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