Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Brer Rabbit Car Commercial

I thought I'd share with you all this 1955 American Motors commercial that I found on YouTube a while back as it's really quite amusing. Many of you may know that Disney dabbled in TV commercials when the studio's budget was tight back in the 40's and 50's. At the time, Disney was recovering from the financial setbacks of World War II while also trying to launch Disneyland's opening and its new television series Disneyland. To help offset the costs, Disney began producing TV commercials like the one feature above.

A great article from Animation World Magazine written by Jim Korkis documents Walt Disney's production of these commercials and includes interviews with Disney veterans about this era. According to Korkis, Disney produced two kinds of commercials: those "featuring the classic Disney characters primarily for sponsors of the Disneyland television program like American Motors and Derby Foods" and others "for a variety of other accounts, often creating memorable new advertising character icons from Tommy Mohawk for Mohawk Carpets to Fresh up Freddie for the 7-Up soft drink."

Korkis' interview with Harry Tytle reveals the frustrating nature of these commercial contracts, citing Disney's sentiment that there was "no residual value" and that they were entirely at the "whim of the client." But these commercials brought in big bucks for the company at a time when capital was needed to help launch Disney's success.

It's interesting how different these commercial characters were as opposed to their feature-film counterparts. I've posted a black and white picture of Brer Rabbit above from the film for comparison. In the film, Brer Rabbit has much rounder, soft features and is less stylized in the modern mid-century fashion than the commercial character is. The commercial animation and designs were likely a product of Tom Oreb's. They do resemble the work Oreb did for similar cartoons like the Mickey Mouse American Motors commercial and the Peter Pan peanut butter commercials. (A character model sheet for the Peter Pan commercial is pictured below copyright of the Walt Disney company and courtesy of the Animation World Magazine.)

The American Motors "Nash Rambler" commercial really struck me as unusual, particularly because Disney never released the movie Song of the South to home video or DVD as a result of the racial controversy surrounding the film. Offhand, it seemed like an unusual choice to use the Brer characters, particularly since the film had been released in theaters some nine years earlier. Additionally, other major feature films such as Peter Pan, Cinderella, and Alice in Wonderland were hitting theaters during these years.

As it turns out, the choice to use Song of the South characters was maybe not so random as it first appeared. Evidently, as a promotional tool, the Disney company had launched a Song of the South based cartoon strip entitled Uncle Remus & His Tales of Brer Rabbit in 1945 before the movie was released. This cartoon strip was popular enough to continue running for 30 years after its original launch, making the characters well-known. An example of the cartoon strip is posted below courtesy of Lambiek.net whose webpage goes further into depth on Paul Murry, the illustrator of the Uncle Remus Sunday comic strip, and other comic strips he illustrated.

Monday, August 27, 2007

A Note of Thanks to 2719 Hyperion!

I just wanted to send a warm thank you to Jeff Pepper over at 2719 Hyperion for featuring my blog on his Sunday post! I'm extremely honored and humbled by his kind words. My little blog here is just getting underway and it's so encouraging to know others are taking notice and enjoying my material! For those of you who haven't made your way to 2719 Hyperion yet, this is the place for Disneyphiles to be. Jeff continues to delight with lots of inside material on both current Disney news and peeks into Disney history. His blog is a great forum for animation and cartoon enthusiasts alike. One of my favorite posts from August is entitled "Another Drive Down the Road Ahead" which features the little-known Disney short "Magic Highway USA" - another great mid-century, sci-fi type cartoon. I definitely encourage readers enjoying my blog to make 2719 Hyperion a regular stop as it's always one of mine. Thanks again to Jeff and everyone who has stopped by and commented here at Miscellainey as a result of Jeff's post!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Neverland Nostalgia

Happy Sunday everyone! I thought I'd post some end of the week eye candy: images from my 1952 Peter Pan Big Golden Book. As you can see from the title page, the credits simply say "Illustrations by the Walt Disney Studio" with pictures adapted by John Hench and Al Dempster.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Disneyland's Saddest Hour

Friends, easily coming in as the saddest news I've received in the last week is Disneyland's little publicized closing of The Disney Gallery located above the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction in New Orleans Square on August 7. I know it may seem trivial, but this closing has come as one more in a series of knives in the gut from Disney which on some level is about as heartbreaking as the loss of a close loved one. My emotions are a slurry of disbelief, sadness, and anger.

As it has been pointed out by fellow disneyphiles and bloggers, The Disney Gallery was perhaps one of the only corners of the park which provided valuable respite in the often overcrowded magic kingdom. But aside from the calm solitude of the Disney Gallery, was something truly irreplaceable. The Disney Gallery was one of the few remaining locations where classic and unadulterated Disney magic was present. And to the few park visitors who opted to skip out on another ride on Splash Mountain or a trip to the Emporium to grab one more overpriced stuffed Pooh bears and visit the Gallery instead awaited a real treasure trove - a place for "insiders."

Many of you know may know that the Gallery location was originally intended to home a private apartment for Walt. The above painting by Dorthea Raymond illustrates the original concept of that apartment, which unfortunately for Walt but fortunately for park visitors was slashed after Walt died and before the space was completed. Since that time, the space has housed a magical world where original art and one of a kind collectibles and souvenirs (I hesitate to use that word as the mere thought of it conjures up all kinds of bad Disney marketing images like mountains of Buzz Lightyear light-up spinner wands) could be found.

Merely being present in the location brought a sort of camaraderie among the Gallery visitors far above the bustle below. I'd like to recount such a special visit that I had there at least three or four years ago while I was still an aspiring animator/illustrator. I spent one afternoon voraciously studying art pieces on display for Disneyland’s 50th Anniversary celebration at The Disney Gallery in Disneyland (this has always been infinitely more exciting to me than Space Mountain). I think I had my eyeball nearly as close to the glass of one such drawing as humanly possible in order to see every pencil stroke – each one so fluid, yet with perfect precision – and was marveling over the idea that Ward Kimball or Marc Davis’ hands had actually floated over these pages to create the flawless lines when I was approached by a gentleman of about 40. His name, as I recall, was Joe Hadar, a Disney animator who was being let go by the company, as many animators were at that time, and who had decided to spend one of his last days before leaving his job at Disneyland, and here in The Gallery no less.

Evidently the curious sight of this young girl taking so much time to take in every drawing caused him to inquire about my penchant for studying such small details that most visitors, especially at my age, would have walked by without a thought. When he found out I was an aspiring animator he became very enthusiastic, leading to a nearly hour-long conversation. That encounter was truly inspiring. Here was a world fast being overtaken by the art of computer animation, an art which had more or less put him out of a job temporarily, but he was passionate as ever to have found a young person that cared about the labor and care of the original hand-drawn art created by the masters before us. He insisted that I needed the book Nine Old Men, which I've mentioned in an earlier post, and even offered to buy it for me. He told me that in that business one needs as many friends and contacts and possible, and offered up his phone and e-mail should my endeavors require it. My heart breaks for young people like me who will never get to experience that specialness the Disney Gallery held.

For those people who have never been, this probably seems silly or overemotional. But I can't help but feel like something sacred and sanctified has really been taken out of the park. Metaphorically, it was the heart of what Disney was all about. Located in practically the bustling epicenter of Disneyland, The Gallery was a sanctuary of original concept drawings and paintings, ideas, stories, sculptures and illustrations that can't be replaced. I think David Koenig does a lovely job expressing this sentiment in his article on MousePlanet.com.

Out of desperation to see the Disney company get its act together and give what few remaining fans are left a little something for their willingness to continue supporting Walt's dream despite the blasphemy that has unfolded from the company in the last 10 years, some bloggers are are rallying on the web on sites such as Re-imagineering, one of my personal favorites (a great posting of nothing but some famous words by Walt up right now, do check it out...), to try and organize the effort to get the company back on track. I wish it were that easy. This new closing has really drained what little hope I had that maybe Disney was on the right track following Iger's inception.

Anyways, I apologize for the negativity that this lengthy blog post has espoused and will welcome any words of positivity and encouragement as always from readers in the comments section. Posted above is the last item I bought at The Gallery. It's a fantastic layout diagram of the teacups for Disneyland's Mad Tea Party. I encourage you to click to enlarge the image to see all the notes and scribbles. I just love it. Again, this is one of those items that you just couldn't find anywhere else. Shame on Disney for closing one more amazing park experience that didn't "bring in big bucks" or attempt to shuffle guests into one more souvenir stand afterwards. This really is one of Disneyland's saddest hours.

Friday, August 17, 2007

"The Girls" Have Got It

Many of you in the animation and illustration fields surely already know about her. For any of you who don't, I want to introduce you to Amanda Visell. Her work is utterly precious and often, at the same time, a bit curious (she has a penchant for robots who eat odd things like toast and little children.) However, all of Visell's paintings capture a thorough understanding of color and the play of dark against light, much in the same way Mary Blair's concept paintings do - a likeness you will no doubt see immediately.

Visell's paintings make it so easy to fall into the story being illustrated, or, without a story, to create your own imaginary circumstance for her silly paintings - like how on earth an elephant, giraffe, octopus, and aligator ended up in the bayou playing banjos and washbords together. Not surprisingly, the people at Disney plucked her up to contribute to their "Inspired by Disneyland" exhibit not long ago and much of her art has been featured there. Her work was also featured as part of the Pirates of the Caribbean 40th Anniversary collection at Disneyland as well. I've posted two of these paintings courtesy of MiceChat.com but I encourage you to look at the whole collection on their website.

Amanda Visell has teamed up with friend Michelle Valigura to create a fantastic website (they call themselves "The Girls") as well as a blog recently added to my noteworthy links (a more comprehensive collection of Visell's work can be seen there.) The other two paintings in this post are copyrighted by Amanda Visell and are courtesy of her blog which I strongly recommend you check out. Lastly, Visell has recently published a book entitled Popping Through Pictures which I'm eager to get my hands on.

All in all I'm a huge fan. Amanda has cited inspirations from Mary Blair (is it any surprise I'd like her work?) and the 60s style of illustration and cartooning. Her works are whimsical and utterly enchanting.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Streets of Bakersfield - Take 3

It's all who you know. Or who you know who knows someone. And while I like to think that my connections liken to the whole six degrees of Kevin Bacon phenomenon, I really don't know anyone who knows anyone who knows Kevin Bacon. BUT I do know people who know other people who I think are just as interesting as Kevin Bacon. Where am I going with this, you ask? To wrap up my three-part series on Bakersfield, I would like to briefly feature two more people who stepped into Disney's world, and consequently two people who know people I know. Let's begin.

It happened two months ago while I was at home playing my Disney Treasures Disneyland USA DVD for my family. We were watching Disneyland's Opening Day dedication ceremony, when a gentleman stepped forward to recite the opening day prayer. "WAIT!," my mom announced, "rewind that!" It would have been an easy part to look over, as it directly followed Walt's well-known "To all who come to this happy place, welcome" speech and because the fuzzy grain of the black and white broadcast made it difficult to see the faces clearly.

The gentleman giving the dedication prayer, it happens, was Reverend Glenn D. Puder who served Bakersfield's First Presbyterian Church (see photo below) as senior pastor for nearly four decades or so. As it turned out, Reverend Puder was connected to the Disney family by way of his marriage to Walt's niece Dorothy (Daughter of Herbert Disney). An article on Disney's faith and Glenn Puder's role is available here. I think it's fascinating that he played a part in Disneyland's opening day and is well-known in the Bakersfield Community. The photos above are stills from the DVD. The first shows Reverend Peuder standing to Walt's immediate right and the second, of course, is of Reverend Puder giving the speech. You can also view the opening day dedication in its entirety, which includes Reverend Peuder's prayer, on YouTube here.

My second connection features a man who, while never knowing Walt personally, has made a big name for himself in the Disney industry. Mr. Richard "Dick" Cook, who has served as Chairman of the Walt Disney Studios since 2002, was born and raised in Bakersfield. The connection comes from my aunt, Shannon Clarke, who had a childhood friendship and took dance lessons for years with Dick's sister.

Dick's story is indeed remarkable. Begining his career with Disney in 1970 as a humble Monorail ride operator, Dick climbed from the bottom up to become the manager of Disney Studio's pay television and non-theatrical release department in Burbank by 1977. Over ten years later, Dick was promoted to President of the Buena Vista Pictures Distribution where he oversaw, as the Disney website puts it, "Disney's animation renaissance" when such films as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King were released. Mr. Cook has sometimes been referred to as the "nicest guy in the Disney jungle" thanks to his "down to earth" personality. As one of the few non-controversial figures in the Eisner downfall, Cook has garnered support from most everyone he works with.

But Dick hasn't forgotten his Bakersfield roots. During the opening of Hollywood's restored El Capitan Theater and neighboring Disney's Soda Fountain and Studio Store, Cook had a helping hand in the entire project down to the details, including what type of ice cream should be served at the Soda Fountain. According to an article on LaCanadaValleySun.com, the inspiration for an old-fasioned soda fountain came from Richard Cook. In order to find the perfect ice cream, "he and a team traveled all over California sampling ice cream until they reached Dewar's Family Ice Cream Parlor in Bakersfield. With all homemade ice creams and toppings, this was voted the best." And so, Dewars' ice cream is trucked down to Hollywood every week in order to make all varieties of old fashioned sundaes including, according to the menu, "DC's favorite", the Black and White.

So maybe it all does come back around to Dewars' ice cream (see paragraph two of The Streets of Bakersfield - Take 1). At the very least, as we wrap up this series on my little hometown of Bakersfield, California, we can say Walt was onto something when he pitched that well-known proverb for his famous ride, "It's a small world afterall!"

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Streets of Bakersfield - Take 2

Of all the great contributions to the world of art and animation, we can say Bakersfield has produced at least one outstanding legend. While bumbling around on the Internet a week back I stumbled on a little blip - "Marc Davis, born in Bakersfield, California, was the son of Harry and Mildred Davis." Aye Ca rumba! Could it be? More poking around uncovered this amazing truth. Yes, Marc Davis was in fact born in Bakersfield, California where he lived a brief, nay, fleeting, portion of his life. It wasn't much. But it was something.

More digging on the Internet produced nothing of value. I had but three facts: Marc was born in Bakersfield, his parent's names were Harry and Mildred, and his birthday, March 30, 1913, indicated at least one year in which the Davis Family lived in Bakersfield. Ultimately I wanted to find out how long the Davis' lived there, their reason for moving to Bakersfield, and where exactly they lived so maybe a photo could be generated for this post.

Referring to my book, Nine Old Men (which by the way is a must have for anyone interested in animation and Disney's legendary animators), shed some light on the first two questions. Author John Canemaker says this about Marc's father, Harry:

"(He) had... permanently itchy feet; the hope of making a fortune in oil fueled (so to speak) his wanderlust. It led him (and subsequently Marc and his mother) to constant travel throughout the United States to mining towns and oil fields. Wherever Harry went he supported himself as a jeweler, watchmaker, and, occasionally, a mind-reading magician."

According to Canemaker, Marc was "born in Bakersfield, California (another oil boomtown) and named after Marcus Lichtenstein, the owner of a jewelry shop where Harry was working," It seems, however, that by 1915 the Davis family had moved on to San Francisco or somewhere near the Bay Area to do some sort of act in the World's Fair. Not surprisingly, Marc referred to his father later as a "rainbow chaser" whose constant flitting from one town to the next left Marc with a very unsettled childhood.

Finding answers to the third part of my search has proved to be far more difficult. Inquiries at numerous sources, including the Kern County Records Department and online U.S. Census Statistics, finally led me to contact the Kern County Library. The Local History section of the library has something like city directories, or phonebooks, dating back to 1900. With a little help (Thanks Pop!), I discovered that the only listing for a Harry Davis in Bakersfield was from the year 1913, and gives only the title "watchmaker" for Wikersham Jewelers as an occupational reference and cites a location (residency?) on D Street.

The best I can contribute are some photos (above) of Bakersfield's Standard Oil and Union Oil facilities dating back to 1910. These panoramic shots are courtesy of the HelloBakersfield.com website's history section. In 1910 Bakersfield's population was "booming" at 13,000 people and many of these people were miners or in the oil business coming in on the Santa Fe Railroad. It's hard to believe that the Davis family was in Bakersfield so long ago, 20 years before the "dust bowl" even brought thousands of settlers from Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Marc, of course, is a Disney Legend. Being primarily self-taught, Marc spent hours a day at the local zoos sketching animals and observing people. He took some drawing classes at Otis Art Institute, and after high school worked in a sign-painting shop while going to school at the California School of Fine Arts. Davis also grew up with knowledge of the theater. His father occasionally performed magic shows and Marc himself loved to entertain. This proved to be invaluable in later years when Walt Disney snatched up Marc from the Animation Department to provide leadership on WED Imagineering projects when Disneyland went into production. Marc was the only one of the Nine Old Men whose talents, Walt decided, deserved to be moved to 3-D media.

Marc is primarily known for his work on many of Disney's leading ladies such as Sleeping Beauty, Tinkerbell, Cruella DeVil, and Maleficent. His drawings express a thorough understanding of human anatomy and, more importantly, the individual nuances and personalities of unique characters. There is no question that Marc's talent for storytelling and attention to detail were crucial to the development Disney's best films and later to Disneyland and EPCOT. Who would have thought that such a great artist had humble roots in Colonel Baker's little field?

Aside: For those of you who haven't seen it, there is a fantastic three-part Walt Disney Family series on Marc Davis available for viewing on YouTube. The links are available by clicking appropriately on Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Streets of Bakersfield - Take 1

Now while this post doesn't directly deal with animation, illustration, or art per se, it does discuss two other things near and dear to my heart: the cinema and Bakersfield. Ah, Bakersfield - that beacon of artistic and cultural life. For those of you unfamiliar with this veritable gem of a city nestled in the southern basin of California's San Joaquin Valley, Bakersfield is more commonly known as an en-route pit-stop to vacationers driving to Las Vegas, made famous by the likes of movies such as Arnold Schwarzenegger's The Running Man and the Kurt Russell and Robin Williams' film The Best of Times. Yes friends, this is the place I call my hometown.

But for all the snickers that the mention of Bakersfield elicits, believe it or not, this city does produce a few diamonds in the rough (anyone who's had Dewars' Peppermint Ice Milk can attest to this.) But I digress. This post represents the first of a short three-part series on Bakersfield's contributions to the world of illustration, art, and all my usual areas of interest.

I begin (I know you're thinking this should be almost over by now) by introducing to you one of the most impressive landmarks the city has to offer - Bakersfield's Majestic Fox Theater.

And it truly is majestic. The Fox, as we shall heretofore call it, was one of many Fox Theater chains to open between the 1920's and 1930's so-named for its creator bearing the same surname. The Bakersfield Fox opened in 1930 and was in operation until 1977 before it lost popularity and was forced to close its doors. It was not until over 25 years later that the city decided this landmark had to be preserved and formed the Save the Fox campaign, earning enough money to restore the theater to its original splendor.

Looking at the architecture pictured above, it's easy to see why The Fox continues to be such an icon. According to the Bakersfield Historic Preservation Commission's website (photo courtesy of their website as well), the California "Mission style" theater fused with the popular Art Deco style of the period was considered a "crowned jewel" of the entertainment world. Afterall, moving pictures were still quite new, and this elaborate theater provided one of the few sources of entertainment and community meeting places for residents of Bakersfield at that time.

The website notes that when the theater opened on Christmas Day, 1930, the first movie was opened with a Mickey Mouse Cartoon - only two years after Mickey's "birth". The cartoon was wildly popular. And with the first admission prices to The Fox being only 15 cents for children, it's easy to see why, especially during the depression, the iconic mouse became so famous. I'm willing to bet that The Fox in Bakersfield was also the home of one of some 800 Mickey Mouse Clubs that sprouted up across the country in the 1930's as well. I doubt that the staff at The Fox could shed much light on this inquiry, as I called earlier to see if the particular Mickey Mouse cartoon short that was played on opening night could be named without receiving much help. The best I can do is guess the cartoon was one of four Mickey Mouse cartoons from 1930 such as "The Gorilla Mystery" pictured above.

Sunday Evening Ebay-ing

A whole host of Little Golden Records have been listed on Ebay this week. The seller has evidently come into a handsome collection of vintage Disney Golden books and records that are in good condition, so I encourage you to take a look (pictures are borrowed from the seller's listings). The first is a Cinderella Little Golden Record from 1950 and the second is a Peter Pan Little Golden Record from 1952. Other records include Snow White, Pinocchio, Darby O'Gill and the Little People, and Babes in Toyland. These records are 1st Editions that I believe are actually made of yellow vinyl (hence the name Golden Records). Of course I don't know many people who still have record players or the special little record players used to play these miniature disks, but the cover illustrations are what really caught my eye.

As I've noticed, many illustrators have an enthusiasm for the books and records that Golden put out during the 1940's - 1960's. Many of the illustrations are reminiscent of the original concept and storyboard paintings. The quality is really unparalleled and it can be hard to find many of these illustrations anywhere else. Thankfully, some of these beautiful illustrations are available in Golden Books for a nominal cost on Ebay. Of course, I have a handful of these books from my childhood still, but none dating back to the 1950's.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Long and Short of it

I wanted to turn you all onto a website that I think is just invaluable. The Encyclopedia of Disney Shorts website is a great reference tool and has a wealth of information you can't find anywhere else. It has a comprehensive list of all of Disney's short films - even unproduced shorts, many of which I've never even heard of. Cartoons can be browsed alphabetically by title, or a full search can be produced.

Especially helpful is the list of contributing animators on shorts as well as dates and circumstances of the showings of each cartoon. Readers are encouraged to submit comments, which is also helpful. I don't know where they get their information but it really is a great source of reference.

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Bible of Animation

Those who know me know I love a good treasure hunt. It's true. There's something spectacularly exciting about going on a search for that item that can only be found by going to special nooks and crannies of the earth. Now, while acquiring this book wasn't exactly the most painstaking expedition I've ever been on, it was no less exciting for me. Every animator has in his or her possession Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston's The Illusion of Life - aka the Bible of animation. Of course, as is my fate with all good things, I only discovered the existence of this book after it had gone out of print (Gimme a break folks, the first publication was 26 years ago - 3 years before I was even born).

The thing isn't that this book is extraordinarily hard to find. At least two or three pop up on Amazon or Ebay at any given time. But the general point is that I had been longing for this book for some 5 or 6 years so finally acquiring one was a real thrill for me. So one pleasant evening after work two weeks ago I had my first encounter with Second Story Books - a wonderful used bookstore in Dupont Circle with just about any book you can imagine. To my utter delight they had a whole section devoted not just to art, but to animation and cartoons in general. So, for just 30 bucks I got my very own copy of the Illusion of Life and left for home glowing with joy.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

All in a Dale's Work

Few 3D artists capture my heart the way 2D designers and illustrators do. Dale Chihuly is that one rare exception. Since I first laid eyes on one of his purple glass bowls with red lips in my freshman year art history book I've been hooked. The sculpture was stunning - even in a mere 2 inch by 2 inch photograph. His pieces are pure eye candy, in every sense of the term. Chihuly has been responsible for revolutionizing the studio glass movement, bringing pieces with dramatic lines and brilliant colors into unusual spaces such as chandeliers in hotel lobbies and casinos to botanical gardens and lakes.

According to a description on Chihuly's website, most of his installations over the last 25 years have been defined by "intense, vibrant color and subtle linear decoration." His pieces have such energy to them and the colors are so spectacular, seeing them in person almost gives you the sense that you've walked into Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory where rainbow colored lollipops jump out against the natural elements. Take, for example the piece below, taken from the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh where Chihuly currently has a display until November.

Given the fantasy and almost cartoon-like quality of some of his work, it hardly seems surprising that Chihuly was commissioned to create an installation, the chandelier pictured at the top of this entry, by Disney for its cruise ship, the Wonder. I had an exciting opportunity to view Chihuly's work in person this summer during my cruise, both on the ship and also at the Atlantis Resort and Hotel in Nassau, Bahamas. Interestingly, my favorite of the pieces (and there were four of them) featured at the Atlantis Resort was not one of the brightly colored chandeliers in the casino, but a beautiful 20 foot sculpture exploding out of the ground in one of the main entrances composed of hundreds of pearl and cream glass rods shooting from the floor.

But like many great 3D sculptors, Chihuly is skilled in drawing and printmaking as well. Because the fantastical shapes of sculptors' pieces first come to life on paper it's not surprising that Chihuly has intaglio, sketches, and woodblock prints that are exceptionally captivating as well. His woodblock prints have really caught my eye. Take, for example, the print below entitled Songlines, courtesy of Portland Press. The main purpose of this discussion is to highlight the oh-so-important place that concept drawings have in bringing all areas of art to life. Almost always, there are skilled sketch artists and illustrators behind pieces of great design.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Horticulturus Illustrationus

Contrary to popular belief, this blog isn't about all Disney all the time. In today's blog we'll venture into the magical world of printed illustrations found in one of my most prized books: Basilius Besler's The Book of Plants published by Taschen. And to be honest, I love just about any of the books that Taschen puts out. But I've always had an interest in botanical prints.

A Much Loved Book - usually it adorns my coffee table.

What is it about these tediously painted accounts of nature's most lovely products that is so fascinating? Evidently these prints have been around for hundreds of years - since around 500 AD, as a matter of fact, when the first botanical manuscripts were produced in Greece. I suppose what I find so appealing about them are the brilliant colors and flatness of the designs. They're very cartoon-like in that respect - simple, orderly, and utterly lovely.

I have decided to add some of my own humble original artwork here (please ask before using my original images) - a painting of some champignons, mushrooms, that is. The poor thing has been residing in my apartment for well past a year begging to be framed, and I must do it. But maybe it will provide a little enjoyment today.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Through the Looking Glass - Reflections on "Alice"

© Disney. All rights reserved

The Walt Disney Family Museum website has a beautiful four part series on Alice in Wonderland currently up which I recommend looking through, if for no other reason than the thoughtful reflections of animators Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, and Joe Grant found in the Multimedia Panel Discussion section. Other highlights include some black and white photos from the acting and modeling sessions with Kathryn Beaumont and Ed Wynn.

The tone of the series is a bit sad if anything. Interviewees who knew Walt at the time the film was being produced claim that the film was really a bit of a disappointment to Walt, especially at the box office where it has even been called a failure. An interview with Walt from the series quotes him as saying, "You know, I never wanted to make it, really. I never warmed to it... it was too intellectual." Animators Ward Kimball and Ollie Johnston blamed the film's lack of appeal on its choppiness and lack of emotional appeal contending, "It was a series of vaudeville acts... There was no plot," and "There was no place you ever cared or worried about Alice."

Nevertheless, "Alice" continues to be my favorite, disconnected plot and all. There is something so unlike other Disney films of the time that "Alice" has that in a way makes it charming - if not altogether a little bizarre. And one can't ignore the fact that "Alice" was a recurring theme throughout Walt's career. The Alice Comedies (Walt's first real success with animation), followed by the 1936 black and white short film Thru the Mirror featuring Mickey Mouse, Alice in Wonderland (of course), and Donald Duck in Mathmagicland. Perhaps I'm reading into this, but there is something almost symbolic about that process of stepping into another realm where dreams become reality that is really reflective of Walt's life in general. It's that same theme that makes its appearance at Disneyland ("Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy").

In short, I still hold to the belief that this film was such a disappointment because the expectations Walt had were too high and too dear to his past, particularly with the Alice Comedies. Comment and criticism, as always, are welcome.