In late December
of 1937, Walt Disney’s Snow White and the
Seven Dwarfs made its world premiere, and changed the way those silly little
films called ‘cartoons’ were perceived by the mass populace. Snow White’s artistic triumph resulted from
Disney’s patience, storytelling, and the refinement of his animators’ skills
throughout the twenties and thirties. Kelsey’s former student Ward Kimball had
been hired at the Studio three years prior, and contributed to sequences within
Disney’s revolutionary tour de force.
The revenue Disney
earned from the success of Snow White would
spread to many areas of the organization, including into planning for a new and
improved studio in the Burbank area to work on Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), and
Bambi (1942) (Pinocchio was chosen to become next in
line during the same month of Snow
White’s release).[i] Pinocchio’s special effects and stylized
approach would take animation to new heights, and Disney no doubt wanted the
best artists available to assist in making this vision a reality. One of the
biggest influences on the film’s tonal style was illustrator of children’s books
Gustaf Tenggren. Tenggren’s inspirational and conceptual art for Snow White, along with contributions tendered by many other artists, like
Albert Hurter, helped to establish the look and feel of the film. Additional
artists brought on for Pinocchio carried
with them skills obtained from the Santa Barbara School of the Arts. Campbell
Grant was assigned to character design, and none other than Richmond “Dick”
Kelsey to art direction, with a recommendation from former student Ward Kimball.[ii]
initiation into the Walt Disney Studio system consisted of art direction and
layout work on Pinocchio. As one of
the art directors on the film, he worked closely with the directors, assisting
in the establishment of the overall mood, staging, and color of specific
scenes. The concept of art direction and layout essentially is similar to craftsmanship
needed to construct staging elements for a theatrical production. Lighting is
of the utmost importance, for through it an audience can detect mood and begin
to sense in what direction the action will move. With action-staging in mind,
art direction and layout artists are also responsible for characters’ paths of
motion across a scene or background. The background itself is sketched
initially by the layout artist and sent to the background department for color
rendering. In the end, artists like Kelsey ensure that both the presence of animation
and the atmosphere surrounding it work in concert. Legendary Disney storywriter
and then head of the Model Department Joe Grant stated, “Kelsey had done some
very fine things, he would work out with the directors.”[iii]
Kelsey’s estimable aptitude for management of these nuanced facets of the
Disney animation process, it is important to remember his art training did not
directly prepare him for intricacies required of animation. The style he
brought to the Walt Disney Studio was that of fine art, which happened to be
the exact flair with which Walt Disney desired to imbue his animated features.
It is arguable, however, that Kelsey’s expertise in woodblock printing served
as a tool with unique advantages for animators. “Since woodblock printing lends
itself to large areas of solid color on the printed paper, it is therefore
logical that the student training would lend itself to the production of the
stillframes used in animated movies, those stillframes being likewise composed
of large areas of solid color.”[iv]
Through Pinocchio’s episodic and random
adventures, Dick Kelsey effectively instilled specific sequences with
inspiring, and at times deliciously dark, vibrancy. Scenes taking place on
Pleasure Island for instance, can be downright terrifying, evoking feelings of
doom buried just below a superficially thin guise of cotton candy jollity.
drawings for Pinocchio were made with
great attention to detail,” noted author Christopher Finch. “Often more than
one artist worked on a single layout, the first making an outline drawing, and
another adding the tonal rendering.”[v] Alongside fellow art director Al Zinnen,
Kelsey created the blueprint for scenes where the young boys wreak havoc on
this carnival land of mischief and horror.[vi]
layouts drawn in graphite, one finds illustrations depicting paint-spattered
walls, scattered remains of broken furniture, piles of bricks, and immense wooden
statues of Indian chiefs grasping cigar boxes. The artists go as far as to place
a portrait of the Mona Lisa amongst rubble, only for Lampwick to strike a match
against the painting’s inscrutably smiling face. It is interesting to note some
of the buildings in specific scenes have a Spanish Colonial style, perhaps nodding
at Kelsey’s influence. The animation eventually overlapping Kelsey and Zinnen’s
stage designs worked seamlessly, painting a world where the young openly rebel
against their mothers, soon crying out for those maternal protectors.
Preceding the terrifying scene wherein Lampwick transforms into a donkey, the sequence involving Jiminy Cricket’s shocking discovery of a Coachman loading boys-turned-jackasses into wooden crates is equally unsettling. This brief sequence was staged entirely by Dick Kelsey, and its claustrophobic atmosphere illustrates escape is indeed futile.[vii] Jiminy emerges from underneath a crack in a massive wooden door to spy a dock nestled at the base of a mountainous wall of stone. Wooden crates clustered wall-to-wall wait to be filled while a ferry tethered to the pier idly floats until loading. Cargo signs reading, “SOLD TO THE SALT MINES,” along with articles of boy’s clothes strewn about the periphery, convey the youths’ dire situation brilliantly.
Kelsey not only teams up with Al Zinnen once again on the sequences involving
Pinocchio’s and Jiminy’s escape from Pleasure Island and their return home to
Geppetto’s workshop, but serves as color supervisor on both as well.[viii]
All of the island scenes take place at night, and continue to do so upon the
duo’s escape. Twinkling stars cast amongst the vast blue darkness of the night sky
engender feelings of loneliness and desolation, as do rounded dark mountain formations
surrounding the island. All intimate a far cry from comfort, great distances
from the warm, wooden colors of the puppet master’s cottage. As desolate as the
scene may be, its beauty cannot be denied, an endless sea looming, mirroring
the stars above.
scenes that follow emphasize feelings of hopelessness, and the village’s
barrenness reveals the puppet and cricket are its only inhabitants. Kelsey and
Zinnen successfully create an environment where Pinocchio appears lost in a
place that should bring him comfort while the world continues to sleep. The interior
workings of Geppetto’s abandoned cottage are woven with cobwebs, indicating its
owner has been gone for quite some time. The two art directors continue this
progression from above, from chimney tops, as the Blue Fairy (in the form of a
dove) delivers a letter revealing Geppetto’s whereabouts. Kelsey’s choice of
gold for the letter’s emblazoned text symbolizes hope, and contrasts with the
cold mood of the night. The sequence’s most impressive layout design is that of
the village’s cobbled street shown at that segment’s conclusion. As Pinocchio
and Jiminy race towards the sea along stone sidewalks, the audience gets
fleeting glimpses of the quaint shops that line the village street. It is here
Kelsey and Zinnen pay homage to Tenggren’s inspirational paintings, in the
village’s mood and atmosphere.
one can surmise, Dick Kelsey’s contributions to Pinocchio were considerable, and his art direction of aquatic
scenes involving Monstro the Whale clearly encompass some of Pinocchio’s paramount achievements. In
addition to Pleasure Island and the escape sequence, Kelsey’s role as color
supervisor on all underwater scenes, along with chases involving the whale in
the film’s grand finale, could arguably be his greatest contribution (Kelsey
also color supervised a later-deleted sequence where Geppetto is swallowed by
As the camera
plunges downward through many leagues to the ocean’s floor, the audience
witnesses a world bursting with contrast – not only in color, but in detail as
well. Three-quarters of Pinocchio takes
place on land, so this drastic scenery change truly coaxes effervescence from
the aquatic denizens inhabiting the depths. The supervisor’s color choices are
inspired and assist in bringing out the layers and depth of this colorful
abyss. His color palette, not limited to the cool shades of blue, green, and
purple, brings a delectable feast of reds and oranges and pinks to pulsing life.
The earthy and smooth texture of the sea’s sandy bed, along with the algae-laden,
pocked surfaces of resting rocks, acts as a foil for a bursting rainbow-bright plethora
of sea life. Although the watercolor backgrounds are busied with detail, set against
the animated school of fish surrounding Pinocchio, the sequence never seems too
busy and continues to indicate the painstaking attention required by the
animation process. If anything, the exhilarating opening underwater shots only
make following scenes involving Monstro the Whale more frightening.
Upon seeing the
mammoth whale initially, shades of gray engulf the screen like a billowing fog.
Kelsey indicates, through carefully calculated coloration, that there is
nothing settling about the environment surrounding the whale. The gray and
white colors of fish only add to the desolate mood, and the appearance of a
broken ship ethereally shrouded in the depths suggests an underwater graveyard.
The only image permeating the basaltic murk is that of Monstro. His cold, dark-blue
color looks chilly to the touch, and his smooth, rubbery surface shines like a
tightly stretched balloon. After being awoken from slumber, Monstro’s chase for
food to the water’s surface begins. The audience sees a gradual increase in colorful
shading variance. As Monstro ascends from the depths, Pinocchio and Jiminy, donned
in clothes detailed with bright and multi-colored hues, stand out. As this
chase intensifies, one is engrossed in Geppetto and Pinocchio’s daring escape across
a sea of crashing waves.
A preliminary gouache created by Kelsey for the chase scene with Monstro the Whale sheds some light on the new style of art Kelsey had adopted. In this conceptual painting, the character movement, or subject animation, is apparent, and the scene itself evokes a sea-sickish feeling through color, as the whale smashes the wooden raft like a twig, sending puppet, master, and kitten spinning down into the ocean’s depths. The unrelenting terror caused by Monstro’s presence, visualized as an enormous flailing tail in the painting’s lower-left corner, is sensed, and the hopelessness of the characters’ lot is palpable. The smallness of their stature in comparison to the vastness of the ocean engulfing them is effective, and the threat of Monstro’s repeated attacks certainly seems eminent. This conceptual art not only assisted directors in visualizing a scene of this caliber, but the inspiration it radiates translates into the final moments of the completed film.
water washing into the whale’s mouth, along with blue shading dancing within
the rolling surface waves, was also supervised by Kelsey. In this final battle
the ocean water itself plays a pivotal role. When viewing this chaotic
sequence, waves almost seem alive with movement and color. Credit should not
only be given to the sequence’s brilliant effects animation, but to Kelsey’s
choice of palette, too. It would have been easier to paint all water a uniform
shade of blue, but instead the audience is treated to waves foaming with whites
and grays set against waters undulating with shades of blue, both light and
dark. His attention to detail, awareness of staging, and innate coloration
sensibilities demonstrated during the production of Pinocchio certainly proved Kelsey’s worth to the studio. This
powerhouse of a film, however, was only the beginning of his adventures in
[i] Michael Barrier, Hollywood Cartoons: American Animation in
Its Golden Age, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 236.
[ii] Canemaker, Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men and the Art of
[iii] Joe Grant, (Disney
Artist), interview by Robin Allan, "Joe Grant (1908-2005)," Walt's People: Volume 9, May, June,
August 1985, 1986:167.
[iv] College of the Siskiyous, "The Significance of Mount
Shasta as a Visual Resource: Woodblock Artists." Last modified 2001.
Accessed May 12, 2011. http://www.siskiyous.edu/shasta/art/woo.htm.
[v] Christopher Finch, The Art of Walt Disney: From Mickey Mouse to the Magic Kingdoms,
Revised and Expanded Edition, (New York:
Harry N. Abrams, 2004), 173.
[vi] J.B. Kaufman, e-mail
message to author, July 23, 2012.