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:
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:
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
On Treasure Planet, Harald Siepermann also worked for several weeks on visual development for the character Captain Amelia.
Amelia is the captain of the magnificent space galleon the Starfinder, that takes Jim and Professor Doppler on the expedition to find Flint’s treasure. In the script she is described as a clear leader, educated, well trained, highly experienced and extremely competent. She’s competitive, projects overconfidence, and can seem a little arrogant, though underneath this there is some vulnerability. Physically she is described as tall, imposing and beautiful. And she is cat-like and moves gracefully.
Below are some of Harald’s early designs of Captain Amelia, the alien creature with cat-like features:
After working on Long John Silver, Harald Siepermann continued with visual development for the character Jim Hawkins from Walt Disney’s Treasure Planet.
“He was a lot younger in my version of the script, than in the final movie, maybe 13 or 14, and he wasn’t a surfer either,” commented Harald Siepermann about the character. However, the backstory and the characteristics of the boy in the script were similar compared to the final movie.
Jim Hawkins is untested and unsure of himself. He helps his mother Sarah run the Benbow Inn, a lonely space outpost on a small planet tucked away at the far reaches of the galaxy. Jim’s father, a renowned space pilot, died before Jim was born, leaving a hole in the boy’s life that has been difficult to fill. It left him with a feeling of abandonment, what caused him to become a little withdrawn and slightly rebellious. Jim is longing to become a space explorer like his dad. His space adventure is about to begin when Billy Bones hands him a map that indicates the location of the treasure of the notorious Captain Flint.
Below are some of Harald’s designs of Jim Hawkins:
In celebration of Harald Siepermann’s birthday let’s have a look at some wonderful merchandise illustration that was created for Alfred J. Kwak. In the illustration Alfred gives a birthday party, organized by his father Henk, for his friends.
The illustration also shows what happens when two masters like Harald Siepermann and Hans Bacher join forces.
First Harald Siepermann thinks of a composition and draws the characters in the poses:
Then Hans Bacher continues with the inking:
… and then completes the illustration by adding colors:
A day to celebrate his talent and to be thankful for his creative work that he did for the world of animation. If Harald were still alive today, no doubt that he would still be on the frontline of the animation industry and delivering creative and innovative designs that would make us all laugh.
Thoughts go out to Harald’s family and friends that lived close to him.