Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Bugs Bunny Turns 75!

Working in the field of animation means you'll most likely have the opportunity to work for a few studios. The upshot of that of course, well besides staying employed, is that you'll get to experience much more diversity in styles, story telling and even subject matter. Plus you get to meet lots of different people. I've enjoyed working for the Walt Disney Studio for many years but also found happiness creating for Warner Brothers, Don Bluth Studios, MGM, ILM, Lucasfilm and others.
Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs

I was asked to create an illustration to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of Bugs Bunny. What Mickey Mouse is to Disney, Bugs Bunny certainly fills the same role for Warner Brothers. As in most animated characters, Bugs was not the sole creation of any one person but rather developed by a few key people while appearing in shorts, one of the earliest being "Porky's Hare Hunt" directed by Ben "Bugs" Hardaway in 1938.
Mel Blanc gave the hare a voice and his wise acre delivery was somewhat inspired by Groucho Marx.

Bugs' first appearance in A Wild Hare (1940).
It may not have been the first but "A Wild Hare" directed by Tex Avery and released in 1940 is widely regarded as the first official Bugs Bunny cartoon. This short also heard Bugs utter for the first time his immortal line," Ehh... what's up Doc?" It was also honored with a nomination for Best Cartoon Short Subject the same year.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

DuckTales 30th Anniversary!

D23 is the biggest Disney fan event of the year and eagerly awaited by fans around the world. For this year’s 2017 event,  I did a tribute illustration to a series that I had a key role in bringing to the small (and big) screen, DuckTales. You can click on this link to read behind the scenes of the original series and see a little of the concept art I created for it along with stories of its creation and fabulous and very talented crew I was fortunate to work with.

This summer when D23 erupts, Disney Television Animation will be unveiling a new version of DuckTales while at the same time celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the beloved series that is credited with being the very cornerstone of the Disney Afternoon. Has it really been that long? Well, in one word, yes! WOO HOO!

All in a day's work for me back in the 80s
Marc Buhaj, Senior Vice President Programming at Disney XD had made the announcement a couple of years ago that a new series based on the late 1980s hit show would be coming to TV in 2017. Well here we are finally and the newest version is set to travel on more amazing adventures. It will include the same beloved characters from our old series including Scrooge McDuck, Huey, Dewey, Louie, Launchpad, Donald Duck, Gyro Gearloose, Magica DeSpell, Ma Beagle and her boys and all the rest of the Disney denizens of Duckburg.

Boy do I wish we had the digital tools back in the day when we cranked out the old series. In those days it was strictly the "3 P's ", paper, pencil and paint! Oh the things we could have done with a Cintiq during the limited time we were allowed for the shows! Oh well, those bells and whistles can now be appreciated with the latest incarnation that will be exploding across small screens this summer. I can only wish the new crew the best and hope they achieve as much success and appreciation among the fans with their reboot as we were able to enjoy with the original series. Both crews, old and new were and are incredibly talented!

One of my old concept pieces for the original series
For the original series, there were definite changes in the character design along with the look of the backgrounds. I didn’t use Carl Bark’s look of the McDuck Mansion which was simply laid out as more rectangular, and decided to design a sprawling country manor home with helio-port, swimming pool and so on. I naturally incorporated the dollar sign motif into everything I could think of while design those areas to celebrate McDuck's love of money. I was very apprehensive when I ran these designs by Carl to get his feedback. To my relief he laughed and though they were great. He said, “I wish I had thought of that!”  Of course he was being humble as he was the man who had created the entire realm of Duckburg, it’s citizens their exciting adventures and I was just giving my take on some revisions for some key locations.

The new crew of DuckTales
Nevertheless I know I actually blushed with that compliment as it was from the master himself. There would not have been a DuckTales series or a reboot if not for Carl and his comics creation.
For the record, (I know there is discussion among DuckTales fans about it) Carl actually really enjoyed the first season of the animated series. I can share that viewpoint because that is what he told me. All of our artistic endeavors went through the talented hands of Brad Landreth, great friend and head Art Director of the series.

Frank Angones and Matt Youngberg share the Co-Producers hats along with shepherding storylines to make sure the new DuckTales does its lineage proud. From what I’ve seen, it does exactly that!While the old characters from the original show were constructed in the traditional rounded shapes, the new versions are made up of more straights and sharper edges which is a very interesting departure and will definitely be a fresh take. Tim Moen is one of the key artists heading up character design on the show and is part of the extremely talented crew. When the studio invited me over to see the early design look for the new version, it was still being fleshed out within a fairly slightly grayed color scheme.

My 30th Anniversary piece sold out the 1st Day!
Since then, the palette was pushed slightly more into a realm of saturation by its brilliant art director Sean Jimenez and I think it really helped breathe more life into the cool settings. The backgrounds are simplified in their design compared to the original series and use a linear floating line over underlying swatches of subdued hues with crisp dynamic shapes. Together with the spunky character styling this is certainly a fresh new look for the old series and I applaud them for trying something so bold and dynamic.

For my tribute piece, I wanted the old original cast that I had worked on headed up by their fearless leader Uncle Scrooge to be rounding an old winding stairwell and coming face to face, er… make that beak to beak, with their mirror images of the new reboot of the series.You can see a small closeup snippet of my new painting on the left showcasing a few of the original members who have just come across something  that has taken their breath away and stopped them cold in their tracks. That something is of course their duck dopplegangers. The new painting was unveiled this summer at D23 to coincide with the new series. I had hoped the old fans as well as the new fans would enjoy my painting as the tribute it is meant to be to the old and the new and was happily surprised.The original painting, all of the giclee framed prints and the entire run of deluxe prints sold out the very first day they were offered at D23! WOO HOO!!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

"A Pirates Life for Me!"

The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland is so well known and enjoyed by the millions who have adventured through its caverns that its almost impossible to even imagine the park without it. The fact is that the pirates didn’t hoist their sails or stow their gear until eleven years after Disneyland opened it’s gates and lowered the castle drawbridge.

Marty Sklar, Disney Legend and former Principle Creative Exec at Walt Disney Imagineering admitted that it had originally been planned as a fairly modest walk through with wax figures donning the pirate garb. However when the popularity of the Disney projects at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair proved many of the new innovations his team had pioneered, Walt scrapped the old concept in favor of something much grander in scale. 

Marc Davis and Walt share a laugh
You landlubbers might be surprised to learn that the success of the boat vehicles of It’s a Small World at the fair directly affected the Pirates ride and became the transportation method of choice. it was a way of directing the guests towards each tableau and keeping things running on a time schedule so they could move guests through without prodding.

Yale tides up a Pirate
Another Fair attraction that influenced Pirates was the audioanimatronic magic of Great Moments with Mr. Linclon. When it was decided to scrap the wax figure idea in favor of the emerging field of animatronics, a few of the Imagineers wanted to lean towards a more caricatures and cartoony look. Walt immediately vetoed that suggestion and told them to go for the more natural appearance of Lincoln for an example. “It’s all about breathing life into these characters”, he explained to his team.

Francis Xavier Atencio, or "X" as we call him,  wrote the legendary lyrics with music by George Bruns that became a theme song for the attraction, "A Pirates Life for Me!" You also might recognize X's voice as the talking skull that greets the guests before the plumes down their first waterfall which he also penned.
Imagineer Yale Gracey (and former Donald Duck unit head of Layout under director Jack Hannah). Yale created the astounding effect for the fire sequence. It was so realistic the Anaheim Fire Department was hesitant to approve it fearing the guests would panic at the frightening sight. Marty Sklar recalls with a laugh, “We had to convince them it wasn’t real.”

Claude Coats "Onsite Art Director"
Another spooky tidbit  for you Pirates fans. Did you know that Walt and the Imagineers were disappointed with the skeleton characters that were originally set to be installed in the attraction? In his book Pirates of the Caribbean:From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies, Disney Producer Jason Surrell elaborated on the tale. They were so upset that the faux skeletons were , "just too unconvincing" that they contacted UCLA Medical Center to "borrow" some boney bodies from the anatomy Department. Over the years as sculpting and casting methods improved most of the real skeletons were replaced by the newly cast ones.
"Skull"-duggery on display

However there are still reported to be a few of the real variety "skull"-king around the ride. Of the many reports they seem to be whittled down to these: two skulls on the sand bar after the second waterfall and a skull and crossbones adorning the headboard of a bed. They are darker and more realistically aged than the other skulls. The main evidence cited is the extra details inside the skulls and around the nose not to mention the very teeth themselves.

ARRGGH, and yes maties,  political correctness creeped in to the Pirates attraction as it has into so many creative crevices in our country. In the 1990's some bitterly lonely folks berated the company for having those dastardly pirates chasing wenches, er... I mean women. So the company buckled and turned the tables with women chasing the poor pirates. So I guess stealing loot, attempted murder, drunk and disorderly and wide scale arson are OK but don't you dare chase the fair ladies! Lucky for Walt the political correctness police hadn't corrupted an innocent and entertaining expression of historically hilarious fun back in his day. X Atencio heard about these ridiculous changes and now refers to the ride as "Boy Scouts of the Caribbean."

I was very fortunate to know and in some case work with many of the key Imagineers that created the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. These include Marc Davis, (wife) Alice Davis, Claude Coats, Herbie Ryman, X Atencio, Yale Gracey and others so writing this post has been a combination of happy nostalgia mixed with sadness that except for Alice they are gone, but a realization that I was fortunate to at least have had them for friends.

So here we are, 50 years later. I was asked to do a tribute piece for the attraction that was in the same vein of my Haunted Mansion piece that earlier celebrated its anniversary. So I created a “sister” piece that is in the retro styling I seem to be somewhat known for in some circles. The tough part for me was attempting to narrow down so many wonderful experiences from the ride into a smaller number that could fit on one poster. I knew I wanted to use a warm theme after all, there’s always some drunken pirate yelling out  “we wants the redhead”. I kept the guests in a cocoon of cool colors to keep them separate from the world of pirate make believe. I hope ye like it ya bloomin cockroach and if yer ship docks at D23, pick one up for yer booty an' stop by me station and I'll be a happy to sign it, arrgghh!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

"It's a Small World After All"

Painting the "Blues" while listening to them.
To celebrate the famous attraction's 50th Anniversary, I decided to create a painting in my retro style as an artistic acknowledgment to the time period in which it opened in 1967, well at the Disneyland location anyway. I wanted to show the iconic facade with a nod to the famous balloon motif along with the streamlined boat filled with happy guests.

The familiar tune is famous the world over and whether it recalls the colorful attraction at Disneyland or simply the arrival of a local neighborhood ice cream truck, it elicits smiles from children young and old. The original creation was devised at the Walt Disney Studios and over at its sister studio WED and here's some of the backstory.

The destination was to be the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. A major soft drink company, Pepsi-Cola had wanted a major attraction at the fair but the board of directors argued over what exactly that would be. Board member and actress Joan Crawford who had recently been widowed by the former president of the company called upon her Hollywood friend, Walt Disney, to help them out. Pepsi execs jumped at the chance and traveled to California in February of 1963 and ran into "Admiral" Joe Fowler who was the construction honcho for Disneyland. He informed the disappointed Pepsi execs that they (Disney) were already working on 3 previously committed attractions and because it was less than a year left couldn't possibly take on another. Walt found out and from all accounts he hit the roof. (There's reportedly still a dent there, the roof, not Walt). Anyway he told Joe and the rest, "I'll make those decisions! Tell Pepsi I'll do it!"  Walt explained that they were never going to be too busy for a great opportunity like this to showcase what the Disney company could create. You have to watch those kinds of missteps or you can be demoted from an admiral to seaman in one quick cut.

One of Mary Blair's lovely concepts
Original Installation at World's Fair
Walt was well aware that he had already committed his talented team of Imagineers to projects for the State of Illinois, General Electric and Kodak but was still game for the challenge. Walt commissioned a feasibility study but everyone involved already knew it was a done deal. The challenge was that they had to deliver the completed pavilion in only 11 months, yes I said it, ELEVEN MONTHS people! 

Opening Day with Walt and kids 
Joan Crawford then dictated to the board that they would accept Walt Disney’s proposal no matter what he presented. Because of the short lead time to come up with a concept and construct the attraction. Disneyland was about to celebrate its wildly successful first decade so the man obviously knew what he was doing and had the right people to back up his dreams. Some of the most talented Imagineers from WED pitched in to make the last minute attraction a reality. Mary Blair, one of the key creative concept people (and one of my favorites!) at the studio in the 1940s through the 1950s had left to work on her own. Walt asked her to come back and lend her talents to the attraction and she was happy to oblige. The Small World dream team included Marc Davis one of the 9 old men and his lovely wife Alice Davis who designed the costumes for the dolls. Claude Coats came up with additional color studies. Rolly Crump came up with inside toys and eventually the outdoor display named Tower of the Four Winds. Blain Gibson was charged with sculpting the doll faces.
The attraction was originally called “Children of the World”. Walt was immersed in a “walk thru” of the model settings with a couple of his song writers, the Sherman Brothers. During the visit, he told them he needed, “… ONE song that can be easily translated and be played as a round”. For those reading this unfamiliar with the term “round” think back to your early school days when your class was divided into groups singing different sections of “Row, row, row your boat.” The song the brothers came up with was so memorable that they even changed the attraction's name to, you guessed it, "It's a Small World."

Marc's audioanimatronic sketches
The married team of Marc and Alice Davis supplied a One-Two punch of creativity. Marc designed many of the various lands within the attraction while Walt personally asked Alice to oversee the costumes. Have you ever counted the doll population in Small World? Well someone did, and it's over 300! That's a sizable group which translates to quite a few colorful and culturally accurate fashions from around the world thanks in large part to Alice Davis.

Alice Davis sizes up doll
Over 90 percent of the guests of the 1964 World's Fair the opening year made it their mission to attend "It's a Small World." For some reason even though Pepsi was the sponsor of the original attraction, when it migrated to Disneyland, Bank of America, one of the key backers of the park took over the steering rudder by taking over sponsorship of the "happiest cruise that ever sailed."

Sadly Rolly Crump's marvelous "Tower of the Four Winds" didn't join the move to Anaheim. It was replaced by another of his crafty and creative concoctions of a 30 foot clock centered within a facade based on Mary Blair's styling that symbolized structures and shapes from around the world. The guests in line, along with those in the loading area get to watch the toy soldiers trumpet the parade of dolls every quarter hour. So if it's a very crowded day, well, you're going to get to enjoy that parade over... and over... and over.
Celebrating 50 Years of the Happiest Cruise that ever Sailed!

As per Walt's vision the imagineers kept attempting to improve on what was there. They added visual imagery projected onto the facade set to music that even included surprised gusts in the audience that very day. Imagine looking up and seeing a closeup of Aunt Mildred bigger than life on the Small World facade devouring her third delicious Dole Whip? Yikes!

From January to November 2008 they dry-docked the happy little cruise while the fiberglass boats were replaced by a more durable plastic body. The water propulsion was upgraded to smoother and more powerful electric water jet turbines. Other additions have included installing characters from Disney films within the lands such as Alice, Lilo, Stitch and even Woody numbering 29 new characters in all. It has been argued (quite successfully) that the them song, "It's a Small World" is the single most performed and translated piece of music on Earth. I was even told by no less an authority of the Sherman Brothers themselves that somewhere in the world, it's being played at this moment. I believe it, and have to thank Walt and his talented team of imagineers for one of the most magical and memorable of all Disney attractions! Happy 50th SMALL WORLD!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Disney Cruise Line Art

Disney Cruise collectible artwork
The maiden voyage for the beautiful Disney Magic ship was July 30, 1988. This ship has astounded its guests with beautiful views from the exquisite staterooms to the magnificent Grand Atrium Lobby which guests enjoy when they first enter the ship. Yep that is a big'n as we say down south. As impressive as it is on the outside, the interior is breathtaking. 

Each Inside stateroom has a "virtual" porthole showing rolling waves and Disney characters swimming by all in HD. And you won't guess the next item. One of the most popular features is the first ever water roller coaster at sea - the Aqua Duck is 250 yards of transparent tubing that sends guests soaring over the top decks and at one point - over the ocean! Donald Duck may have had something to do with this inventive aqua adventure.

The Aqua Duck overhanging one of the many spas 
When I was approached by Disney to create artwork for the Cruise line I first asked about the ports of call. After discovering that it visited the Caribbean I had my theme! I painted the pieces in gouache just as we used to back at Disney Studios from Pinocchio of the 1930s and on into Rescuers of the 1970s. Well they did sneak in some oil paint for Bambi but that my friends is as they say another story. 

Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse were my obvious choice of a happy couple enjoying a cruise together. I used a palette of tropical colors to give the settings a bright colorful feel that would remind the guests of their wonderful vacations on the Disney Dream while down in the Caribbean. I then requested the Disney framers use bamboo motifs as the framing element to finish it off. Left to right are: Cruise the Caribbean, Running Through the Waves, and Tubing Offshore. I sincerely hope you like all three of them.

Disney Cruiseline limited edition art
The Disney Magic offers the latest designs in contemporary staterooms, elegant restaurants, and fabulous entertainment.  In addition to the kids' clubs, there are nightclubs and lounges, as well as theaters for movies and live shows. And don't forget the artwork. Bon voyage!

Monday, February 6, 2017

"A Lifetime of Achievement"

Disney Award Book cover Mike Peraza
Here's the early press release for a book about the awards presented to Walt Disney over his lifetime:

" Walt Disney received over six-hundred personal awards and honors over the course of his amazing life. The accolades were given by a wide variety of private and public organizations as well as governments from around the world. 

Besides being recognized for his contributions to the field of entertainment, Walt Disney was also acknowledged for his innumerable contributions to public service, the environment, education, and technology. 

Walt receives special award for Snow White
A Lifetime of Achievement by author David Lesjak, chronicles all of Walt’s myriad collection awards and goes into depth describing the reasons he received each one. The awards are portrayed throughout the volume in photographs, some of which have not seen the light of day in decades. 

The book, with amazing cover art by renowned Disney artist Mike Peraza, will be available for purchase in the Fall of 2017 through Amazon and the publisher, Theme Park Press."