disney’s BAMBI is stylewise a very unique film. it is a kind of nature film with cartoony elements. the story is pretty serious and wouldn’t work in a ‘fairy tale’ forest environment. that’s probably why the first background tests look very realistic. influenced by painters of the romantic epoch and illustrators like GUSTAF TENGGREN they show the forest with all its rich detail. and that was the dilemma – in the middle of all that very detailed world with foilage, branches, trees and grass the characters got lost.
the solution came accidentally from a young chinese/american artist, TYRUS WONG, who had just started as an inbetweener in the studio, but had his own ideas of a possible look of BAMBI. he showed his pastel sketches he had done after work to disney art director TOM CODRICK, who immediately realised that he held pure gold in his hands. with his chinese cultural background tyrus had done poetic interpretations of the forest world. he did not show you all the leaves and trees, he made you feel them. when you look at his hundreds of beautifully soft painted scenes you smell the moisture in the deep forest.
I don’t know how much tyrus knew about the BARBIZON-school, painters in france during the later part of the nineteenth century, who introduced the idea of IMPRESSIONISM. amongst them were JEAN-BAPTISTE-CAMILLE COROT ( 1796 – 1875 ) and PAUL DESIRE TROUILLEBERT ( 1829 – 1900 ). here is some of their work. compare and see the similarities.
to translate tyrus wong’s approach the layout- and background-artists had to completely change their techniques. graphite drawn layouts look like black/white paintings, the bg’s with their soft and very subtle look had to be mostly painted in oil, what was necessary anyway because of the layering in the multipalne camera.
in BAMBI you are surrounded by nature, just hints of trees and foilage most of the time, towards the action center a bit more definition, but very much controlled. sometimes only a few blades of grass in front of an out-of-focus color-wash are enough to tell you where you are. and in a whole that forest looks more interesting and has more variety than most films in a city-jungle environment.
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