Harald Siepermann often used songs as a source of inspiration drawing subjects, “I was using their lyrics as a source of inspiration, I was kinda listening for cues, illustrating their songs or people from them,” he commented about his sketch work in 2006. “I was, without thinking, doing little character design studies. This again ‘just happened’, I never thought about it as a concept, I was just desperately looking for things to draw, and I always preferred stuff from my imagination rather than drawing existing people, mimicking styles or doing landscapes.”
Below are several sketches from one of Harald Siepermann’s sketchbook from 1985, based on the song Every Sperm is Sacred from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life.
This post is about episode 11 from Harald Siepermann’s popular television series Alfred J. Kwak, called Alfred Joins the Circus. In this particular episode the duck Alfred J. Kwak wants to join the circus. There happens to be a circus in town and there is a position for clown available. Alfred is up for the task. However, as confident Alfred thinks he is, ones the public starts enters the circus arena, Alfred gets stage fright.
Funny detail about this episode is that, while the series consists of animal characters, there is actually one human in the series, an overly aggressive man. In this reverse world, it is the human who is behind bars and part of the circus act.
Here are several character designs by Harald Siepermann for the episode:
In this post you’ll find several drawings from Harald Siepermann’s 1985 sketchbook. At that time Harald was in his early twenties and studying Graphic Design at the Folkwang University in Essen, Germany. Searching for content to draw, he turned to popular German songs, and turned the lyrics into cartoonish characters.
“I had developed the habit to listen a lot to German chansons, what we call Liedermacher over here, probably because they were telling little 3 act stories in their songs, sometimes silly sometimes full of pathos,” commented Harald Siepermann. “I was using their lyrics as a source of inspiration, I was kinda listening for cues, illustrating their songs or people from them. I was, without thinking, doing little character design studies. This again ‘just happened’, I never thought about it as a concept, I was just desperately looking for things to draw, and I always preferred stuff from my imagination rather than drawing existing people, mimicking styles or doing landscapes.”
Today it’s been 6 years since Harald Siepermann passed away at the age of 50 after a battle with cancer.
Harald is still dearly missed by family, friends and colleagues. Many people who worked with Harald described him as one of the greatest character designers and an incredible kind and humble human being. While Harald Siepermann left us with an immense legacy of wonderful artwork, his passing remains an incredible lost for the world of animation.
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.
In the early 1990’s a chain letter was circling around Hollywood and also made its way into the animation world. Hans Bacher, who got the chain letter from Daan Jippes, listed Harald Siepermann as one of the five people to pass the letter on to. “In 1993 I got a copy of a chain letter from London, which had been through all of California before,” commented Harald Siepermann. “It promised eternal luck if the chain wasn’t broken, you know these kind of letters. The list of names included the likes of Whoopie Goldberg, the Zuckers, James Newton Howard, F.F. Coppola, Dinah Shore, Jane Fonda, Art Buchwald, etc. It somehow got into the hands of cartoonists and I got it through Daan Jippes and Hans Bacher.”
The person that received the chain letter had to send it to five other peoples. Harald Siepermann decorated the letter with a funny drawing of Alfred J. Kwak and passed the chain letter on to Herman van Veen (co-creator Alfred J. Kwak), Shigeko Nonaka (Vice President of Telescreen Japan, Inc.) Christian Schnalke (friend and co-writer of several animation productions Siepermann worked on), Heribert Schulmeyer (German comic book artist), and Andreas C. Knigge (German publisher of the Alfred J. Kwak comics).
Here are several of these chain letters by various artists, that Harald Siepermann kept in his archive.
In continuation of the two previous post about Oscar and Rebecca from the cancelled Walt Disney project Fraidy Cat, here’s another post about the character Doris, the owner of the cat Oscar.
During the period that Harald Siepermann worked on Fraidy Cat, the script described Doris as a single lady in her early twenties, wearing a thick rimmed glasses, and who lives in a small apartment in London. She works as a secretary in a small office building across the courtyard from her apartment. From the windowsill of her apartment Oscar and the goldfishes Bernard and Herman follow Doris throughout the day. They wonder what she’s doing there sitting down all day, while she can do that at home as well. The lonesome Doris has a shy and introverted character, and like Oscar has to gain more confidence throughout the story, Doris makes a personal transition as well.
Here are various illustrations by Harald Siepermann with different design approaches in the search for a possible look for Doris.
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.