would you be doing for a living?
I have always loved architecture. If I wasn’t an artist, I most certainly would have been an architect.
What is one sentence that reflects your philosophy of life or the best advice for living?
Life is short! Focus it on doing what you love and what will make you happy!
We did an interview in person with Bill some years ago, where he talks in-depth about his career and his art styles. Check it out!
We are thrilled to announce the addition of original and limited edition art by the renowned concept and matte background artist William Silvers to our gallery!
All the art is from Bill’s personal collection, created in an official capacity as Disney and LucasFilm fine artist or was actually part of making a film.
We’re adding all the art as quickly as possible, but please contact us with requests or interest, as there are a number of originals we have not yet listed for sale, and some special images that will not be on our website.
As most of you know by now, we feature artists that actually work inside the industry, so it is a great pleasure to have his work at ArtInsights. He is also a very nice man. He is easy-going, has great integrity, and is committed to ever expanding his talent and skill. Here is Bill’s lengthy and impressive bio:
William Silvers is one of the preeminent concept artists working in the film industry today. Starting his career in New York as an illustrator for ad agencies, William continued to perfect his style and technique. His love of film and his passion for art led him on a path to filmmaking. He has worked with nearly every major studio, and is known for his use of diverse styles and techniques. Passionate and easy-going, William Silvers infuses his love of film and artistic expression in every piece.
In 1995, his film career began at Walt Disney Feature Animation where he adapted his fine art painting skills to the world of filmmaking. He created unforgettable backgrounds for Disney classics such as Mulan, Tarzan, Lilo & Stitch, and Brother Bear.
Eager for new experiences William enjoyed a stint as Associate Art Director for EA Sports-Tiburon. While there he contributed to the development of the award-winning game NCAA Football.
William achieved a personal triumph when his long awaited book Painting Realistic Wildlife in Acrylic was published. The book was a compilation of his beloved Wildlife paintings and it included instructional techniques to teach and inspire young artists.
His collaboration with Disney had bolstered a deep-seated desire to create meaningful work and that drive earned him a coveted stint at Industrial Light & Magic, a division of Lucasfilm Ltd.As a digital matte painter, William created some of the most stunning images for the feature films The Day after Tomorrow and Star Wars Episode III, The Revenge of the Sith.
With his reputation in the Industry growing, William accepted a position at DreamWorks Animation Studios. His work can be seen in How To Train Your Dragon 2, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, The Croods, Rise of the Guardians, Puss In Boots, Kung Fu Panda 2, Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special and Shrek Forever After.
The artist recently concluded his Sony Pictures Imageworks contract as a digital matte painter for the animated comedy adventure film Storks produced by Warner Animation Group.
William also creates new and exciting fine art pieces for Disney Galleries and Lucasfilm Ltd.His art can be found throughout the Disney Theme Parks, and his long relationship with the Walt Disney Company continues to be a consistent theme in his career.
“What began as a foray into film making blossomed into a comprehensive career, the foundation for which was Disney Animation.”
Collectors from around the world have also embraced his personal art, which allows him to expand his artistic vocabulary and express the wide spectrum of styles that continue to bring him joy.
We are also working on a contemporary art project with him, and we’ll bring you news of that as it takes shape.
WELCOME WILLIAM SILVERS, and may the force be with us!