They Drew As They Pleased: The Hidden Art Of Disney’s Musical Years (The 1940s – Part One) by Didier Ghez (book review).

October 20, 2017 | By | Reply More

It should hardly be surprising that the second volume of Didier Ghez’ book ‘They Drew As They Pleased: The Hidden Art Of Disney’s Musical Years (The 1940s – Part One)’, much of the focus in on ‘Fantasia’ (1940). When I saw it for the first time in the early 1960s, I wasn’t entirely sure, outside of the ‘Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ and the ‘Mushroom Dance’ that it was entirely designed for children with maybe it was a little too long. But then I was under 10 at the time. As an adult, I can appreciate the work and this book gives insight. I think Disney chose a pre-mature time to make the film like that. A world war was brewing and I think the audience would have much preferred something designed to cheer up their sprogs than an exercise in animation than in story content.

They Drew As they Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Musical Years (The 1940s – Part One) by Didier Ghez and foreword by John Musker (Chronicle Books, £25)

As music was in the forefront of ‘Fantasia’, the opening chapter looks at how Disney got the music sorted out with conductor Leopard Stokowski. From there, the possibilities of different versions with more up-to-date music but as ‘Fantasia’ didn’t do as well at the box office as expected, were quickly abandoned.

Walter Emil ‘Walt’ Scott (1894-1970) proposed and illustrated an insect-based orchestra which, although abandoned for fairies, can be seen here.

I looked at the name Kay Neilsen (1886-1957) thinking the first woman of the book but no, he’s a Dane. He illustrated several books before finding employment at Disney on and off. His first work was on ‘Fantasia’ doing ‘Night On Bald Mountain’, that’s the devil one in case you forgot. Although he was involved in the early ‘The Little Mermaid’ that got abandoned, it was an influence on the latter 1990 film. Of all the concept artists I’ve read in these books so far, he was the only one to die in poverty.

Page 122: Story sketches featuring Jiminy Cricket, Bo Peep and her sheep, created for an abandoned project about the History of Music, created by Sylvia Holland

I did wonder with all the non-Americans employed when we’d get to a Brit and up pops Sylvia Holland (1900-1974) who moved to the USA because it was a drier environment for her ill-prone son. Her portfolio got her creating the ‘Pastoral Symphony’ and the ‘Waltz Of Flowers’ on ‘Fantasia’ for Disney. What is interesting about her history here is the letters she sent to her brother-in-law because it gives insight into the Disney Studios of the time and the strikes that put many of them out of work later. Seeing her work here, it’s obvious that, even in pictures, she understood motion.

Page 27: The shadow of director Leopold Stokowski helps give a sense of scale to the bug orchestra in this concept piece by Lloyd Harting (Fantasia)

Retta Scott (1916-1990) holds the distinction of being Disney’s first female animator. Her wild dogs for ‘Bambi’ got her in that door because they were not delicate and many thought a man drew them. A very productive lady who worked nearly up to the age of her death on the Nepenthe Production, ‘The Plague Dogs’ explaining to its animators how to animate antlers but doing it upside-down so they could see it the right way up. Respect. I’ve only ever drawn humans and the odd squirrel that way.

Finally we have David Hall (1905-1994) who did paintings for other studios before one of the Disney executives recruited him for ‘Alice In Wonderland’. As Walt didn’t recruit him, Hall was sort of kept in the background and little of his work used in the films. Looking at the material here, it does look the least Disney-like but as fine art, especially for ‘Bambi’, and the surreal ‘Alice’, beautiful to behold. He did do some more work later for Disneyland designing its Freedomland.

Page 27: The shadow of director Leopold Stokowski helps give a sense of scale to the bug orchestra in this concept piece by Lloyd Harting (Fantasia)

Don’t expect to buy this book and seeing the final film product. What you get in these books is the preliminary work that was used to sort out the ideas and inspire the animators as to what was needed. As such, this is a valuable resource and insight behind the scenes that you aren’t likely to see elsewhere. If you want to be awe-struck by such talent, then you’ve come to the right place.

GF Willmetts

September 2017

(pub: Chronicle Books, 2016. 208 page oblong illustrated hardback. Price: £25.00 (UK), $40.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-4521-3744-5)

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Category: Illustration, Movie books

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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