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"Dream Worlds" offers look at abandoned Disney animated features

"Dream Worlds" offers look at abandoned Disney animated features

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Who is Hans Bacher?

Trust me, folks. If you're a Disneyana fan, you know this man's work. If you were creeped out by the look of the Beast's lair in "Beauty & the Beast" ...


Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises. All Rights Reserved

... or ever marveled at the clean, crisp design of the logo for the stage version of Disney's "The Lion King" ...


Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises. All Rights Reserved

... then you have Hans to thanks. For Bacher is the production designer / visual development artist who worked on these two projects as well as many other Disney films.

Now what's kind of unusual about Hans' work is that it's rarely seen by the public. His paintings & drawings are mostly used in-house as inspirational material for the artists and animators who are actually working on each new animated feature.


 Copyright 2007 Focal Press. All Rights Reserved

Which is what makes "Dream Worlds: Production Design for Animation" (Focal Press, December 2007) so extraordinary. Here -- for the first time ever -- is a collection of the canvases that Bacher did for Walt Disney Feature Animation productions like "Aladdin" ...


Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises. All Rights Reserved

... featuring many ideas that Hans originally proposed for these pictures which -- in some cases, anyway -- the film-makers ultimately decided not to go with.

Better than that, Bacher shares behind-the-scenes stories about each of the animated features that he worked on. Take -- for example -- "Mulan," which Hans began working on because ...

" ... Andreas Deja, a good friend and a former student in Germany, now one of the top animators at Disney, had called me and talked about a future project they were planning: 'China Doll.' He explained the showdown between the emperor, Mulan, and her army friend. I liked that ending actually way more than the ending in the final film ... where Mulan had to decide between the life of the emperor and her friend Shang."


 Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises. All Rights Reserved

Bacher has similar stories about "The Lion King," recalling that ...

"... The first script pages I got were not very promising ... I was working in Germany. Nobody at Disney really believed in the project, so there was no budget to fly me to LA."

Which was not a very auspicious start for what would eventually become the most successful hand-drawn animated feature of all time.

But what should really interest animation fans is that "Dream Worlds" features development art that Hans did for three projects that Walt Disney Animation Studios ultimately decided not to put into production: "My Peoples" (AKA "Elgin's Peoples," "Angel and Her No Good Sister," "Once in a Blue Moon" and "A Few Good Ghosts"), ...

 
Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises. All Rights Reserved

... "Fraidy Cat," which Bacher had some very fond memories of. Given that ...

"... I was the first artist to get involved in ... 'Fraidy Cat,' so I could design with no limitations.

The story outline and the first treatment looked very promising. It was a little bit of a Hitchcock crime story with a cat and a parrot in London. Somehow, it reminded me of '101 Dalmatians,' one of my favorite movies."

 
Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises. All Rights Reserved

But the images that will -- no doubt -- most intrigue animation fans are the pages & pages of development art that Hans did for "Wild Life." Which was to have been Disney's The Secret Lab's follow-up to "Dinosaur." And according to Bacher, this decidedly unusual project (Which was to have a urban, hipster-ish spin on George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion") ....

"The final look of the major areas in story looked breathtaking, together with the very unusual character designs. It would have been an incredible movie."


Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, this 216-page hardcover isn't just a fond look back at Hans' days of doing visual development for Disney. "Dream Worlds: Production Design For Animation" is also an excellent how-to book for anyone who's thinking of entering the business. It features all sorts of Bacher's tips about how to put together strong & concise drawings that clearly put across specific story points.

But me personally, what I loved best about "Dream Worlds" were Hans' BS-free stories. Where he'd look back at various WDAS productions that he'd worked on and then tell the real behind-the-scenes stories. Not the carefully edited & massaged versions that Disney Publicity inserts into production notes. But -- rather -- the really-for-real stories about how your favorite Disney animated films actually came together.

Take -- for example -- "Beauty and the Beast." Which Hans remembered like so:

The first 'Beauty and the Beast' treatments were very serious. Well, it's a serious original story. There is nothing funny about a beast. I always compared it to 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' where you have a serious part with the witch and the dwarfs for comic relief. In 'Beauty and the Beast,' we wanted to do it in a similar way with the enchanted objects in the castle.

(So in) the fall of 1989 ... We just worked like crazy. And we finished a story reel in color in a very short time, about 50 minutes long. The First Act: It was not a typical Disney movie, more a European version. But we all believed in it.

Well, they didn't in LA ... When I heard that the plan was to change it into a musical, I was shocked. It's difficult for Europeans to understand how these ideas come up in the New World. We are very serious and would never even think about such an insult. I made jokes about a singing beast.

(But since the Disney executives) felt so bad (about throwing) all our work in the trash, they decided to send us to the Loire area in France ... Our trip lasted 4 days, maybe 20 castles ... We had good French food and even better wine ...

That reference trip could have created an incredible looking movie. We shot thousands of pictures, video, and did tons of sketches. Unfortunately, later in the movie it was decided not to use any of the reference and just do another generic-looking Disney film.

You see what I'm saying? That "another generic-looking Disney film" comment isn't the sort of thing that you'd expect to read in an official "Art of ..." book. Which -- to be honest -- is what makes "Dream Worlds" so refreshing. It makes you realize how truly rare it is to hear the plain unvarnished truth.

So if you want to see some beautiful visual development art (not to mention some great behind-the-scenes wart-and-all stories about your favorite Disney animated features), then I urge you to pick up a copy of Hans Bacher's "Dream Worlds: Production Design for Animation."

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  • I think I first saw the work of Hans Bacher back in the early nineties while visiting Disney animation with artist, Daan Jippes. Han's design work knocked my socks off. Bacher is one of those rare artists who can honestly be called a genius. His contribution to Disney's animated films during the eighties and nineties are immeasurable.

    I had the pleasure of working with Hans on two films. The first you saw - - and the last you'll never see. "Mulan" and "WildLife."

    Why Disney let this guy get away is beyond me. Then again, that's Disney.

  • Why was Wild Life ultimately dropped from production?

  • I'm not defending DIZ CO. 'F' Animation Brand Enterprises - but com'on Jim  ....    whether "unvarnished truth" as words you describe or merely the work experience known by Hans Bacher - while definitely more interesting than DIZ CO. Brand publicity, how are Bacher's unbridled, fun memories more authentically accurate than the next guy?  It's fun to see Bacher complain about Beauty & the Beast becoming a musical, but Beauty & the Beast was also nominated for Best Picture 1991.

  • A couple years ago Ric Sluiter, a background painter/ art director from Disney, gave a presentation at Sheridan College where I teach. Among the goodies he showed were many pieces of concept art from "My Peoples", both background and character development. I really loved what I was seeing and I'm hopeful that this project may yet see the light of day, despite having been shut down when they closed the Florida Animation Studio several years ago. Besides, "Enchanted" finally reached the screen after years spent in creative limbo, so I still hold out hope for some of Disney's other discarded projects that showed promise...

  • "but Beauty & the Beast was also nominated for Best Picture 1991."

    Which says ..what?

    B&B was a big succes in a lot of ways. But it probably didn't look as good as the concept art. I wouldn't know.. I havent seen too much art of that film.

    But I have of Pocahontas. And when you compare the concept art to the final film.

    That's just a shame.

    Why can't Disneyfilms look different from each other?

    Ofcourse some do. But there's alway these things...

    Cute sidekicks and all..

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