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

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

cover They Drew as they Pleased. The Hidden Art of Disney's Mid-Century Era the 1950s and 1960s

They Drew as they Pleased. The Hidden Art of Disney’s Mid-Century Era the 1950s and 1960s is the fourth volume in this series of book. It is written by Didier Ghez and has a foreword by Eric and Susan Goldberg. The book has 224 pages and was published in 2018 by Chronicle Books. This is the ePub of Hidden Art of Disney’s Mid-Century Era version I bought on Apple Books. Unfortunately the book is not available anymore as an ePub. The big advantage of the eBook is that you can zoom in on the pictures or look for certain artists in the search bar.

Modern Style

Walt Disney and Ward Kimball

This book focusses on the 1950s and 1960s. A time that the style of illustration and also the style of the Disney movies changed dramatically. In the 1950s movies such as Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp and Sleeping Beauty were made. In the 1960s One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone and Jungle Book were released. In the fifties another studio UPA made very modern animations and Disney movies were considered old-fashioned. Walt Disney hired new talent to be in demand. He was the first one to embrace the small screen and produce animation for TV. He hired new blood to keep up with the time. The change in style was also a financial one.

The artists featured are Lee Blair, Mary Blair, Tom Oreb, John Dunn and Walt Peregoy. Somehow Eyvind Earle is not in this book, but there is a great book about him. Awakening Beauty: The art of Eyvind Earle. I made a book review about that book.

Lee Blair

Lee Blair Walt Disney Studios Aquarello de Brasil

The book actually starts in the 1930s with Lee Blair the husband of Mary Blair. Didier Ghez could not leave out Lee Blair, because they influenced each other. He was born in 1911 and started out as a renowned watercolor artist. Together with his wife they were part of the influential California School of Watercolor. But in the 1930s life was hard on everyone, especially artists. He got married to Mary in 1934 and he needed a steady income. He first started working for Ub Iwerks Studio as an inbetweener on Flip the Frog cartoons. And later as an animation assistant for Harman & Ising. Lee really wanted to be an animator, the same as his older brother Preston Blair. But at Harman & Ising they wanted him to do colour keys for the animation.The first Walt Disney cartoon he worked on was the Silly Symphony Merbabies in 1937. Harman & Ising had a contract with MGM that was not renewed. Walt Disney wanted to help out his former employees Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising by letting them produce the cartoon. Dave Hand from the Disney Studios came over to check on the progress and discovered the talents of Lee Blair. In 1938 Lee Blair started working at the Disney Studios as a color supervisor Pinocchio. After that he worked on Fantasia together with James Bodrero on ‘The Dance of the Hours’ sequence and ‘The Pastoral Symphony’.  He also worked on ‘Toccata and Fugue in D Minor’. In 1941 Lee and his wife were invited to go on a Goodwill Trip together with Walt Disney. From this trip two movies were made: Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. In the documentary South of the Border with Disney from 1942 you can see him at work. His favourite sequence he worked on was ‘Aquarela do Brasil’ It is also my favourite scene from Saludos Amigos. By the end of 1942 he left the Disney Studios and joined the Navy. After that Lee and his wife moved to the East Coast and worked as freelance artists. In 1968 they returned to California. He taught figure and landscape painting. He passed away in 1993.

Mary Blair

Mary Blair concept Tulgey Wood sequence Alice in Wonderland

Mary Blair may be the most iconic Disney visual artist. I have made several videos about her and art books that are published. I will leave links to those videos in the description. Didier Ghez somehow found art of Mary Blair that has not been published in any other book. Mary Blair was born in 1911. She studied art at Chouinard School of Arts and was a fine watercolorist. Her work was exhibited in museums. To pay the bills she worked as an opaquer at the Ub Iwerks Paint Department. After her husband left the Harman & Ising studio, Mary replaced him to work as a color designer. She really did not like working in animation, but her husband convinced her to start working at the Disney Studios. In 1940 she worked briefly at the studio on story sketches for Dumbo and Lady. In 1941 she left the studio to work on her own art. But a few months later her husband was invited to go on a trip to South America. She also wanted to go and asked Walt Disney if she also could join. This changed her whole career. On that trip she started to paint with more opaque paint and developed her style that we now all love. Here you can see her at work in Buenos Aires. She made concepts for the movie Song of the South and for Melody Time story sketches for ‘Blame it on the Samba’. In 1946 she left the studios and moved to New York together with her husband to work as a freelancer. Walt Disney still hired her to work remotely on preliminary art for Cinderella. In the book are some wonderful pieces of art I have not seen before. She also worked on Alice in Wonderland and her style was more apparent in that movie. Balir also worked on concepts for Peter Pan and the shorts The Little House, and Susie, The Little Blue Coupe. She left the Walt Disney Studios in 1953 to work as a freelance artist. She also was the main designer on the attraction It’s a Small World. She died in 1978.

Tom Oreb

Tom Oreb character designs Walt Disney Studios

I am very excited about the next artist. Tom Oreb. There has not been written a lot about this amazing artist. I came across his work in the book Cartoon Modern by Amid Amidi. Tom Oreb brought Modernism to the studio. Tom Oreb was born in in Los Angeles in 1913. He studied art at Manual Arts for a short period. the same school Jackson Pollock attended. He joined the Disney Studios in 1936 and was an inbetweener on Snow White. He became an animation assistant for Ward Kimball on Pinocchio, Fantasia and Dumbo. Dumbo had to be made quickly, so Ward Kimball handed out a lot of the animation to Oreb and another great artist Walt Kelly of the later Pogo comics. Oreb made funny character designs of Kimball and of himself. Also with Salvador Dali, that worked at the studio for a short period. In 1945 he joined the Story Department. The first sequence he worked on was All the Cats Join from Make Mine Music. One year later he would work on storyboards for the features Fun and Fancy Free, Wind in the Willows and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. All of these designs were still old-school. In the late 1940s he started to design characters with more angular shapes. For Cinderella he made designs of the step sister and Lucifer the Cat and the hens. For Alice in Wonderland he did storyboards and character designs. His design for the Mad Hatter came close to the final design that ended up in the movie. 1948 was not a good financial year for the Disney Studios and lot artists all lost their jobs, also Tom Oreb. He started working at MGM for Tex Avery. In 1952 Oreb was back at the Disney Studios to work on Toot, Whistle Plunk and Boom, that won an Academy Award in 1953. He designed all of the characters of Sleeping Beauty to fit to the style of Eyvind Earle. In 1954 Disney asked Oreb to work on some commercials and redesign Disney characters in a Modern style. Alice and the Mad Hatter and the fairy from Cinderella all got the Oreb-look. Also Mickey Mouse got a modern design for a commercial. He worked on several odd projects that never got made. He made character designs for Paul Bunyan and later character designs for 101 Dalmatians. Apart from being a great designer Tom Oreb also was unreliable and temperamental. In 1959 he got fired at the Disney Studios and started working at UPA.

John Dunn

John Dunn storyboard Eyes in Outer Space

Another unknown artist that worked at the Disney Studios was the Scott John Dunn. In 1951 he was hired at the Disney Studios as an inbetweener. Trained as an illustrator he soon began to make story sketches. In 1954 the Walt Disney Studios signed a deal with ABC to do a weekly show called ‘Disneyland’ to promote the theme park. Walt Disney asked animator Ward Kimball to set up an animation division for the production for the ‘World of Tomorrow’ episodes. Which was later called Tomorrowland. The specials were 50 minutes and was a combination of live-action and animation. 5 episodes were scheduled. At that time all of the TV sets were black and white, but Disney was smart enough to make the shows in full color. The mission was to educate about the future, but in an entertaining way. John Dunn joined the team and made story sketches for the first episode A Trip To Mars. In 1954 he worked on visuals and concepts for Man in Space, Man in the Moon, and Mars and Beyond. His story sketches showed a zany kind of humour Ward Kimball was famous for, but they actually where Dunn’s ideas. The style of these animation segments were in a modern style. If you look on YouTube you can find some episodes. They were also included in the DVD set Walt Disney Treasures Tomorrowland in Space and Beyond. John Dunn also worked on storyboards for Donald Duck shorts. In 1959 the Kimball TV unit was disbanded and Dunn left the studio. He worked for Warner Brothers as a story artist and at De Patie-Freleng studio where he would provide ideas for The Pink Panther.

Walt Peregoy

Walt Peregoy concept 101 Dalmatians

I am never afraid of a blank piece of paper. It’s always an opportunity. I love blank pieces of paper.

These are the words of artist Walt Peregoy. An artist with a big ego and talent to match it. As most Disney artist he started out as an inbetweener in 1943. He was just 17 years old. But he left the Studio to study art in Mexico and France. In 1951 he was back in Los Angeles and started working as an inbetweener at Disney again. He worked on in-betweens for Peter Pan and Lady and the Tramp. But his dream was to work at the Layout and Background Department. Eyvind Earle who was working on the backgrounds of Sleeping Beauty hired Peregoy to paint in his style. In the documentary 4 Artists Paint 1 Tree  you can see Walt Peregoy together with Eyvind Earle. He also worked on backgrounds for Paul Bunyan and concepts for Disneyland. He was always drawing and painting. In the late fifties Peregoy finally got the opportunity to show his true talent when he was asked to do handle the background styling of One Hundred and One Dalmatians. His unmatched feel for color and design made One Hundred and One Dalmations one of the most modern animation features. He worked with angular shapes and painted outside the lines. The backgrounds pencil drawings were xeroxed on cels and laid over the background painting creating a unique modern look. In this book you see the concept paintings he made without the pencils. However Walt Disney did not like this look. Peregoy had to tone down his style for the other movies he worked on. He worked on the styling and backgrounds for Sword in the Stone. For Jungle Book he also made concept designs. In the sixties he worked on several projects that were shelved. Chanticleer was a project that many artists worked on, also Peregoy. Another feature was Catfish Bend. He also made an attempt to revive Don Quichot, the project that artist Eduardo Solá Franco worked on two decades earlier. All of these projects got shelved and Peregoy left the studio in 1965. He worked as a freelancer for several animation studios. In 1974 he was hired again at the Disney Studios to work on backgrounds for The Rescuers. But he did not want to adapt his style to the traditional Disney background style. In 1977 he was hired at Imagineers to work on designs for EPCOT. He made wonderful designs for three of the pavilions. In 1983 Walt Peregoy left the studio and worked on his own art. His style was loved by many, but his uncompromising personality was so upsetting that he would not sell many paintings.

Author: Didier Ghez
Publisher: ‎Chronicle Books; Illustrated edition (2018)
Language: ‎ English
Hardcover: ‎224 pages

This book is available on Amazon. Here are some affiliate links to different Amazon stores. When you click on them and buy the book, I will get a small percentage of the sale. It does not cost you extra.

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