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.
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.
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.
In the summer of 1995 Harald Siepermann worked for Walt Disney Feature Animation on the project Mulan, that had been in development for more than a year by then. Initially Siepermann worked on the little dragon character Mushu, but moved on to work on other characters as well, among them Grandmother Fa.
Here are some of Harald Siepermann’s Visual Development work for that character. More designs of Grandmother Fa will feature in a future post.
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.
Between November 1998 to November 2000 Harald Siepermann worked on the Visual Development of the Walt Disney movie Brother Bear. During this period Visual Development was frequently put on hold for an extensive rewrite session, because the movie experienced some challenges in this area.
The first character Siepermann worked on was Tanana, the shaman of the tribe. His first designs were in the direction of what you would expect from a shaman, an old wise lady with long grey hair.
During the rewrite process of Brother Bear the character Tanana was dropped from the movie, or better said, put aside. Once the story reached its final shape, she was resurrected to state the rules of Kenai’s transformation into a bear.
Once Tanana was back, Harald Siepermann made a new series of designs, in a complete different direction. “When we first started with the design of Tanana, the village’s shaman, she looked like how shamans usually look in these kind of movies, until we thought that maybe we should try something else and started to make her look less like Pocahontas’ grandmother Willow or even Yoda,” Harald Siepermann explained. “So I did some drawings in which she was tall, bald and skinny. I liked that approach very much, but others, like Michael Eisner for example, didn’t and so they went back to the original design.” Here are some designs of Siepermann’s new approach for the character.