ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE - ISSUE 4.12 - MARCH 2000
Marc Davis. Courtesy of Walt Disney Enterprises.
In order to understand, as well as we can, the art of Marc Davis, we start by changing the single word of Mark Twain's brilliant definition of the art of writing: "The difference between the right word and the almost right word, is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug."
How close to the edge between triumph and disaster is all drawing and writing; how courageously did Marc (and Mark) risk that razor's edge. Today, grossness and crudity in drawing seems to sadly prevail in animation, but they cannot ever erase the beautiful effectiveness and eventual triumph of the single line as exemplified best by the artistry of Marc Davis.
Although I'm reluctant to follow the combined eloquence of Chuck Jones and Mark Twain, the editors of Animation World have asked me to add some of my own reflections on the late Marc Davis and his art.
Marc Frasier Davis was born in Bakersfield, California, on March 30, 1913. He studied fine art at the Kansas City Art Institute, the California School of Fine Arts in San Francisco and the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. He began working at the Walt Disney Studio in December, 1935. His exceptional draftsmanship and knowledge of human anatomy enabled him to help create some of their most memorable characters during the 42 years he spent there.
Davis at work on Bambi. Courtesy of Walt Disney Enterprises.
Davis and his close friend Milt Kahl -- who was his only rival as a draftsman at the studio -- were usually assigned the realistic human characters in the Disney features. Davis later said these assignments led him and Kahl to regard their talents as "both a blessing and hellish curse. The humans basically carry the story: if the audience doesn't believe in them, it doesn't matter how funny the comedians are."
Davis' polished draftsmanship enabled him to give his characters believable personalities. Cinderella's movements reflect her gentle modesty, while Tinker Bell's saucy walk reveals her impudence. The icily beautiful Maleficent moves with a controlled, reptilian power that contrasts sharply to Cruella de Vil's flamboyant gestures. Davis' work is also distinguished by a pervasive sense of design and pattern. When one of his heroines turns, her garments and hair move in sensual arcs that emphasize her feminine grace.
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