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!