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Art & Animation

A Tribute: Mary Blair, Artist

She was one of Walt Disney’s favorite artists. Mary Blair was a conceptual designer, artist and painter for The Walt Disney Company. It was under her artistic direction that the look of animated classics like Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and the theme park legend it’s a small world were created.


While other Disney artists (like the group known as the Nine Old Men) worked on the same films, it was Mary who held a special place in Walt’s heart.

Mary Blair is best known for the conceptual designs for Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951) and the classic Peter Pan (1953). And she also designed the look and theme for a little boat ride in Anaheim, California, called “It’s a Small World.” An impressive visual stylist, Mary Blair stands among Disney legends like Marc Davis, Ollie Johnston, Frank Thomas in the company archives. Furthermore, she held her own in a male-dominated profession.

The Google Doodle
Google even paid tribute to celebrate what would have been Mary Blair’s 100th birthday. ”She influenced the tone of the picture with her use of color and design,” said Michael Giaimo, who served as the art director for Disney’s 1995 Pocahontas. “Where Mary Blair was unique was that the work that she did here at the studio was not only beautiful work. What she did went beyond the project into a pure art form. It became art. It became a statement unto itself.”


 Mary Blair was honored with a Google Doodle. 

Blair was the featured subject at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 17th Marc Davis Celebration of Animation lecture at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles. Pete Docter, who directed the 2009 Oscar winner Up as well as Monsters, Inc., was one of the many animation giants who came out to honor Blair with “Mary Blair’s World of Color — A Centennial Tribute.”

Walt and El Groupo
Mary started her career at the Walt Disney Studios in 1940, initially working on Dumbo in 1941. Blair and her husband were asked by Walt Disney to join him and other animators (as well as Walt’s wife, Lillian) on a good-neighbor trip to South America.


Mary Blair conceptual art for The Three Caballeros.

Walt Disney had been asked to take the trip on behalf of the U.S. government to help secure southern neighbors during wartime. Walt decided to chronicle the event in his own unique way, making movies out of them. The trip was recently chronicled in the documentary Walt and El Groupo, now available on DVD. Mary Blair was also responsible for helping establish the look of the Technicolor-animated wonders Saludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1944). Mary received credit as art supervisor for the films.

Artistic Inspiration
Mary Blair worked on Disney Studio’s animated features for more than 20 years — and was the only woman to hold such a significant position at the company. Mary died in 1978 at the age 66 and left behind an amazing body of work, which still influences artists today (click the image for a larger view):

Mary’s combination of commercial and personal artistic sense can still be seen today – and at several places, including Disneyland. In fact, Mary made several large murals. Her design for a 90-foot-high mural is the focal point of Disney’s Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World and can be seen inside of the hotel.


The massive Mary Blair mural inside the Contemporary is one of the lesser known gems of the Walt Disney World resort. 

Another animator commented on Blair’s ability for “putting together simplified shapes and colors to make them really pop forward. She had a great ability with lighting. A lot of times in art direction, it seems very flat. But with just a little bit of lighting, you can change the atmosphere of the whole scene.” Mary Blair and her creations still find a way to inspire budding young artists.

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posted by Vince Matthews in Art & Animation,News Blog and have No Comments

The Original Tablet: Inkling by Wacom

They say it’s all about the tablet. That is, tablets are the future and every computer device will follow the tablet form. Well, here’s a device that returns users to one of mankind’s original tablets – the pen and pad of paper. For artists, it could be an iPad killer.

Sketch on any pad of paper and then import your illustration to your computer.

With Wacom’s device you can easily sketch on any piece of paper. You can create layers within your art and when you’re done, transfer your sketches to the computer – exporting your sketches in Photoshop and Illustrator.

How It Works
The Wacom Inkling attaches to your notebook or legal pad. Using a special stylus with a ballpoint pen-tip insert, the stylus sends a signal to the Inking receiver, which is attached in a fixed location on your pad of paper or notebook.


Using a traditional (but comfortable) pen-like stylus, artists could use a favorite notebook to capture their creations. 

For artists that want the fine control that only a pen can offer, the Inkling does a great job of capturing the artist’s essence. Wacom’s always made high-quality digital artists’ tools and is a leader in the category. The Inkling works great for artists learning how to use Photoshop. Touch pads like the iPad and Galaxy Tab require the artist to touch the actual device display. If you’re an artist and prefer the traditional pen and paper method, then check out Wacom’s Inkling.

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posted by Vince Matthews in Art & Animation,News Blog and have No Comments

Old Pixar Footage Discovered: First Appearance of 3D Computer Animation

Newly found lost Pixar footage shows the origins of the computer animation studio. The discovered footage doesn’t feature any cute robots or toy cowboys. Instead it shows some of the first film experiments in 3D computer-based animation – experiments that would help launch the the world’s foremost computer animation studio, Pixar.


The seeds of computer 3D animation. The footage was incorporated into the 1976 film Futureworld, which was the first movie to use 3D computer animation.

The experimental archival footage dates back nearly 40 years ago to 1972, when Univ. of Utah grad student Ed Catmull (who now oversees Pixar’s and Walt Disney’s Animation Studios) and a partner filmed a few basic examples of 3D computer animation. The clips show a 3D hand, face and working heart, all mapped with polygons.

Pixar Presents
Pixar has dominated the box office during the last two decades. A quick list of Pixar’s successes includes modern classics such as the entire Toy Story trilogy (1995, 1999, 2010), Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Cars (2006), Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008) and Up (2009). Pixar’s films have earned more than $6.3 billion worldwide, and the studio’s average feature makes $602 million. Toy Story 3, on the other hand, is now considered the highest-grossing animated film of all time, grossing more than $1 billion.

Pixar’s films have received critical acclaim as well. The studio has won 26 Oscars, including six Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature. Two of its animated features (Toy Story 3 and Up) were considered so good that they even transcended the Animation category and were nominated for Best Picture.


Up won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, and was even nominated for Best Picture.

Before those masterworks started appearing on the animation landscape, Pixar was first represented by three short computer-animated films that were produced in the early 1990s. Back then, the closest thing to a “star” that Pixar had was Luxo, an animated desk lamp that showed more personality than many animated creatures of the day, despite Luxo’s lack of facial features.

These early “shorts” were a revelation to animation fans of the day, and pointed the way to today’s 3D animation. The look of the animation was perfectly clean, the backgrounds were richly detailed, and by then, Pixar had mastered its system of interpolation, so character motion was energetic but smoothly rendered.

3D Animation Origins
The newly posted video predates Luxo by a good two decades, and looks as primitive as Walt Disney’s early animation experiments. Shot in a grainy black and white, the video shows several examples of polygon-based 3D animation, each containing a few movements and motions to give a hint of what could be achieved.

The first clip shows a plaster hand which has been mapped with polygons. Then we see the hand rotate. Other clips show 3D faces, as well as the simulated workings of a heart valve. The clip contains no narrative audio—just a jazzy rendition of the classic song “Stardust,” and the video image (which started out on primitive 8mm film) shows it age and the original medium. Nonetheless, this brief film is a historic document that capably predicted the coming tidal wave of 3D computer animation.


Pixar’s first starring “character” was Luxo. The lamp is incorporated into Pixar’s logo.

Pixar has been turning out blockbusters for years, but how do they do it? How do they manage to make every film a hit? When the people of Pixar sit down to plan their next film, it’s an incredibly creative process that involves numerous steps. Pixar’s process includes brainstorming, developing a script and then actually shooting the action. If you’re interested in making the next Toy Story, start learning 3D animation skills now…because the future is computer-animated.

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posted by Phill Powell in Art & Animation,News Blog and have No Comments

D23 & Tron: Uprising, First Look

The D23 Expo is in Anaheim, California, this weekend. The show is a Disney fan’s dream. This year Disney is pulling out all the stops for Disney collectors, mouse fiends and, this year, Marvel Comics fans (Disney recently acquired Marvel). D23 Expo is like Disney Comic-Con.


Tron: Uprising takes place between the original Tron and the recent Tron: Legacy. The animation has a heavy anime influence.

No surprise then Disney is quietly showing here (and on its DisneyXD YouTube Channel) its much-anticipated 2012 animated series, Tron:Uprising. The animated show was also previewed recently at Comic-Con 2011 in San Diego. The trailer features Beck, a new character in the Tron universe, while Daft Punk provides the soundtrack.

Although what we’ve seen is mostly concept art, an extended classic-Tron chase scene gives viewers an idea what the show will look like…and that’s nothing short of amazing.

The Return of Tron
The story that takes place between the original 1982 Tron movie and the recent 3D blockbuster, Tron: Legacy. Beck (voiced by Elijah Wood) is a young program that is trained by Tron and becomes the arch-enemy of General Tesler (Lance Henriksen). The cast is rounded out with Emmanuelle Chriqui, Mandy Moore, Nate Cordry, Paul (“Pee Wee Herman”) Reubens and Bruce Boxleitner – who will reprise his role in both Tron films.

It’s no surprise that Disney is making a 3D animated series about Tron. Disney is finally getting behind the Tron franchise (which makes perfect sense in the digital age) and the XD sci-fi series looks very promising.


The world of Tron plays a big part in the animated series on Disney XD. 

Tron’s New Horizons
While plans for a Tron ride at Disneyland have been rumored around Imagineering for years, they have remained just that: rumors. However, Disney may have more recently tested the waters for an in-park Tron attraction; management turned an entire section of the Hollywood Studios Backlot at California Adventure Park in Anaheim into a Tron nightclub - including an End of Line club.

Are you looking forward to Tron: Uprising? It brings together art and digital technology like 3D animation using Maya to create a state-of-the-art animated experience.

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posted by Vince Matthews in Art & Animation,News Blog and have No Comments

Walt Disney’s 3D Film Invention & The Future of Filmmaking

Walt Disney was someone way ahead of his time. He defied critics and conventional wisdom by making a cartoon over an hour in length into a feature film (“Snow White”). In 1937, he was again ahead of the curve by making 3D cartoons.


Walt explaining the Multiplane Camera. The original Multiplane Camera used to shoot such classics as “Bambi,” “Snow White” and “Pinocchio” is now on display at The Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, CA.

The Most Advanced Animation Tool Before The Computer
Using a technology that wasn’t surpassed in animation until the introduction and use of computers, the Multiplane Camera was the most advanced piece of technology of its day for making animated movies. We found this great piece of video of Walt introducing audiences to the new technology through his weekly television show, “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.”

Animators today use Maya to create jaw-dropping 3D landscapes and make 3D characters come to life on movie screens. In fact, Maya is the entertainment industry standard in computer animation – used to render everything from Woody in “Toy Story” to that little dancing bar of soap on television. Video-game developers also use Maya to create landscapes and characters, just like their counterparts do in the movies. Do you want to know how to become a Maya expert? Becoming an animation wiz using Maya could put you on a path to becoming the next Walt Disney.

Digital Media Academy offers courses in Maya taught by industry professionals. DMA’s Maya 2012 Pro Series Courses like Maya 2012: Introduction, Maya 2012: Character Modeling & Rigging, Maya 2012: Animation & Visual Effects, or Maya 2012: Texture & Lighting are all great ways to create, build on or enhance your animation skills. DMA’s one-week- and two-week-long computer and digital arts summer camps will inspire you to create the future of animation.

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posted by Vince Matthews in Art & Animation,Featured,News Blog and have No Comments

Cartoon Creation with Toon Boom Studio

At the core of all types animations – cartoons, videogames, movies – are “keyframes.” Keyframes are what allow animators to move characters to different positions, essentially, it’s a “keyframe” that animates Bart Simpson, a Lego videogame character or computer generated monster in a Harry Potter movie.


Lego video game cut scenes are animated using keyframes. 

Keyframes: Bringing Art & Imagination to Life To bring a character to life, you need the same ingredients as real life. Motion. Keyframes change the still images – for computer rendered characters, keyframes simplify animation by allowing animators to modify a character or object quickly over an animation cycle. Instead of manually drawing a new pose every single frame individually, keyframes get rendered characters from one point of action to another. The alternative is frame-by-frame animation; think making a flip-book, and redrawing the character on every page.

Draw to Life: Frame By Frame In Adventures in Cartoon Creation, young animators learn how to make cartoons  and are taught frame-by-frame animation – the same methods used to create the classic Disney cartoons using Toon Boom Studio. Toon Boom Studio has an copy feature built in to help with this kind of animation. It outlines the drawing from the previous frame, and gives you a reference of the position of the next frame’s drawing. Animators certainly didn’t have it this easy back in the ’70s!

Lighting: In the Shadows Shading characters is easy too. In the picture below, the darker shading on the left side of her face was created with the shading tool. Adding shadows for characters is as easy as dragging and dropping a shadow in. The shadows even automatically update. Once we put the shadows in, we don’t have to worry about them anymore. We can even draw with gradients, instead of plain colors. Check out the star in her hair. It’s a smooth ramp from orange to yellow, and gives the character a subtle touch of realism.

toonboom-drawing

Toon Boom Studio has an animation studio-full set of features, like shading and lip-syncing.

Lip-Service
Toon Boom Studio has a lip-syncing engine built in too. This lets you record an audio track and sync the lips of our characters to fit our recorded dialog. This helps take the monotony out of lip-syncing. Animators get pretty excited when they make a character speak, and the software does the hard part for you.

File Compatibility
Toon Boom Studio works with file formats that animators already use – import to Adobe Illustrator vector files, Flash .swf’s, all kinds of raster image formats, video formats, and sound formats. This means that animators or cartoonist can use almost any source material that they want to animate. Artists who use Adobe Illustrator can even bring their work right into Toon Boom Studio, with no loss in quality, and no conversions!

If you’re ready to learn how to make cartoons then Toon Boom Studio is for you.

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posted by Ben in Art & Animation,News Blog and have Comments (2)