who killed cock robin?

2 05 2013

‘Who killed Cock Robin? I, said the Sparrow, with my bow and arrow, I killed Cock Robin.’ – this is the first verse of the 1744 published rhyme in TOMMY THUMB’S PRETTY SONG BOOK. the DISNEY SILLY SYMPHONY with the same title was released on june 26, 1935. DAVID HAND directed the short, the main characters – COCK ROBIN ( BING CROSBY ) and the MAE WEST – like JENNY WREN were designed by JOE GRANT. there are some additional hollywood star caricatures of that period, like a cuckoo bird – HARPO MARX, and the KEYSTONE COPS.

who killed cock robin 2
who killed cock robin

© disney enterprises, inc


28 12 2012

JUGEND was a weekly cultural magazine in germany in the late 19th century. the idea of the editor, GEORG HIRTH, was to break into a new philosophy, a new way of seeing art. and the publication soon became style-setting and launched the german ART NOUVEAU movement, JUGENDSTIL ( young style ) named after the magazine.
during my last years in the DISNEY-studio I became close to JOE GRANT, one of the longest lasting original artists of the old disney era. he had been walt disney’s close friend and advisor during the late thirties and forties, and had been the head of the visual development team and responsible for the first ideas of all feature films at that time. he started to work with a new generation of artists after a break in the late 80s. joe grant had the most amazing collection of books and magazines about art starting in the late 19th century, especially german publications like SIMPLICISSIMUS and JUGEND. every other day he brought some of these treasure books to the studio and I had a chance to look through them and xerox whatever I liked. those where the good times! below are some of these gems. after the cover of one of the JUGEND magazines I chose a series of beautiful very early HEINRICH KLEY illustrations. I am sure you will enjoy these gems…


a legend

1 08 2009

the first time I met JOE GRANT was in a story meeting back in 1990 when I had started my freelance design-work on ALADDIN. joe was a consultant for story, characters and all other possible problems on that project. it was for him the first time to be back in a studio he had left over 40 years ago. in that meeting joe was sitting right next to me, what turned me into a speechless student.

1joe grant

when I joined the the studio in 1994 fulltime and we had moved into that useless animation-building with the funny hat at the entrance, I had my office next to joe grant’s. he shared it with burny mathinson. it took a while to get to know joe a bit closer, he was not unfriendly, but he was waiting how this ‘new guy turned out’. well, we became good friends and spent a lot of time together, time I wouldn’t want to miss. he was one of the warmest people I had met in L.A. for a long time. and there was nothing he was not informed about, politics, film, the arts. he saw most movies, he read the most important news.

joe 11-98b

joe gave me color xeroxes of these pictures in 1998. burny mathinson had bought a huge agfa scanner and the biggest epson printer on the market at that time. he and joe had so much fun with their computers and all that new equipment. they were doing all their presentations for new projects nicely edited in the computer, printed and bound. amazing. I had just got my own mac and had no idea what to do with it…


usually we would sit together once in a while in the morning in his or my office and bitch about some stupid decisions of mangement. they would invite him as an advisor to the more important story meetings and screenings. later tom schumacher, the president of animation, would invite him once a week, to get his critical comments.

joe 11-98d

sometimes joe would give me xeroxes or prints of some historic stuff he had found at home, some of his early drawings, or historic photos from the past disney days and of course a lot of his sketches and his calligraphy.


you very rarely saw joe without his fountainpen in his hand. he was drawing all the time. beautiful little sketches of all different cartoony characters and situations. and he came up all the time with some funny gags. he had a good humor and remembered some really funny anecdotes.
what a full life! born in 1908 at the east-coast, he told me once, when he came to L.A. for the first time, I think it was 1918, he described crossing over the hills on cahuenga pass. and on the top he could smell the incredible smell of thousands of orange tress, blossoming down in the san fernando valley. he said there were trees and white blossoms as far as you could see. probably a lot like in JOHNNY APPLESEED. I can’t even imagine how beautiful it must have been in those early days.


SIMPLIZISSIMUS was a very critical, satirical magazine during the early yeas of the last century in germany. some of the most famous german artists started with that magazine, like OLAF GULBRANSSON, THEODOR HEINE, KARL ARLOLD, EDUARD THOENY, KAETHE KOLLWITZ, HEINRICH KLEY and GEORGE GROSZ. joe was so happy to talk about these artists, he had a lot of collected volumes of the simplizissimus magazine at home. in the studio, he said, nobody knew what he was talking about – german art! but he introduced a lot of that reference and it was used in feature films like FANTASIA.


one day he invited me to his house. it was hidden in the glendale hills and overgrown with bushes and trees. the house was built in the mid 30s, when nobody lived in that area yet. joe’s wife found the property and designed the house when she was in her early 20s.  She remodeled it several times over the years being a talented designer and artist in her own right. what a house! it was a museum, a library, an art exhibition. history and memories wherever you looked. thousands of books, drawings and sketches in piles everywhere. a treasure island in the middle of boring glendale!

12-03 joe d

he showed me photos of his late wife. she had the idea for LADY AND THE TRAMP, based on her own cocker spaniel dog. joe came up with the whole story concept in the early forties, WARD GREENE took over much later. and joe never got screen credit for that film, what must have hurt him a lot, since he was walt disney’s closest advisor and friend for so many years. I guess that was the reason why he stayed away from the studio for so many years. he did not really want to talk about that, he still was disney’s biggest admirer.

joe 11-98c

he had so much wisdom, so many worlds in his imagination, was so open for everything new and critical about it. I was convinced he would always be there.
joe grant passed away on may 6, 2005. he died from a heart attack while he was drawing at his workdesk at home.

© disney enterprises, inc
© joe grant, Jennifer Grant Castrup

character model department

19 09 2008

this is a photo of disney’s CHARACTER MODEL DEPARTMENT artists headed by JOE GRANT. I found the picture in JOHN CANEMAKER’S book BEFORE THE ANIMATION BEGINS. the picture was taken in 1939 when they were working on FANTASIA. I have added the names and even found out about an unknown artist – FINI LITTLEJOHN – on the right. she is married to BILL LITTLEJOHN and I met them both when I lived in L.A. it must be her, I am sure. FINI is from austria and escaped the nazi terror early enough. she told me she worked with JOE and did mostly costume designs.


18 09 2008

compare the three recreated BG’s, they are all from disney productions. the first from the 1939 short PRACTICAL PIG, then 1942 BAMBI and the last 1953 PETER PAN. they all had different designers at their time, PRACTICAL PIG was heavily influenced by the children book style and their artists. like GUSTAVE TENGGREN who worked in the studio at that time designing characters and key-moments for SNOW WHITE and PINOCCHIO. but the influence came as well from earlier children book artists like ARTHUR RACKHAM, EDMUND DULAC and KAY NIELSEN, who worked shortly in the studio on FANTASIA. BAMBI finally was styled by a chinese/american artist TYRUS WONG, who worked in the studio as background painter. you can clearly see the chinese art influence, the simpicity and balance in his designs and in the final film. additional inspiration came from the german romantic painters, like LUDWIG RICHTER.
about a decade passed until PETER PAN was released, styled by legendary designer MARY BLAIR. she was married to LEE BLAIR ( brother of famous animator PRESTON BLAIR ) and both were well connected to the american painter scene, especially watercolor artists. LEE was a famous artist himself and you can see the influence of the art at that time in MARY BLAIR’S paintings. she herself influenced a lot of later artists, even today.
I know from JOE GRANT that a lot of the leading disney talent during those years had contacts to the art scene, JOE had friends in europe, especially germany. he showed me his collection of the first edition of the german political magazine SIMPLICISSIMUS from 1890 on. no wonder that one of the magazin’s famous artists HEINRICH KLEY became such a big influence for the character design at disney in those days. besides NIELSEN and TENGGREN there were the PROVENSENS, amazing children book illustrators and ALBERT HURTER, a swiss illustrator, who all worked under JOE GRANT’S guidance in a CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT DEPARTMENT at disney. it was more than that, it developed future feature film concepts and styles.

© disney enterprises, inc

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