Friday, October 21, 2011

Mary Blair panel - influence on leading animation artists today

The second panel was a tribute to Mary Blair's influence, as this group of leading animation artist discussed the impact of her work on their careers (all photos from Google Images. Bios are from the panel program).

Pete Docter (Oscar winner for UP, and Oscar nominee for Toy Story and Wall-E, Monsters Inc, and Mike's New Car).

Susan Goldberg (Known for her color expertise, Susan served as art director on 2 segments from Fantasia/2000.) Pictured below on Right..

Eric Goldberg (on left) "Eric Goldberg served as the character designer and supervising animator for Genie in the animated feature Aladdin. His directing credits include Pocahontas as well as the "Rhapsody in Blue" and "Carnival of the Animals" segments in Fantasia/2000."

Michael Giaimo ("His many feature projects at Disney include his work as art director, character designer and visual development artist for Pocahontas and visual development artist for Home on the Range")

Daisuke "Dice" Tsutsumi (from "his start as a matte painter on the animated feature Ice Age, he rose to lead color key artist on Robots and Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears A Who. Since 2007 he has worked at Pixar... where he most recently served as an art director on Toy Story 3"). Dice is pictured below on left... with animation master Hayao Miyazaki on right..... collaborators on Dice's Sketchtravel project.....

Dice started as a classically trained, academic painter. His approach to Blair revealed how she used her skills as an artist to deliver emotional impact. He explained that Blair had the ability to simplify color.... she made things look colorful by using FEWER colors. (think about this for a while...then re-examine some her images and see how it's there..)
Several of the artists spoke about Blair's ability to communicate a story point on a emotional level through her color choices.
Blair was a modernist... and she brought that sensibility to the Disney style and her contemporaries at the studio. She wasn't the only modernist (Eyvind Earle etc)... but she brought more than a graphic identity to her assignments. She understood lighting and shape. She's known for her extreme colors, but she used them to create world and characters that were credible and appealing. Her toolbox included pattern, order, curved lines... and most of all a stylized use of color to reveal emotions. All these elements are on display in the Disney Short "Once Upon a Wintertime" (on you tube
This is one of the few projects where Mary Blair's character designs were animated.. not just used as concept art. This short was referenced a lot during the panel... for the flashes of color to express the characters changing emotions. It also inspired the artists who worked on the "Rhapsody in Blue" sequence for Fantasia 2000 and were challenged by the task of animating curved line figures. Eric Goldberg was able to show his artists the Blair short and see how it can.. and HAD been done....
Another homage to Blair can be see in the "Colors of the Wind" sequence from Pocahontas... where color and shape are used to evoke a new way of looking at the word... a real place (Virginia in the time of the settlers).. but using Blair's techniques to make it more magical and emotional. Michael Giaimo spoke at length about this sequence.... and of the time he studied the "Blair Box" of original art from the Disney animation archives.
Even today... artists working at Disney reference the number of Mary Blair's originals that are in the Animation archives. Susan commented that she reviews lots of artist portfolios and there are many who can copy Blair, but few can capture her. In the Academy's video of the panel, Susan comments on Blair's color sense and references the "Little Train" clip that was screened. Here's a link to the clip on You Tube
Mary Blair was and still is that rare beacon... an "artist's artist"... and her work is a great legacy to the art form she helped establish and immortalize.
I hope you enjoyed my recollections of this panel and that they give you a feel for what a wonderful evening this panel was. Let the panel, clips and images here inspire you to take another look at the world of Mary Blair.
"The Magic of Mary Blair" is a website established by Blair's nieces ( The "Galleries" page on this site has a dazzling array of images by Mary Blair... as well as her husband Lee Blair and Lee's brother Preston.
From the number of books and internet sources to explore...also lots of articles up right now celebrating her 100th birthday. .. it's obvious Mary Blair is beloved as well as admired.

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