Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Double-O-Darkwing"

An early design sketch of mine for the pitch.
"DuckTales" had been a wildly successful series for Walt Disney Television.  It was inevitable that among the 100 episodes produced for the "DuckTales" series that somewhere among those stories would lurk a possible spinoff. "What do you mean spinoff?" you say? "Disney would consider spinoffs?"  Well, like pretty much all the Hollywood studios, in one word- YES!  Sometimes they turn out well, and other times you wonder why they even made a sequel (moolah). However this project was to turn into the kind of spinoff to be very proud of. "Double-O_Duck " and "The Masked Mallard" were a couple of "DuckTales episodes that were able to stay around in the minds of a few folks back at the studio. They originally aired on November 17th and 18th, 1989 respectively during the DuckTales run. The original concept had Launchpad McQuack not Drake Mallard, as the star of the show. "Double-O-Duck" was written by outstanding DuckTales regulars Ken Koonce and David Wiemers, and along with "The Masked Mallard", became very popular in the "DuckTales" universe. So popular that they would be at the top of a very short list of sequels to be placed into active development and ultimately become a new show a year after "DuckTales uttered its last quack.

My secret lair bridge suggestion and its cable "road"
Disney Television had been sheparding this spinoff into a pitch and with the sudden demise of the new "Bullwinkle Show",  Mike Peraza was an artist without a series and became immediately available for show concepts and washing windows. As I wasn't crazy about heights, I chose the former. There had already been a number of character designs done based on the original shows that I was given for reference. Gary Krisel  asked me to "Disney-fy" the characters up a bit while still keeping the original design intact in some new original set ups. I wasn't crazy about the Double-O-Duck character designs. The models exhibited no exaggeration, peppy proportions or interesting dynamics within their shapes. Double-O looked like a very stiff non-descript sterilized combination of the absolute dullest features from 2 otherwise great iconic mallards: Donald Duck and Daffy Duck. The beak was short with barely any curve, the head was so round you would think they had regressed to tracing quarters to get the shape. You have to realize that the character design this was being based on was most likely created in less than an hour during our fast paced "DuckTales" days and was obviously never intended to be a star in his own right or to stand out too much since he was created as a sidekick for Launchpad in those episodes. Even though our hands were tied with character art,  some changes were made in the premise including reversing the two roles so that Drake Mallard, alias Double-O-Duck was now the star instead of  just second banana. He would live in a quiet suburban home with his adopted daughter Gosalyn,  Launchpad would now fill the sidekick slot, and Honker Middlefoot the son of a next door neighbor  would also come along on the adventures.  When villainy attacked the fair feathered city of Saint Canard, Drake would change into his super hero alter ego, Double-O-Duck!

Kids don't try this at home
This was now Friday morning and the presentation was Monday. Yeah... no kidding. I sat down with Tad Stones who would eventually be assigned as producer and went over ideas for setups that would give the feeling of this show and hopefully help sell the pitch. We tossed all the suggestions that had been done to date by another crew and started with a fresh slate. The pieces done originally for the presentation made the show look like another extension of DuckTales. Tad wanted something more visually exciting and with a combination of "The Shadow", "James Bond", "Green Hornet", "The Scarlet Pimpernel", and the new Tim Burton film, "Batman" mixed into the artwork so I kept that direction in mind while sketching. I VERY quickly drew up over a dozen pieces in thumbnail size and showed these roughs to Tad. He pretty much loved most of them and the couple he wasn't too crazy about were quickly round filed (office lingo for tossed in the garbage can).


 Storysketch I based on Tad's script
I still couldn't stand the Double-O-Duck design but this was the character design we were expected to use and at this point we were behind the 8-ball time wise. After lunch I xeroxed my drawings up in size to about 8 inches across and did a rough color pass over each with pastels. I had one of the few balconies with a sliding door so that I could go outside and spray matte fixative on the pastels to keep them from smudging. Tad also had a balcony and each time he heard my door slide open, he closed his to avoid the evil odors of asphyxiation wafting over into his domicile. I didn't blame him. My goal was (and I met it ) to have all the setups roughed and in color before the end of the day and then go home over the weekend and complete them in a larger 11" x 17" size for the pitch presentation. That was one of many "lost weekends" serving the mouse factory. Lost weekends it seems are a part of most animation folk I've known and worked with. It seems no matter how long something has been in development talks, there is ALWAYS a last minute, "we needed it yesterday" pressure that comes up right before a presentation date.

Very quickie setup, no time for reference or studies.
On Monday, I brought the artwork for the pitch in and Gary was thrilled with it. My only guess was that he must have had a heckofa great weekend but who am I to argue. I had come up with a location atop a cable suspension bridge where Double-O could have a secret base of operations to look out over the city and bay of Saint Canard. I also had a "car lift" to use one of the few vehicle designs we salvaged from the earlier artwork. Someone had mentioned having him ride on a motorcycle so I thought it would be a dynamic shot if I had him ride it directly up the cable to his secret hide-a-way. Tad went along with the idea and I included those setups in the pitch. Thank goodness my simple chunky motorcyle design along with the rather pedestrian old model car was later put on some artistic steroids for the series resulting in those very cool Darkwing vehicles he uses to track down the villains with. We composed a very entertaining script for the verbal part of the presentation that would have made a great radio show all be itself without any artwork to back it up. The pitch went very well, especially when you realize we had originally planned to be presenting the new updated "Bullwinkle" show instead of a last minute replacement named "Double-O-Duck".

tomboy baking her first cake
One interesting side note was the when Jeffery Katzenberg saw the secret lair on and in the tower, he remarked that it reminded him of the "Great Mouse Detective" (Basil ) clock tower which he said might be a "good thing." Since I had developed both of these locations, I took it as a compliment. The truth was that I had zero time to develop the idea beyond my basic proposal and so relied on my own memories sans any reference and motivated by sheer desperation. The pitch included my color setups along with the character suggestions by Bob Kline who would go on to do spectacular Art development for "Talespin". In fact in my opinion it was his stunning designs along with some great pieces done by Carol Police that made the "Talespin" series such a visual treat, but that as they say, is another story. To say I wasn't very happy with my pitch artwork shown here is an understatement but you have to keep in mind that it was done in a couple days from beginning to end, or at least that's my only excuse. The bottom line is though, the series sold!

A dingy dank dark desolate artwork encrusted alley in St. Canard
Two major changes were to come next. The first was renaming the show. As it turned out, "Double-O" was copyrighted by "007" creator Ian Fleming and owned outright by "007" movie producer Albert R. Broccoli. We had skated by unseen with one "DuckTales" episode but they were not going to allow a new series to do the same with a knock-off of their registered name. So we went  from the overtly sounding James Bond spin "Double-O-Duck" to the overtly sounding "Batman" take, "Darkwing Duck". Still, it was an improvement. The main character got redesigned, thank goodness, through the talent of Toby Sheldon, who was the most responsible for the dynamic final look you saw on the series. The cheeks were an obvious adaptation of Roger Rabbit's head shape but it worked well in that it separated Darkwing from his famous cousins, Donald and Daffy. Also included in the mix were catch phrases (all the best super heroes had em') like,  "I am the screeching fingernail on the chalkboard of justice!" and "I am the terror that flaps in the night,  I am the batteries that are not included. I am Darkwing Duck!". Obviously some lines worked a little better than others.

A doodle I did of St Canard's waterfront based on Naw'lins
Like most of the work I did for WDTVA, I moved onto the next set of concepts for new shows, commercials and specials and didn't work on the actual series. Tad  and my "DuckTales" buddy Alan Zaslove supervised production of the show and with their expertise along with a solid talented crew, this series would become yet another notch in the Disney TV belt running from 1991 to 1995. "Darkwing Duck" was the first Disney Afternoon offering that was created as a parody of a specific genre. It was a marvelous send-up of superhero , pulp fiction presented within a canvas of film noir imagery. You would think that after cancellation, that would be it for our mighty mallard but only recently Disney revised the franchise by licensing an ongoing monthly comic book series entitled, "The Duck Knight Returns." I mean really, can a new series be far behind?   Do I hear...
"LETS GET DANGEROUS!"

12 comments:

  1. Mike, these concept pieces are great! I hadn't heard the genesis of Darkwing Duck. Thanks for filling in the blanks. I had the pleasure of boarding one part of one episode called "Adopt a Con" featuring Tuskernini, the walrus villain.

    I would love to see the series revived. Here's hoping!

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  2. Hit return before I signed my name.

    Thanks again for the great art, Mike.

    Rob Lamb

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  3. Hello Rob. I'm glad that you liked the concept art and enjoyed the story behind "Darkwing Duck's" creation. One of the best parts of working on these projects is meeting the people like you who enjoyed the end result.

    Thanks.

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  4. Great stories Mike. As usual great insight and background for another Disney series. Seems like you were always working a day behind!! lol

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  5. In my opinion "The Masked Mallard" is one of weakest DuckTales episodes. I just can't buy Scroodge as the superhero.
    Darkwing Duck is the other story! Brilliant idea! Great show! My favorite episode is "In like Blunt" which was made at Paris Disney studio (I never forget how Darkwing said "He drew on my map!").

    Still I don't understand why Launchpad left the old job and moved to Saint Canard? What happened?

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  6. Я радостен вы полюбил мой рассказ Darkwing.

    Launchpad left his old job with Scrooge to make more money of course, lol. Also Saint Canard has lower rents than Duckburg.

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  7. Michael, I really, really liked reading all this stuff about Disney History on the 80's! Why don't you keep writing and them transform this blog on a book?

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  8. Hi Fernando. I'm very happy that you are enjoying this blog. I'm really getting a kick out of it myself. You are not the first person who has suggested I should do a book so maybe I will one day. Then I would have more room for art, photos and of course more in depth stories. If I do I'll let you know.

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  9. I didn't know you did so much work for the Saturday Morning division Mike. I always knew you as a features man. This is delightful!

    -Tish

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  10. This was a brilliant read. As a huge fan of the Darkwing Duck series, it's amazing to see how the show started off, and how different the final result was. Needless to say, I'm SO glad they went with the designs they did. I also don't find the "Double-O-Duck" design to be very appealing.

    Thank you for sharing this, along with all this rare and unseen artwork!

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  11. Brilliant read! As I said in John's blog, the duck in the sketch with DW and Launchpad is what I envision the smallest FOWL High Commander would look like, sans shadows. And more hair :P

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  12. I just recently discovered your blog and this post! SO refreshing and exciting to read about the innerworkings of Disney and how concepts such as this show are brought to life.

    I am a HUGE Darkwing Duck fan, have been since it first aired. This post was especially exciting to read in that respect, and I love all of your insight and tidbits about the creation of the series. Thank you, thank you for your efforts on Darkwing! My childhood would definitely NOT have been the same without it. :)

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