Didier Ghez is a well-known Disney historian. Check out our interview with him about his latest book in the ‘They Drew as They Pleased’ series.
As a fan of Disney animation, I try to absorb a lot of information about how their films and shorts are made.
I blame it on those segments that aired on the Disney Channel in the ‘90s that showed artists hard at work creating what I would soon be able to see in theaters.
That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to review They Drew as They Pleased Volume 6: The Hidden Art of Disney’s New Golden Age by Didier Ghez.
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The Hidden Art of Disney’s New Golden Age
This tome of They Drew as They Pleased covers the 1990s to the 2000s in Disney Animation.
Instead of being sorted by film, like a lot of Disney books, this series is organized by artist.
Alongside beautiful full-page concept art from favorite films like The Lion King and Frozen, the text follows key animators through their careers.
Disney History With Didier
To learn more about the book and how it came to be, Chronicle Books granted me an interview with author Didier Ghez.
WDW Magazine: These artists’ profiles are littered with titles and details of projects that Disney Animation started and then abandoned.
Which of these do you wish had made it through production?
Didier Ghez: Frankly, almost all of them. I am intrigued by two of Joe Grant’s projects: Inspector Bones, which featured a Sherlock Holmes dog, as well as The Square World, a project that Joe developed during WWII and was trying to revive in the early 2000s as a CG project.
I would have loved to see Sweating Bullets –which after a complete metamorphosis became Home on the Range– make it to the screen.
The Hitchcock-like Fraidy Cat, which Hans Bacher loved, is also a favorite of mine. And I always wondered how My Peoples could have been made into a successful feature. The concept artwork for that movies fascinates me.
At the top of my list, though, is the original version of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which would have been directed by the immensely talented Darrell Van Citters.
Rare Concept Art
WDW Magazine: Your book is filled with amazing concept art that usually stays in the studio away from public eyes.
What pieces in Volume Six were you most excited to see, and which ones were the most difficult to find?
Didier Ghez: The most exciting find must have been all the early character designs for Who Framed Roger Rabbit developed in the early 1980s by artist Michael Giaimo, which you will discover in a book for the very first time.
I also loved discovering the shelved short project I Am, which Hans Bacher had worked on for a short while and which meant so much to him. I am just fascinated by that artwork.
Another key discovery was the amount of work that Joe Grant and his colleague Dick Huemer had done on the projects that the Disney Studio was developing during World War II.
I had no idea that there were so many and that their production history had been so complex.
In fact, if you read the chapter about Joe Grant first and then the endnotes from that chapter you will realize that those are practically two full chapters about Joe in one volume.
And, as you noted, the book also contains hundreds of pieces of never-seen-artwork from some of Disney’s shelved animated features never before discussed in book form.
Those from Sweating Bullets by Michael Giaimo and Mike Gabriel are among my favorites.
What About Computer Graphics?
WDW Magazine: Artists in this book worked on Disney’s more recent computer-generated movies, like Frozen and Tangled, and in the preface, you say that you wanted to focus on the hand-drawn art behind the computer.
Would you consider covering digital animation at Disney and Pixar in later books?
Didier Ghez: As you probably note, the whole They Drew as They Pleased book series does not focus on the animation but on visual development; in other words, it deals with pre-production artwork.
In that sense what I am really exploring is the art of building stories, of developing characters and environments because they make it to the screen.
In this series of books, I deal mainly with the story artists, the visual development artists, and, to an extent with the role of the directors, not so much with the animators.
This means that whether the movie (from Disney or Pixar) is hand-drawn or CG does not really matter to me as long as the story process to develop it is an interesting one.
Disney or Pixar animation fascinates me whatever the technique that is used to produce it, as long as the characters feel alive and the stories are strong ones.
Not To Mention…
WDW Magazine: You chose many of the artists in this book because of their direct connection to Walt Disney (in the case of Joe Grant) or their strong connections to other Walt-era artists (among other reasons).
If page count and time weren’t an issue, what other artists from this era would you include?
Didier Ghez: In previous volumes, I would have wanted to include Tyrus Wong, Eyvind Earle, and Dick Kelsey.
In this specific volume, I would have loved to include Paul Felix, Matthias Lechner, and quite a few others, including some of the best women concept artists of recent years, like Jean Gillmore, Lisa Keene, Lorelay Bové, and Brittney Lee. Who knows, maybe someday soon…
They Drew as They Pleased
This book helps give a small peek into the dynamics of the studio and how the artists move between projects and how simple ideas become the movies we love today.
Not only that, it sheds light on projects that never left the development page and the attachments animators form with their works.
Considering that this is the Disney era I grew up in, I was overjoyed to learn more about my favorite movies. Belle is my favorite Disney Princess, and I loved the rarely-seen concept art from Beauty and the Beast.
There is a whole page dedicated to Mrs. Potts. Many of these drawings are different than the usual art the company spotlights in its various books and behind-the-scenes specials.
If you’re ready to dive deep into the behind-the-scenes world of Disney Animation, the They Drew as They Pleased collection is a good place to start. All six volumes are currently available from Chronicle Books on Amazon.
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