Friday, April 26, 2013

Walter (Woody Woodpecker) Lantz

Walter Lance with his animated alter-ego Woody

April 27, is the birthday of another famous animation giant by the name of Walt. If you can recollect the laughing bird call of his most most famous cartoon creation Woody Woodpecker you would probably also recognize his poppa- Walter Benjamin Lantz. He was born of Italian immigrants who like many at the time arrived in New York to start a new life in America. 

A couple of Universal "birdbrains"
Although by the 1920s he had already worked for various film chieftains  such as George Bray, Frank Capra and Mack Sennett, his big break came in 1928. It was then that he was hired by Charles MIntz as the director of "Oswald the Lucky Rabbit", the property that Mintz had been able to swindle away from the original creator, a young genius named Walt Disney. Eventually Oswald, seemed to wane in popularity and according to legend, Walt Lance and his wife Grace had been pestered during their honeymoon by a woodpecker who constantly pecked on their roof and the tree outside their window. As Lillian offered Walt Disney encouragement during the birth of Mickey, Grace did likewise for her husband regarding the bird and the result was a brash new animated personality named "Woody Woodpecker"

Walt Lance went on to create many more characters to keep Woody company and enjoyed a long relationship with Universal Studios only interrupted with a management change in the late 40s eventually reconciling in 1951 although with the phrase, "Faster Cheaper" in force by the new Universal Studios bosses. Walt and his wife Grace spent retirement painting and visiting children's hospitals where he would draw Woody while Grace did her famous Woody laugh to cheer the kids. Before he passed away in 1994 at the age of 94, he established a scholarship for animators at California Institute of the Arts while we celebrate the memories of a lifetime of animated creations.  BURBANK BUGLE-MP

Monday, April 8, 2013

"... now it's time to say goodbye...Annette"

Annette Joanne Funicello passed away today, April 8, 2013 at the age of 70 due to complications from Multiple Sclerosis. Although she began her career at early age of 12, it was Walt Disney's "Mickey Mouse Club" that catapulted her to prominence. Walt had discovered her while attending a performance of "Swan Lake" at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank, California. She was known as a "triple threat" while appearing on the original  (and best) version of the Mickey Mouse Club in the 50s. She could dance, sing, and act. The latter was showcased in part with her later feature length films including 60's classics like "Beach Party" and "Beach Blanket Bingo" with long time friend and co-star Frankie Avalon.

I met Annette a couple of times in the late 1970s through her brother Mike who worked at the Disney Studios Library that I used to haunt on a weekly basis. She was in doing a taping for the 1970's version of the Mickey Mouse Club and then again when she did a spot for the reunion that was aired on "Disney's Wonderful World" around 1980. She was very busy and on her way to the taping but stopped to chat with me outside the soundstage. I'll never forget that. In 2011 her Encino, California home was engulfed in fire from which she managed to escape without any serious injury however many priceless mementoes were lost. To add to the pain, some of her neighbors sued Funicello claiming the fire had caused some damage to their nearby homes as well.
Annette announced in 1992 that she was indeed suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. She had kept her condition private known only to close friends and family. She had to curtail dancing as the condition worsened but when she lost the ability to walk she felt it necessary to go public about the disease. Her efforts resulted in the Annette Funicello Fund for Neurological Disorders at the California Community Foundation. For me, Annette will always best be remembered for her wonderful role as the "queen" of the Mickey Mouse Club and her sweet and kind way with everyone she came across. As the old Mickey Mouse Club show used to share in song, now it is indeed, " ... time to say goodbye..." and thank you for the wonderful memories Annette.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


The Disney Animation staff 1934
Animating Snow White
This post is my first public announcement concerning a documentary film I have been working on that tells the story and share the history of one of the most important yet almost forgotten studios in motion pictures, the Hyperion Sudios of Walt Disney by Mike Peraza. It is a subject I am passionate about and believe the public would enjoy if they only knew about it. For the video teaser or trailer included below, I created all the graphics, CGI models, restored and repaired old film footage and provided the rough narration. This is but a small example of the imagery I have located along with that I have digitally created from scratch. So far, everything has been out of my pocket so I am seeking financial help in order to proceed and give this documentary and the amazing people it represents the respect and acknowledgment they deserve. I want to hire personnel that can aid with additional research as well as provide material that will help gain insight to the sometime rocky road of that exciting period. I also need help transcribing interviews from Disney employees that worked at the old studio.
Lunchtime at the old Hyperion Studios
To keep the film balanced, it contains interviews with studio personnel that worked at Hyperion during that time and often used the moniker given to the project as “Walt’s Folly”. We will share the good times the crew enjoyed along with the tensions that were slowly building concerning financial inequality that would eventually erupt in a violent studio strike shortly after the move to Burbank. How women and people of color gained their rights albeit slowly to achieve equal respect as well as job positions.

In the end however it will celebrate the triumph of a talented team of young people working together overcoming many difficult obstacles to produce one of the greatest achievements in the history of animation. The Walt Disney Studios of the 1930s which released so many classic films no longer exists but was demolished many years ago to be replaced by a grocery chain (albeit a nice one) and parking lot. 

Without the successes of Hyperion, there would very likely be no Disney Cruise Line, no Disney Afternoon, no Disneyland, well you get the idea. The groundbreaking successes produced under that old tile roof made all things that came after it possible for the young visionary Walt Disney and his talented crew pf men and women. -Mike Peraza


"Meet the Flintstones!"

I was asked recently if I have ever done work at studios besides the Walt Disney Studios and the answer is YES! Among the other companies I've been fortunate to have worked for are Hanna-Barbera, MGM, Warner Brothers, Don Bluth, and SONY. I was employed at Hanna-Babera as a summer job along with my CalArts classmate Tim Burton and future wife Patricia Paulick and was very lucky to get to know both Bill and Joe personally and work with them on a couple of projects I'll post about in the future.. 

Disney Legend Ken O'Connor used to advise me of the need to be a bit of a chameleon to survive in this business. That included being able to work in different mediums, styles, techniques and genre. I'm including a publicity piece I did for Hanna-Barbera of one of my favorite shows ..."The Flintstones!"

If you weren't around back in 1960 when "The Flinstones" first aired, you can't really grasp the excitement kids as well as their parents felt as they laughed together watching the animated antics of the "modern stone age family." It was loosely based on the popular "Honeymooners" with Jackie Gleason but was over flowing with witty and creative visual puns, great voices and entertaining stories that made it the unique series that it was remembered for. I sent this piece to a tribute show for William Hanna and Joe Barbera held in Sherman Oaks. 

This is definitely not a digital paint job and printed by a computer as is becoming more common place today but rather it's the "old school"  gouache on  15" x 19" board which was the preferred method and material just about everybody used in the 1950s and 60s and a few of us still use it today. I only employed a dab of black and white on the characters, none on the BG and kept line work to such a minimum it's almost non-existent and let the colored shapes alone express the image. I included my pencil sketch so you can see the subtle changes I made when going for color.

And... if you like the painting, it can be yours! It's available for purchase at the Van Eaton Galleries starting on Saturday April 6, along with many other beautiful creations by talented friends of mine such as Willie Ito, Harry Sabin, Dan Haskett and many others.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Little Mermaid Mural

Larry Nikolai's beautiful mural for the California version

I was fortunate to be able to see elements of the Little Mermaid attraction long before it opened to the public including rough sketches, color comps, early audioanimatronics and an amazing mural done by imagineer Larry Nikolai. I was asked for comments and suggestions during the walk through and enjoyed the experience at WDI tremendously.

I had been given the pleasure of working with John Hench years ago while at Disney Feature animation and was excited about the varied work being created at WED ever since. I had recently done murals for the parks including a series of eight- 10 foot wide panels depicting Dumbo's life story to be installed on his new attraction, so when I was contacted by WDI to do the Mermaid mural I was suprised they weren't using Larry's beautiful painting. They explained that the installation in Walt Disney World was larger all around and they wanted to use a more realistic and painterly approach. "Would I be interested?" Duh, of course!  

I met with an incredible collection of imagineers and senior show designers and we went over ideas. Because the mural was so large, I was to execute it in digital form and they would transfer the image to canvas and have their very talented scenic artists go over the entire image down at Walt Disney World. There were changes in concept arrangement, architectural details and all the things you would expect in a project this large but I have to say the people I dealt with at WDI were a joy to work with. The first thing I did was pin up the copy I had of Larry's mural over my desk for inspiration before diving into the deep blue sea.

The format I used was PSB which is the extra large file format available in the newer additions of PhotoShop. I worked in a high resolution of 600 dpi which really put a strain on my computers. Luckily a good friend of mine is an IT guru for the studios and he boosted everything on my computer to handle the extra data.
The programs I used were PhotoShop and Painter. PhotoShop gave me the tools necessary to quickly build a composition and send it in to WDI to begin discussions. Painter is a very intuitive program where I can mix hues real time on a digital palette and the brushes afford me the feel of a more natural approach to the illustration. I still prefer traditional methods but when I am forced to go digital, these are two of the programs I count on. I also use a WACOM Intuos tablet as you really shouldn't attempt this with a mouse (unless he has graduated art school).

Original on left, My Disneyized version on right
There is more detail than you can probably see in the stages shown above. For example I based the Ariel pose of the mural on the famous statue of Hans Christen Anderson's creation found in Copenhagen harbor. The senior show designer liked the sketches but wanted her a bit more up right so I lifted her head slightly and took some of the hunched look from her back. 
Rough for ship's angle

By the way she is looking towards Eric's ship to screen right which is docked just outside his castle. Luckily I still have the model I built of his ship in my studio so I could stage it to look at various angles and lighting which came in handy with the time crunch. I decided on a rear view to indicate Eric might be ready to ship off on another sea faring adventure at any moment. There is also a faint warm glow inside the captain's quarters to give us a feeling that maybe... just maybe Eric is sitting there thinking about the girl he has yet to meet. This was a quick little painting which captured the ship well as far as the producer was concerned so I cut out the ship and tossed the rest of the painting.

Dark subdued stonework
My original pastel/watercolor concept from the film 
For the architectural elements I used the same approach when I designed Eric's Castle for the film "Little Mermaid". It has a decidedly mediterranean flavor so I also incorporated terra cotta roof tiles and lots, and lots of palms but kept that section purposely dark to attempt to blend in more seamlessly with the actual stone wall which is also dark.  There will also be plants and props placed at specific edges to help bridge the transition from my flat illustration to the "real" world of the guests. We researched the placement of the horizon line and arrived at a compromise of placing it  4 1/2 feet above the walkway surface. You have to keep in mind that some guest view it standing while others will be seated in "clam-cars" for the ride. I also wanted to err on keeping it lower to accommodate the children's view. We also kept tabs on the progress of the version being installed in "California Adventure" to better help us in doing a thorough job. 

I can't say enough about the help I received from the folks at WDI during this very enjoyable project. They were always ready to give a helpful suggestion or provide any additional reference. Can't wait to see the "Journey of the Little Mermaid" and all the other exciting additions when the New Fantasyland opens.