Once Harald Siepermann wrapped up his work on the silverback Kerchak for Walt Disney’s Tarzan, he quickly moved on to Kala, the mate of Kerchak, and the protective and caring mother of Tarzan.
In contrary to Siepermann’s designs for Kerchak with a lot of straight and angular lines, Kala consisted of curved lines and round shapes, and with big eyes that expressed her warm motherly emotions. To incorporate the warm emotions, Siepermann found inspiration close at home, “I was very lucky that my daughter was born half a year before I started on Tarzan, that was perfect reference, not only visually but also emotionally,” he commented. “It helped a lot finding that warmth and get it into Kala’s eyes and attitude. I paid great attention to warm, friendly, round lines. Can’t find a better way to say it, you have to feel it, when you draw it. At least I have to.”
Russ Edmonds was the Supervising Animator for Kala and made the final design. “I was given his designs by the directors as a jumping off point for animation,” commented Russ Edmonds about Harald Siepermann’s work. “I took his beautiful designs and created a version that could be turned in space and animated. He drew many different variations and was given freedom to explore the heartfelt connection between Kala and Tarzan. I tried to capture Harald’s emotional renditions in my animation.”
When Harald Siepermann started on Walt Disney’s Tarzan in July 1995, his first task was to explore visual possibilities for the gorillas and their relationship with a young Tarzan. This was still early during the production while the story and visual language was still in development. Once that started to get shape, it was time to narrow down the characters, and by the end of 1995, Tarzan-directors Kevin Lima and Chris Buck asked Siepermann to make designs for all the main characters.
One of the first characters he picked up were Clayton and Kerchak. Both characters were actually considered villains at some point during the production. “Since Clayton – our real villain – enters the movie pretty late, we had to sell Kerchak as the villain of the first act,” commented Siepermann. “But actually he is just an austere father, trying to protect his tribe.” Below are some of Harald’s first explorations from March 1996. While he often drew Kerchak with a calm and observing expression, yet he managed to incorporate his strong and dominant personality in the designs.
After his first explorations he put the character aside to continue with the characters Professor Porter and Clayton, and start with Jane Porter and Tantor as well. But later that year, in October 1996, Siepermann made additional designs for Kerchak. After exploring different shapes and sizes for the gorillas, “We agreed to base Kerchak on a square,” commented Siepermann, “which is why you will find many straight lines and angles in the sketches. The rest was work and patience till you find the right balance and attitude.”
Below are designs from November 1996, in which Siepermann incorporated a more angular approach.
After a lot of exploration, Harald Siepermann hit upon a design that the directors liked, and what was handed to Supervising Animator Bruce W. Smith, who created the final design of Kerchak. Siepermann’s visual development was a great help in the right direction. “Until my work on Tarzan, I never had any animation assignments that required realistic drawings of animals,” commented Smith, “so I really gravitated to Harald’s takes on Kerchak. His knowledge in the drawings helped me tremendously.”
In May 1996, Harald Siepermann started with the design of Jane Porter, the leading lady in Walt Disney’s Tarzan. Jane Porter is a 19th century young British lady raised in a high class society. She joins the Africa excursion to take care of her eccentric father, Professor Porter. She is quite shocked by the savage laws of the jungle, but with the help of Tarzan she quickly adapts to the jungle life style.
“Jane was a though one,” commented Harald Siepermann on the design process. “All we knew at the beginning was, that we didn’t wanted to do just another one of those Disney-high-school-chicks, like Ariel [from The Little Mermaid], a kind of behaviour and speech that is, forgive me, very American. But we had no clear idea, what to replace it with, only thing we knew was that she should be very British. Kevin Lima had the rough suggestion to look at Julia Ormond in Sabrina as a guideline, but just for the character, not for the design.”
“My first step into the character, design wise, came from a nice little movie called Picnic at Hanging Rock by Peter Weir,” continued Siepermann. “I had always loved the contrast of these young girls in their white dresses and the hot, glowing sun. It immediately came to my mind, when I started with Jane. So, I used that as a door and I began with my sketches.”
“A big step forward occurred, when a young and until then unknown actress appeared on the screen, Gwyneth Paltrow, in Emma. Not only was the setting the correct one, but also the character was kind of spot on, at least, for the stage that we were in.”
In addition to the design of Jane’s face and posture, also her dress was an important asset, since it says a lot about where she comes from, but also about the transformation she makes throughout the movie. “Jane’s dress reminded me of Slue-Foot Sue and that fantastic Milt Kahl walk in Pecos Bill. We wanted her dress, as she herself too, to adept very quickly to the jungle. Less and less Victorian, or is it Edwardian, in a short time.” Below are designs by Harald Siepermann of Jane and her torn dress after the baboon attack.
Around July 1996, it was announced that the British actress Minnie Driver was cast as the voice of Jane. “Minnie Driver – I had the pleasure to give her a studio-tour – added a completely new attitude to Jane. She was very helpful and brought a lot of character to the… ahm, character. Just imagine an American actress doing a cockney impression instead, that would have been horrible!!!!”
“But the real breakthrough came with Jane Goodall and a lecture she was giving at the studio about her apes and their family life. What a charming, interesting, warm person. Not at all like in that Simpsons episode!!!! From that moment on, it was clear, that Jane had to be based on her, a young Jane Goodall, my God, even the name was right.”
Below are some of Harald Siepermann’s designs inspired by Jane Goodall.
At a certain point Ken Duncan, Supervising Animator of Jane, took over the design, and further developed the character.
In January 1996, besides to the character Professor Porter, Harald Siepermann also started visual development for the character Clayton for Walt Disney’s Tarzan. Harald had just received his new assignment from the Tarzan-directors Kevin Lima and Chris Buck, which was to create visual development for all the characters in the movie.
In Walt Disney’s Tarzan, the British Clayton was hired by Jane and Professor Porter as guide and protector, during their excursion in Africa. However, Clayton has a second agenda, and that is to hunt gorillas.
“When we started with Tarzan, we were aiming at the impossible, by not giving away that Clayton was the villain of our movie, but using Kerchak as a kind of a red herring instead,” remembered Siepermann. “That of course couldn’t work, but we tried anyway. The idea behind it was that not too long ago, in the history of Hollywood movies, the great white hunters were the heroes in these kind of movies. And who would make a better great white hunter than Clark Gable. In fact, he played these kind of roles. So I looked at him a lot.”
By that time the actor Brian Blessed was already cast as the voice of Clayton. Harald actually was not familiar with Brian Blessed, and therefor didn’t model his design after the actor, “…to the great surprise of the directors,” remembered Siepermann, “who were expecting a kind of caricature of Brian Blessed, the wonderful voice of Clayton. I just had a tape with some of his lines but in my ignorance, didn’t know what he looked like, and worked only from what I was hearing. When I had my first sketches ready, I had to board them and run the voice tape to the directors to convince them that it would work, even if there was no resemblance.”
“Gable as Clayton was too ‘American’ for my taste, so I looked a lot at J.C. Leyendecker’s work to get a feel for the ‘English Gentleman’: well educated, ready to kill, but deciding against it,” continued Siepermann. “I found out, that Leyendecker’s favorite model was the actor John Barrymore, grandfather of Drew, so I went directly to the source. You’ll find more Barrymore in Clayton than Gable.”
But while there is the resemblance of Gable and Barrymore in Clayton, Siepermann used several other sources as reference. “I wanted Clayton to be ‘English’, so I tried everything I could, using the likes of David Niven as reference, Errol Flynn, even Prince Charles and Prince Phillip, basically everything I could get hold off…”
“I never miss out to look not just at other (animated) movies, but at the historical real thing and get familiar with it, doing my research,” continued Siepermann. “This is Sir Richard Burton – not the actor – the first and only non-Muslim, who ever was inside the Kaaba, who first translated the Kamasutra and The Arabian Nights, who discovered the Victoria Falls and the source of the Nile. The blueprint of any generic explorer.”
The directors liked Haral Siepermann’s design for Clayton, and it became an important reference for Supervising Animator Randy Haycock, who brought the character to life.
When Harald Siepermann started to work on the production of Walt Disney’s Tarzan in July 1995, his job was to explore visual possibilities for the gorilla family, and their relationship with a young Tarzan. Once that task was completed, the directors Kevin Lima and Chris Buck set Siepermann on another path, to create visual development for the characters in the movie.
Harald Siepermann started with this task in January 1996, and the first characters he worked on was Professor Archimedes Porter. The first direction in exploring this character was somewhat odd. Since the movie was animated and it dealt with a primate world, the directors thought it would be fun if Porter had some resemblance of a monkey himself. Harald took that task to his hart. Below are some of these studies:
Despite Harald’s well received designs, the directors decided to keep Porter more in human form, and Siepermann started to look for a more realistic approach. “It was his first time in the jungle and he was to be completely overwhelmed by what he saw and found,” commented Siepermann on the character. “Things and animals he so far had encountered only in the books he had studied and written. He would get lost in some small detail, a frog or a bug, and he would overlook the gorilla behind him. He needed Jane to take care of him. I thought a lot of Catweazle, a character from an English TV-series from the seventies, which nobody in the states knew about. Another big influence was Jack MacGowran in his role as Prof. Abronsius in Roman Polanski’s Vampire Killers, a movie only Kevin Lima knew about.”
A big breakthrough with the character came when Harald Siepermann thought of Albert Schweitzer, a German philosopher, humanitarian, and musician. “I didn’t know where to go visually with this character, because I didn’t want to use other cartoon-professor as reference,” commented Siepermann. “I wanted to get away from that cliché and was looking for some other kind of inspiration. Then it hit me. Some sketches I had done reminded me of Albert Schweitzer, a philosopher, doctor, musician and humanist, who founded a hospital in the jungle at the beginning of the last century. Always very much a gentleman, always in a white shirt and a bowtie.”
This was April 1996 and during that time Harald was working for 6 months at the Walt Disney studio in Burbank. “Again, when I told that to the team, nobody had heard about him,” continued Siepermann. “There was no google at the time, so I was more than lucky to find a German book about Schweitzer in a second-hand bookstore in St. Monica. I made a board and sold the idea to the directors.” Siepermann continued to develop Professor Porter in this direction. His designs where very much appreciated by the directors and were the starting point for Dave Burgess, the Supervising Animator, who brought Porter to life on the screen.
Visual development art by Harald Siepermann for Walt Disney’s Tarzan. When Harald Siepermann started on Tarzan his job was to explore visual possibilities for the gorillas and their relationship with a young Tarzan.
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.
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.