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Why For did Disney wind up giving Maleficent the bird

Why For did Disney wind up giving Maleficent the bird

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Trina P. wrote in to say:

Thanks for sharing those pictures from the Tim Burton exhibition at the MoMA. I’m a huge Burton fan and had wanted to get down to NYC while that exhibit was there, but never found the time.

I noticed that you had a lot of pictures from Tim Burton movies that never got made. But what I was wondering is if you had any concept paintings or drawings from movies that Burton hasn’t yet made that you could share. I’d especially like to see some images from that “Maleficent” movie he’s working on.

Dear Trina,

Sorry. But there were no pre-production images from “Maleficent” to be found among the 770+ objects that were on display at NYC’s Museum of Modern Art.

Maleficent production art from Disney's Sleeping Beauty
Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories. All Rights Reserved

Given that this MoMA exhibit opened back on November 22, 2009 (more than four months before “Alice in Wonderland” opened in theaters), the closest that Nancy and I came to being able to peer into Tim Burton’s future were those two small drawings of the Mad Hatter and the Red Queen that were on display here. Beyond that … bupkis.

But that said, having just seen some of the hundreds of pre-production sketches that Burton did for “Batman,” “Mars Attacks!,” “Corpse Bride” and “Sleepy Hollow,” I’d have to assume that – if Tim is serious about directing Disney’s answer to “Wicked” – that he’s already doodling away, trying to get a handle on what a live action version of Maleficent might look like.

And if that’s really the case … I do hope that Burton makes a trip to Disney’s Animation Research Library and then has them pull some of the paintings & drawings that were done while “Sleeping Beauty” was still in development.

Concept art of the 3 good fairies from Disney's Sleeping Beauty
Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories. All Rights Reserved

Because – as you tell by the above drawing of the Three Good Fairies (Which was kindly provided by Ron Stark of S/R Laboratories) – it took the artists who were working on this decade-in-the-making animated feature quite a while to get a handle on what “Sleeping Beauty” ‘s characters should actually look like.

And being that this was the first Disney animated feature to be produced in the Super Technirama 70mm format … Well, that meant that this fairy tale was being told on a far bigger screen than usual. Which was why Walt agreed to a far-more-elaborate-than-usual approach to “Sleeping Beauty” ‘s production design.

Which is where Eyvind Earle comes in. This Disney artist was given enormous latitude by Walt himself when it came to designing the high detailed settings for this film as well as the distinctive look of its characters. He even helped choose “Sleeping Beauty” ‘s color palette.

Briar Rose concept art by Eyvind Earle for Disney's Sleeping Beauty
Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories. All Rights Reserved

Mind you, Eyvind earned this privilege. Since he first arrived at Disney back in 1951, Earle had done some spectacular work for the Studio. Churning out beautiful & distinctive backgrounds for animated features like “Peter Pan” and “Lady and the Tramp” …

Lady and the Tramp concept art by Eyvind Earle
Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories. All Rights Reserved

… Not to mention the spectacular concept work that Eyvind did for Disney shorts like “Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom” and “Grand Canyonscope.”

Donald Duck being chased by a cougar in Grand Canyonscope Disney short
Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories. All Rights Reserved

So while Earle was struggling to find just the right balance when it came to “Sleeping Beauty” ‘s story & design needs (i.e. making sure that the film’s overly ornate backgrounds didn’t distract from and / or swallow up the characters who were supposed to be performing in front of them), he created this series of itty-bitty concept paintings.

Eyvind Earle concept painting from Disney's Sleeping Beauty
Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories. All Rights Reserved

Only 2 ½ by 2 “, these miniature paintings were used to establish the overall look & composition for dozens of scenes in “Sleeping Beauty.” And when you look at the amount of detail that Eyvind was able to cram into each of these images, they are really models of precision and economy.

Concept painting of Maleficent by Eyvind Earle for Disney's Sleeping Beauty
Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories. All Rights Reserved

I included this final concept painting by Evyind Earle (which shows Maleficent’s pet raven, Diablo, arriving at Briar Rose’s cottage) because it reminds me of a great little story associated with this film.

Diablo the raven in Eyvind Earle concept painting Disney's Sleeping Beauty
Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories. All Rights Reserved

Marc Davis (i.e. the Disney Legend who'd been assigned to animate “Sleeping Beauty” ‘s villain) initially had a really hard time with this character. You see, Maleficent had numerous moments in this film where she would just stand there, talking. Threatening King Stefan, interrogating her goons, taunting Prince Phillip. Animating a sequence like that – where it’s only dialogue and very little movement – is not only difficult to do, it also gets really boring after a while.

Maleficent animation drawing from Disney's Sleeping Beauty
Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories. All Rights Reserved

So Davis thought -- if Maleficent had a minion, someone that she could talk to, interact with … Well, that might make her scenes in “Sleeping Beauty” less of a snooze to watch. More importantly, make them a lot more fun to animate.

So Marc made his pitch to Walt. And Disney agreed that a villain with a sidekick would be a lot more interesting / entertaining to watch. Which is why Disney eventually agreed to give Maleficent the bird.

Maleficent animation drawing from Disney's Sleeping Beauty
Image courtesy of S/R Laboratories. All Rights Reserved

FYI: All of the artwork used in today’s article came from the Spring 2010 catalog for S/R Laboratories. Which will be holding its biannual animation art auction May 24 – 25. For further information on what other pieces will be coming up for bid this time around, please click on this link.

And remember, folks – if you’d like me to answer your Disney-related questions in a future "Why For" column  – please send them along to whyfor@jimhillmedia.com.

Have a great weekend, okay?

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