This is the fun decade where animation really grew into its own and was no longer just for the Barney-aged audience. As the box offices grew for the pictures, so did our budgets. We recreated the art of animation! Unfortunately, once we figured out the right recipe there were too many cooks spoiling the soup. The end of the decade saw the end of the rise in animation. But is was fun being in on the ground floor of the rebirth in the 80's and 90's.
The Lion King
I worked on visual development back when this was "Jefferie's Bambi-With-Lions Idea" which later was titled "King of the Jungle" (until someone realized that lions don't live in the jungle). You were put on this if there was nothing else for you to do on a green-lit film. People came and went constantly. It was known as "Development Hell" since there was no direction nor story to focus on. Much later, Director George Scribner took over and set us on the path that would eventually become Rob Minkoff and Roger Aller's "Lion King". I did a little story boarding under George. Focused mainly on scenes involving that wonderful side kick character Batty the Bat-Eared Fox. Remember her? She was Nala's best friend. No?
The Prince and the Pauper
I have no memory for time and dates, so I am sure this film is in the wrong chronological spot. As we rolled off of one film and waited for the next - or even during down time on a picture, we often lent our skills to other development projects. (Back before the company grew so large that they had to put us all into categories and no longer let us work on multiple projects at the same time.) Most of the ideas never saw the light of day. This is one that did. I only drew guard designs for a couple of weeks before moving on.
This was one of those films that had a ton of ideas come and go. I think it was Michael Eisner who thought of a scene where all Disney couples march to "Pomp and Circumstance" and instead of receiving a graduation diploma a stork brings them a baby - thusly carrying on the next generation of Disney heroes. I did one of the mannnnnny versions of this song. I, however, boarded the part of Jasmine and Aladdin receiving their child as an ode to Fanny Brice. Ever watch "Funny Girl"? You know what I'm talking about? My sketch had the baby looking a bit too blue to be Aladdin's. It was done as a joke - never to be put to screen. (I also did a serious version to be nice.) Producer Don Ernst framed the panel and had it hanging in his office for years.
I really wanted to move back home to the East Coast. I let my Disney contract run out and prepared to move. Director, Darrell Rooney pulled me over to Turner Animation Studios to do one last story bit before I left. Loads of fun working with the crew, but I don't recommend trying to correct a story that was written by the company's owner.
Hunchback of Notre Dame
I tried to find work in MA, but this was before the personal computer and internet. (Yes, kiddies. There once was such a time.) Fortunately, Mike Giaimo called to offer me his teaching position at CalArts which he was leaving to art direct at the Big D. I flew back to Valencia, CA to teach. While I was in town... Disney called me in to do story and development. Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale took me back to board on their opera staring realistic whales. The title was "Song of the Sea". Fortunately, they were switched over to a better known drama called "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". This was one of those productions where I was doing both visual development while story boarding. Sometimes, it is hard to split the two when you are visualizing the development of the story.
Jeffrey Katzenberg wanted this film to be very realistic in hopes of catching the Academy's eye. It is difficult to capture every story aspect of a character in one still drawing. I drew hundreds of realistic Frollos that never flew. I finally gave up and used the graphic language vocabulary to speak out how I think the villain's personality should look. As soon as I drew a very graphic expression of Frollo, his design was approved. Animator Kathy Zielinski ran with my image and translated it back into a realistic style. Sometimes, you have to forgo the style to get the story. Story is most important! Do whatever you can to nail the story first - then translate it into the chosen style.
We have come a long way in this industry towards making ethnic people look like ethnic people and not bland, generic, non-ethnic mannequins. We use to have long, drawn out meetings over how large Jasmine's nose should be in "Aladdin". When I was designing Asian characters for "Mulan" you would not believe how many animators complained that they needed the large (Ariel Type) cheeks in order to act out feelings. The money in the company was afraid we would lose mass appeal (and box office cash) if the characters were too ethnic specific. People need a generic "every-man" to relate to. Thank GOD we now embrace the beauty of our differences and know it is the story that sells tickets, not how generic we draw our people. "Mulan" helped us move in the right design direction.
Tina Price (of CTN) started the "Creation Station" where development artists could learn how to use a computer for drawing. I loved it because our quick sketches could now be made in full color presentation quality to help better sell ideas. You didn't have to repaint an entire image to change one little figure. When, in Story, ideas leave as fast as they come, your art has to be quick to keep up with the development. "Hercules" was the first film on which I used Corel Painter.
"Hercules" was also the first film where many of my drawings were used literally in the final product. Normally, development art is used purely for inspiration for the production artists to springboard off of with their own art. I guess no one wanted to re-draw the mosaic billboard. The new computer system made it possible to scan my art in and animate that actual drawing.
I began "Hercules" doing the usual vis dev designing. I didn't like the Christian Hell direction of the Underworld and decided to do my own version of a production design based on Greek mythology and art. When boarding started, I left Vis Dev to join the story department. But the directors liked my design concepts enough to pull me back into look development and help Andy Gaskill find an art direction that the production could use. I created a "How To" design booklet and trained all artists at all the studios, (LA, Florida, London, and Paris), how to draw the final style choice. There was no position at this time like what I was doing, so they made up the title Production Stylist just for me. For more information on being the Production Stylist and to see more art I created, check out the "Art Of" books Disney produced on "Hercules".
Emperor's New Groove
After "Hercules" I worked quite a bit with the Creative Executives in Development. I helped them develop ideas of theirs as well as a few of my own. This led to my directing a Live Action / CGI Animation Short testing the new MAYA animation technology. They later used this to create "Dinosaurs". I guess that made me the first female director at Disney Features. But it was only for a test, so I don't count it. That credit I proudly give to my friend, Stevie Wermers. I did also direct a team of story artist to develop a version of "The Snow Queen", but the version was never green lit. So again, Stevie is the Queen!
While floating about Development, I was often loaned to films to help out here and there. "The Emperor's New Groove" or "Kingdom of the Sun" as it was called while I was on it, was one of those shows. I only did costuming for a couple of weeks.
I was asked to repeat the Production Styling job that I did on "Hercules" for "Atlantis". Now, "Production Stylist" is not a real title. We made it up on "Hercules". It is sort of production designing and art directing mixed together without the official title or pay. So, when I was offered to art direct another film, I left to do an actual position. Unfortunately, that film was never made. Fortunately, I left that idea to direct a team to develop a version of "The Snow Queen". Unfortunately, that was never made either. Sometimes choosing work is a gamble: should you trade up for a better title that may not happen or stick with the definite posistion? As for "ATLANTIS", I did do a "How To Draw Like Mike Mignola" booklet for the "Atlantis" artists. But I don't think the directors ever let the production people see it.
Besides directing a group of story artists to develop a pitch for the Snow Queen, I also directed a short technology test. The CHAIRIE TEST was used to learn how to use the new technology of the time that combined live action and CGI animation. This was virgin technology and we wanted to see if it would be practicle to create a feature length film with it. I wrote, boarded, and directed the live action shoot and CGI animation from development into post production. It was a fabulous learning experience even if the shoot was 115 degrees in mid-summer Valencia, CA. Disney ended up continuing on with the technology and created the film "Dinosaurs". I guess you could say I was Disney Feature Animation's first female director. But since this was just a technology test and not for market, I don't think it counts.
Lilo and Stitch
This is the last show I worked on that was made at Disney Feature Animation. I did another "How To" booklet. This time it was "How To Draw Like Chris Sanders". I think "Hercules" put me in my own design niche for teaching people how to draw whatever style a picture had chosen ... Something I love doing. After "LILO" and a few more Creative Executive development projects, I was lent out to Disney Television (feature film division) until my contract ran out. It was a good move though, since I was given a Head of Story posistion.
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