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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.

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6 comments

  1. Hi Geraldine! My name is Jess and I write about random things (often random Disney related things) on my website House of Summersville. I’m very interested in writing an article about the watercolor backgrounds that were used as the background art for Lilo and Stitch. I would love to include some of the artwork that you have on your blog here if you wouldn’t mind. I will of course credit your work and include links back to your website. Part of why I’m doing this is because I think it needs to be acknowledged how good the art was in the film Lilo and Stitch. I think it’s probably one of Disney’s most overlooked films and I’d like to bring a little light to this. Stitch has become a classic Disney character and he earned it. If you are interested in allowing me to use some of your images, please send me a message at houseofsummersville@gmail.com

    Thanks!
    Jess


  2. Absolutely gorgeous work! Thank you for sharing. A question, weren’t the background for 101 Dalmatians also in watercolor, or am I mistaken?


  3. These are great! Thank you for posting them.


  4. It’s nice to see so much of your animation work. Spectacular stuff! I’m happy that you have made so much of your art career. Congratulations!



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