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Il Etait Une Fois… Walt Disney exhibition report

by Trevor May | 4th January 2007 | Animation Art Disney Illustration Travel | 1 comment

Eyvind Earle's concept work for Sleeping Beauty

Once upon a time Walt Disney: Remember the Walt Disney art exhibition that I told you about last month which is currently showing at the Grand Palais in Paris? Well, we’ve just got back and I have to say that it exceeded all expectations; the thing was huge — three floors of gorgeous animation history chronologically laid out for my consumption!

After a 20 minute queue outside in the rain (I put the long line down to being a holiday weekend) we finally got inside where I was immediately mis-recognised as a French actor. My poor grasp of the French language eventually gave me away as an imposter and the guy apologised and wished me a good holiday.

Highlights for me were seeing many many pieces of original Mary Blair concept art for Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, Eyvind Earle’s numerous, enormous, background pieces for Sleeping Beauty and other films, Salvador Dali’s concept work for Destino (and the film played in its entirety), and many original character sheets and sketches.

When I first saw the Mary Blair work I actually had to practically press my nose against the glass to check that they were the real thing and not just prints. They were, indeed, the real thing and I was delighted to be able to see her pencil outlines just visible beneath the paint! This is the kind of thing you never get to see in coffee table books, now matter how good. Just seeing how the Mad Hatter’s hat, for example, was originally sketched much larger brought her thought process to life.

Eyvind Earle wasn’t a Disney artist that I knew much about before this exhibition but I was blown away by his concept work and, in particular, backgrounds. The first time I saw one of his paintings I stopped and couldn’t move away from it… quite literally! After viewing the pieces from afar I was drawn in to inspect the detail of each one… the combination and use of colour, the painting techniques on his massive paintings. No print, or indeed DVD, could ever do this detail justice! What’s more fantastic is that these are backgrounds; emphasising that numerous art forms must be combined, with equal importance, to produce a truly outstanding animated feature or short.

Low lights? The inability to take any photos of all the fantastic stuff on display… (wishing I’d bought a notebook and pen with me) and the disappointing selection of prints and postcards available in the shop, postcards were mostly poor crops of incredible artwork and really didn’t do the originals justice, especially after just being overwhelmed by them in the flesh. The book and the guidebook were only available in French and printed on some rather cheap paper stock (when the exhibition reaches Montreal later in the year I’ll be interested to see if an English language guidebook becomes available). A shame really, but I couldn’t leave empty handed. I picked up a print of a Marc Davis sketch of Bambi’s Thumper which was a rather reasonable six euros. I also regret not purchasing the accompanying DVD but, as we were on a very tight budget, I just couldn’t afford to.

And talking of not being able to afford not to… if you’re in Paris before the 15th January, or in or around Montreal between March 8 and June 24th, you really can’t afford to miss this.

If you want a complete overview of the show, take a look at this article at Animated Views (thanks Jenny)

Update: Michael Barrier mentions in his post about the exhibition that an English language edition of the book is available to pre-order on Amazon.

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