The Swing

February 8, 2013

Jean Honoré Fragonard was known for his remarkable facility in painting. I tried to learn something from this great master by attempting to recreate one of his pictures in oils. During a recent trip to the Wallace Collection in London, I saw the original, up close. The Swing, oil on panel, 11″x14″:



Disney Feature Animation Backgrounds: Lilo & Stitch

November 6, 2011

While at Disney I worked as a traditional background painter at a time when so many other artistic jobs were becoming electronic. I was happy to be working with a paintbrush and am now ever more grateful for having been a small part of a particular legacy. It was the Disney studio that pioneered techniques in staging and mood for animation emulated by other studios today. But they took their cue from the past, from old masters such as Claude Lorrain. (See Origins in Staging for more on this.)

Director Chris Sanders wanted the background art in his film, Lilo & Stitch to be painted in watercolors. At the time no Disney film had been painted in watercolors since Snow White. As the story goes, Chris took his idea to the background department in Los Angeles where he was informed that such an undertaking would no longer be possible. We, in Florida took him up on the challenge, and the rest is history. Needless to say, painting backgrounds on Lilo & Stitch was special. As a medium, it’s exciting because it’s unpredictable, difficult to control, and almost impossible to correct.  Building value while keeping a clean edge around the forms (such as the painting below where the outline of Stitch meets the sky) is also tricky.  I like what John Singer Sargent had to say about watercolor, “Make the best of an emergency.”

The following images are reproductions of paintings I crafted by hand– from start to finish. But keep in mind, the character designs, story concepts, layouts, and time of day were created in a collaborative setting in the studio following a specific production pipeline. This pipeline is comprised of very skilled Disney artists, under two directors and a producer. If you’d like to learn more about that pipeline, I recommend Hans Bacher‘s book, Dreamworlds.

I like what animation author, Tony White, has said about background art: Since the environment takes up most of the screen, it’s in the hands of the background painter to make it look like you’ve spent millions on the production.

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

“With watercolour, you can’t cover up the marks. There’s the story of the construction of the picture, and then the picture might tell another story as well.” David Hockney

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

Walt Disney Feature Animation

© Disney Enterprises, Inc.


Watercolors with Geraldine Kovats

November 2, 2016


I. A Note to Painters:


Thanks so much for having me come out and paint with you. Whether or not you’re familiar with watercolors we can always advance our skills. Let’s work from life, thereby making every encounter however near or far, a true adventure. 

To get started you’ll need paper, paints, and brushes, a palette, water pot, and towels. Click this link to find specific recommendations for your materials: Watercolor Supplies Booklet

During our first meeting we’ll take a close look at color; you’ll gain a deeper understanding of what drove Claude Monet to say, ‘Color is my daylong obsession, joy, and torment!’. 

Additionally, I’ll show you how I painted backgrounds on Disney’s, Lilo & Stitch and Mathias Poledna’s film, Imitation of Life (stylistically akin to Disney’s, Snow White), as well as my own watercolors.

More than any other medium watercolors require a feel for the materials, and that feel comes only with practice. What’s more, practice is required to maintain that feel and once mastered you’ll be able to control watercolors to a great degree. In my opinion, watercolors are the most exciting of all painting media.

lf you’re interested in delving deeper into topics covered during the workshop, please find a list of helpful links below.

I’m excited to become acquainted with you and your artwork!


II. Evaluation:

P.S. Upon completion of the workshop, I appreciate your honest feedback. You may fill out a Course Evaluation here: Survey Monkey Evaluation Form

III. Links:

Joseph Albers, Interaction of Color App: Make your own color experiments!


More about J.M.W. TURNER, from the Tate website:

  1. “Want to Paint a Blue Rigi?”
  2. “Veils of Perfection” 
  3. “Draughtsman and Watercolorist”

Watercolor examples from Disney Production Designer, HANS BACHER’S wonderful animation blog:


More about Disney Production Designer, TYRUS WONG:

  1. The Art of Tyrus Wong
  2. How ‘Bambi’ Got Its Look From 1,000-Year-Old Chinese Art
  3. Tyrus Wong, ‘Bambi’ Artist Thwarted by Racial Bias, Dies at 106

A helpful watercolor information resource:


Interested to know where the colors of pigments come from?

Color of Art Pigment Database





The Little Prince, 2015

March 31, 2016

It was a pleasure to have been asked to work out some visual problems for the animated film, The Little Prince. The stop motion sequences were being produced by Duck Studios in Los Angeles and directed by Jamie Caliri. Following are a few samples of before and after shots; they include notes from Jamie.

The problem: “[This scene] doesn’t look epic.”

Screenshot 2014-11-20 11.29.37

Digital paint-over solution: I tried to give the illusion of expanse by repainting the surface of the sand. Then I placed the characters on a kind of ridge, at a seemingly higher elevation. The long shadows were added to bring more visual weight to the characters’ plight.


The problem: “…too much pink.”  This scene is from the point of view of the aviator, who upon nearing the  wall with seated boy, realizes the little prince  is speaking to someone or something on the other side.  To his dismay, the aviator discovers it’s an asp. The scene is ominous, but the little prince remains unafraid.


Digital paint-over solution: Pink sky replaced with yellow. A yellow sky may indicate a dusty atmosphere and can be associated with threatening weather events–even apocalyptic. I tried to emphasize the light on the character’s backside, so when the aviator turns the corner of the wall, the scene would be in shadow, dark and moody, and hopefully increase the element of surprise.


The problem: (Characters are crossing the desert); “[these scenes] don’t look hot enough.”

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 11.04.17 AMScreen Shot 2014-09-02 at 11.04.18 AM

Digital paint-over solution: Instead of an overcast look to the light, I gave the colors and tones more of a sunlit effect. Below are stronger and hotter highlights, reflected lights, and illumination; and a more flushed face for the aviator.


Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 11.04.18 AMFix






Venice Biennale Project, Austrian Pavilion 2013

March 31, 2016

Film director, Mathias Poledna won the distinction of representing his country for the 55th, 2013 Venice Biennale. His film, Imitation of Life, can be seen at the Austrian pavilion and the exhibition runs from June 1- November 24.

Mathias worked with Duck Studios in Los Angeles to produce the film. Much of the director’s work pays tribute to 1930’s films, and in keeping with his personal vision, requested that a number of traditional Disney artists come together and make an animated film reminiscent of, Snow White, Bambi, and Pinocchio. In order to achieve that goal, it was important the background art be done in like manner. After a number of test-runs the studio conducted a more extensive search for a background artist skilled in watercolors. I had the good fortune to land the opportunity. Once there I recommended two phenomenal painters to see the project through: Xiangyuan Jie and Kevin Turcotte. We completed the work in record time.

Following are  a couple of my background production examples used in the film as well as digital keys designed to establish mood. Imitation of Life puts forth the existential question of why we are here, in a historical context of a culture involved in war and economic depression.















Miniatures of Masterworks

April 2, 2015




Academia: Demos

December 28, 2011

I taught traditional and digital art courses at DigiPen Institute of Technology in WA. Here’s a sampling of demonstrations for the students.

Figure Drawing:


On creating a mood: Same boat in two different conditions in the spirit of Martin Johnson Heade: Photoshop. Red Sky at Night, 2010:

Misty Morning:

A student sent an email with his assignment attached (left image) asking for advice on this digital painting of a girl descending a staircase. Inspired by the intriguing image (what a costume!), I had a little fun painting over the piece myself (right). Photoshop, 2007:

This colorscript was made using story and character designs from Suzanne Kaufman’s 3D short, Insomnia, as part of a lecture presentation on lighting in 3D. Peter Moehrle split the effort with me, and I threw in the last two frames for dramatic punch. Photoshop, 2010:


The next three were painted in oils from the model in class demonstrations, 2 1/2 hours:

Excerpt from one of my course syllabi:



The painting SATURN by the Spanish artist GOYA.

Saturn Devouring His Son (detail), Francisco Goya

“Painting is not done to decorate apartments, it is an instrument of war.” Pablo Picasso

Rembrandt / W 9:00am-11:50am, F 3:30pm-4:20pm or at specified location

gkovats@digipen.edu, ext 4433

Course Description

Art 230 is a traditional painting course; an introduction to concepts as well as techniques in painting. Equal time will be dedicated to the study of environments, still lifes, and figures. Studio work is complemented by discussion during a contracted Friday session centering around historical and contemporary painting. Development of individual themes is possible with advanced students.

Be prepared for excursions to specific sites of interest. A portable field easel and supplies are required. Materials will be discussed the first day of class. This course culminates in a group show of student work.

II. Course Aims and Objectives

The object of the course is to heighten students’ realization of the visual field. Artist, Josef Albers stated, ‘You can’t be an artist unless and until you’ve devoted considerable time to mindfully exploring the visual field through its elements: line, shape, color, texture, value, the components the make up what is generally termed form.’



A Selection of Paintings from My Days in College

December 28, 2011

Next two from Illustration courses, in college. Acrylic:

My friend posed as Sargent’s Mrs. George Swinton. Acrylic.

Having arrived late for Kazu Sano’s popular figure painting class, the only open space available was behind the model. Due to lighting conditions, it was hard to see much–apart from her illuminated ear.  Acrylic:

Cityscape in gouache: