Grandmother Fa from Walt Disney’s Mulan

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.

Grandmother Fa and Mulan from Walt Disney’s Mulan

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.

Mushu from Walt Disney’s Mulan

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.

Mushu from Walt Disney’s Mulan

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.

Also, have a look at Hans Bacher’s blog post about Harald Siepermann’s work on Mushu.

From Mulan to Tarzan

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.

Grandmother Fa from Mulan

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.

Mulan Ancestors designs

In the summer of 1995 Harald Siepermann went to Burbank, California, to work at the Walt Disney Feature Animation building on the production Mulan. Some of the characters he worked on were the Ancestors. Here are some of his designs.