Friday, January 29, 2016

This just in from Julie Svendsen:

[I've attached an old photo of some of the guys at the Studio in approx. the 60s:  Art Stevens, Jack Bailey (I think), Jack Boyd, Charlie Downs (I think) and my dad Sven.]

Thursday, January 28, 2016

This is a book that I had been awaiting for a long time and it does not disappoint. From the day I received Garry Apgar's illustrated manuscript a few years ago, I knew that I was reading something special.

I use the following criteria to judge a Disney book:

- Is the subject matter compelling?
- Does the text contain new information?
- Is the text easy to read?
- Are there any endnotes or precise references to the sources of the information which give me confidence that what I am reading is accurate?
- Does the book include visual documents that I have not seen before?

The answer to all those questions is an enthusiastic yes when it comes to Mickey Mouse: Emblem of the American Spirit. This huge art-book is clearly one of the most important Disney-history books released last year and will remain a key references for years to come. I learned a lot by reading it and discovered dozens of visual documents which I was not aware of.

So, is this the definitive book about Mickey Mouse? Without a doubt, when it comes to the history of the genesis of Mickey or to the history of Mickey's place in the art world, etc. But there is still space in my bookshelves for at least one more book about Mickey Mouse after this one: one that would be written by experts like David Gerstein and JB Kaufman about the making of Mickey's cartoons and the Mickey shorts that were planned but abandoned.

In the meantime I will read and re-read with tremendous delight Garry's magnum opus.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Several book-related news:

Michael Barrier has posted a very thoughtful review about They Drew As They Pleased yesterday.

Andreas Deja is already thinking about two more books as revealed on his blog.

I will be posting tomorrow a rave review of Garry Apgar's Mickey Mouse: Emblem of the American Spirit.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Two great articles by Todd James Pierce that should not be missed on the Disney History Institute:

- The Frontierland That Never Was and
- The Original Plans for the “Sailing Ship Columbia”

Monday, January 25, 2016

A few fun pieces in the illustration art auction from Swann Auction Galleries. Worth checking out.

(The above image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries and copyright Disney, of course.)

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The blog will be updated again on January 25.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Julie Svendsen was kind enough to send me recently this great photo. From left to right: Disney composer George Bruns, character voice actor Daws Butler and animator Julius Svendsen (Julie's father).

Thursday, January 14, 2016

I have been waiting for this book for so long, and I was caught by surprise this morning when the upcoming release was finally announced. Can't wait to get it!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

I wish I were in San Francisco at the moment to attend the opening of the Mel Shaw exhibition at the Walt Disney Family Museum. That is an exhibition I really do not want to miss!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Interesting documentary. (Thanks to Dave Mason for the heads up)

Monday, January 11, 2016

This website contains short interviews with seldom-interviewed Disney artists and others. No to be missed!

Friday, January 08, 2016

As mentioned two days ago, Frank Armitage passed away earlier this week. Here are a few photos celebrating his career as well as the official obituary.


BURBANK, Ca., January 6, 2016 - Frank Armitage , renowned Disney layout and background artist on such classic Disney films as "Sleeping Beauty," "Mary Poppins," and "The Jungle Book," and a longtime Disney Imagineer who contributed murals and designs to a wide range of theme parks all over the world, passed away on Monday (1/4/16) at his home in Paso Robles, California, from age-related causes.  He was 91 years old.  In addition to his accomplishments with Disney, he served as a production illustrator on the 1966 Academy Award® -winning Fox film, "Fantastic Voyage," and was an expert medical illustrator.

Commenting on Armitage's passing, Marty Sklar, former Walt Disney Imagineering creative executive and Disney Legend, said, "Frank's artistic skills were excellent -- but I loved having him on our Imagineering team because he knew so much about art and life.  At one point in his career, he left studio work, took medical courses at UCLA and became just about the best medical illustrator in the country.  There's still a program named for Frank at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical School.  This led him to the design assignment for the classic film, 'Fantastic Voyage,' and, of course, he was the standard bearer when we did the health-related 'Wonders of Life' for the Epcot Park at Walt Disney World.  What great experiences he brought to mentoring our young artists, working as a young man with the great Mexican muralist, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and at Disney with the brilliant Eyvind Earl on 'Sleeping Beauty.'"
Veteran Disney Imagineer and Disney's Animal Kingdom creative executive Joe Rohde, added, "Frank was a great artist and a nurturing leader.  I learned a lot at his side, but my greatest honor was watching him create the murals at Disney's Animal Kingdom.  I would visit him in his studio just watch how he laid down paint.  He was always a gentle and patient teacher."

Reflecting on Armitage's legacy in the world of animation, Fraser MacLean, animation production veteran, instructor, and author of ­­Setting the Scene: The Art and Evolution of Animation Layout,observed, "As a layout and background artist at Disney starting in 1952, Frank did some amazing work and contributed to many of the Studio's most successful animated films, from 'Peter Pan' and 'Sleeping Beauty' to 'Mary Poppins' and 'The Jungle Book.'  And as Disney expanded and diversified in the late 50s and early 60s, he was able to draw upon his distinct skills as an artist (ranging from award-winning mural designs to minutely detailed medical illustrations), and was ideally suited to apply his extraordinary knowledge, energy and imagination not only to Disney's features but also a wide range of challenging educational projects like 'Donald's Fire Survival' and 'Steps Towards Maturity and Health.'  Frank went on to have a whole other career at Disney Imagineering creating murals for theme parks all over the world up until his 'retirement' in 1989.  Odd to think how precious a legacy has been left to the present generation of animation designers and artists by this one man -- who left his native Australia back in the early 50s with only “$84 in his pocket."

Muralist, portrait artist, medical illustrator, practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncturist, globetrotter, volunteer and Good Samaritan; Roblan Frank Armitage was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1924. At the age of 22, while studying at a Melbourne art institute, he became involved in the mural-painting movement, and in 1949, he won an international mural contest sponsored by world-renowned Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, and became his assistant on several murals in public buildings in Mexico.

Armitage moved to Los Angeles in 1952 and worked at the Walt Disney Studios on backgrounds and layout for such feature films as "Peter Pan," "Sleeping Beauty" (where he worked with Walt Peregoy under the direction of Eyvind Earle), "Mary Poppins," and "The Jungle Book."  Like most animation artists at the time, he was also involved in many tasks in the creation of Disneyland, including working with Ken Anderson to create Story Book Land.

After leaving the Studio, Armitage found enormous renown combining cinematic color and lighting techniques with human anatomical subject matter. In 1966, he did the production illustration for Academy Award® winning film, Fantastic Voyage for 20th Century-Fox.  Some of his most prominent work in that regard, partnering with the extraordinary photographic work of Lennart Nilsson, includes illustrating the function of the brain, a project for a Life Magazine in 1971.

In 1977, Armitage came to Walt Disney Imagineering, where his artwork of anatomical subject matter paved the way for the Wonders of Life Pavilion at Epcot. He created a famed concept painting for Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant at Disneyland Paris, in the style of the original Eyvind Earle production designs.

He painted a 5,500-square-foot of mural for the Safari Fare Restaurant Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and several murals in Tokyo DisneySea—for the American Waterfront, Hotel MiraCosta, the Broadway Bar, and four pieces for the Tokyo DisneySea City Hall.

After retiring from Disney in 1989, Armitage completed a course in Oriental Medicine and pursued postgraduate work in Acupuncture in China. He volunteered in rural Mexico with the Flying Doctors, and produced oil paintings and murals for private homes in Woodside, Saratoga, Los Angeles, and Paso Robles.

In 2006, Armitage donated much of his medical art collection to the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).  That same year, that organization's Biomedical Visualization graduate program (BVIS) established the Frank Armitage Lecture to honor his generosity and to recognize his legacy in the field of medical illustration.  For the past ten years, this event has highlighted "visual geniuses" who translate complex biomedical information into visual form and has brought together experts from various disciplines to explore new opportunities for science visualization in the 21st Century.

He lived in rural Paso Robles with his wife of 33 years, Karen Connolly Armitage, a retired Imagineer who worked for Disney over a 26 year period, and has contributed her skills as a designer and architectural concept artist to many theme park projects.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by three children from a previous marriage -- Nicole Armitage Doolittle (who works at Walt Disney Imagineering), Michelle Armitage (a scenic artist in the entertainment industry), and Wes Armitage.a LAGeneral Contractor.  He also leaves behind two stepchildren -- Tracy Montee and Cecil Beatty, and a sister Margaret Parfett in Australia. Plans for a Life Celebration in Paso Robles will be announced at a later date.  In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his name to the Ryman Arts Foundation ( , Liga International (, or the UIC BVIS program to support students pursuing Master's degrees in Biomedical Visualization (UIC College of Applied Health Sciences, 800 S. Wood St., CMET 169, Chicago, IL 60612).

Thursday, January 07, 2016

For those of you who missed this before the holidays, just a quick reminder: Walt's People - Volume 17 has just been released. It contains a few gems, among which the interviews of Jack Hannah and Woolie Reitherman from 1984, the lecture of Art Stevens at CalArts and the interview of Jack Bruner by Dave Smith. I think you might also enjoy my long interview with Ohil Mendez.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Sad news. Disney Imagineer Frank Armitage passed away yesterday. You can read an interview I conducted with him a few years ago in Walt's People - Volume 11.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Two upcoming Disney books have just been announced on Amazon. I am really looking forward to the first one (thanks to David Peake for the heads up):

- The Walt Disney Studios: A Lot to Remember by Rebecca Cline
- The Art of Minnie Mouse

Monday, January 04, 2016

Happy New Year and Progress Report

Happy 2016 to all of you!

The last two weeks have been extremely busy on my end as I took advantage of the Xmas and New Year break to catch-up on a lot of Disney-history-related work. I thought it was time to give you a quick update.

Walt's People

With Walt's People - Volume 17 released on December 24, I am now working on finalizing Volume 18 and building Volume 19.

They Drew As They Pleased

I also spent a lot of time reviewing the galleys of They Drew As They Pleased - The Hidden Art of Disney's Musical Years (the second volume in the series) and it looks stunning. The cover image is my dream come true, and the amount of gorgeous, never-seen-before artwork is even higher than in volume 1!

I have also started writing five from the seven chapters that will be included in Volume 3: The story of the Story Research and Character Model Departments, Eduardo Sola Franco, Johnny Walbridge, Campbell Grant, and Martin Provensen. Over the next few weeks / months I will try to improve those chapters and to start writing the missing two (James Bodrero and John Parr Miller).

Other Book Projects

In parrallel to all this, I was also reviewing the galleys of an in-depth chapter about the making of The Reluctant Dragon, which I was asked to write for an upcoming book project which I will hopefully be allowed to discuss in detail on this blog in a few months.

And, of course, I am still helping Ross Care put together his fascinating book of correspondence with Wilfred Jackson and I am hoping to see 2016 mark the release of Mel Shaw's autobiography, if all goes well.

This is fun!