They Drew As They Pleased: The Hidden Art Of Disney’s Musical Years (The 1940s – Part Two) by Didier Ghez (book review)

October 26, 2017 | By | Reply More

If you think that after the first two books of ‘They Drew As They Pleased’, that this one would also feature concept artists, you would be mistaken. This one focuses on the Story Research Department which because its name seemed to centre on character design than its real job and was later renamed as Character Model Department with an extended brief into character design. They also made models of the characters to help some of the animators be able to study them from all angles. There was also a lot of animosity created by some of the older animators, not helped by how much time Disney spent in their department, even if said artists later thought he was become a bit of a csar. Although the department lasted only 4 years, from the looks of things the World War Two draft took most of the talent, it was also one of the busiest times for Disney.

Book credit: They Drew as They Pleased Vol. 3: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Late Golden Age (The 1940s – Part Two) by Didier Ghez and foreword by Andreas Deja (Chronicle Books, £35)

I did wonder if writer Didier Ghez would cover any failures from that period. Executive John Rose could employ secretaries but not artists, so he brought in Ecuadorian artist Eduardo Solá Franco (1915-1996) unbeknown to Disney to work on a ‘Don Quixote’ project in 1939 but with carte blanch to write and draw it to make the story work. Office politics being what it was, he was kept away from the other artists although when ‘Don Quixote’ was seen as a failure, Franco worked briefly on some other films there before resigning and finally writing and illustrating books. Seeing the paintings from ‘Don Quixote’ here should be an enlightening as to what could have been. Franco’s designs are highly stylised but fitting with the remit to make it look Spanish.

P. 67: Flower Dancers model sheet created for Fantasia by Johnny Walbridge

John William Walbridge (1900-1964)’s uncle was Willis O’Brien was something that made my eyes open wider. A cartoonist himself, he got to work at Disney after working on a newspaper. He designed the dancing mushrooms for ‘Fantasia’ amongst others as well as characters for ‘Dumbo’ and ‘Alice In Wonderland’. In the animation shorts, he also drew a lot of comical musical instruments. Looking at his portfolio here and you wonder why Disney let him go because they have that rare ability to look like they were moving.

P. 96-1: Early character designs of Figaro from Pinocchio by Jack Miller.

Jack Miller (1913-2004) could draw and sculpt. Although he only worked for Disney for 8 years, in that time he created the character designs that were used in ‘Pinocchio’, ‘Dumbo’ and ‘Peter Pan’. Another artist who was never fully satisfied with his art but the sheer movement in his work tends to show remarkable talent. Of all the work in these three books so far, seeing so much that looks like the films makes this more the remarkable.

Campbell Grant (1909-1992) designed the ‘Dance Of The Hours’, ‘Night On Bald Mountain’ and ‘Ave Maria’ sequences for ‘Fantasia’ before convincing Disney to do ‘Wind In The Willows’. You have to love his ballet performing ostriches.

P. 191-3: “El Gaucho Goofy” by James Bodrero.

James Bodero (1900-1980) was another artist from ‘Fantastia’ with ‘The Pastoral Symphony’ and, later, ‘Wind In The Willows’. A sequence for ‘Dumbo’ where Tim the Mouse explains how mice were once enormous and elephants tiny wasn’t made to explains why elephants were afraid of mice. Seeing the illustrations here and its understandable why the more scary aspects would have paled before the drunken Dumbo sequence and sent kids home with nightmares.

Finally, we have artist and sculptor Martin Provensen (1916-1987) although it’s a shame we don’t see his models. His art alone is staggering. Again, another ‘Fantasia’ alumni who also worked on ‘Dumbo’ and ‘Bambi’ even if he didn’t like skunks, which he drew. After leaving Disney, he went on with his wife, Alice, into illustrated books. Something that is significant is that he created Tony The Tiger for Kellogg’s ‘Frosties’ cereal in 1952.

Looking at this book as a collective will take your breath away. As the Character Model Department, the designs are a lot closer to the Disney model that you see in the animated films but the overall variety of work here in pencil and paint is eye-opening. This is real talent from a bygone age and if you watch Disney’s early films, you’ll realise how much work these people did before the animators brought them to life. An immensely satisfying set of books.

GF Willmetts

September 2017

(pub: Chronicle Books, 2017. 248 page oblong illustrated hardback. Price: £35.00 (UK), $45.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-4521-5193-94)

check out website: www.chroniclebooks.com

Category: Illustration, Movie books

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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