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HAPPY HALLOWEEN! October 31, 2016 13:30

So here's the finished, colored witch drawing! Even though I draw and ink everything traditionally, I do scan the finished piece and often color it digitally.

The reason for this is simple: the computer allows me to experiment with color choices I would never risk if an original ink was on the line. I have indeed lost some well-liked drawings to painting disasters in the past, and, for me, death by color is never quick. It starts with a bad color choice or bobble somewhere, and then me trying to correct it, which causes something else to go wrong, and so on and so forth until I'm staring down at a terrible mess and I'm forced to concede that the drawing died a few hours back.

So here's to the arrival of Photoshop color! If you missed the process videos showing the preparation and then inking of this drawing, you can check out Part 1 and Part 2.


And of course, HAPPY HALLOWEEN!


INKtober - Part 2 October 31, 2016 00:18

Let me stop right here for a moment and tell you how blown away I was by this video that my wife Jess edited. By Friday morning, I'd already dumped 1 1/2 hrs of video on her, and then proceeded to add another four pick up shots to complete the inking continuity. As I spent the day coloring the image, she methodically worked to assemble, trim, speed up, and pace this. Long day and story short, by the time we went to the gym she'd finished the video you'll see here! I am absolutely enchanted by this, and have watched it about ten times now. Jess really shaped something marvelous. I hope you like it as much as I do. I think you will.


Okay, so this is the inking part of the inking video set. (To see Part 1, which shows the rough sketch being enlarged, cleaned up, and transferred to Bristol for inking, go here.) As for materials, I like a Winsor & Newton Series 7 #1 brush. For ink, nothing beats Winsor & Newton black Indian ink. The one with the spider on the label, not the dragon. The ink from the spider label bottle is made from the blood of a giant space spider and is collected at great risk and expense and is the blackest black I've ever run across. The ink from the dragon label bottle is made from people who work as coal sculptors blowing their noses and collecting what comes out in bottles and calling it ink.

If you haven't yet done this and are thinking of trying it, let me urge you to use a real sable brush. Years ago while I was working at Disney, I was staying late, trying to ink something. It wasn't going well. I had tried doing this before, and it always, always, always ended in sadness, defeat, and piles of horrid, tortured little inked characters that looked like they'd been put through a special machine designed to make things appear as though an anteater that had been freshly run over had, as his final act, dipped his tongue in ink and tried to draw something.

I was on, like, the seventh one of these tiny disasters when Richard Vander Wende happened by. Richard is an incredible artist who can draw and paint anything. Anything. He was working on Aladdin at the time, helping define their style, and was apparently also working late. As he passed by my desk I did that thing where I leaned over my drawing like I was having a stomach ache so he wouldn't see the shameful state of what I was doing.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

"I'm... I'm trying to ink. But it isn't going very well," I said in a low and ashamed tone as I straightened up to reveal my tragic drawings.

He considered this for a moment, then said...

"Do you mind if I give you some advice?"

Now advice from Richard is something to be listened to, and I fatefully said "yes."

And this is one of those moments that was a turning point in my life. He said something so simple and important.

"You're using a really cheap brush. If you want that stuff to work you need to spend some money on a sable brush."

Richard then showed me a proper sable brush and how it holds a point and can be mooshed almost flat and then return to a beautiful point. He showed me that you can re-shape it any number of ways and it will resiliently return to a razor-sharp point in an instant.

This changed everything for me. I went and spent a staggering (for the time) twenty dollars on a brush and instantly... instantly, my inking got better. Not just better, but by then end of an hour I was pretty much doing everything I'd hoped I'd be able to do when I started trying to ink in the first place. So if you want to do this sort of thing, find the right brush for you. But I'd advise finding a sable brush as a starting point.

And all of this is to produce something that simply can't be accomplished digitally. You will have a magical thing called an original. By definition there is nothing else quite like it. Yes, it's a lot of work to take all these steps, but in the end I have an inked piece that is immune to power failures, format changes, EMP, and computer crashes. Go to a comic con and spend the day looking through old inked pages and paintings and tell me you'd prefer those artists had drawn and inked them digitally. Last I looked, an original "Peanuts" comic strip starts at something like ten thousand dollars. But the best part is seeing the lines, the hints of pencil, the expert lettering. Knowing that actual page spent time with the artist and vice-versa.

And before you say it (because someone always says it), my drawing has every property of a digital drawing as well, since I've already scanned it. The best of both worlds!


INKtober - Part 1 October 28, 2016 01:44

For the past couple of years, I've wanted to get in on this whole October inking thing. Not the inking itself, I guess, but the whole sharing of it. With October waning, my wife Jess suggested I finally do something about it before time runs out. The problem was that I needed a drawing to record myself inking. Luckily, I had just been sketching a witch which was inspired by a George Petty drawing I'm fond of, so I had a fresh drawing on hand that was ready and waiting to be prepped for finish.

Now, before I begin, I must say that not only would I have not done this before next year if Jess hadn't suggested I finally get busy and do it, but the vital building of the following video was something she assembled for me. Partially because I didn't have time to and she's extremely gracious, talented, supportive, and enthusiastic that way, and critically, she also doesn't have the newest crappy version of iMovie. Because she is cautious about updating her programs, Jess still has an older iMovie that actually works. So a couple nights ago we had a swell time doing a bit of editing together on it. I love to shoot film and video, and curiously, I love to cut most of it out later. We really had fun doing the final cut.

But first I must say, I love ink. I love looking for it, buying it, and keeping it handy. I love that it comes in tiny amounts, like jewels or spices. I love that you need pens and nibs and brushes to make it work. I love dipping pens and brushes into it. I love drawing with it, painting with it, and writing letters with it. I love that if your power goes out or your computer crashes it has no effect on your inked drawings. I love that it makes you take the time to think about what you are writing, and I love that it makes original drawings that there are only one of in the entire world.

Years ago when Joe Grant was still alive and working at Disney Studios, he happened to walk into my room. He immediately exclaimed, "Oh, you have ink! That's so good to see. No one has ink anymore. Do you use it?" I told him yes, indeed I did. This led to a long, long conversation about ink and all the adventures we'd had with it. He drew every day, I think. And he drew with ink. Boldly. Decisively.

Sometimes I draw and sketch with ink instead of pencil, as a way of keeping from slowing down and being too precious with my rough ideas. Sometimes, as in this video, I use ink to pull a pencil sketch into a singular, final drawing that is ready to be scanned and colored. When I do that, I usually transfer the original sketch as a red-line onto a sheet of plate-finish Bristol. And I usually enlarge it substantially. 

And that is what this first video is about.

The reason for this enlarging transfer is simple: even though I can greatly vary the thickness of an inked line, there's a general line to size relationship I want for the finished drawing. The fatter the final line I want, the smaller the initial redline. The thinner the final ink line, the larger the redline. There's also a certain "draw" to the line that comes at a larger scale. This "draw" is the smooth landscape of a long leg, for example. A leg that is about six to nine inches long will have a nice scale for a brush to trace with a minimal of waver. And this is why I use plate finish Bristol. It allows my hand to slide along without "catching," which will produce a smooth, continuous line. So in this video you'll see the transfer of a smaller sketch to a larger sheet of Bristol, ready for ink.

I'll scan the original sketch, print it out on a couple sheets of plain paper, assemble them into one continuous print, and then use a Scarlet Red Col-Erase pencil to rub a surface onto the back side of that print. This will allow that print to then be carefully traced down onto a fine sheet of Bristol.


Come back next week for the second video, which will feature the actual inking!


Katrina Van Tassel Rides Again... For The Last Time? October 27, 2016 11:30

It's that time of year again! With nights getting longer, and impish breezes scattering leaves before them, it's time to dust off our copy of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad! It's not just that it's the right time for such wonderful Halloween fare -- as an annual tradition, we always watch it the night before our yearly excursion to Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland!

(If this is the first you've heard of it, you can read more about my fondness and admiration for The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad -- more specifically, the "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" portion of the film -- in this blog post from 2014.)

My wife Jess donned her extraordinarily beautiful Katrina Van Tassel costume (crafted by Dot and her talented team at Trashy Lingerie) and we made for the park to take in all the sights, sounds, and amazing decorations and costumes that put us in the spirit of the season. This was a particularly perfect year for Jess to arrive as Katrina Van Tassel, as the Halloween parade was led by the Headless Horseman himself! Yep, riding a huge black horse, he made his headless way down Main Street clutching a glowing pumpkin in his hand. Really, really fantastic. It was good to see that Disneyland hadn't forgotten "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and its wonderful characters.

Every year, Jess and I make a little bet as to how many people might recognize her as Katrina. Now, granted, there's more than one version of Katrina in the film. Katrina appears in two forms in the featurette: when Katrina first appears, she's riding in a carriage, carrying a green parasol, and wearing a little white Dutch cap; later, during the all-important Halloween party at Baron Van Tassel's farm, Katrina appears without her hat, and wearing blue ribbons in her hair. After careful consideration, Jess chose the party version of Katrina as the perfect costume for Halloween.


Just as a little extra theming, in a nod to the Headless Horseman's jack-o'-lantern noggin, Jess always carries a bright orange pumpkin with her as she strolls the park.


One of the things we've come to realize over the years is that Katrina is one of the lesser-known of the Disney heroines. And visiting the park isn't just fun, it's a way to awaken some people to the existence of the character and the marvelous film she appears in. As for the recognizing bit, Jess felt it was a long shot, but I'm always confident that someone will call her name!

Now, most of the time, people's minds are fixated on seeing princesses, and Jess got the usual multiple mistaken identifications as Aurora from Sleeping Beauty. It makes some sense, as Aurora is blonde and does wear a pink dress. And perhaps people thought the pumpkin that Jess carried was just because she was trick-or-treating. The pigtails should have been a clue as to the mistake, but, oh well. One little girl thought that Jess was Elsa, which was funny. One fellow said that Jess was Cinderella, "pre-destruction," which means he thought Jess was the Cinderella that was wearing the pink animal-made dress that gets all ripped up by the stepsisters a few minutes after it is completed.

So it was looking pretty dire for most of the night, but I'm happy to say that I did indeed win the bet once again, as not one but two people knew who Jess was portraying. One Cast Member and one fellow guest called out Katrina's name when they saw Jess. Incidentally, the guest was dressed as Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, in her red Feast of Fools dress. Esmeralda even expressed interest in dressing like Katrina next year.

But she'd better be careful! Katrina Van Tassel is potentially going from the endangered list to fully extinct at Mickey's Halloween Party. This may possibly have been the last year that Jess lights up the streets of Disneyland as Katrina. Why? It appears that there are ever-increasing restrictions for costumes year to year, and this is the first time in three visits to this event that Jess and I were pulled aside before being allowed into the park.

Seems the hoop-skirted dress was a no-no this time around, as there was a concern that such a structure might get caught in the ride vehicles. After assuring a small gathering of park administrators -- who were debating whether to send us back to our car -- that we never ride rides on that night (which is very true... as though Jess would go on Space Mountain in such a get-up!), they relented and allowed Katrina to bring some spooky cheer to Disneyland once more, and to wave to the Headless Horseman as he led the Halloween parade down Main Street.


Here's wishing everyone a happy Halloween!

Credit Where Credit Is Due (Or, don’t fear telling people you didn’t do something.) October 23, 2016 00:00

Today I want to talk about something that has been on my mind almost from the day I started work at Disney over twenty years ago – well, actually, from before that, all the way back to art class at Foster Elementary School in Arvada, Colorado. And that is the subject of crediting artists fairly. That is, being open to telling people who did what.

I’ll begin with a story. When I was a youngster in the fourth grade, we were all of us making clay pots in art class. Rather than make another clay pot, which we had all done before, I decided to do something different. I made a little blob of a figure, just a head, with a gaping open mouth and lolling tongue on which I placed a big vitamin capsule. It was bold, fun, and colorful. It was pop art and it stood out. It stood out right up until the kid next to me saw mine and made the very same thing that I made only not at all as nice-looking as mine and he got his placed in the case in the school’s lobby and mine wasn’t. He never said a word about where he got such a nifty idea and I’m sure never wondered later about what that all felt like to me as I walked into the front door of the school every day for the rest of the year and saw my fine idea with someone else’s name on it.

That stayed with me.

I’ve had and continue to have the wonderful privilege of working in feature animation. I’ve worked hard to get here – countless hours of storyboarding, pitching, rejection, notes; moments of despair, terror, elation, and pride. At the end of the process, we take press tours. If you like the sound of your own voice, this is your big chance to hear it. In a single day you might talk to a hundred or more reporters in almost as many interviews.

One of the things that I have learned is that many times different reporters are asking very similar questions. Sometimes identical questions. Needless to say, on questions you struggled to answer on your first stop in Denver, you are a whiz at answering by the time you land in Japan. And in many, many cities and many hours in a folding chair, I have noticed something: there is a decided tendency to want to boil a massive collaborative process down into a simple, singular droplet of credit. People will ask how in the world Dean Deblois and I made “How To Train Your Dragon,” or how we made “Lilo & Stitch,” etc. I used to think it was just a question, but as time passed I began to realize that sometimes they were actually wondering how we two did it. That is, just us.

What I learned from my press tours is that even if you do list off particular artists, animators, painters, engineers, producers, and the like that were the true muscle that got a movie made, their names rarely (if ever) make it into print. It’s either too tedious or perceived to be uninteresting, and the people I credited and the stories I told about them tended to vanish. So I made it a point in interviews to spend as much time as needed redirecting credit for particular moments, lines, designs, and story turns to the people that really deserved it. Again, it never really stuck. But that doesn’t mean I stopped doing it. I make it a full-time job.

This all comes to mind because, in this age of the internet, misinformation and the omission of information is widespread. And I came here to talk to not only artists, but to anyone who loves art, literature, film, etc. Recently it became clear that in a preponderance of internet chatter, and even several instances of meeting people in person, a book that I had the privilege to contribute to, “Rescue Sirens: The Search for the Atavist,” has wrongly been credited entirely to me. Not a couple of times, but in many of the posts about it. This isn’t just careless  at best it’s pretty hurtful – but, at worst, it actually changes the history of something that someone else worked hard to create. In the case of “Rescue Sirens,” I neither crafted the world and the story, nor drew the interior illustrations. Those credits belong, respectively, to my wife, Jessica Steele-Sanders, and to artist Genevieve Tsai.




Now, you might think this sort of thing is limited to casual postings on the internet. But it’s not. I was surprised recently to see that an “Art of” book somehow forgot that I worked on a film. And it was a film I actually co-wrote and co-directed. Reading about my non-self was like seeing me fade out of one of those photographs in a movie about a time-travel accident. This still wouldn’t be super-odd except when you consider that the book was actually published by the actual studio that I directed the film for. It is here that I must note that this sort of thing never happened at Disney. To contrast that, Pixar included me in a book about story even though I didn’t work there but was part of a punch-up session for “Toy Story.” They remembered something that happened twenty years ago and followed up with me. That’s class. And that’s what happens when artists look out for one another.

I should add that when someone does something for the first time, I think it’s especially important to get the story straight, and to do it right away. It was Jessica who invented “Rescue Sirens.” She first imagined the world, then created and wrote the mythology and the characters. After that, she outlined a strong story and wrote it. This is where I came in as a second writer. She and I wrote “Rescue Sirens” in tandem, just as Dean Deblois and I wrote “Lilo & Stitch” together. As for the interior illustrations, Genevieve Tsai created those based on a world that Jess saw very clearly and was able to transmit to Genevieve and myself. (And since I’m giving credit here, I must also note that my drawings on the front and back cover were colored by Edgar Delgado, while the Ocean Drive skyline was drawn by Teresa Martinez.) So if “Rescue Sirens” is anyone’s book, it is Jess’s book, indeed.

I seldom get on a soapbox, especially on the internet. But I’m not here to scold anyone; rather, I’m here to assure all of us who create things, and love things that someone else created, that it’s worth all our whiles to take the time and energy to credit people where it is due.

I’ve worked in cultures at Disney and Pixar where collaboration is celebrated. If you are young, just starting out, and something you did is getting attention, I can assure you that you can credit anyone that partnered with you till you’re blue in the face and it won’t detract a bit from your own accomplishment. It will do quite the opposite. We recently met with James Cameron at DreamWorks and one of the things I was impressed by was the sheer number of names he spilled as he discussed everything from camera rigs to animation to software development. He not only knew what everyone did, he spent a lot of time letting us know who did what.

As filmmakers and artists, we owe it to each other to get the story straight. If there are two or three or more writers’ names, don’t boil it down to one. The real story of how things like movies and books are made is far more interesting when the collaborations are revealed and individual talents celebrated. I have been quite fortunate to have worked with people who were confident in their own talents and never hesitated to throw credit and attention my way. Directors like Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff took the time to mention my contributions on “The Lion King” and made sure the illustrations in the “Art of” book were credited properly  that helped me immensely as I went forward.

Books, interviews, and articles become a history. We owe it to each other to not leave people behind.