There have been many amazing talents that have worked in the Disney background department 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|
|Al's take on Johnny Appleseed|
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.
|Walt choose Al's version of Jungle Book|
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!