Thursday, December 27, 2012

Forest of No Return

Those who stumble in,
Those who fumble in,
Never can get out...

This is one of my favorite images ever.  It's by the insanely talented illustrator, Lowell Hess, for the 1961 Big Golden Book adaptation of Walt Disney's Babes In Toyland.  The pictures in the book are all very good, but this one is a real standout.  The nearly-black trees with their dark, glaring eyes and the upward view against the stark blue background is wonderfully spooky. Everything is skillfully rendered, and almost three-dimensional.  These guys would be super fun to sculpt.

The actual Babes in Toyland movie is, regrettably, not a favorite of mine, but luckily it has great art direction, with colorful storybook set pieces and some really fun costumes. But it's Hess's inky interpretations that excite me the most. 

 Every Christmas, time permitting,  Jody and I enjoy making one-of-a-kind toys and ornaments for our friends, and Jody made these stylized wooden ornaments of the grumpy Toyland trees.  Each is a few inches tall, handpainted, with miniature blown-glass decorations from Germany.  Terrific, huh?

This year, the one with the bird's nest on his head became part of a Christmas Card featured on Disney's "23 Days of Christmas" advent calendar.

Speaking of calendars, I'm really looking forward to the coming year. Hope 2013 will be good to you too!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

December Duck

Happy December, everybody.  
Here's another one of Jody's tiny acrylic paintings, and it's one of my favorites.  So cute!

The Canary Yellow Gypsy Cart

As veteran Disney merchandise designers, one of the things Jody and I enjoy doing each year is making one-of-a-kind toys for our friends. Often these feature favorite characters that rarely (if ever) appear on regular merchandise. And, naturally, that's part of the fun!

When Disney's D23 invited us to submit artwork for a special "23 Days of Disney Christmas"  advent calendar, we decided on creating "antique" holiday cards featuring wooden toys that we made from scratch.

My card shows a stylized, toy version of the Mr. Toad's "canary yellow gypsy cart" from the animated film "The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad"(1949). When the cart rolls across a flat surface, Toad's horse Cyril pivots back and forth as if he were galloping through the English countryside. It's like one of those classic Fisher-Price pull toys. I made both the cart and horse out of wood and painted everything by hand.

Jody's "toy card" will be revealed on December 15.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Happy 50th Swiss Family Treehouse!

LA Times ad, November 1962
 Just in time for 1962.  The world's greatest treehouse opened at Disneyland fifty years ago today.

The treehouse taking root in the summer of '62.
Related stories:
Swisskapolka!  Swisskapolka! Swisskapolka!
Some really REALLY Big Roots!
Original Swiss Family Treehouse FOUND!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Paper bonfire for a Sweet 'N Low print ad.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Paper Autumn

This past summer, I posted about my collaboration with BL:ND creating papercraft sets for an advertising campaign for Sweet 'N Low designed to play throughout the year.  As we're now zooming into fall - or as near to a season change we experience here in Southern California - here's a decidedly autumnal scenic piece that I worked on.

The "living room" seen above on my desk, looked wonderfully warm and cozy after the lighting designer worked his magic.  In the final print ads, the room serves as backdrop for a "Spiced Cider Tea" recipe. Sounds good to me!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Anaheim Oktoberfest Lager!

Here are a couple of things that make me happy: My hometown of Anaheim and really good beer.  I also like German stuff,  so every year during Oktoberfest season in Anaheim, it's like the stars have aligned.

Recently, the Anaheim Brewery asked me to create the label for their bottled Oktoberfest Lager (which just came out this week) and, let me tell you, my little heart jumped for joy.  (Besides, Jody got to design the label for the Brewery's Old Pacific IPA and I've been jealous ever since.)

My first thought was to do a graphic inspired by Anaheim's German roots, but Brewmasters Barbara and Greg Gerovac explained to me that this beer is really all about the city of Munich.

My rendition of Munich's Rathaus. 
A few years ago Jody and I traveled to Munich and fell in love with the city, its pedestrian-dominated streets, architecture, beer gardens,  and a park with a river running through it that attracts urban surfers.  There's even a 1970s Trader Vic's there!

Our cameras got the biggest workout at the "New City Hall"-- or Neues Rathaus -- that has a glockenspiel built into its 262 foot-high tower. Everyday at noon, accompanied by tinkly carillon bells, wooden figures reenact two historic events: the traditional coopers' dance originally performed to ward off the plague, and a famous wedding celebrated in the square in 1568.

Waaaay up on the tip of the tower is the famous "Munich Child" (Munchner Kindl), a symbol of the city that first appeared on Munich's coat of arms over 800 years ago.  The figure is up so high, that you can barely see it from the ground.  Likewise, on the beer bottle the Munich Child is a teeny speck, so I've magnified it here for you about 2000 times.  Looks like a call for Batman!!

In, around, and below the Rathaus.

A couple blocks away from the Rathaus, stands the most overwhelming building in the whole city, the Frauenkirche, or "Church of Our Lady." The twin domed towers seem impossibly tall, and signs warn you not to stand too close in winter, or snow and ice might cascade off the roof and smash you like a ton of bricks.  Without a doubt,  the Frauenkirche needed to be on the label, too.

Anaheim Oktoberfest Lager is now available in 12-pack bottles, in growlers, or by the glassful at the Anaheim Brewery's tasting room.   It's a precious and fleeting treat, limited to the autumn months, so if you're local to Southern California, get some while you can.  The Anaheim Brewery will celebrate Oktoberfest in their biergarten located at the brewery on October 13.  There will be a German brass band, pretzels, bratwurst, saurkraut, and undoubtedly me in lederhosen doing the chicken dance.  Hope to see you there!

Only 27 more shopping days left 'til Oktoberfest!

Saturday, September 01, 2012

The Big Fig List

The List.

Several people have asked for a comprehensive list of all the big figs that Jody and I have worked on together.  And so, here it is.

This is also a fine place to mention that producing these sorts of items is always the result of a team effort.  With few exceptions, these figures were sculpted by other artists, and the success of the character likeness depends as much on their ability, as on our concepts and guidance.

We'd like to acknowledge the exceptionally talented artist Pete Emslie who drew splendid character turnarounds for many of our very best figures, and to Bo Tsai, our favorite sculptor in China.  Sadly, Bo passed away this spring, but his contribution to worldwide Disney merchandise over many decades is legendary.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Big Figs

Thumper Big Fig
Between 1999 and 2006, Jody and I did quite a lot of things for Disney's Consumer Products division.  We designed concepts for toys, dolls, dishes, Christmas ornaments, stained glass lamps, snowglobes, cookie jars, teapots, music boxes, enamel pins, and zillions of other things made of resin, ceramic, glass, wood, pewter and sometimes bronze.

Jungle Book Big Fig

Is there another corporation on Earth that has produced as many tchotchkes as Disney?
Maleficent Big Fig

Peter Pan big fig

Nothing can enliven your living space like a figurine, especially a jumbo-sized character from a favorite movie. Together Jody and I concepted and did sculpt revisions on over sixty big figs, each one starting with a sketch and a painting.

Mr. Toad Big Fig concept
This artwork, never seen by the public, was presented in quarterly meetings, or line reviews, to help visualize products that, nine months later, would travel across the ocean from China aboard cargo ships destined for Disney's distribution warehouses - And, from there, to stores, theme parks, and eventually into childless homes all across the United States!

Lumiere Big Fig
Goofy Big Fig
Disneyland 50th Anniversary Big Fig
Who's afraid of the Big Bad Fig?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

1956 Disneyland Television Art

Today Disneyland turns 57 and to celebrate, let's look at some art.  The architecture and iconography of the original park is always so fun and fresh.  I never get tired of seeing the countless ways it was translated into graphic art for publicity and merchandise.  Here is a scrumptious rendition of Fantasyland, painted in "black and white" for use on the Disneyland TV program in 1956.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sweet 'N Low Ad Campaign

Recently I collaborated with the creative team at BL:ND to design and build 10 miniature worlds out of paper for Sweet 'N Low. The imagery can be seen on the Sweet 'N Low website, web banners, print ads and an animated spot.  The first print ad debuted a couple weeks ago in People Magazine, with more to come in issues of Us Weekly, Shape, Glamour and Cooking Light.   I think everything turned out really cool!

Thanks to director Eric Buth, producer Tobin Kirk and the inspiring people at BL:IND for inviting me to be a part of their magical world for two weeks! 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Jody and I are helping to put on this special show in Anaheim with Charles Phoenix, presented by the Anaheim Historical Society.  It is September 9th and the show is close to selling out.  If you've never attended one of Charles' hilarious retro-slide shows, this is the one to see!

CHARLES PHOENIX'S "ANAHEIMLAND".  The Anaheim Historical Society presents a live comedy retro slide show performance by pop-culture humorist Charles Phoenix, celebrating 1950s and '60s Disneyland the legends, landmarks and lore in the city that surrounds it.  Live music, guests, and surprises!  



1601 W. Broadway, 
Anaheim, Calif.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Our Presentation at Sea

Jody and I just presented a 30-minute retrospective of some of our favorite Disney projects over the past 25 years for an audience of fans aboard the Disney Dream cruise ship in the Bahamas. It was our first sea voyage ever, and it was pretty incredible. Five nights at sea, with a day in Nassau. 
Yeah, our jobs can be pretty tough sometimes.  We had a blast!

Our gratitude to Dreams Unlimited Travel and the terrific DISUnplugged Podcast team for hosting us! 

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Hear America Sing!

"The Old Gray Mare, she ain't what she used to be..."

It's hard to think that Disneyland's America Sings has been gone now for 24 years, after a 14-year run (and even harder to think how Innoventions, the attraction that replaced it, has managed to survive just as long.)
Marc Davis' fanciful characters were pure genius and inspired Jody and I as artists more than just about anything else at Disneyland in the 70s.  

"Ain't gonna study war no more, no more..."

Here's a terrific LA Times article on the opening of America Sings in the summer of 1974.

"The Duo Behind America Sings" By Michael Seiler, Times Staff Writer

Helpful to a fault and proud of their new $6 million addition to the empire that Walt Disney built, a couple of senior Disneyland creative-types were doing a little mugging in front of the photographers at a press preview the other day.

Al Bertino and Marc Davis, co-designers of America Sings in Tomorrowland's revolving Carousel Theater, were dancing around the mechanical singing animals that appear and disappear from the floor and backdrops.

Lights were flashing and a worried mother rabbit was singing "Where is my wandering boy tonight?" to her brood while father rabbit's silhouette was visible in a neighboring speakeasy.  The song ended, the lights went out, Mom and her children slipped beneath the stage on an elevator-like contraption.
It was suddenly very dark and Bertino, a 60-ish man of ample girth and not terribly light on his feet, was not looking where he was going.  Suddenly, he was gone.

When next seen amid a scene of confusion, Bertino was lying on his back 8 feet below the stage on top of the rabbits.  And several Disneyland public relations people were turning interesting shades of gray.

"Pop goes the weasel. Heeheehee!"
Bertino was carried away on a stretcher, but the damage was more to his pride than anything else.  The doctors who checked him at a nearby hospital found a sprained ankle and a bruise or two.  The rabbits survived and America Sings opened to the public, as scheduled, last Saturday, replacing the old General Electric Carousel of Progress display that has been moved to Walt Disney World in Florida.  
That's probably just as well, because the GE carousel was a sexist hymn to all-electric progress in the 20th century.  Through the years, dumb old Mom would fall off ladders replacing light bulbs and strident Sis would be talking on the phone all day while working off the blubber with an electric exercise belt.  Dad, of course, would be long suffering.

"It's the good life."
So now the Disney people have instead a delightful 24-minute "tune-filled adventure tracing nearly 200 years of our nation's musical heritage" as the publicity folks put it.

The 114 animals sing 40 different songs as the audience revolves around the stage.  The kids will love it, of course, and the adults fascinated by the mechanisms of what Disneyland calls "Audio Animatronics."  This is just another way of saying singing mechanical animals.  They're about as lifelike as the Disney people's 20 years of working on this kind of thing can get them.

"And in the evening, hear the train blow..."
Davis, a veteran of 39 years with Disney as an animationist and later, a designer of Disneyland attractions, teamed with Bertino, who has been with Disney 30 years.  Bertino wrote the story line, then both men selected the music.  Finally, Davis designed the animal characters and supervised the set design.  It took about two years, said Davis, and the idea, a spin-off of the Bicentennial celebration, was their own.

"We listened to a lot of recordings to pick the music, since neither of us can read music, and hired a piano player who couldn't sing.  Al wasn't much help on that.  He's an Italian - the only one who can't sing a tune," Davis said with a smile.

"Lord, I wish I was a single girl again."
Bertino said they looked for popular songs, ones most people know and remember.  "We stayed away from war songs and things like that," he added.  "We were looking for entertainment and a laugh, if we could get it."

After selecting the music, which ranges from "Camptown Races" to"Hound Dog," Bertino and Davis supervised design and construction of the animal characters.  The animals were sculpted, then plastic casts were made.  The moving parts were made of a flexible vinyl.  The plastic shells of the animals are steel supported and hydraulically operated.

"...where the bright diamond sand flows leisurely down to the stream..."
A computer moves the animals in coordination with the music.  Davis was hesitant to give details of the operation.  "It hurts the illusion," he said.  "I want people to believe what's happening on stage."

Disney executives approved the project at several stages of development, but there was no real market testing.  "I think we have a feeling if something is going to work," said Davis.  After 39 years, he said, you just know when an idea will be popular or not.

Davis hasn't missed often - he worked on the creation of several popular Disney characters, including Peter Pan, Cinderella and Tinker Bell, as well as many of the attractions at Disneyland and Disney World.  He left film animation in 1960 to work on developing Disneyland projects because that, somehow, is more exciting.  Walt Disney thought so, too, according to Davis.

"Walt used to drop by my office and he'd say, 'You know, Marc, I like to come here.  This is like the old days at the old studio.'  He most enjoyed the new things, whatever was being done that hadn't been done before."

"Oh my Sal, she am a spunky gal..."
Davis and Bertino figure Disney would have liked America Sings, but the big question is whether the public will.  "The most fun of all is watching the reaction of the audience," said Bertino, who will be hobbling around on crutches this week.  "If they all laugh in the right places, it will be worth it."

"I'll do the cookin' Honey.  I'll pay the rent."