Sunday, November 29, 2009

THE RESCUERS (Disney, 1977)

Today we're once again taking a look at art from THE RESCUERS. Scroll down to see two additional posts of digitally restored backgrounds.

THE RESCUERS level of artistry was very good indeed. While it certainly wasn't SNOW WHITE or FANTASIA, it was and is a beautifully crafted film.

Cost-cutting at the studio was always a concern, but especially after Walt's death. The eyes of THE RESCUERS mice had no whites, just a gray background. Legend has it Don Bluth was so incensed at this it was a key reason for his departure from Disney, which eventually led him to open his own animation studio.

The movie's poignancy was no doubt a reflection of many of the artists' feelings at the studio, as the older animators prepared to retire and passed the baton on to the younger animators.

It's a lovely, unpretentious and unashamedly sentimental film... perhaps that's why it is so endearing.

THE RESCUERS - After Dusk on the Bayou

THE RESCUERS - Penny's Orphanage


Here are two additional POCAHONTAS backgrounds. Each is extraordinary in its own way.

The first is the deepest level background from a multi-layer pan "in." I tried to recreate the entire pan but too many layers moved. At least I was able to eliminate all digital "cel" overlays. It's a gorgeous sunset.

The second is beautifully delicate...

I find both of these to seem vaguely reminiscent of artwork from "FANTASIA." What do you think?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I wanted to do something Thanksgiving related today. I can't recall any Thanksgiving cartoons, so I was thinking native Americans... thought momentarily about Little Hiawatha and decided on continuing the POCAHONTAS series.

Enjoy the artwork, and your turkey dinner... Happy Thanksgiving!
Here's a magnificent rendering of a cornfield:

Mother Earth:

A recreated pan complete with Meeko the raccoon!

And a closer look at the left side of the pan...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Nutcracker Prince (1990)

Today it's our pleasure to enjoy some more wonderful artwork painted by artist Peter Moehrle. He sent them to me to share with you. How cool is it that the artist shared his own production art with us??!!!

These come from an animated film on which Peter worked: "The Nutcracker Prince" (1990).

It was made in Ottawa and Peter did visual development, layouts and backgrounds. Mediums used were watercolor inks on paper, and gouache.

He very modestly wrote: "if you feel they are good enough to post on your site you can."

This is truly beautiful work, Peter! Readers, notice the luxurious texture of his art... the wonderful color palettes (icy blues!) and the overall excellence of his concepts and execution. All the elements combined are expressive and full of feeling.

If seeing these beautiful B/Gs makes you curious about the DVD, (I know it did me!), it's available at Amazon for a whopping $5.98! Copy and paste this link:

Seeing these little masterpieces gives us another blessing to count. Thanks again for sharing, Peter. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Patterns of Motion

I've always been fascinated by Disney's Woodland Cafe (1937) and this scene in particular. Like Mother Goose Goes Hollywood a year later, this cartoon looks both forward and backward in its animation style. There are some scenes that could have been done as early as 1933 or '34 and others, like the above, that point towards the 1940s. The cartoon concludes with an upbeat jazz number, "Everybody's Truckin,'" played by a band of grasshoppers who are drawn to resemble the black jazz bands of the time. The shot above is from the song.

This shot has always been the highlight of the film for me. While the surrounding animation is full of energy, this shot just explodes off the screen. This shot is animated by Ward Kimball and I thank David Nethery (see comment below) for confirming that.

I wanted to know why this shot stands out for me, so I took a closer look. You can click the images below to enlarge them.

The shot is 56 frames long, entirely on ones. That's three and a half feet of 35mm film, or two and a third seconds. Given how short the shot is, the animator could have gotten away with a cycle, but there are no repeat drawings in this shot.

After the first slap, which we pick up in progress, everything is animated on a 7 beat, meaning that every 7 frames, the bass gets slapped. The spacing between the sixth and seventh drawings in the pattern (for instance frames 5 and 6 or 12 and 13) is wide, resulting in an accent where the bass gets slapped hard. The right hand and arm are foreshortened and exaggerated in their slapping motion.

There are major and minor slaps alternating, mirroring the ONE two THREE four of the musical rhythm. The right arm, the tapping right foot and the bouncing body are all in synch, which is no surprise. What is a surprise is that the character's head and the bass, while still on a 7 beat, are actually delayed 2 frames. So the hand slaps the base on frame 20 but the head and the bass don't hit their extreme drawings until frame 22.

This is something that probably shouldn't work. It's out of synch! And yet, besides the fact that it does work, it actually adds energy and interest to the shot by breaking up the rhythm so that not everything is hitting the beat at the same time. How did the animator figure this out? Had the character been broken into levels (or if it was done today with cgi), it would be easy to experiment by shifting some elements forward or backward in time, but the character is done as a single drawing, so this delay had to be thought out in advance. This knowledge may have been commonplace at Disney at the time, as they had animated so much to music, but it's hardly common knowledge today.

There's still more movement, as the character tilts towards screen right until frame 27 and then starts tilting back towards screen left. It's this tilt that prevents the possibility of using any cycles in this shot, as the character is never in the same position twice. Nothing on the character ever stops moving and the background adds more optical excitement by changing colours.

In many ways, this shot is optical overload, but it is justified by the tempo of the music and the shot's placement at the climax of the cartoon. It points to possibilities that were later explored by animators like Rod Scribner.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Peter Moehrle Blogs!!!

Artist Peter Moehrle has started his own blog:

His wonderful animation B/G art is just one small part of this gentleman's talent. Check it out at:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: Gaston at the Pub

Tonight, two digitally recreated B/Gs from BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. There's a lot of taxidermy going on...

This second pan is another case of not being able to remove character art, but at least I could piece together the entire pan, which is still pretty fascinating to see...

Notice, the character entering on the right is also under Gaston's chair! (The pan starts to move in the very first frame, as he walks into the scene, thus no way to eliminate him...)

Shadow Begone!

Recently I posted a batch of B/G art from the 1946 Disney short CLOWN OF THE JUNGLE. There was a particular background in which I was able to remove the characters, but one shadow never went away.

Well, guess what?

I was delighted to receive by email that same background, with hand-painted retouching (I assume via Photoshop), shared by artist Peter Moehrle! He is a truly master at animation background art, with a dazzling style and a resume to match. Among his credits, he trained all the background artists on Disney Studio's LILO AND STITCH in the fine art of watercolor backgrounds. He also worked on MULAN. He is the real deal, a genuine animation background artist, with Disney studio credits (and others).

Here is a small version of what I was able to achieve, my "semi-original," coupled with Peter's beautifully retouched version.

Thank you Peter!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cordell Barker's Runaway

The saying goes that comedy is a man in trouble. There is no shortage of trouble in Cordell Barker's films. In The Cat Came Back and Strange Invaders, a character arrives who is first welcome and then is revealed to be a source of chaos, destroying the lives of those around it. Both films end with the trouble-making character multiplying. In the first film, the main character accidentally kills himself while trying to get rid of the cat, and is then haunted by 9 feline ghosts. In Strange Invaders, the alien child calls down more of his brethren after destroying the home and marriage of the main characters. While it turns out to be a dream, the woman is pregnant with multiple children who resemble the alien child.

These films are structurally very similar and both keep the chaos localized. The main characters are unfortunate victims, but their problems are not typical. While we can identify with their frustrations, the films say little about our own lives.

With Runaway, Barker has expanded his view to encompass the whole of human civilization. The runaway train is carrying all of us and we're doomed. This is the blackest of comedies and far more biting than his previous films. While the forces of nature initiate the chaos, it becomes fatal due to the human follies of vanity, sex, greed and technology.

The train consists of four cars. The engine is manned by the Captain, a pompous, vain individual who is more interested in women than in his responsibilities. He is a stand-in for those who lead us. His fireman is the bureaucracy that allows leaders to function. The next car is the capitalist class, all wearing stovepipe hats, sipping drinks and playing billiards. This car contains a woman and her small dog. The next car consists of the lumpen proletariat, guzzling beer, dancing and wearing paper party hats. The caboose contains more bureaucrats, all asleep.

The dog runs into the engine. The woman follows it to reclaim it and the Captain leaves his post in order to flirt with her. The dog bites him and the woman, though meaning well, drags him off to take care of the bite. The driverless train then hits a cow walking on the tracks, hurling the fireman into the absurdly complex machinery, itself a comment on the technology our survival depends on. As he rights himself, he accidentally pulls a lever which causes the train to increase it's speed. The train is now out of control.

The first casualties are those in the caboose. As the train makes a turn, the caboose is flung into space with the inhabitants oblivious to what has happened. As the train attempts to climb a hill, the fireman runs out of coal and tells the passengers that they aren't going to make it.

Here's where the film gets interesting. The capitalists offer money to the proletariat in exchange for things to fuel the engine. Though the proles were completely happy before this, money warps their values and they are quick to give up everything they've got, even selling the clothes off their backs. The capitalists, having nothing left to buy from them, cut the proles' car loose from the rest of the train and steal back the money before the proles hurtle to their doom. Capitalist exploitation doesn't get much more explicit than this.

The engine still needs more fuel and the fireman informs the capitalists that he doesn't think they're going to make it. Only when their own survival is at stake do they finally panic (and never consider using their own possessions for fuel!). At this point, the train is precariously balanced at the top of a steep hill, threatening to fall backwards. The Captain and the woman emerge from a bathroom where she has tended to his wounds, and as the Captain walks back towards the engine, the balance is tipped and the train once more goes forward.

But when the captain returns to the engine, he turns his attention to the woman once more, ignoring his responsibilities. The train hurtles into the air and crash lands, killing all the people. The only survivors in the film are the cow and the small dog. Nature, it seems, will survive human folly. That is the only hope that the film allows.

Having concluded that human endeavors are doomed to self-destruct, is there anything left for Barker to say? Will he be limited to variations on this theme? At the rate he makes films, it will be another decade before we find out. In the meantime, though, we have a film whose laughs are marinated in pessimism. Runaway would fit nicely on a double bill with Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove.

Friday, November 13, 2009


I had the tremendous pleasure Thursday night of seeing a preview of Disney's new cartoon feature (and I use those words lovingly and respectfully).


It is everything Disney animation afficionados hoped for! The visuals are gorgeous and spectacular, the music is tremendous, and the storytelling is compelling - beautifully interplaying comedic, scary and heart-tugging elements with deft skill.

All the animation is brilliant, but in particular Eric Goldberg has outdone himself with his animation for "Louis," the trumpet-playing alligator!

I also loved "Ray," the cajun firefly.

Those of us who love traditional animation MUST support this effort with great enthusiasm. Plan a party, ask your friends to join you, and buy LOTS of tickets.

I am hoping this will get the box office sales it deserves - and become a blockbuster. It's definitely got the Disney magic... and might just become an instant classic!

CLOWN OF THE JUNGLE (Disney, 1946)

Walt Disney presents...

a cartoon starring Donald Duck!


Credits, including layout by Yale Gracey and B/G art by Thelma Witner:

You can watch it on YouTube:

I couldn't figure out how to do the first, opening pan B/G because of the moving multiplane layers in the foreground.

But I managed to re-create the second pan B/G, and the nearly-infinite length of this pan B/G easily qualifies it as a contender for the longest piece I've ever digitally re-created...

Here's a closer look at the left side of the pan...

And the right side (birds are obviously cel overlays):

and more B/G art from this film:

I love the subtle and somewhat abstract design of this mid-tree leafy view:

Notice the brilliant angled horizon here:

I was able to digitally remove Donald and the Aracuan bird, but that shadow refused to budge!

This pan is a right-to-left shot, and as you can see the crazy Aracuan bird appears in very first frame (on the right)...

Here's a close-up view from another shot/segment:

and that's THE END!