Visual development material for Brother Bear

Throughout Harald Siepermann’s involvement on Brother Bear he received various recourse material from the Walt Disney studio to get inspiration for specific characters and to stay up-to-date with the overall development of the project.

Among this material was the impressive work of Terryl Whitlach, who created a comprehensive anatomy study of bears and other wildlife animals from North America.

Brother Bear reference material by Terryl Whitlatch

Harald’s reference material also included various work by Hans Bacher. It’s nice that Hans and Harald crossed paths again on Brother Bear. Hans has always been an important force in Harald’s career. When Harald was a student at the Folkwang University, Hans Bacher was his teacher in Comic and Strip illustration. He saw Harald’s extraordinary talent and pushed him forward in his development as an artist. Harald also joined the Mad T Party studio that they formed on Hans Bacher’s initiative. Through this studio Bacher maintained good contact with Richard Williams, which landed Hans and Harald a job on the Walt Disney / Steven Spielberg production Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Furthermore Bacher was an important force with the development of Alfred J. Kwak, he invited Harald on the project Balto from Steven Spielberg’s Amblimation studio, and he brought Harald to Walt Disney to create character design on Mulan.

On Brother Bear they spent a week together in March 1999 at the studio in Florida exploring design possibilities for the project. And just like when they worked on Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Alfred J. Kwak, there emerged a great working atmosphere and the drawings went back and forth, and at the end of the day there was a huge pile of drawings with endless visual possibilities.

Hans Bacher showed his wide range of talent and sense for the project. He created a series or background impressions that depicted the mood and color variation of North America.

Brother Bear reference material by Hans Bacher

He created an impressive document with Design Notes, that was filled with a wide possibilities of interesting compositions through camera angels, light/shadow contrast, unique moving patterns, various size relation between characters, open spaces, and much more.

Brother Bear reference material by Hans Bacher

Also collected Bacher a wide range of reference material that worked perfectly for the setting that Brother Bear was aiming for.

Brother Bear reference material

Harald Siepermann’s Brother Bear reference also contained a series of visual development designs by Ruben Aquino and Franc Reyes, and story sketches for various sequences in the movie, among them of Kenai hunting on a bear.

Brother Bear reference material by Ruben Aquino and Franc Reyes
Brother Bear story sketches

Loki the Raven from Brother Bear

Following Tanana, Harald Siepermann continued on Walt Disney’s Brother Bear with designing the bird Loki, the pet of Tanana. During the development of Brother Bear the character Loki the Raven was eventually dropped and did not appear in the final film. It’s actually not know what Harald’s task and design approach was for the character. However, he did spent some weeks on the character and created a series of designs:


And another series with a little more cartoony approach:

Tanana from Brother Bear

After designing bears for Walt Disney’s Brother Bear, Harald Siepermann continued with visual development for the human character Tanana, the shaman of the village.

Tanana from Walt Disney’s Brother Bear

After Kenai is transformed into a bear by the Great Spirits, Tanana helps him understand his transformation and instructs him to travel to the mountain where the light touch the earth, where he can transform back into a human.

Below is a selection of Harald’s first round of design for Tanana:


And here is a second series in which the design becomes more defined:


Throughout the development of the story, at one point was Tanana was dropped from the movie, but once the story reached its final state, she was resurrected into the movie to state the rules of Kenai’s transformation as a bear. Therefore, later in the project Harald would create another series of design for Tanana with a more extreme approach. Some of these designs can be found here in an earlier post, but more will come later as well.

Bears from Brother Bear

In November 1998, the Visual Development stage for the Walt Disney project Treasure Planet was reaching its end. Harald Siepermann had worked for 9 months on that project and when he wrapped up his work, he could immediately move on to another project that was in development at Walt Disney Feature Animation, called Brother Bear. The project was in development at the studio in Florida, and was produced by Chuck Williams, and under the direction of Aaron Blaise, who was joined by co-director Robert Walker in the spring of 2000. “This project was haunting around the studio for a while as ‘King Lear with Bears’, before Aaron Blaise took it under his wing,” reflected Harald Siepermann. “I was asked to do some PreVis on the bears based on what I had done to the gorillas in Tarzan and the llamas in Kingdom of the Sun.”

Brother Kenai transformed in a bear

At the end of 1998 Harald Siepermann went to the Walt Disney studio in Florida to get familiar with the project and the other team members. Although Harald worked several weeks in Florida at various times throughout his involvement for Brother Bear, he mostly work from his home in Hamburg, Germany.

Cave painting of a bear.

“Since the movie was playing in the time when the first Asian nomads crossed the Behring passage into the Americas (at least at that point of development), we started with looking at cave painting of bears,” continued Siepermann. “I found a lot of very good reference and shapes in particular. I was amazed with the way those artists treated the straights and the curves for example. A lot of the reference we collected found its way into the movie without change.”

A bear toy Harald bought in Russia.

“Of course, there had been many Disney (and other cartoon) Bears already. I wanted to stay away from them as far as possible. So I started my sketches based on this little toy, which I had picked up in a monastery outside Moscow and which I always had loved for it’s nice proportions. Now, I finally knew, why I had bought it…”

Bart the Bear.

“And of course Bart the Bear was a great inspiration, I watched and studied a lot of his movies and I was lucky to even find a documentary from National Geographic on him, what a great guy, rest in peace, Bart…”

“Look at the size of this guy, the head and the paw on the shoulder, the sheer ‘presence’ of this wonderful creature, you easily forget this if your used to – and think in terms of – cartoon bears. I also visited the two Kodiaks in the Hamburg zoo, and time and time again, my first thought was: ‘My god, they are huge!’ I wanted to capture this feeling by all means. But how do you draw ‘size’ and ‘weight’, without having a chance to give a relation on the same sheet, use an upshot camera-angle or just a part of the body??? If you gotta show the whole body, even a whale looks like a herring.”

“I found the lower lip very helpful for this purpose, it always hangs down, makes a great tool for a follow thru, always looks kinda numb and there’s spit and saliver dropping from it. It gives a great feel of size and weight to the drawing.”

Harald’s bear design with a pronounced lower lip

Below are a series of bear designs by Harald Siepermann:

Harald Siepermann

Today, February 16, it has been nine years since Harald Siepermann passed away at the age of 50. Harald has always been a leading figure in the world of animation as a character designer. Also before his passing he was still very active with new and exciting projects. It remains a shock and a big loss that such a talent has passed away so young. Thoughts go out to Harald’s family and friends that were close to him.

The picture below is of Harald when he was in his early twenties:

Harald Siepermann

During these years – when Harald was still a student at the Folkwang University in Essen – he actively maintained a sketchbook. Below are a series of illustrations taken from his sketchbook:

Visual development material for Treasure Planet

Whenever Harald Siepermann was assigned with a new project for Walt Disney Studios he would receive material to help him get familiar with the story, characters and art direction for the project. The same case was for Treasure Planet, for which Harald Siepermann received a binder that included story treatments from 1985, 1993 and 1998, descriptions of character, location, props, etc., visual development artwork, and transcripts from meetings that took place before Harald entered the project. Below are images of Harald’s visual development material for Treasure Planet:


Throughout the project Harald would have a meeting with the directors Ron Clements and John Musker on a weekly basis, to critique his work and assign new characters. In Harald’s case this usually took place on Friday’s at 18:30, a convenient time for both parties considering the time difference between California and Germany.

As always throughout Harald Siepermann’s career, also 1998 was a busy year for him. There was the Walt Disney project Treasure Planet, ongoing merchandise work for Alfred J. Kwak, and many other side projects. In addition, Harald Siepermann was also moving the summer with his family from his apartment in Essen to a new apartment in Hamburg. On this picture Harald is installed behind his working desk, and again with the wall fully pinned with clippings from famous faces as inspiration.

Hands from Treasure Planet

The last character Harald Siepermann worked on for Treasure Planet was Hands. Hands is part of John Silver’s pirate crew, and in the script described as a hulking alien swabbie who is as mean as he is stupid.

Hands from Walt Disney’s Treasure Planet

“Israel Hands is the most brutal of the pirates,” commented Harald Siepermann. “I wanted him to be a cockroach, with his knifes and daggers being part of his actual anatomy, like the clamps or a lobster.” Below are very rough copies of Harald Siepermann’s visual development for the character:


Harald Siepermann did all his work for Treasure Planet from his home in Germany, and periodically he would send the originals to the Walt Disney studio in Burbank by FedEx, and made copies for his own archive. However, as Harald Siepermann commented, “I was way behind, had to send the stuff over in a hurry and with FedEx knocking at the door, I only had the time to copy my favorite one on the fax machine.” Therefore the copies above are the only surviving drawings of Hands in Harald Siepermann’s archive. And unfortunately none of Harald’s designs for Hands were featured in the book Treasure Planet A Voyage of Discovery. Let’s hope Disney will publish them someday, so we can have a more clear and colorful view of Harald’s design for Hands.

Harald Siepermann made his last sketch for Hands, and also for Treasure Planet, on November 16, 1998. A few weeks later Harald went to the Walt Disney studio in Florida to start on visual development for a new project called Brother Bear.

Dr. Doppler from Treasure Planet

When Harald Siepermann was working on Mr. Arrow in September 1998, the visual development stage of Treasure Planet was reaching its end. For the few remaining weeks, the directors Ron Clements and John Musker wanted Harald to work on the characters Dr. Doppler and Sarah, the mother of Jim Hawkins. Eventually Harald didn’t work on the character Sarah, but he spent some times creating visual development for Dr. Doppler.

Dr Doppler from Walt Disney’s Treasure Planet

In the script he’s described as nerdy and dog-like. Doppler was Jim Hawkin’s astronomer friend. Thanks to an inheritance, Doppler is the most wealthy of all the locals on the planet. But he is an eccentric recluse, overflowing with theoretical knowledge, yet nearly devoid of personal experience.

Although it was clear that the character would have dog-like features, it seems that Harald neglected that part in his designs. It is not really clear why, since Harald never elaborated much on his design approach for this character, despite that he described this for the other characters from Treasure Planet on his personal blog that he kept active for several years. Below is a series of his designs:


The final design for Doppler was created by Supervising Animator Sergio Pablos.

Since the visual development stage was reaching its end, the directors asked Harald to leave the character Doppler, and work for the remaining 15 days on the pirate Hands.

Mr. Arrow from Treasure Planet

Once Harald Siepermann wrapped up his work on Captain Amelia, he continued his work on Walt Disney’s Treasure Planet with the character Mr. Arrow, the first mate of the space galleon RLS Legacy, during time of production called the Starfinder. In the script Mr. Arrow is described as a creature of molten rock, with a courtly manner and stiff upper lip, who is totally loyal and devoted to Captain Amelia.

Mr. Arrow the first mate of Captain Amelia from Walt Disney’s Treasure Planet

“I was hoping to come up with something really special,” commented Harald Siepermann. “I didn’t want to do just a human with a skin-problem, to avoid the human form as much as possible. The problem with a stone is, as soon as you move it, bent it, squash it, stretch it, it looses it’s ‘stoneyness’ and becomes soft. I thought, maybe it should stay firm and float, or stand in the corner on the bridge, like a real stone, his voice coming from a chasm in his ‘face’, if it had any, why not.” Below are some of Harald’s earliest visual development for the character.

“He could also have had a robot-arm or walking device, that would help him to move, but that was too close to Silver and his cyborg-arm,” continued Harald Siepermann.

“Anyway, there’s always that one drawing, that you do to illustrate, what you don’t want, and in Arrow’s case, it was ‘The Thing’. I wanted to avoid that solution by all means, unfortunatetly it was what Ron and John liked the most, so there you are, a stone thing in a uniform…”

Below are more of Harald Siepermann’s explorations for Mr. Arrow:

The final design for Mr. Arrow was created by Supervising Animator T. Dan Hofstedt.

Captain Amelia from Treasure Planet (2)

Captain Amelia by Harald Siepermann

In continuation of the previous post about Captain Amelia, about working on the character Harald Siepermann commented, “If there’s one thing I wanted to avoid on this picture and it’s animal/aliens, it was ending up with humans with animal heads. Funny enough, it’s exactly what happened most of the time. Also in this case with Amelia, the captain. I tried many ways to incorporate the catlike attitude, I looked at Egyptian art and lots of other things but eventually she turned out to have a cat’s head on a human body.”

Below are more design by Harald Siepermann for the character Captain Amelia from Walt Disney’s Treasure Planet.


The final design for Captain Amelia was created by the Supervising Animator for the character Ken Duncan.

Amelia from Walt Disney’s Treasure Planet