from my experience it is a challenge to develop a style for an animated feature film, because you as the designer have to invent a unique look that fits the story, looks amazing, can be executed by the studio talent and is not too expensive ( …and fits in the marketing strategies of mc donald’s, mattel or whoever else will be involved in promoting the studio’s film ). besides that you better know what you where doing when you mixed some crazy ingredients in your first design, because you have to repeat it and you need to explain it to other artists.
once in a while a studio hires a designer to design a film for them in his/her personal style. that’s what disney did with GERALD SCARFE for HERCULES. but usually an artist within the studio, an art director or visual development artist, is selected in case he/she comes up with promising visual ideas for the new project. after the look is found and even management likes it, the toughest part starts – to keep the style consistent and under control. usually there are about 25 – 30 layout artists working on the basic linear design of the environment, and another 25 – 30 background artists to paint the layouts in color. to confront the audience with about 60 different versions of your style is not too good, as you might have seen once in a while on a cheaper DVD. a good film should look like the work of just one artist. that’s where the problems start!
I remember the major headaches I got when I needed to analyze what the hell I was doing when I painted that one landscape for MULAN and I knew – that was it. usually you don’t come up with a style like a scientist with a new chemical formula, it has a lot to do with feelings, subconscious stuff. and of course you are influenced by paintings, images, films you have seen. in this case it was of course chinese art, chinese caligraphy and a lot of two french painters of the BARBIZON school around the end of the 19th century, JEAN-BAPTISTE-CAMILLE COROT and PAUL DESIRE TROUILLEBERT. the final designer of BAMBI, TYRUS WONG, with his impressionistic and simplified interpretations of a forest-world, was a big influence as well. and then probably my amateurish way to paint with acrylics in that big 12 field size, what I had never done before. everything I ever designed before was about 20 x 10 cm, and done with feltpen. all that somehow got mixed the right way, with a lot of luck. now I had to explain the recipe to all the other artists.
we had started the film after some problems with relatively simple environments, like the army camp and mulan’s house. it was good that way, we got slowly used to a new look. later we were confronted with major problems, – the avalanche and the palace. at that point we needed to add more detail ( against the style-rules ), otherwise the mountains and the palace would have looked like toy-pieces. but it worked! because everybody went through a learning period, after a while it was everybody’s style. the mulan-look had nothing to do with my personal style, the work on it changed my understanding of design completely. even today I can see that experience in my work. the early designs were just a start, the mulan-style grew with the film. we just needed to follow the rule – poetic simplicity!
© disney enterprises, inc