the blitz

21 05 2011

FRANS MASEREEL, 1889 – 1972, was born in belgium and is probably the greatest woodcut artist of the twentieth century. his work belongs to the EXPRESSIONISTIC style, – THOMAS MANN, EMILE ZOLA and STEFAN ZWEIG were the writers whose novels MASEREEL illustrated. when I worked on the adaptation of the musical CATS as an animated feature film in 1991 I used MASEREEL’S work as look-reference. as well as a lot of art from numerous german expressionistic painters like, KAETHE KOLLWITZ, MAX PECHSTEIN, KARL SCHMIDT-ROTTLUFF and EMIL NOLDE. the story was supposed to take place in london during the second world war, the so called BLITZ ( from blitz-krieg ), so I referred to a lot of historic photographs of the destroyed london from that time.

below are some of my earliest designs for CATS, the ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER musical, produced by STEVEN SPIELBERG in his london AMBLIMATION studio, all ‘painted’ with tipp-ex white correction fluid on black cardboard. I touched up the pretty rough white strokes with black markers. I know, it sounds like a very unusual technique – but woodcut would have been worse.

© masereel / andrew lloyd webber / amblimation / 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

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

more cats

19 10 2008

a small team, the two directors SIMON WELLS and PHIL NIBBELINK together with SHELLEY PAGE, had been working on the animated adaptation of the musical CATS for a few months when I joined the group. the plan was somehow to combine built miniature models together with traditional animation. CG was at that time, 1991, in the very early beginnings. simon had designed an environment and shelley had supervised the model building. I only saw pictures and was very impressed, it looked very real with a lot of detail and had a convincing atmosphere. here are some of the pictures…

but steven spielberg wanted to see a more destroyed environment during the ‘blitz’, so I started fresh with my designs. following are a few I developed together with andrew lloyd webber’s stage designer for the musical CATS, john napier. we even toured the ugliest areas in london, I did hundreds of reference photos to make the BG studies as real as possible. it was amazing, behind all the sightseeing tourist areas there were these ‘backyards’, a hidden world of trash and destruction. I still have a map of ‘my real london’ where I marked this reference world. I am sure nothing exists anymore, after 17 years!

and we needed to test the 3-D look with a new model. unfortunately the last model-set had been pretty expensive, there was nothing left in the budget. so I improvised and built the whole thing myself. we found a very expensive model car from the forties and I had to destroy it with a big hammer, very sad! otherwise it was just styrofoam, some small toy pieces and plaster. we tested it on an oxberry stand, was not exactly what I had in mind – but it looked ok. here are some pictures…

©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


22 09 2008

similar color but very different times, actually over a period of 30 years. the first one I did in the late seventies, then a BEAUTY AND THE BEAST forest. there is a bit of an eyvind earle influence. the city scene was for CATS in 1991, unfortunately it never happened. but instead BALTO, 1993 in london. nr.5 is from BEETHOVEN’S FIFTH, an early concept for FANTASIA 2000. then we have MY PEOPLES what did not happen, and a design for a CG short I designed in tokyo in 2006. the techniques were very different as well, watercolor, magic marker feltpen, gouache and photoshop.

© disney enterprises, inc
© universal pictures/amblin

The Hidden History of Oz

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Discover the Secrets of an Enchanted World is the best place for your personal blog or business site.