The Gorillas of Tarzan

In continuation of the post about Harald Siepermann’s transition from Mulan to Tarzan, this post is about his first assignment for Walt Disney’s Tarzan.

During Harald Siepermann’s first conversation with the directors Kevin Lima and Chris Buck in the summer of 1995, they asked if Harald wanted to explore the primate world and their relationship with a young Tarzan. Siepermann went back to Germany, and, based on the book Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, he did just that.

The above illustration was Harald’s very first gorilla drawing for Tarzan. “This is my favorite drawing right here,” he commented about the illustration. “I remember doing this coming straight from the very first meeting with Chris and Kevin, after they had introduced me to the project, asking if I was interested. ‘Ok,’ I thought, ‘they want me to do gorillas, what do they look like again?’ and I did this small drawing, without reference with just a ball pen, some watercolor and a bit of coffee…, yes coffee, and I was just lucky. This gorilla has an incredible presence, he’s just ‘there’. It’s one of those phenomenon’s, it’s your first go at something, beginners luck maybe.”

From his home studio Siepermann created as much gorillas as possible and exploring different artistic approaches. Some more realistic and some more cartoony, and some with a young Tarzan. The illustrations below are just a few of the many gorilla designs.

John Watkiss

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.”

Have a look on the website http://www.johnwatkissfineart.com or do a search for John Watkiss on the website of Hans Bacher, for more information about John Watkiss.

From Mulan to Tarzan

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.

Tarzan from Tarzan

In the summer of 1995 Harald Siepermann started with a new project that went in development at Walt Disney Feature Animation called Tarzan. “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.”

His drawings, that were on display in the corridor of the Walt Disney studio, were noticed by Kevin Lima and Chris Buck, the directors of Tarzan. They saw something in these drawings that they were searching for in the gorillas that had to be designs for Tarzan. “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.”

Here are some of Harald Siepermann’s exploration for the character Tarzan. In contrary to the other human and gorilla characters from Tarzan, on which Siepermann worked for more than two years, he didn’t continue with the development of the character Tarzan. Glen Keane was the Supervising Animator of Tarzan, and did his wonderful work on the character at the Walt Disney studio in Paris, France.