Today it has been two years since John Watkiss passed away. Harald Siepermann and John Watkiss were good friends. They met each other when Harald was working on the development of Who Framed Roger Rabbit in London in 1987. Furthermore they both worked on the visual development of the Walt Disney projects Tarzan and Kingdom of the Sun.
His work on Tarzan is praised for his amazing jungle scenes which he drew on large canvas, and his great detail for the human anatomy of the character Tarzan. Here are some of his designs for Tarzan from Harald Siepermann’s archive.
“He did one of those a day,” commented Harald Siepermann about Watkiss jungle paintings. “And then something, the man is a real genius, and that includes all the pros and cons, and he knows it. But funny enough I got along pretty well with him, and I visited him on a regular basis in his then Glendale-home.”
Besides his Disney work, Watkiss is also known for his portraits. “He repeatedly proposed to do a portrait of me,” commented Harald Siepermann, “and I could bite my own ass, that we never got around to make it happen.”
This year it will be 20 years since the Walt Disney animated feature Tarzan was released. Harald Siepermann worked three years as visual development artists on that movie, and through his artwork had a lot of influence on the look of the characters in the final film. This year we’ll dedicate many post to Harald Siepermann’s work on Tarzan. First let’s see how his involvement started.
In the summer of 1995, Harald Siepermann worked for several weeks on Mulan at the Walt Disney studio in Burbank. He worked on several characters, among them the famous Mushu, but also Chinese Soldiers. “My job on Mulan was as good as finished and I was merely waiting for my flight home, when we saw a Chinese movie for reference,” reflected Harald Siepermann. “A very brutal and gory movie, with lots of blood, beheadings and severed arms and stuff, everything a good movie should have in other words. Just for fun and to kill the time till lunchbreak I made a few over-the-top-sketches to get it out of my system. And also just for fun, I boarded them.”
These Chinese Soldiers caught their attention of Kevin Lima and Chris Buck, the assigned directors of Tarzan. “I remember these sketches being hung in the hallway outside of Chris and my offices, a space we shared with a few Mulan story artists,” said Kevin Lima. “With their barreled chests and huge forearms, these warriors reminded us of gorillas.”
“They called me into their office and I think we were the first three people, to work on the project,” continued Siepermann. “They just had obtained the rights from the Burroughs-family and still didn’t really know, what to do with the story. So basically, what they did was giving me the novel, telling me to doodle away and explore as many directions as I could think of, concentrating on the gorillas. I went back to Germany with that brief, doing exactly that: sketching away, doing a lot of quick drawings, exploring the characters and their possibilities.”
In future post we’ll show Harald’s first gorilla designs. For now, here are the drawings and copies of the color design of the Chinese Soldiers for Mulan.
A follow up to a previous post about the character John Silver from the Walt Disney film Treasure Planet.
After several weeks working on John Silver, Harald Siepermann continued to work on other characters from Treasure Planet as well. However, later that year Siepermann did another take on the Silver character, but with a slightly different approach. Here are some of these designs.
In the middle of 1990 Harald Siepermann worked on the visual development of the movie We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story, based on the children book by Hudson Talbott. After An American Tail: Fievel Goes West, it was the second production from Steven Spielberg’s Amblimation studio. At that time, the movie was under direction of Simon Wells and Phil Nibbelink, with who Harald Siepermann shared an office at the Forum building in Camden Town, London, while they were working on Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1987.
Harald Siepermann did visual development for the dinosaur characters Rex, Dweeb and Woog (at that time of production called Hatrack), which will be shared in future post. Besides the dinosaurs, he also worked on the human character Professor Screweyes, an evil circus director for which Harald used actor Danny DeVito as reference. Below are several sketches by Harald Siepermann of Professor Screweyes.
And below are the cleaned up designs. Although his designs doesn’t reflect the final version of the character in the film, they for sure are appealing.
Here are a series of Christmas themed designs of Alfred J. Kwak by Harald Siepermann and Hans Bacher from circa 1990. The illustrations were used for a Christmas card that was send out by Mad T Party, the advertisement company of Harald Siepermann, Hans Bacher, Jens Wiemer, Thomas Mossolff and Christian Schellewald.
Harald drew the sketches of the main characters from the television series and placed them in a composition. The final inking and colors were done by Hans Bacher.
A follow up to a previous post about the cancelled Walt Disney movie Fraidy Cat.
In addition to the cat Oscar, Harald Siepermann also worked on the colorful parrot Rebecca. The name Rebecca would later during the production change to Corina.
In the story, Rebecca and Oscar are bound to each other. Oscar is in trouble because it seems like he ate Rebecca, and therefore broke Doris’ house rule: you don’t hurt other animals, let alone eat them. Oscar asks Rebecca to show herself to Doris, as prove that he didn’t ate her. Rebecca promise to help him, only if he helps her as well by finishing business with her no-good owner Jim.
Both characters have opposite characteristics. Rebecca is a strong and confident bird with a big personality. In contrary to Oscar, a rather clumsy cat for who everything is strange and scary.
As a direction to explore the character Rebecca, director Piet Kroon suggested Harald Siepermann to use the actress Goldie Hawn as model. Notable features are her big eyes, big mouth, big hair, and overall sweet look. And her small nose could be used as a small beak for the parrot.
Here are various designs of Rebecca by Harald Siepermann.
The main villain of the television series Alfred J. Kwak is the crow Dolf de Kraai. Dolf is not really a common villain, like a vicious pirate or mean stepmother, that you often see in children television series. Since the television series starts when Alfred and Dolf are young, it shows more of the background of each character and their upbringing. In Dolf’s case it shows the origin of his actions as an adult later in the series, when he became the dictator of his country through his own founded political party called the National Crows Party.
Dolf is introduced in the series in episode 4. He is a classmate of Alfred, but they are no friends. In contrary, Dolf teases Alfred because he is a duck and has a mole as a father. A family situation that Dolf finds weird. However, his feelings towards this family situation might be more based out of jealousy since Alfred does get a stable upbringing from his loving father Henk de Mol, while Dolf on the other hand has a father who is an alcoholic and his mother died when he was very young.
Dolf’s father is a crow, but his mother a blackbird. Therefore Dolf is born with a yellow beak. Ashamed of his yellow beak, he colors it black every morning with shoe polish, to look completely black. Below are the sketches of Dolf’s father and mother by Harald Siepermann and the corresponding model sheets by Harald Siepermann and Hans Bacher.
Because of the unstable childhood, Dolf is always active in criminal activities. This becomes most evident when he starts his own political party called the National Crows Party, and becomes the dictator of Great Waterland. The different characteristics of Alfred J. Kwak and Dolf de Kraai play very well against each other and they often cross paths throughout the entire television series.
Below are some of Harald Siepermann’s sketches of a young Dolf de Kraai and the model sheet by Harald Siepermann and Hans Bacher.
In 2002 Harald Siepermann was one of the first artist to be involved in the Walt Disney project Fraidy Cat, an computer animated movie that was in development under the guidance of director Piet Kroon and with Hans Bacher as production designer. The movie was a parody of the classic movies from famous director Alfred Hitchcock, and was filled with his trademark style of mystery and suspense.
When Harald worked on Fraidy Cat the story was about Oscar, a lazy house cat, who’s comfortable life turns around when an injured parrot named Rebecca flies into the apartment. Oscar tries to help her, but when his owner Doris enters the room, it looks like Oscar ate the bird. Although innocent, all the evidence leads to Oscar. To get his comfortable life back, Oscar has to prove his innocence and goes after Rebecca, who had just flee out of the window.
Over the course of six months Harald Siepermann worked on the visual development of all the main character. After Siepermann’s involvement the movie remained in development for several years, with Ron Clements and John Musker on board as new directors, but in 2005 the project was shelved.
However, Harald made a wide range of designs for the movie. Below are some of his illustrations and color variations for the character Oscar. More of his work for Fraidy Cat will follow in future posts.
After Harald Siepermann finished his designs of Billy Bones for the Walt Disney movie Treasure Planet, he continued with the character John Silver.
“I always find it very helpful when designing a character to spend some thoughts concerning which social class the character belongs to,” commented Siepermann about working on Silver. “A good cast has characters from all three classes to play against each other with their different approaches to life. Look at The Lord of the Rings for example with its working class Hobbits, the intellectual wizards and aristocratic elves. The same thing is true for Treasure Island: working class pirates, the middleclass Hawkins family and the captain and the upper class Squire Trelawney and Doctor Livesey. Things like that are very interesting when you look for example at the ways the different members of these classes kill. The Pirates do it ‘hands on’, the upper class in more sophisticated ways. Anyway, Silver clearly is the most sophisticated amongst the pirates, he doesn’t act his class. A potential aristocrat amongst working class pirates.”
John Silver, was quite a challenging character since it was half alien and half cyborg, with mechanical limbs. Harald Siepermann initial approached the character in bio form and then continued with his mechanical parts. “Silver, being a pirate, disguised as an innkeeper, half alien, half pirate, was a bit too much to design in one go, something was always right, other things were always wrong, so I decided to design one thing at a time. I neglected the cyborg-part in the drawings you see here, to concentrate at the warm and father like, yet evil pirate. Pure evil hidden in normality, profanity.”
Here are more of Harald Siepermann’s visual development work on Silver, before Glen Keane took over and did his magical work.
In March 1998 Harald Siepermann started on visual development of the Walt Disney movie Treasure Planet, from directors Ron Clements and John Musker. The movie was a futuristic take on the classic novel Treasure Island from Robert Louis Stevenson.
The first character Siepermann worked on was the old pirate Billy Bones, who brings the treasure map to the young Jim Hawkins. When Siepermann started on Billy Bones, the character had to be approached as an old wrinkled and wizened alien pirate, with a tortoise-like presence. On the development of Billy Bones Harald Siepermann commented: “Silver is a gentleman-pirate. A working-class, down-to-earth, next door friendly neighbor buccaneer, whom you wouldn’t suspect to be the worst pirate that ever sailed the seven seas. In fact, Jim chooses him as his surrogate father. In contrast to that I wanted Billy Bones to be the pirate’s pirate, he should look like your typical Hollywood pirate, cliché, romantic, smelling of salt, tar, rum and adventure.”
Here are some of Harald Siepermann’s visual development designs.