They Drew as they Pleased. The Hidden Art of Disney’s Early Renaissance The 1970s and 1980s

Hidden Art of Disney’s Early Renaissance

They Drew as they Pleased. The Hidden Art of Disney’s Early Renaissance The 1970s and 1980s is the fifth book in the series. The book is written by Didier Ghez and has a foreword by Disney animation director Don Hahn. The book has 208 pages and was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. 

The 1970s were a time of upheaval in the United States and an uneasy time for the artists at the Disney studio. Walt had passed away in 1966. No longer could they rely on him to lead the studio and shape its vision. They had to reinvent themselves, picture-by-picture, project-by-project, producing a rebirth of sorts. A renaissance. Not many books have been written about this time period. For the author it was a personal favourite, because in his childhood he saw movies like Robin Hood and the Rescuers in the cinema. The same goes for me. I saw those movies in my childhood and remember them vividly. Didier Ghez also met one of the artists featured in this book. Mel Shaw. The other artist is Ken Anderson. 

Ken Anderson

They Drew as they Pleased. The Hidden Art of Disney's Early Renaissance The 1970s and 1980s
Ken Anderson was born in Seattle in 1909. He studied architecture in Seattle and won a scholarship to attend the École des Beaux-Arts in Fontainbleau and the American Academy of Rome. During the great depression there was no work for architects. Anderson worked briefly for MGM as a set designer. In 1934 he started as an inbetweener at the Disney Studios. Because of his background in architecture Walt Disney assigned him to do animations on the Silly Symphony Three Orphan Kittens. He had to animate the kittens with a moving background in perspective.This included tiles and a stove and the kittens that moved in perspective. Walt Disney was very pleased with the result. Walt Disney was trying out three dimensions and for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs he needed a camera to achieve that effect. Anderson did some tests with a horizontal camera, but the results were not stable enough. (The same technique that the Fleischer Brothers used but the without the turntable.) Then they worked on a camera that was vertical; the Multiplane Camera. In 1936 Ken Anderson moved to the Layout Department and worked on Snow White and Pinocchio. It was his idea to let Jiminy Cricket hop into Gepetto’s workshop and show it from the cricket’s point of view. On Fantasia he became an art-director. For The Three Caballeros and Song of the South he worked on new techniques to combine life-action with animation. Ken Anderson was a very versatile artist and in the fifties he worked on designs for Disneyland and Cinderella. He also worked on storyboard for Reynard the Fox, but the project was never realised. Anderson worked on the storyboards for the fight scene between Prince Philip and Malificent for Sleeping Beauty. Disney bought the rights to eleven Oz books in 1954. Initially the books were considered for an Oz film in two parts for the Disneyland TV show. Anderson made concept designs for the project, but the production costs where too high and the projects was shelved. He also worked on Chanticler, a project many story artists worked on. Together with animator Marc Davis they combined Reynard the Fox with Chanticler. He made these wonderful character designs and story sketches for it. But also this project was never realised.

Anderson introduced xeroxed animation drawings to Disney’s animated features. Walt Disney wanted to stop making animation features because they became too costly to produce. At the Studio they were already using Xerox cels for Disney commercials. It was an invention of Ub Iwerks, the man that created Mickey Mouse. Walt Disney was concentrating on Disneyland and other projects. Anderson did some tests with xeroxed cells for One Hundred and One Dalmatians and showed them to Walt Disney. Walt approved them. This meant that the cels did not need to be inked anymore, which would reduce the costs dramatically. The animators loved the Xerox method. Their drawings would finally end up on screen. For the art direction of the movie Anderson worked together with Walt Peregoy, who is featured in the fourth volume of this series. Anderson wanted to get a real feel for London where the story takes place. He asked a good friend of him, the famous illustrator Ronald Searle, to send pictures of Regent Park. Also the soft muted colours Searle used were an inspiration for the art direction. Anderson came up with the idea to include the pencil lines in the backgrounds to integrate the animation and backgrounds. When Walt Disney saw the final result he did not like it and did not speak to Anderson for a year. The emotional stress was weighing on Anderson and in1962 he suffered two strokes which left his right side of his body being partially paralysed for three years. When he returned to the studio he began working on the art direction for Sword in the Stone. Walt Disney handed over most of the animation to his artists, because he was working on the theme parks. The Jungle Book was the next project Anderson started working on. He helped design the characters together with the animators. Most memorable are King Louis and Shere Kahn. Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree was a featurette that was distributed with the movie The Ugly Dachshund in 1966. Anderson worked on the story. The animation was so well received that they made the sequels Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too. These three featurettes were released in the theatre in 1977 as The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The Aristocats was the next project Anderson started working on. On December 15, 1966 Walt Disney suddenly died of cancer. Almost no one knew that Walt Disney was ill and his death came as a big surprise. The artists were now on their own. After two weeks the director Woolie Reitherman had a meeting to discuss the future of Disney animation. With The Artistocats in production they had to come up with the next project. On a fishing trip Anderson came up with Robin Hood. He finally could use the ideas he had for the shelved project Reynard the Fox.

From a character design point of view Robin Hood might be one of Anderson’s masterpieces. He designed many characters that even did not make it onto the screen. This concept drawing of the Sheriff of Nottingham is also on the cover of this book. In 1973 Anderson started working on a project called Catfish Bend. The story took place near the Mississippi River. He designed a lot of hillbilly characters that lived in a swamp. He worked on it for five years until his retirement. But the movie never got made. Some of the creatures he designed ended up in The Rescuers. For this movie he designed Mr. Snoops and did some preliminary designs for Medusa. His last project before he retired was Pete’s Dragon. Ron Miller, now head of the animation Department asked him to design the dragon for the life-action movie. Ken Anderson retired in 1978 after working over 44 years for Walt Disney Studios. 

A year later he was hired again by WED Enterprises as a show design consultant for EPCOT. In 1982 he made designs for the Disney channel for Wizards and The Adventures of the Gummy Bears. He kept working until his death in 1993. Ken Anderson was a versatile artist, with a drive to keep creating and inspire artists around him. If you want to know more about Ken Anderson, you can read the book Jack of All Trades Conversations with Disney Legend Ken Anderson by Paul F. Anderson.

Mel Shaw

The second artist in this book is Mel Shaw. He was born as Melvin Schwartzman in New York in 1914. He later changed his name into Mel Shaw, because of the anti-semitism that was going around in the USA. He grew up in luxury until the Black Thursday in 1929, when there was a stock market crash. His family lost everything and they moved to California. Shaw had a talent for drawing and studied art at Otis Art Institute where he met Tyrus Wong, another great Disney artist. He started working for Leon Schlesinger, who at that time produced film titles for the silent movies. Schlesinger would later become the producer of The Looney Tunes at Warner Brothers. Shaw started out sweeping floors. There he saw the Bosko cartoons that were produced by Harman & Ising. He applied for a job at Harman & Ising and started out as an inbetweener. He met Lee Blair who was also working there. He took watercolour lessons from Blair and soon he would make designs for layouts and story. Shaw also played polo and met Walt Disney who also played the sport. He applied at the Disney Studios and was hired in 1938. His first series job was to work on ideas for Fantasia. He worked on the sequence Flight of the Bumblebee with fauns. The sequence was never used. And on concepts for Pastoral Symphony. After Fantasia Walt Disney gave him the book of Bambi to work on early story ideas and concepts. He even illustrated a Bambi storybook. He worked on concepts for Wind in the Willows. Here you can see some concepts he made for the movie that was later called The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, that was released as a combo movie in 1949. In the beginning of 1941 Shaw began to explore the story of Uncle Remus, that would later become Song of the South. During the strike at the Disney Studios he got the rights from Roy Disney to do a comic strip with the characters from Song of the South. The comic was published by King Features. But after the strike he got in a dispute about the rights with Disney and left the studio.

He worked at Hugh Harman Productions and later he had his own studio with artist Bob Allen called Allen-Shaw Associates. They worked on designs for Disney merchandise. In 1970 Mel Shaw was hired by Ron Miller to work at the Walt Disney Studios again. He made pastel drawings for the opening sequence of The Rescuers that ended  up in the movie. The next projects he worked on were The Black Cauldron and The Fox and the Hound. Here are some beautiful pastel drawings Shaw made for Fox and the Hound. Another project that was never made was Musicana. It was supposed to be a sequel to Fantasia but with modern music from around the world. The movie would have six musical sequences. Also the sequence The Emperor’s Nightingale featuring Mickey Mouse. But the movie never got made. The last movie Shaw worked on before his retirement was The Great Mouse Detective. He made concept designs and character designs for the movie. He retired in 1981.
They Drew as they Pleased. The Hidden Art of Disney's Early Renaissance The 1970s and 1980s
However a few years later he was called by the Disney Studios again to work on Beauty and the Beast. He moved to London to work on the movie. There he met Hans Bacher who was enthralled with the way Shaw made his pastel paintings. In the book you find a description of his process. The last project Shaw worked on was the The Lion King. He made concept paintings based on his own travels to Africa. After leaving the Disney Studios he worked on his own art and died in 2012 at the age of 97. 

Author: Didier Ghez
Publisher: ‎Chronicle Books; Illustrated edition (2019)
Language: ‎ English
Hardcover: ‎208 pages

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I have made book reviews about all the books in the series They Drew As They Pleased:

Volume 1:  They Drew As They Pleased The Hidden Art of Disney’s Golden Age The 1930s

Volume 2: They Drew as They Pleased The Hidden Art of Disney’s Musical Years (The 1940s) Part 1

Volume 3: They Drew as They Pleased The Hidden Art of Disney’s Late Golden Age The 1940s – Part 2

Volume 4: They Drew as they Pleased. The Hidden Art of Disney’s Mid-Century Era the 1950s and 1960s