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


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.


storyboard 1

21 10 2010

below a storyboard example for a part of BALTO, drawn by DAAN JIPPES and SIMON WELLS in 1993.



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.


b/w 1

14 02 2010

© disney enterprises, inc
© amblin / universal
© bilderfabrik


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


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


comparison 1

13 04 2009

deep in some drawers I found accidentally a few xeroxed layouts from universal’s/amblin’s 1995 released BALTO. for some of them I had the corresponding reproduced BG’s. there is enough for another later post, here are the first 6 scenes. I added the artist’s name as far as I remember them…




© universal/AMBLIN

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

nome – alaska

11 01 2009

the problem was the color in BALTO. about 80% of the movie took place in the snow. if you are not careful you end up with a lot of white and some dull blueish colors, the atmosphere becomes cold and the audience starts freezing. that’s what steven spielberg was afraid of – the audience would not be able to develop warm feelings towards the characters.


I had painted my designs like usual in those days with feltpen and a bit of gouache, in a small size, 21 x 11 cm. the final backgrounds were usually painted in gouache. but with the soft blends in the snow areas that seemed to be impossible. so we decided – let’s try to paint it in oil. they had done it in BAMBI, why not try it as well. COLIN STIMPSON, the art director, was a brilliant oil painter, so were a few others in the background team. it took some weeks to train everybody. lots of test paintings were done, some of them little masterpieces.
for the final backgrounds nearly all of the snow scenes were painted in oil, as well as some of the interiors with soft blends. all other less problematic interiors were painted traditionally in gouache. in some of the next posts I will show some of the final backgrounds.


snow 2

28 11 2008

in 1992 I started to work on amblimation’s BALTO. the amblimation studio, steven spielberg’s animation studio, was located in acton, not the nicest area of london. several animated features had been done there before, like FIEVEL GOES WEST and WE’RE BACK. BALTO was spielberg’s next choice and it was the studio’s last film. most of the crew moved late in 1994 to L.A. to become a part of DREAMWORKS. here I have a final modelsheet of balto, based on some test-animation jeff varab, the lead animator on the character, had done. and some color suggestions jeff and I developed even earlier.





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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