Monday, January 30, 2012

Walt Disney's Secret Characters (Part One)

Tommy Mohawk and his little pal, Chatter!

We recently acquired a stack of rare television commercial model sheets created by Disney artists in the '50s. When these animated ads were produced, Walt was looking for ways to earn extra money to keep his studio afloat and help finance Disneyland. The characters you see here for Mohawk Carpets were drawn in 1952 in the traditional Disney style.

Here's Chatter the Squirrel, looking suspiciously similar to another famous nut-loving rodent in the Disney firmament. Apparently his oversized headband would sometimes cover his eyes, causing him to trip and run into stuff.

And this sweet Indian maiden is Minnie (short for "Minnehaha"). There were eight Mohawk spots produced in all, with the following descriptive titles: Tommy Tests Carpets, Tommy Supervises Weaving, Tommy Plants Carpet Seeds, Tommy Designs Carpets, Tommy Falls for Minnie, Tommy Gives Animals Sleeping Carpets, Birds Use Waterfall for Loom, and Tommy Harvests Carpets.

Here's the complete model sheet:

Notice that the Studio stamp at the top isn't Disney's, but reads "Property of Hurrell Productions." Producing commercials for TV in the early days was considered waaay beneath the status of a major Hollywood movie studio, so Walt set up a separate, secret television production studio on the Burbank lot operated by famed glamour photographer George Hurrell...who just happened to be married to Phyllis Bounds, the niece of Walt's wife, Lillian!

George Hurrell, incidentally, had photographed Walt for this famous portrait way back in 1940.

So anyway, I'd really love to see some of the Mohawk Carpet ads (Tommy Plants Carpet Seeds?? Sounds cool!) I haven't found any of them online, except that googling "mohawk carpet animated" yields this nifty roadside relic in Denver, Colorado:


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Disney Storyboards for Kelvinator, 1955


Hey Tomorrowland fans, remember once we traveled back in time to 1955 to see CIRCARAMA and that mind-bending kitchen appliance of the future, the FOODARAMA? You don't remember that? Well, CLICK HERE and go see it now. I'll wait right here....
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Okay, back again? Now check this out. Below are the storyboards for the animated logo seen in the Kelvinator TV commercial above. The animation was produced by Disney, who may very likely have run this ad with the weekly Disneyland TV show on ABC.

Storyboard art like this is a rare find and really cool to look at, so I thought I'd share it with you. The descriptions that accompanied each panel are included underneath the picture... Enjoy!

Kelvintator music with singing (choral group or single voice).
Logo Action - Circle zooms up into scene.

1st bar of letter K drops into circle...

Rest of letter K with remainder of logo shoots in like arrow.

Sparkle flash on contact.

Flash fades. Logo complete.

Dissolve to long shot of Dream Kitchen floor pattern floating in sparkling star
sky over lighted city. Dancer-type girl in sheer flowing dress on floor center.

Appliances pop on completing Dream Kitchen set-up. Girl reacts.
Dolly camera into medium shot.

Dissolve to medium close shot of featured appliance. Singing stops and woman announcer's voice takes over. Girl pantomimes to pitch to display the merits and features of appliance.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I Speak For The Tree...Part Two

Two months ago I wrote a sort of eulogy to a lost piece of art, the original Plaza Pavilion mural at Disneyland, a painting that had sparked my imagination as a kid, and has continued to be a source of inspiration to me in my own work. Since then, that post has received more hits, more "tweets" and garnered more responses than anything else I've written for this blog. Many responses arrived in my email or as facebook messages, and a great deal of them came from within the Disney company itself. Some were from anonymous writers (or acquaintances who requested to remain anonymous). The post seemed to have hit a nerve with many like-minded people, especially people who create art themselves, or hold creative jobs.

Recently Disneyland unveiled their brand new Jolly Holiday Bakery in the Pavilion space, and I have to say it's wonderful. It's truly one of the most delightful and inviting interiors at Disneyland today, and the food is really great, too (try the Waldorf chicken salad sandwich with tomato soup.) The wall that once carried the mural is gone now, but the custom moulding that framed it remains. Disney Imagineer Kim Irvine lovingly handpainted a subtle tribute to the mural with a similar tree overflowing with Mary Poppins references. The week the bakery opened to the public, my inbox was bombarded with cell phone shots of Kim's painting from readers who had recognized the tribute. I highly recommend visiting the new Bakery, which has become my favorite place to eat in the Park.

However, the search for some decent documentation of the original Pavilion mural continues. Incredibly, two people have come through with their own shots of the mural, and granted permission to share them here. The color photos below are courtesy of my friend Greg MacLaurin, a creative genius himself, who snapped these photos in the restaurant decades ago. He could only provide these lo-rez shots, but I assure you they are better quality and show more detail than anything we could locate in Disney's official files.

The color seems close to the original, though the flashy metallic gold background is reading here as mustard yellow. Greg's photos were taken from the serving line and at an angle to avoid his flash bouncing off the surface and back into the camera. I've distorted the frames in photoshop to flatten out the art as much as possible.

Seeing these images, even fragmented as they are, makes me happy. And this brings up a key lesson on historic preservation and the importance of keeping documentation. When a work of art is lost, whether it be a mural, a beautiful old building, or an original movie negative that has decomposed - it can never again be experienced as it was intended. Photographs, if they even exist at all, become the only portal to stepping back in time. To date, the images I've posted are all that we have, and to people who care - like you and me - they're as valuable as gold.

Look, there's the frog on the cutting board -a particular source of squeamish delight to me as a kid.

And, check it out! At the base of the trunk, there are little mushrooms growing in the grass; a wonderful touch that I had forgotten all about.

If anyone else out there has a picture (even just a glimpse) of this mural stashed somewhere in a family album from a past trip to Disneyland, please consider sharing it with us. Together we can make sure a small, lovely detail of Disneyland's past won't ever be forgotten.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Anaheim's Marvelous Modern Mobil, 1956

The Mobil gas station that once adorned an intersection near Disneyland was a marvel of mid-century design by architects Whitney Smith and Wayne Williams. With four giant floating canopies balanced magically on spindles, underneath a fire-engine red flying Pegasus, the station was a mid-century roadside masterpiece - even catching the eye of famed architectural photographer Julius Shulman in 1956.