"Get a good idea, and stay with it. Dog it, and work at it until it's done, and done right." - Walt Disney

Monday, March 5, 2018

A Closer Look at Background Paintings

Ending credits for The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
In my published essay on layout and background artist, Richmond "Dick" Kelsey (1905-1987), in Volume 14 of Walt's People (2014), I go into detail about Kelsey's approach to background paintings, but without the support of visuals.  This blog allows me to do so, and for this occasion, I have chosen specific backgrounds of Injun Joe's cave that Kelsey did for Hanna-Barbera's The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1968-1969).

Ron Dias (1937-2013) was instrumental in helping me dissect his mentor Kelsey's approach to backgrounds and illustrations in children's books.  The background art images shared here were stored away in Ron's garage for years, and thanks to his partner, Howard, they were rescued and copies were sent to me via Ron before his passing in 2013.  Here's what Ron had to say about Kelsey in one of my interviews with him in 2011:
Well, Dick Kelsey worked with pastels even in final backgrounds…and people used to kind of be upset about [this] because they said you know all that pastel is picking up on the cels and the camera…but he would have a big brush, he would dust it, dust it, dust it...he would lay something in and then he would come back with a...shadow with pastel – a little here, a little there and you see it a lot in his book illustrations too.  Nobody else...would use pastel like he would do for the book illustration and especially for the final animation background.  I learned so much from him.  He would...lay in a flat color...[for] a trunk of a tree and a block for a hedge, and then he would come with the darker pastel and do a little bit here and on the shadow side of a tree then he’d tint it with a few highlights and put a little drawing back into it and spark it with a few little really warm highlights, and then walk away.  The damn thing was all done!  And, he attacked it like no other painter I had ever worked with.  Most painters paint in areas and flat end sections and then come back and render.  He would use a brush almost as a pencil.  And if there was grain in something he’d separate the bristles of the brush and come back with just a few strokes – all of a sudden all of the grain would be drawn into something; not literally painting each little piece of grain – he would let the brush work almost as a pencil and he’d draw with it.  He had a really different approach and different way of painting and handling, and you see it…you see it in his book illustrations a lot.  Like the background tree or something is a brush stroke and then the branches…
To support Ron's observations of Kelsey's work, here are scans of the copies that he sent me in the mail with Ron's notations:

If it hadn't been for Ron saving these treasures, they may have been lost forever.  At the time that these paintings were made, Ron was a little over thirty-years-old, and still absorbing advice from artists like Dick Kelsey and Paul Julian.  When Ron spoke of mentors like Kelsey and Julian, he said, "...They really were treasures in my life.  They were just incredible on every level.  They will never know that they taught me more than four and a half years of art training ever did." 

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