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:

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