Monday, July 21, 2014

Amazing Al Dempster

There have been many amazing talents that have worked in the Disney background and created stunning concept pieces over the years. Of course names like Mary Blair, Eyvind Earle, Claude Coats, Walt Peregoy and others spring to mind but there are others equally deserving of credit due their talented offerings. One that comes to my mind is Al Dempster

He was born July 23, 1911 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. After relocating to Los Angeles he got a job with the Disney Studio in 1939 and when Walt saw his painting skills first hand, he was quickly transferred to the background department. Those skills benefitted the studio on classic like Fantasia, Dumbo, Saludos Amigos, Victory Through Air Power, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music and Song of the South

Bill Justice-pencils, Al Dempster-paint
L-R  Don Griffith, Al Dempster
He left the studio in 1945 but came back in 1952 to create more lovely backgrounds for Walt’s Peter Pan. He stayed on to contribute to Lady and The Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred and One Dalmations, Sword in the Stone, Jungle Book and more. He left a lasting mark when he teamed up with close friend Don Griffith to create the look for all of the Winnie the Pooh featurettes.

Al's take on Johnny Appleseed
At Walt’s personal request, Al translated many of the studio’s films into lavishly illustrated children’s books, usually with pal Bill Justice providing the pencils. He retired from the studio for various reasons but agreed to return to help with The Rescuers in 1973 which is how I met him albeit briefly.

I wasn’t working on that film but was attending the CalArts Art School (the Character Animation Program had not yet been created). Don Duckwall introduced me to Al and the rest of the small background department. His time on Rescuers was not an enjoyable one as there were a few bumps in the road during production and soon the same reasons he had left the studio before reared up again. Since Al had only committed to 6 months or so on that production, when the time was up, he skeedaddled back into retirement and did his own paintings, this time in oil. 
Al creates more magic with Alice

Walt choose Al's version of Jungle Book
Years later I did have a chance to spend more time with Al during our regular Thursday lunches at Sloppos with Don Griffith. I was a huge fan of his work and had a few of his spectacularly illustrated books for Disney. Al eventually signed my books and gave Patty and I a couple of his original oil paintings as a wedding present which we have hanging to this day over the stairway to the upstairs studio. 

So check your old Disney story books. If the illustrations have an extra special feeling of Disney magic like the images here, you may just own an Al Dempster collection. Happy Birthday Al!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pinochhio loses his voice

Very sorry to report that Dickie Jones passed away today. To those of us in the Disney family he will be fondly remembered as the voice of the puppet who wished to be a real boy, Pinocchio. 

He was Texas born in 1927 to a newspaper editor. Being a Texan, he naturally learned to ride a horse and at the age of 4 was billed as the "World's Youngest Trick Rider & Roper". Around this time his family moved out to Hollywood where friend Hoot Gibson was able to land the young lad parts in low budget westerns. 

From there as he matured, he graduated to many roles through his long and distinguished film and TV career and was rightly named a Disney Legend in 2000. We would run into each other over the years at various Disney events and it was always a treat to listen to his stories. 

This picture was taken of the two of us a few months ago after I had just pulled a gag at our table when we attended an event together. Dickie had a great sense of humor. We're really going to miss you dearly my friend.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The "E" Ticket at Disneyland

Vintage Disneyland tickets with free map you could color.

I was asked recently just what is an "E" ticket? What makes it so special? And since so many Disneyland guests today only know about the single pass to enter into the Disneyland park and enjoy all the attractions, I thought it might be fun to share a bit about the old ticket books we used to use and enjoy.

When Disneyland first opened, it was cash on the barrelhead. In other words you paid at the main gate to gain admission, then paid anywhere from 10¢ to 35¢ for each ride after that. Some guests complained about being "nickled and dimed to death" so Walt came up with the idea of using ticket books which entered the park starting around October 1955, just 3 months or so after the original opening of Disneyland.

Originally they had "A" through "C" labeled tickets which were identified as "A" being the simplest to the "C" designating a fancier attraction but soon a "D" designation was added as the attractions grew. In June 1959 the park introduced the Monorail, Matterhorn and the Submarine attractions.which were at that time considered the elite offerings and so the "E" ticket was born which meant, "These rides/attractions are the best and most exciting ones we have in the park!" 

Of course it's still ip to the guest whether they agree with that point of view but nevertheless the "E" ticket meant you had the opportunity to experience what was the best Disneyland had to offer and those tickets got used up quickly, then the "D's", onto "C's" and so forth. By the time I would leave after the fireworks had faded into silent embers, I usually had an "A" and maybe a "B" ticket left in my book which I would keep as a souvenir of another magical day at Disneyland. -MP

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


I am very honored to have a few pieces in the upcoming "Steampunk Celebration" at Disneyland. I'll be appearing at the Disneyana Gallery and Shop on Main Street U.S.A, Disneyland-  Saturday  February 22, exhibiting three new original paintings in a show I hope you will all enjoy. Half of my work these days is produced digitally on the computer but when I'm asked to conceive something for Disney collectors, I only  use traditional hand tools, techniques and methods the way we used to at the old Disney Studio. Disney collectors deserve it!  Some of those same fine folks have written me requesting more photos of the painting process and since I sometimes forget to do so, my lovely wife Patty kept sneaking upstairs into the studio and scaring the beejeebers out of me to get these shots. I just wish she would let me get out of the shot before she takes the picture.
Rivets, rivets and more RIVETS! 

The first painting I did was "20,000 LEAKS UNDER THE SEA", a humorous send up or maybe I should say sinking of the Walt Disney classic, "20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA". Once I came up with the funny title twist, everything else fell into place. With Captain Mickey Mouse in command you would think things would be ship shape, that is until you add crewmen Donald Duck and Goofy Dawg. Mickey is trying to keep my whimsical version of the Nautilus afloat while Goofy checks for leaks with his trusty hammer and Donald is ready to abandon ship,... er... uh... sub.

Doing doodles during dinner

The color scheme of "20,000 LEAKS UNDER THE SEA" is loosely based somewhat on the unique range of hues frequently used by one of the most popular poster artists of the 1890's and a leader in the Art Nouveau movement coming out of France, Alphonse Mucha. The media is gouache on board over pencil and let me tell you if you haven't guessed already, those rivets were a nightmare, but worth the effort.

I went back to the "golden age"  look of Mickey, Donald and Goofy as we used to refer to it at the old Disney Studio. That era is roughly the late 1930s through the 1940s and I really prefer those proportions and model designs as the studio was at its height of artistic creation under Walt's guidance and it really showed in the features as well as shorts of that time. Of course my "toon take" of the Nautilus was based on the magnificent original sub from the classic film designed by an old friend from WED (Walt Elias Disney ) days, Disney Legend Harper Goff. I hope the Vulcania Volunteers out there will forgive me for the liberties I took with Harper's beautiful creation.

Adding tight concentric circles with 
my small compass for a paint guide
Another entry for the Steampunk Show is "MAD HATTER to the QUEEN", using the wonderfully eccentric Ward Kimball creation from Walt Disney's classic animated feature, "ALICE IN WONDERLAND".  Besides trains, Ward was a huge fan of Victorian Advertising art and typography. He in fact did a couple of doodles in that vein for me when we briefly worked together at WED. He'd have gotten a kick out of this but would have definitely suggested I "spice it up" with something off beat and funny. Ward's sense of design coupled with his sense of humor was out of this world.

The Hatter himself is nestled inside a clockwork setting holding his needle and thread with milliner tools on one side and his freshly constructed hats on the other. I outfitted him in a full steampunk cloak, boots and hat complete with goggles and lens attachment for close up sewing work. You must remember that the Queen of Hearts is very particular as to her head wear. Let's face it, no one wants to lose their head by upsetting her majesty.

Closer view of the lines
For this look I was inspired by the beautiful ink engraved illustrations drawn by John Tenniel for the original editions of, "Alice in Wonderland". I cleaned up my rough drawing into a single line and transferred it to board. After tightening that drawing further I then used center points with a compass to accurately setup the gears and their teeth. A lot of the drawing tools I used were actually objects used by cartographers back in the day to ink lines on detailed maps when they used to do them by hand. I thought I would never get this one done but it was an exciting exercise in old techniques. Then on to the paint!

The painting is 100% gouache over pencil on board. I layed in a light wash to setup the base colors and values then applied lines. The intricate lines are each painted by hand using a limited 16 color palette to achieve a Victorian advertisement style. We have been informed since the painting was completed that if all of those fine lines that make up this piece were stretched out into a single line it would stretch over TWO FOOTBALL FIELDS!  Well no wonder I ran low on paint! This engraved look was achieved completely with 2 tiny brushes, a 35 plus year old vintage Disney Feature Animation Studio "ARTSIGN# 0" and a "PRINCETON #2" along with a sponge to apply the outside texture. It took a steady hand and lots of encouragement from cookies, candy and eggnog.

Layering  gouache on the board

My last piece for this exhibition showcases my favorite Disney star, the little fellow that everything else in the wonderful world of Disney was built upon, Mickey Mouse! I wanted to make him the hero of the piece by taking the original "Mouseketeer" and turning him into the "Rocketeer".

This illustration actually leans towards "Dieselpunk" within an "art deco" construction while emulating a bit of the WPA poster era. My Mickey again was inspired by the "golden age" model designs of Mickey from the late 1930s and early 1940s. I painted this with acrylics over pencil on board.

So please keep this date in mind,  Saturday  February 22, at Disneyana Gallery and Shop on Main Street U.S.A, Disneyland  for "STEAM DAY" and I'll be there from 9AM to 11AM   By the way, for anyone not familiar with the term Steampunk, it's a fun and fashionable send up of the very popular trend inspired by a sort of British Victorian age meets the American old west within a glue of steam powered gadgetry with a bit of 1950s retro sometimes sneaking into the background.

Come out to the Disneyland Gallery and say hello. The Disney Gallery staff is always helpful and very friendly. Not only will these originals be for sale but they will have  prints on hand for purchase and signing. There will also be lots of other stunning pieces of art on display by some very talented friends of mine that I am fortunate to share the "stage" with. I hope to see you all there at the happiest place on earth, "DISNEYLAND!"

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sleeping Beauty's Birthday!

January 29, 1959 saw the release of arguably one of the most beautiful animated features Walt Disney had ever released. Ken Anderson, Walt's "Jack of all trades" may have been assigned as the Production Designer but it was the singularly original style created by Eyvind Earle that gave the film it it's memorable look. 

Since the studio had already conceived such classic fairy tales for the screen such as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and "Cinderella", Walt felt they needed to approach this one in a very unique visual style that would make it stand out.

Rare photo of the Disney Xerox station
A little known fact overlooked by some film historians is that "Sleeping Beauty" marked the first feature to use the new xerox process which was employed in a couple of the opening panorama shots of the guests coming to the royal celebration and for the film's "fight against evil" finale. Woolie Reitherman, another of Walt's 9 Old Men, used the new process to help resize some of the dragon animation and it was also filmed along with added ink lines for a couple of those same scenes to gage how it would appear on the screen along with the fully traditionally inked scenes. 

It didn't match as well as was hoped due to the rough appearance in comparison to the smooth ink line but that problem would be solved in the very next feature with yet another unique albeit more contemporary production design.

Eric's masterful animation
Although Maleficent was animated by yet another of the 9 old men, Marc Davis, her alter ego of the dragon was animated by Eric Cleworth who told us the body of the dragon was modeled after a rattlesnake. He based the dragon's movement on the snake's ability to use its powerful muscles to move a bulky torso over rocky terrain. Another bit of trivia is that famed Warner Brothers animator and director Chuck Jones came to Disney for a job during Sleeping Beauty after the Termite Terrace closed for awhile. When it opened a few months later Chuck returned to his old paper flipping grounds at the WB after he confined to Walt that the only job he was really interested at Disney Studio was Walt's, to which Walt replied, "...that position is already filled."

Marc Davis goes over his sketch of Aurora to her voice Mary Costa
"Sleeping Beauty" was the very first animated film to be photographed in the Super Technirama 70 widescreen process (what a mouthfull!), as well as the distinction of being the second full-length animated feature film to be filmed in ultra widescreen, following Disney's beautiful "Lady and the Tramp" four years earlier. The film was presented 6-channel stereophonic sound in first-run engagements featuring the rich work of the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, with arrangements or adaptations of numbers from the 1890 Sleeping Beauty ballet by Tchaikovsky. 

That was the delightfully elegant version I saw as a young lad at the Saenger Theater in New Orleans in what we used to refer to as movie palaces. Only one other animated film, Disney's "The Black Cauldron" (1985), was shot in Technirama 70, but that as they say is another story. 

This was the last fairy tale issued by the Walt Disney Studios until 30 years later with the premiere of "The Little Mermaid". Both of those films had a huge influence on me as the former was the first film I saw in a movie theater while many years later the latter was the first film I art directed. While some may claim to have "awakened" her, I never felt she was ever truly asleep, so allow me to wish a Happy Birthday to "Sleeping Beauty!"

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Remembrance of 2013

This is my "2013 Remembrance" video to honor people in animation that have passed on during the last year. This tribute was put together between Christmas and New Year late at night so that I could spend most of the precious moments of the holidays with family and friends, so please forgive me for anyone that was omitted. They are all in our hearts. -MP

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Diane Disney Miller

On December 18, 1933, Walt and Lillian Disney were blessed with the birth of Diane, the first of two lovely daughters who like many children would give plenty of inspiration to their parents. In this case, the inspiration eventually included not only giving honest feedback from a child to her famous father as whether she liked the latest Disney animated feature but also introducing Walt to stories she and her sister Sharon enjoyed such as "Mary Poppins" and begging him to make them into films. Thank goodness for the rest of us!

Ron and Diane
Lillian, Walt, Diane and Sharon
I first met Diane, Ron and her delightful mom Lillian at a CalArts event in the mid 1970s and never forgot their graciousness and charm with a rough around the edges boy from the south who someday hoped to work at her dad's dream factory. Diane and Ron had just recently purchased land in Napa Valley that they would develop over the years into a world class winery known as Silverado Vineyards in 1981. After Lillian's passing, Diane's leadership was also key to seeing her mom's dream of the Walt Disney Concert Hall become a reality and that architect Frank Gehry's original design would be implemented when it finally opened in 2004 instantly becoming a center for classical music and the arts in Los Angeles. There was a well documented exchange between Diane and a couple of local politicians over the final design but Diane fought to see her mom's vision and tribute to walt Disney completed. Her husband, former studio president Ron Miller, could have told the dignitaries not to mess with her. Apprised of the "housewives" description, he countered, with a laugh: "If you like your housewives tougher than hell." Seeing that project through to fruition gave her the courage to take on further endeavors. 

Diane and the girls
Perhaps one of her greatest achievements, besides her 7 children with Ron, was her creation and development of The Walt Disney Family Museum built within a former Army barracks in the beautiful Presidio of San Francisco which opened in October of 2009. One of the things many of us  share with Diane is that on most Sundays our dads used to take the family out for drives. Down south the Peraza family would end up at Dipper Dan's for Ice Cream after a day at Gulf Shores fishing and swimming while on the West coast the Disney family would often end up in Griffith Park at the beautiful carousel and while waiting for Diane and Sharon to grab the brass ring Walt began to dream of a place where entire families could truly enjoy time together. That place would someday be known of course as Disneyland. 

Today that bright light she had lit has dimmed if for only a moment as Diane Disney Miller passed away at the age of 79. I thank you Diane for not only sharing so much of the wonderful history of your family with all of us but for keeping alive the vast legacy of your dad. The song may be ended Diane, but your melody will linger forever. -MP