Friday, December 21, 2012

A Rememberance of 2012

We can't end this year without noting some of the wonderful people that have unfortunately left us. I know Ronald Searle passed away last year, but since it was on December 30,  I felt he should be a part of this group. 

I apologize for not including every single person but there simply just wasn't room in one video. For personal reasons I concentrated on those I knew personally either at from meeting them or having worked together on a project or two. To paraphrase a quote from George Elliot, "Our friends and family never leave us, until we have forgotten them." May they all rest in peace and always remain in our hearts.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

From All of Us to All of You, MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Christmas Card opening by Xtencio

"From All of Us to All of You" is a very popular Christmas special that was shown for the first time on December 19, 1958 as a holiday treat on the "Wonderful World of Color". As usual Walt Disney was the host introducing the show although a chirpy Jiminy Cricket took over those chores quickly as the segment moved into animation.

Mickey Mouse, brought to life with wonderfully expressive character animation provided by Les Clark started the musical ball rolling with Tinkerbell applying just the right amount of pixiedust to open the curtain. We were led through memorable sequences from many of the Disney classics from "Snow White" to "Lady and the Tramp" presented as Christmas cards with new animation bridging with the vintage clips.

More of X's wonderful artwork

Over the years as this special repeated, it would include new footage of films and projects that were upcoming from the Disney Studio. It was directed by a good friend of mine, former animation teacher and First Dean of the Character Animation Program at CalArts, Jack Hannah who directed most of those classic shows that featured Walt introducing the episodes from his "office". That "office" by the way was a near perfect re-creation, yes re-creation of Walt's office which was about a 10 minute walk from the soundstage and up 3 floors in the corner overlooking the backlot. It was easier to do that than disrupt the operation and privacy of Walt's real office which was also brimming with confidential memos, notes from meetings and project ideas not the least of which were future attraction suggestions for Disneyland which had recently opened a bit over 2 years earlier.

Hazel "Gil" George Walt's nurse and songwriter
By the way, I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts holes that  you don't know who wrote the lyrics for the title song, "From All of Us to All of You"?. The credit listed from the original airing is "Gil" George but a few of us will recognize that as an alias of sorts for Hazel. Hazel Gilman, later married as Hazel George wrote quite a few very memorable songs during this period from feature films like "Old Yeller" to bouncy songs like "Talent Roundup" for the Mickey Mouse Club. She pretty much gave up her song writing career in the early sixties although Hazel continued on as Walt's personal nurse, a position she had held since first treating his neck pain due to a polo injury from 1938. I wanted to mention her song writing career primarily because it seems to be largely unknown and ignored by Disney historians to this very day which is unfortunate when you consider her valuable contribution to the musical history of Disney Studios. It is also rather a significant responsibility in particular to this creation of this Christmas special.

Over time, the special "gained weight"  (don't we all? sigh) as they expanded it from the original 60 minutes in 1983 to 90 minutes and retitled it to "A Disney Channel Christmas". Unfortunately we don't see this special in this country for some reason as often as they do in the Nordic Countries of Sweden, Finland and Norway. In fact almost half the entire population of Sweden enjoys this holiday treat which is broadcast every Christmas Eve as their most popular and most watched show of the year.

Over yonder in that land known for meatballs, IKEA, and Ingrid Bergman, they call it "Kalle Anka och hans vanner God Jul" which is Swedish for "Donald Duck and his Friends Wish You a Merry Christmas!" Kinda roles off the tongue like lingonberry jelly doesn't it? And imagine, Donald getting top billing over Mickey! This delightful delicacy is still not available on DVD but here's wishing the Disney Studio will release it, the original 1958 version please, someday as part of a Holiday Collection so that new generations can enjoy what we have these many years.

So from All of Us to All of You, a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Happy Birthday Uncle Walt!

Wonderful World of Color
1963 Christmas Show
Today we celebrate the birthday of a man who grew through his creativity, hard work and leadership to become a legend and inspiration to "children of all ages". His life overflowed with many "firsts". The first animated film with complete sound, starring Mickey Mouse of course. The first animated film to be produced in full color, the first full length animated feature, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", first major Motion Picture Studio to embrace television as a alternate production outlet and so on. And the name that comes first to so many minds when you think of good solid entertainment for the entire family... Walt Disney!

His "Three Little Pigs" gave Americans a jaunty little tune to help get them through the Great Depression and "Donald Duck's antics in "Der Fuehre's Face" offered much needed laughs during the second World War. Rather than attempting to place my own words into Walt's mouth as a few film historians will occasionally do, I'm simply including a few quotes below from Walt himself to offer a bit of insight into his mind and heart.

"We are not trying to entertain the critics. I'll take my chances with the public."

"You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality."

"You're dead if you aim only for kids. Adults are only kids grown up, anyway."

"To all that come to this happy place: welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America... with hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world."

"Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world."

"I only hope that we don't lose sight of one thing - that it was all started by a mouse."

As much as I would like to, I am going to stop right here. I won't go into a biography of Walt's life here for this birthday posting, as previous authors have accomplished that already at book length and most were well written and informative. I merely wanted to remind everyone of a very special man who never grew up thankfully and went on to touch many lives around the world.

As Eric Sevaried reported on the evening news while summing up Walt Disney:

"He was an original. Not just an American original, but an original. Period.  He was a happy accident, one of the happiest this century has experienced. And judging by the way it’s behaving, in spite of all Disney tried to tell it about laughter, love, children, puppies, and sunrises, the century hardly deserved him. He probably did more to heal - or at least soothe - troubled human spirits than all the psychiatrists in the world. There can’t be many adults in the allegedly civilized parts of the globe who did not inhabit Disney’s mind and imagination for at least for a few hours and feel better for the visitation.

"It may be true, as somebody said, that while there is no highbrow in a lowbrow, there is some lowbrow in every highbrow. But what Disney seemed to know was that while there is very little grown-up in every child, there is a lot of child in every grown-up. To a child, this weary world is brand-new, gift wrapped. Disney tried to keep it that way for adults." 

"People are saying we will never see his like again."

Walt Disney, born this day, December 5, 1901.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Walt kicking off the annual "Toys for Tots" drive
Every year as the Christmas Season approaches, we can find a "Toys for Tots" sign or banner  heralding holiday solicitations to provide gifts for the disadvantaged children of America. When you placed that doll or game in the box, did you know that the Walt Disney Studio had a part in helping bring this worthy cause to fruition? Well it all began back in 1947 when a Major Bill Hendricks along with group of fellow Marines Reservists took it upon themselves to collect and ultimately distribute over 5,000 toys to children in need. Bill's wife Diane actually came up with the original idea when she asked her husband to hand out raggedy ann dolls she had hand crafted. She wanted to give them as gifts to needy children facing a bleak Christmas so soon after the war when many were still attempting to put their lives and financial future back together.

Familiar sign at the parks
Bill couldn't find an agency to help with the cause so he did what he had to do... create one!  So in 1947 "Toys for Tots" was born and became so successful that it spread its magnificent mission across our nation. One of the "perks" Bill had in his favor was that besides being a Marine Reservist, he also held an important post in civilian life as Director of Public Relations for Warner Brothers Studios. In that role he was able to garner support from many of Hollywood's celebrities to help with the campaign.

The celebrities of those days just seem a little different to me than some of the ones we see today on the five o'clock news. Maybe because they had suffered through the great depression and a second "war to end all wars" so they knew what real suffering was all about and were ready to lend a hand to help their fellow Americans.  Bob Hope, John Wayne and Doris Day and many others volunteered their services and vocals were supplied by legends including  Nat King Cole and Peggy Lee. No wonder they are referred to as "the Greatest Generation."
Early Disney Studio design
The second year of the program they all realized something was missing and that what was really needed now was a recognizable logo. Something bright and cheery that would immediately grab the attention of the public and at the same time encourage people to donate without coming off too pushy. That is precisely where Walt Disney stepped in. In 1948 Walt instructed his publicity artists at the Disney Studio to create the memorable design we all know today.

The jolly red choo-choo was inspired by Walt's love of trains and in fact the early drop off points for "Toys for Tots" were set up as large bins attached to one another to resemble the unique Disney railway design. This arrangement kept everything "on track" regarding the creation of a recognizable look the public would respond to and remember. Since its beginning back in 1947, "Toys for Tots" has distributed 450 million toys to 200 million needy children. So please give generously when you see a "Toy's for Tots" sign. That simple gesture on your part will brighten the Christmas season for a child in need of a little hope and little cheer in the shape of a toy from you.  -MP

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Walt Disney World Christmas Cover

Mickey Monitor magazine for Disney Passholders
I was recently asked if I'd be interested in doing an original cover for the holiday issue of the annual Walt Disney World Magazine for Passholders, with the magical moniker of"Mickey Monitor". Being that it was obviously a Christmas theme and Mickey Mouse would be included I immediately nodded yes! Unfortunately it was an email and the Disney exec didn't see my head shaking up and down or hear it rattling so I emailed him back with a yuletide yessiree! 

The Mickey Monitor is a very popular magazine that is sent out to the Passholders 4 times a year and filled with wonderful behind the scenes photos and interviews as well as information about special events held at Walt Disney World for Passholders only . On the right are two inside pages  from the recent Fall 2012 Mickey Monitor discussing facts about the fabulous  New Fantasyland that mouse ears have been buzzing about.

One of my rough sketches, sepia pencil on paper

Now that I've explained the magazine for those new to it, I'll get back to the cover assignment.  Well Mickey had to have pal Pluto in the painting with him. Obviously  a man... er I mean a mouse and his dog was a natural setup. When I saw the skinny vertical format and was told it could also be enlarged as a 2-pager I decided to include his confederates in comedic cartoon collaboration, Donald and Goofy.

I sketched out a few different setups and settled on the one to the left. It's designed so when you first see the cover it'll be just Mickey and Pluto but as you open the 2 page spread it reveals two special holiday guests visiting the house of mouse. I sent in the rough pencil sketch and they liked the setup giving me the thumbs up to go for paint. I like it when they like it.

Cleanup drawing by Mike Peraza ready for color

I tightened up my rough into a 2-tone cleanup shown here to the right with the background drawn in blue and the characters in red just to keep it simple while I rendered it out. I didn't want to rush into color before having a fairly tight setup to work from. Disney Legend and friend Ken O'Connor instilled in me how important it is to be sure your layout's clear before going to color or you may be wasting a lot of time coloring and then re-coloring a badly composed illustration. Ken really knew his stuff so I listened.

After experimenting with quick little color studies I decided on the path below for the final direction with yellow as the brightest hue while including white to help pop the characters. The only black used is for character details like ears, noses, boots, etc to also help separate from the background where I didn't go that dark. I toned down the red in Goofy's Santa suit so as to give Mickey the "hot seat" so to speak and make him stand out.

Final painting "Dreaming on Christmas Eve" by Mike Peraza
Being that it was a magazine illustration instead of an animation background I was free to include more detail with a super saturated color scheme than I would normally incorporate although I still had to get it out under one week. I also included a few "hidden Mickeys" that folks seem to hanker for so "have a happy holiday hidden Mickey hunt!" As this painting "hits the newstands" I was honored to discover that the D23 folks will also include it in their special "23 Days of Disney Christmas" gallery and ultimately display the final piece in the Walt Disney Archives.

This wintery scene was created in the summer of 2012, during the record breaking heat wave that baked Southern California. The AC was on and Christmas carols were playing non-stop to get me in the mood. The neighbors must have thought I was nuts but I prefer to think I'm just a bit early for the season, like the department stores are every year.  

I am so thankful to have the opportunity to illustrate cover art and hope I'll be asked to do more in the future. I'm thrilled anytime I get to work with the original "stock company" of  Walt Disney, namely Mickey, Pluto, Donald and Goofy. I know some folks will think I'm corny but I've done so many illustrations of this gang over the years that they feel like part of my family. Well folks, as the jolly old elf said, "Merry Christmas!" Now would someone please pass the eggnog?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Mel Shaw

1914- 2012
I'm very sorry to report the passing of a long time friend, mentor and Disney Legend Mel Shaw who has left us at the age of 97. He died peacefully in his sleep on Thanksgiving evening surrounded by his family leaving behind a legacy of artwork and graciousness that will not be forgotten. I had been in awe of Mel since he came to Cal Arts and gave us an in depth look at the concept work he had created for an upcoming full length animated feature entitled, "The Black Cauldron".

Mel goes over his "Black Cauldron" 
concepts with Gary Goldman
Not long after arriving at the studio, I was fortunate to be added to the tiny 2-man crew working on new projects with Mel and Woolie whose room was literally right next door. Mel introduced me to the story telling illustrations of N.C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle and others that I was ignorant of at the time and I soon became a rabid fan of the Brandywine School style of illustration thanks to his tutelage and nuturing.  

One of Mel's masterful pastel concepts for "Black Cauldron"
Mel was patient and helpful as I tried my best to match his beautiful pastel work on our "The Little Broomstick" film project that sadly ended up shelved in favor of "Black Cauldron" getting greeenlit.  Ironically this was due in large part to his stunning work on Cauldron.

Mel began work at Disney Studio back in 1937 after making quite an impression on Walt at the polo field. He continued to make a good impression on Walt contributing to "Fantasia", Bambi", and many other classics. He left the studio only to return in 1970s to help bridge the transition between the retiring animators and us "new kids" on films like "Rescuers". He also contributed his beautiful sense of color and staging to additional Disney titles including, "The Great Mouse Detective", Beauty and the Beast", and "The Lion King".

Eventually, if I can ever organize this hovel I lovingly call my studio, I plan to post some of the the pieces I still have that Mel, Woolie and I created for "The Little Broomstick" and  some watercolors from "Catfish Bend" along with the photos and the stories behind them. That work should be seen and shared. Mel will be sorely missed but his stunning art will live on to inspire future generations.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Just one example of what we watched on Sunday nights back in 1960 when color television was a wonderful new experience, especially with Uncle Walt..

Thursday, June 28, 2012

"Be Our Guest" Restaurant Mural

One of 10 early watercolors I did for Beauty and Beast 

"The Little Mermaid" was not even in the can so to speak when I was hooked in to fish out a few concepts for a new picture entitled, "Beauty and the Beast" along with Mike Hodson, a remarkable designer with a pencil. Dick Purdum was named director after Richard Williams turned it down and my wife Patty was creating pastels alongside Mel Shaw. Patty was the Project Lead which meant she was also my ... boss. She enjoyed that aspect tremendously as she could now tell me what to do at work as well as at home. I began doing some colorful watercolor concept pieces only to be called into the front office where I was told by management, "This isn't going to be another musical like Mermaid, it will be a very straight dark film, much like the Jean Cocteau version." I checked out the Cocteau classic and suddenly had visions of another heavy film like Black Cauldron all over again and reluctantly decided not to stick around, a rather short sighted mistake on my part. I needn't have panicked for when Mermaid was released and became a resounding splash along with or maybe because  of it's memorable soundtrack, the direction of a non-musical dark Beauty film was tossed, thank goodness. It was to be a magical musical more than ably directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, utilizing a very talented animation crew, another outstanding score by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken and with stand out character animation of the Beast by Glen Keane. A true classic of the so called "Disney renaissance."

Well let's scoot forward to 2011 when I answered my phone, (I often do that when it rings,  but I get so sick of those telemarketers don't you?), and found myself in a discussion with WDI to design a mural for their "Be Our Guest" restaurant based on the film. Naturally I said yes, partly because I had worked with this talented team already on earlier projects and also because it's' nice to work and get paid. My wife shares in that opinion.

Mural rough blocking with guest's eyeline in mind
 The mural was to be a distant simple countryside view of majestic mountain ranges as seen from the Beast's castle ballroom. There would be drifting cloud effects and twinkling stars. After some early sketching I just thought it was lacking that something special. I mean come on, summer in Orlando, with that humidity. I just remembered how great it always felt to come in from the sweltering sun and sit down and cool my heels at the Blue Bayou restaurant at the Pirate ride and wanted something as visually memorable. I remembered that the Beast Castle was blanketed in snow for quite a bit of the film. I watched the DVD of the film just to make sure, yep, there was definitely some white stuff on them thar hills. So I though, "Why not add some icy frost to the window panes, skip the moving clouds and instead add soft falling snow flakes that would glisten as they dance through the light from the restaurant's Renaissance styled windows? "

CGI set that sold the snow idea
My final "thumbnail" rendering

I created an animation using my almost completed illustration as a rear projection with the camera moving around a simply modeled dining room CGI set and through columns, and timidly added it as an attachment. When I got a call from WDI, I was prepared to get politely reprimanded for wasting time but instead entered a phone conference call full of imagineers congratulating me on the idea. One even remarked how neat it was to actually see the concept realized fully in 3D!

"Be Our Guest" restaurant during construction.
With the support of the marvelous team at WDI headed by Senior Show Designers Jon Georges, Chris Beatty, and David Minichiello, I surged ahead finishing the final illustration. The digital painting I created was saved as a PSB, which is the "super-sized" format for Photoshop files and I brought it over on my hard drive. At first they had trouble finding a computer with enough ram to open and scroll through the massive image which had me sweating bullets over whether I had saved it correctly but it all worked out. They were able to transfer the image onto a large curved canvas and the Disney artists on site did their wizardry to make it all came together.

The full size canvas mural ready for installation

On location in Walt Disney World, a team of skilled artists worked it over and really made it shine. In the end, the folks at WDI from the Senior Show Designers and Imagineers to all of the talented technicians and artists involved created yet another savory and delicious memory for Walt Disney World guests.

Well as Lumiere would say, "Ma chère mademoiselle. It is with deepest pride and greatest pleasure that we welcome you tonight. And now, we invite to relax, let us pull up a chair, as the dining room proudly presents... your dinner." 
Sheesh, I'm getting hungry already! HEY WAITER!!!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Art from the heART

This free event is the brainchild of Kim Peraza who is the Special Chairperson on Mortar Board UCLA which is their select Honor Society. She suffers from Epilepsy but has always tried to keep things positive and to give back whether sending packages to soldiers overseas, volunteering in shelters, or collecting food for shelters.

The great kids from the Mortar Board are going to help fund the CURE for Epilepsy with a benefit Art Show and Charity Benefit. There will be some amazing art for sale and silent auction. 

The format is very simple, they are also doing what many public television stations do, just put on an entertaining show and hope that people will like it so much they will donate since it is a free UCLA event. 

There will also be some behind the scenes clips never before seen of the making of some of the most popular animated films in history. They are also hoping that the CURE will provide a video hello from Susan the founder of CURE. The panel by the way is a veritable who's who of Disney animation and promises to be a lot of fun. Come on out and enjoy a wonderful evening and please donate for a very worthwhile cause.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Paper Sculpture

A behind the scenes demonstration of how Mike Peraza produces original editions of paper sculptures based on the Warner Brothers characters "Wile E. Coyote" and his nemisis the "Road Runner" created by legendary animator director Chuck Jones.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

DUMBO Flying High Again!

One of my panels, from pencil to paint.
The DUMBO ride has been an iconic memory of Disneyland almost since the park first opened its drawbridge in July 1955. I said almost because when the fiberglass pachyderms arrived 3 weeks before opening at a flying weight of 700 pound each. When load with passengers (oops they hadn'tt added in the extra weight) they scraped the lower wood rim.  The ride went on a strict structural diet to lose weight and had to be reworked. This resulted in the attraction not opening until taking flight August 16, 1955. 

A few of Bill Peet's Story Sketches
The ride is of course based on the timeless classic film, "DUMBO" released by Walt Disney in 1941 which was a boon to the studio and the hit they needed to recoup box office losses from Fantasia. It was a simple and economically made feature with a running time of 64 minutes. When asked to lengthen the time Walt refused saying it was fine the way it was. Wish we had that kind of clear thinking these days. DUMBO was also one of the most heartfelt of the Disney classics and I defy anyone to sit through the "baby mine" lullaby sequence and not get misty eyed. I'll get into much more detail on the film in a later post but for now, this is about the ride.
Original "Pink Elephants version

The original plans had the 10 pink pachyderms which garnered the nickname "Pink Elephants on Parade". Walt decided he wasn't too keen on seeing guests flying formations on some intoxicated mammals and so ordered all of the elephant artwork grounded until they were painted blue-gray and to be on model to DUMBO.  

DUMBO evesdropping
Originally the ears were hinged and would slowly flap up and down which I remember seemed to make them seem even more alive when I visited the park soon after it opened. This ear movement created a great effect, when it worked. Unfortunately it jammed frequently and DUMBO looked like he was trying to execute a barrel roll or listen in on Aunt Esther's secret recipe for apple pie crisps. The little fellows got plastic surgery on all the ears and they never flapped again.

One of the many gilded sculptures that adorn the ride
Eventually the other parks received their own versions of the DUMBO ride, each time adding something new. More capacity from 10 elephants to 16, fountains of water surrounding the inner base and so on. Well with the wonderful updates at the New Fantasyland in Walt Disney World, we have achieved yet another milestone.

This week the park unveiled the ride to an appreciative audience. It is the first installation of what eventually will be two DUMBO carousels flying in opposite directions. It also has many new features such as fountains with corresponding LED light show that is best described by the fans as a mini version of the World of Color night show, so make sure to stop by and see it in the evening. It is also adorned with gilded sculptures of characters and props from the film from the Stork to Momma Jumbo to even peanut shells. The base is also trimmed with 8 story panels depicting the entire Film story of our favorite little flying fellow. I was honored when they contacted me to design those pieces not just because I deeply respect the amazing people they have at WDI but because DUMBO is easily on my short list of favorite Disney films.

A few of the panels I did in various stages.
I met with Imagineers to discuss the basic layout and size of each panel which grew from 3 feet to a healthy 10 feet apiece. I was given a frame design's inner contour to use as a guide while designing since these were to be enveloped within very ornate sculpted shapes as a homage to circus ornamentation.

The WDI crew was constantly improving each step of the process and one minor snag was hit when they changed the frame outline during the painting process. It was worth it as the new frame was a beautiful modification and only improved the settings for my illustrations. I chose what I felt were the key moments in DUMBO's journey and got marvelous input from my bosses at WDI. I had painted in a very black BG behind the "pink elephants" panel which although true to the film, was much too dark when surrounded by the other pieces and created a "hole" effect. Luckily again this was pointed out to me and I simply painted it over with a gradation of cobalt blue and I have to admit, it was much better.

The DUMBO ride is one of the few rides found at every Magic Kingdom park around the world. Even though it is basically a simple and classic amusement park design, there is a tremendous appeal for adults as well as children. It is in no short thanks to the little elephant who rose to the occasion many years ago.