Joe Grant was the Godfather of Character Development in animated features and a master of imagination. Walt was good at recognizing people’s strengths and utilized Joe for story and visual development on Snow White, and would later create and head the “Character Development Department” at Disney Studios. Grant was co-sequence director for all of the Witch sequences for the film.

These drawings carry so much mood and feeling. Grant’s bold use of black engulfing the queen and witch’s face really draws your eyes in. This seemingly simple and bold design choice parallels and emphasizes the facial transformation from queen to witch. The use of a purely black cloak contrasts to frame the face and hands nicely. The dark rings around her dead eyes act to frame as well. Her wretched and bony hands breaching out of her black cloak to present a ripe and shiny, red apple is a clear and brilliant design choice. Simple, elegant and a beautiful visual display of subtext. 

Obviously Grant’s designs above are striking, bold and carry a specific emotion. With Walt approving most of the work that Joe would present to him, and with this film being uncharted territory in animation, these designs made the animators upset because they were worried they couldn’t capture the same look that Grant portrayed with his use pastels. If Walt wanted Joe’s designs, the animators had to find a way to translate the feel that Joe captured and make it work in animation. The visual difference between development artwork and final look of a film is a completely normal process to us now,  but I can see how Joe’s artwork could have made the animators nervous at the time.

Of course no blog about animation design can go without a token post or two about Mary Blair. These costume variations are gorgeous and some of my favorites of her work. Mary’s addition of elegance to broad shapes and bold colors is what makes her work stand out from other artists in animation at the time. She would boil shapes down to a pure essence without screaming in your face “GRAPHIC!”. Her drawings have a playfulness and innocence that really taps into our inner child.

Just because it looks simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. Mary’s style has left a huge wake amongst animation professionals and students. I’ve see some young artists that will try jumping straight to a graphic style without developing a strong knowledge base of drawing from life or a strong sense of draftsmanship and it shows in their work. An informed visual knowledge of the subject matter will inform the graphic shapes chosen. Mary’s strong classical training at Chouinard and early years at Disney gave her the tools to dive into a more graphic style. No matter how much influence of hers there has been over the years, there will always be just one Mary Blair.

These studies and key drawings by Studio Ghibli supervising animator, Masashi Ando, are simply stunning. They are so incredibly observed that you’re not looking at a bunch of lines on paper, you’re looking at a soul jumping off the page. The subtleties Ando is able to achieve with his drawings are remarkable. From the overall gesture of the pose, to the folds of the clothes all the way down to the way the her hair falls on her face. All of these elements beautifully work together to create an amazing and expressive drawing.

The top page is my favorite. Every ounce of those drawings communicate a longing and loneliness. The one where she is laying on her stomach and we don’t even see her face is amazing. We don’t need to see it to know what she is thinking and feeling. It almost feels more like a classic painting than an animation frame. I always cringe hearing “The medium of CG animation can communicate emotions more subtly than in hand drawn”. If these drawings don’t clearly communicate the antithesis to that statement, then I don’t know what to think.

Daan Jippes’ Mickey Mouse drawings are the epitome of cartoon appeal. Daan is originally from Amsterdam and did many comic covers for Disney’s republishings of the Mickey, Donald, Uncle Scrooge, and Ducktales comic series through Gladstone in the 1980’s and 1990’s. This is just a small part of an amzing career in comics and animation. I was introduced to his work a few years back and ever since, I’ve used his series of Mickey drawings featured at the top as my “There’s so much yet to learn” reality check.

Daan’s use of energy and line flow in his drawings demonstrate an incredible knowledge of draftsmanship and appeal. How your eyes travel through his drawings feel like butter melting melting down a stack of pancakes. The energy that he puts into his drawings truly makes the characters jump off of the page. His rounded shapes all work together in a bold and refreshing way.

It may be treason to say, but I feel like Daan’s version of Mickey Mouse is a bit stronger than Floyd Gottfredson’s. While Floyd’s comics of Mickey are unbelievably appealing and demonstrate and amazing an incredible knowledge of draftsmanship, solidity, and appeal, I feel like Daan is taking what Floyd established and pushing the shapes and pliability in the characters just a tad farther. That being said, without Floyd’s Mickeys, there would be no Daan’s Mickeys. I hope these inspire you as much as they do me.

Ferdinand Horvath’s designs are hands down my favorite from some of Disney’s early works. Horvath started working at Disney in 1934 and was a jack of many trades there from doing character designs, developing story gags for the “Silly Symphonies”, and 3D model building.

His work is playful and full of imagination. His designs focus mainly on the use of whimsical shapes and unique takes on subject matters. His inventiveness was, in my opinion, only paralleled by fellow artists of the time, Albert Hurter.

Jack Miller was one of Joe Grant’s Character Model Department artists. His character explorations of Timothy Mouse are so charming and oozing with life. The great thing about the old Character Model Department at Disney is that with Joe Grant running it, the concentration was less on solving a final model, but approaching design from a place of story. They knew that down the line, Walt’s trusted animators would solve model issues and streamline designs for animation. It was in the model department under Joe’s supervision that they would work with story to help develop the character’s personalities.

You don’t see this process much any more. Finding the characters’ traits and personalities are now is mostly solved in the story room. This is not a bad thing, it’s just a lot more departmentalized now. I would love to see this structure brought back though, blurring the lines between design and story. It would breed a more collaborative atmosphere I feel. Obviously great ideas and characters came out that way before.

About

In celebration of design in animation and the hand drawn medium, this site is here to share a collection of animation related art, primarily character development, thoughts, and annecdotes that greatly inspire me in hopes to inspire others as well.

All Disney Images are © Disney and are used here for educational and inspirational purposes only.


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