25 12 2011

a ‘merry christmas’ to everybody who is celebrating the event. for this special occasion I want to show you a selection of designs for several animated feature films created over the past fifteen years by some of the best in their field. PAUL FELIX and a few of his many masterful pencil sketches for disney’s MULAN, as well as some of his paintings and drawings for the shelved SNOW QUEEN project. further MARCELO VIGNALI with his beautiful visuals for MULAN and CHEN-YI CHENG’S ancestor group for the ‘mushu’s awakening’ sequence in MULAN. finally two more stunning jungle action scenes for TARZAN by JOHN WATKISS, and some of the amazing layout work for BALTO created by one of the best layout artists, now animator – BOLHEM BOUCHIBA. I hope you enjoy this very special gallery of the masters – happy holidays.

© disney enterprises, inc
© universal pictures / amblin entertainment

caricatures 1

31 05 2011

the following caricatures were created by NICOLAS MARLET as far as I remember in 1992, at that time STEPHEN SPIELBERG’S animation studio in london ( acton ) – AMBLIMATION – was still busy with the feature film WE’RE BACK. you could hear many different languages, a lot of young animators from all over the world, but mainly europe, were working there on one huge floor divided into small cubicles. we used to caricature each other, just for fun. and NICOLAS was one of the best artists for sure!

© nicolas marlet


25 05 2011

below my production design for a diagonal pan in BALTO from 1993 ( feltpen and gouache ), followed by the final background painted in oil – could not avoid the reflections in the overlay cels.

© universal pictures / amblin entertainment

balto reference

18 01 2011

here is some of the reference for BALTO. I collected hours of TV-reference about alaska and snow landscapes in general, analyzed them all and printed hundreds of color-videoprints. a selection is below, as well as some of my designs for the aurora borealis in wolf-shape for the ending of the film.

© amblin / universal pictures


3 12 2010

the animation thumbnails and character studies of the two bears MUK and LUK were created for BALTO in 1993 by an incredible talent, NICOLAS MARLET, at that time in his early twenties. he has become one of the most creative character-designers in the animation world, as you can see in his work he did for DREAMWORKS over the last fifteen years.



4 11 2010

one of the numerous longer pan-backgrounds for the AMBLIMATION/UNIVERSAL production WE’RE BACK! A DINOSAUR’S STORY, released 1993. DANIEL CACOUAULT, who did hundreds of BG-keys for the macy’s parade, painted this beautiful watercolor piece.

© amblin/universal pictures

just so

8 08 2010

after the animated version of CATS was shelved the first time, that was early 1992, london, AMBLIMATION-studio, STEVEN SPIELBERG was interested in five projects, one of them was – THE JUST SO STORIES, a compilation of jungle tales written by RUDYARD KIPLING. for some months I did numerous designs for the five concepts, in the end BALTO was selected and went into production. following are some of my ‘jungle’ ideas for the JUST SO STORIES.

© AMBLIN/ universal pictures


1 08 2010

visual idea collection for the 1991 amblimation planned and shelved animated adaptation of ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER’S – CATS.

© andrew lloyd webber / universal pictures / amblin entertainment


11 04 2010

and the last captured moments from my documentary video during the production of BALTO in the london AMBLIMATION studio.



10 04 2010

BALTO went into full production in 1993 in STEVEN SPIELBERG’S london animation studio. and there was a change in leadership, SIMON WELLS became the sole director of the film. below is the second part of the captured moments from my video documentary during that time.



9 04 2010

recently I looked through my historic video archives and found some 16 hours of documentary stuff i had shot on hi-8 video during the years 1992 to 1994 in london, duesseldorf and finland. in a way this is my ‘WAKING SLEEPING BEAUTY’ version of DREAMWORKS, what was at that time AMBLIMATION, located in london, acton town. I was allowed to shoot my personal video throughout the whole studio during the production of BALTO, in meetings, fun-events and reference trips ( to finland above the arctic circle, to study huskies and sled racing in deep snow ). nobody has ever seen this footage, so this is really a historic event. there hasn’t been any documentation about these few years of steven spielberg’s animated feature film production in london. for me it was a very good experience to work with incredible artists from all over europe. most of them moved in 1995 to L.A. and became the core group of DREAMWORKS feature animation. the pictures shown here are frame-grabs from the transferred hi-8 footage to digital then to dvd.


cats – research

29 11 2009

I have written before about the animated version of the ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER musical CATS, that went into preproduction 1991 in STEVEN SPIELBERG’S studio AMBLIMATION in london. I was supposed to design the look of the film, and I spent a lot of time researching some rather ‘unusual’ london environments. we were looking for the trashiest spots we could find. these research trips were lots of fun and I still have tons of ‘trash’ photographs. in the picture below you can see the research team, the directors SIMON WELLS and PHIL NIBBELINK together with the producer CINDY WOODBURNE, and with the CATS-musical stage designer JOHN NAPIER.

afterwards I usually did rough sketches and worked out stylized views with tipp-ex correction white on black cardboard. later I painted a selection of these roughs with felt-pen and gouache. below are some of them

© andrew lloyd webber / amblin / universal pictures / john napier


26 10 2009

some more production designs for the AMBLIMATION production BALTO, released in 1995. all designs are 21 x 11.5 cm, painted with AD/pantone-markers and gouache between 1992 and 1993 in the london studio.

2balto 33
4balto 673
5balto b2
6balto 772
8balto b5
9balto 7765

© amblin/universal

nome alaska

30 09 2009

following are a few xeroxed storyboard drawings DAAN JIPPES did for BALTO in 1993. daan used a black prismacolor pencil and the size of each drawing is about A5. they are not in order and not complete. his boards were of such high quality, all the characters absolutely on model, that they could have been used for a comic strip.





© amblimation/universal


31 08 2009

a colorscript page from the dec.1995 released BALTO, directed by SIMON WELLS, produced by STEVEN SPIELBERG’S AMBLIMATION in london. the storyboard drawings for these color sketches were done by simon wells.

balto col.scr.18

© universal/AMBLIN

young masters 1

4 08 2009

for a long time I was very fortunate to have had a chance working with some of the best talent in animation. just for that it was worth to be in this business. in case you were following my posts, most of the time I am referring to ‘the old masters’, now I thought it might be the time to look at the ‘younger masters’ of the GOLDEN NINETIES.

daan jippes

glen keane

paul felix

4kingdom watkiss160
john watkiss

andreas deja

6mac wildlife 1

7luc balto3380
luc desmarchelier

chris sanders

© disney enterprises, inc
© universal/AMBLIN


2 06 2009

some more from universal/amblimation dec.1995 released BALTO. an outlined bear in one color would have looked too cartoony, too much detail in the fur too expensive to animate, too realistic and it would have flickered. this is what I came up with as a solution, just animated highlights in two different colors. the last one is a color continuity sheet with changing light during the sunset. all felt pen and gouache on top of SIMON WELLS xeroxed storyboard drawings.

balto bearfight05

balto bear119

balto col.continuity18


london 1993

9 02 2009

SNOWBALLS was the ‘codename’ for the BALTO production. as I explained in some of the earlier posts, BALTO was produced in STEVEN SPIELBERG’S london AMBLIMATION studio. the studio was located in ACTON. most of the artists came from all over europe, a few from the U.S., but mainly from france. it was a very interesting cultural mixture with all the different languages spoken. amazing talents! it was a joy to work with them. preproduction work on BALTO started around 1992, production in 1993. following is a comparative size-sheet with the main characters and a design for a crew-T-shirt, as far as I remember.

© AMBLIN, universal pictures


16 10 2008

when I started to work on the visual designs for the animated adaptation of the musical CATS 1991 in london, the two directors assigned to that project, SIMON WELLS and PHIL NIBBELINK, had already worked on the storyboards for a while. it was all pretty dark and taking place in ruins of buildings. STEVEN SPIELBERG had given them the idea that the story could take place in london during the time of the ‘blitz’, the time when hitler’s rockets destroyed parts of london. he had also mentioned the visual style of the film should be ‘brechtian’. the directors had no idea what that might be.
it took me a bit to figure it out – BERTHOLD BRECHT, the famous german writer, was well known for his expressionistic, politically critical theaterpieces. he probably was very close to some of the expressionistic artists of his time in germany, after the first worldwar. I knew, that one group of the german expressionists, the artists of DIE BRUECKE ( the bridge ), led by ERICH HECKEL, ERNST LUDWIG KIRCHNER, MAX PECHSTEIN, EMIL NOLDE and KARL SCHMITT ROTTLUFF were trying to create during that time an artform that linked german artists of the renaissance, especially DUERER with his masterful woodcuts, with a new renaissance of german art. KAETHE KOLLWITZ and ERNST BARLACH predated that movement, but were politically and artistically in the same direction. one of my favorite films of the silent era DAS CABINETT DES DR.CALIGARI, 1919, was an expressionistic styled masterpiece.

I was pretty sure that it was that what mr.spielberg had in mind. so I started to find the right reference about all these artists. the most impressive were their woodcuts. I imagined the ‘blitz’-world pretty much black/white and similar to that look. the problem was, how to translate it into animated backgrounds. I did not want to do woodcuts, it was easier to come up with designs in a similar look. white on black looked pretty good, so I started to paint my destructed world with white correction fluid on black cardboard, and added finer detail with a special black feltpen. the next step was, to paint the same motif in gouache with a very limited color palette and copying the reduced high-contrast look. following are some of the paintings.

©AMBLIN, universal pictures


15 10 2008

september 1991 I joined AMBLIMATION in london to work on ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER’S animated musical adaptation ‘CATS’. the studio was part of STEVEN SPIELBERG’S AMBLIN and had produced FIEVEL GOES WEST. when I came in, the animated feature film WE’RE BACK was in full production. most of the animators were from france, but in general it was talent from all over europe, a few from L.A. incredible artists, you can still check today – a good part of DREAMWORKS is the former amblimation studio.
it was a very creative time, being in one of my favorite cities – london, and having a chance to meet spielberg, lloyd webber and the CATS stage designer JOHN NAPIER. unfortunately things did not go too well with the story. the project was stopped after 6 months work and I started the designs on four planned feature films, RUDYARD KIPLING’S ‘JUST SO STORIES’, another musical CARNIVAL, a wild west story CRAZY DOG and an alaskan dog story – codenamed SNOWBALLS, what became BALTO.
it was quite a challenge to work simultaneously on these very different ideas. the just so stories were interesting visually, because it was india. but the stories were incredibly boring. carnival was a bit too realistic and I did not care that much about the wild west idea, but the snow adventure got me hooked. the story was promising too. and after several presentations steven spielberg choose that story as the next production. his only problem was the snow. the audience will feel cold and will not develop sympathies for the characters, he warned us. too much snow! so we decided to make the snow as colorful and different as possible. not just white and blues. another challenge was, we decided to paint all the BG’s in oil! the first time in animation history since BAMBI in the forties. it was the only way to paint convincing bigger snow areas. later we found painfully out, that oil painting is not the best technique for animation, we had major problems with the shiny surface and with the colors themselves under the camera. so we switched and did a lot of BG’s in gouache as well. especially a lot of the wood textured interiors.
the background painters were very good, some of the best I ever worked with and the BG’s looked terrific. another reason for that was the layout department with some top talent. and – the director, SIMON WELLS, who rough-thumbnailed the whole story in tiny sketches himself. the whole film was truly his vision, he came up with the most amazing shots.
I have a lot of artwork from that time and will post some of it. here first one of my very first designs for CATS, all painted with white correction fluid on black cardboard, then feltpen color on a xerox. the second pan BG is painted in oil by the art director/head of BG – COLIN STIMPSON.

© AMBLIN/universal pictures


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