Today you would have turned 58. Sadly you passed away too early, at the age of 50. I can’t help to wonder what beautiful designs and projects would have come from your pencil if you were still at the front line in the world of animation. However, the immense amount of work you have left behind remains an inspiration for other artists and aspiring character designers.
My thoughts go out to Harald’s family, friends, and former colleagues who miss him every day.
When Harald Siepermann worked on Walt Disney’s Mulan, he also contributed visual development for the characters Yao, Ling, and Chien-Po, three soldiers that befriends Mulan, which during that time of production was also called the Three Soldiers or the Gang of Three.
Harald Siepermann worked on and off on these characters in April and May 1995 during his stay at the Walt Disney studio in Burbank. His reference for these characters were the designs of Chen-Yi Chang, that had already established the significant different shapes of postures for each character.
Below are some designs that seems to be channelled after the character Yao:
… and Ling:
… and below are designs that resemble Chien-Po:
While Harald Siepermann’s designs might have been inspiring during the creative process of these characters, the final design for Yao was done by Supervising Animator Aaron Blaise, and for Ling and Chien-Po by Supervising Animator Broose Johnson.
When Harald Siepermann arrived at the Walt Disney studio in Burbank to work on Mulan, he was introduced to many of the exceptional talents who were working there, and made many new friends.
One of the people he was introduced to was Chen-Yi Chang, the main Character Designer for Mulan. Both artists had a great admiration for each other’s work and they became good friends. “Harald and I first met in the midst of making Mulan through our production designer Hans Bacher,” remembered Chen-Yi Chang. “Hans and Harald had worked on the comic book, Alfred J. Kwak. It was through the comic book I got a sense of Harald’s solid draftsmanship and the incredible imagination. Harald’s gentle and down-to-earth personality made him very easy to get along with. We clicked right away, and had become really good friends since.”
After Mulan, they also collaborated on Tarzan, where Harald and Chen-Yi often interchanged tasks with each other that were given by the directors. “Harald himself is a big fan of Asterix the comic series, and his art reflect that similar aesthetics, especially when doing a more cartooning design. When we both worked on Disney’s Tarzan, his other approach showed off: a seemingly more realistic European comic book influence. He brought to the production a feel of classic European comic tradition with solidity, dimension and fluent expression.”
“I remembered Harald showed up and disappeared periodically at the studio during the development of Mulan and Tarzan. This was before the all-digital era, Harald always turned out sheets of animation paper with his beautiful design work on them. Also on them were his famous “coffee stains”, sometimes spattered, sometimes painted on, and once a while with a partial ring of the foot print of his coffee mug. He just couldn’t stop having some fun while working!”
On the photo below Harald and Chen-Yi are making dumplings at Harald’s house in Essen, Germany, when Chen-Yi stayed for a visit in 1996.
On the project Mulan Harald Siepermann was mostly assigned to secondary characters. Following Mushu and Grandmother Fa, he continued with characters related to the temple scene when the ancestors awaken. One of them was the Stone Dragon. Here are some of Harald’s early exploration for the Stone Dragon:
And below are some rough sketches of funny situations between Mushu and the Stone Dragon:
Today, February 16, it has been 7 years since Harald Siepermann passed away.
Harald Siepermanm has left his marks in the animation industry, and was considered one of the most gifted character designers. Sadly his life fell short and the world has been deprived from this amazing talent, and missed out on many interesting characters and projects the could have come from his pencil.
Thoughts go out to Harald’s family, his friends and former colleagues.
Below are a series of portfolio designs that Harald Siepermann compiled during the mid-2000’s.
After working for several weeks on Mulan from his studio in Germany, Harald Siepermann moved with his family to Los Angeles, to continue his work at the Walt Disney studio in Burbank. Although Harald Siepermann had worked before for Walt Disney on the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit, this was his first time at the new studio in Burbank, with the iconic blue sorcerer’s hat from Mickey Mouse. He arrived there in April 1995, and worked on the project until he was drawn away for Tarzan in July.
One of the characters Siepermann focused on during his first days was Grandmother Fa. Below are some of his early designs. This was before he learned that Chen-Yi Chang, the main character designer of Mulan, had already made some initial designs and silhouettes for Grandmother Fa.
Harald Siepermann continued to work on other characters for Mulan, but returned to Grandmother Fa some weeks later when James Varab, the Supervising Animator of Grandmother Fa, asked him to do another take on the character. Below are some of Harald’s designs with a new approach.
Although Harald’s designs were very well received, James Varab continued to develop the character together with Production Designer Hans Bacher and Chen-Yi Chang, and came up with the final design for Grandmother Fa that ended up in the movie.
In March 2020, the new life-action version of Walt Disney’s Mulan will be released in theaters. 25 years ago, Harald Siepermann worked on the original animated classic Mulan, about the heroine Fa Mulan, who masquerade herself as a man to take place in the Chinese army instead of her ailing father, to fight the invading Hun army led by Shan Yu. Harald Siepermann worked on and off on Mulan from March to July 1995, when he became involved with Tarzan. The next few posts will be dedicated to Harald Siepermann’s work on Walt Disney’s Mulan.
Harald became involved with the project through Production Designer Hans Bacher. Hans Bacher was Harald’s teacher when he studied Graphic Design at the Folkwang University in Germany, and noticed Siepermann’s extraordinary talent for drawing. In 1985 they co-founded the advertisement studio Mad T Party and collaborated on many projects together, most notably the comic book and television series about the duck character Alfred J. Kwak.
In 1995 the project Mulan had been in development for about a year and the team was looking for some fresh influences from outside the studio. Hans Bacher recommended the producer Pam Coats and co-directors Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft, to hire Harald Siepermann, and showed them the Alfred J. Kwak comic books. They were immediately convinced. For Harald Siepermann it was a dream come true to work for Walt Disney. Ever since he saw Walt Disney’s classic The Jungle Book at the age of six, he knew that all he wanted to do for the rest of his life was drawing.
During Harald’s first weeks on the project he worked from his studio in Germany. His first task was to create designs for a little red dragon called Mushu, who in the movie has to protect Fa Mulan on her journey with the Chinese army. Mushu was voiced by Eddie Murphy, and served as the comical note in the movie. Below are several designs by Harald Siepermann of Mushu:
While Harald Siepermann did his exploration for Mushu, assigned Supervising Animator Tom Bancroft did his magic with the character at the Walt Disney studio in Florida, and brought Mushu to life.
The Harald Siepermann Archive wishes everybody a Merry Christmas and a happy new year. Especially to Harald’s family, friends, former colleagues and followers.
The above design is a Christmas card that Harald Siepermann designed for the German city Goch in 2007. During that year Alfred J. Kwak was the mascot of that city and was used for various activities that the city organized. The little lion in the illustration is the weapon of the city Goch.
Below are several images that shows Harald’s approach for this design. Starting with a rough sketch, followed by a more defined blue pencil sketch of the individual parts of the illustration, with on top the final ink. Harald then continued in Photoshop, finalizing the composition, adding color, and some additional effects and text.
Another character Harald Siepermann worked on for Walt Disney’s Tarzan was the neurotic elephant Tantor.
Harald Siepermann first started with the character in March 1996, when he had just arrived at the Walt Disney studio in Burbank. At that time actor Woody Allen was considered as voice for the elephant. “When I started to work on Tantor, he was to be voiced by the ultimate neurotic Woody Allen,” commented Siepermann. “So I was looking for some resemblance in my first sketches.” Siepermann started with the young version of Tantor, and brought in a high cuteness factor in his designs by giving him a tiny trunk, big eyes and big ears. Below are some of Harald Siepermann’s early designs.
After these initial designs, Siepermann put the elephant aside and continued with other characters like Clayton, Professor Porter and Jane, but picked up on Tantor again in October 1996 from his studio in Germany. In the meantime actor Wayne Knight was cast as voice for the elephant. Again Siepermann incorporated the neurotic characteristics of Tantor in his designs, but also his kindness. In several illustrations he drew the head tilted, one eye bigger than the other, a crooked mouth, a trunk bulging at the bridge and a small curl at the end, and two tusks each pointing in a different direction. Below are some of Harald Siepermann’s designs that focused more on the adult version of Tantor.
Sergio Pablos was assigned as Supervising Animator for Tantor and further develop the character. “I remember talking about Tantor to him one cherished afternoon,” commented Siepermann, “and we spent hours praising the work of André Franquin and his red elephants from one of his Spirou comics.” Since Harald Siepermann worked infrequently at the Burbank studio, “Harald and I kept missing each other,” remembered Sergio Pablos. “But the day we finally met, I could not wait to tell him how much I loved his work. To my surprise, he seemed equally appreciative of my own work, and we hit it off immediately. I do remember those conversations and how we both discussed about how to make an elephant that was unique and interesting, while avoiding falling into the very tempting solutions implemented in The Jungle Book elephants.”
In continuation of previous posts about Harald Siepermann’s sketchbook illustrations, below are more sketches from his 1984 sketchbook. Harald Siepermann was 21/22 years old and still a student Graphic Design at the Folkwang University in Essen, Germany.
“I was really, really having fun doing these, I was drawing constantly, on the train, in front of the TV, having breakfast,” commented Harald Siepermann in 2006 about these sketches. “It was like a newly discovered playground. Unlike today I was drawing not for money, just for fun. This was about the time that I discovered, how much fun it was to go really wild and over the top, and that I would get away with doing roughs instead of clean, finished paintings and at the same time I was accomplishing a certain security about the whole process, not least through peoples positive reactions on things that I had kept for myself until then.”
“All these thing were done without thinking, just letting it flow,” Siepermann commented, “improvising, like a pianist would improvise at a piano, that was the fun about it and the great relief, I was finally among people who could read a drawing and see its potential, didn’t have to do clean-ups anymore, to make an impression.”