Legendary Disney Designer and Concept Artist Mel Shaw Passes at 97
AWN thanks Disney's Howard Green for passing along this sad news.
BURBANK, Calif., November 27, 2012 -- Mel Shaw, one of the most versatile and talented visual development artists, designers, and storymen to ever work at The Walt Disney Studios, and who contributed to numerous Disney animated favorites from “Bambi” through “The Lion King,” has died at age 97. Shaw passed away at Woodland Care Center in Reseda, California on Thanksgiving Day (Thursday November 22nd), from congestive heart failure.
Shaw’s career at Disney included several tours of duty starting in 1937 with early story and character design work on “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (which started as a short film and became the genesis for the feature, “Fantasia”), and “The Flight of the Bumblebee.” He went on to work on story and visual development for “Bambi,” and “The Wind in the Willows” segment of “The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.” He left the Studio in 1941, but returned 33 years later to help influence the look and story for such modern day Disney favorites as “The Rescuers,” “The Fox and the Hound,” “The Great Mouse Detective,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King,” and more.
Animation historian and author Charles Solomon (Enchanted Drawings: The History of Animation, The Toy Story Films: An Animated Journey) observed, “Mel Shaw’s influence as an animation design artist extended over many decades and many studios. He worked with Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising in the early days of both the Warner Bros. and MGM cartoon studios. At the beginning of World War II, he contributed designs to Orson Welles’ never-realized film of Saint-Exupery’s ‘The Little Prince.’ His best known artwork is the series of dramatic pastels in the title sequence of ‘The Rescuers’ (1977), showing the bottle containing Penny’s call for help riding stormy seas. Shaw said the drawings were originally just preliminary studies for an animated sequence, but when director Woolie Reitherman saw them, he said they didn’t need to be animated – they could carry the sequence as they were.”
Veteran Disney producer (“Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King,” “Frankenweenie”) and documentary filmmaker (“High Ground”) Don Hahn, added, “Mel was on a short list of vanguard artists who would jump into a new film when it was still a blank piece of paper and with his stunning work he'd show us all the visual possibilities of the idea. I knew him as an artist first, but one day at lunch he started telling stories about playing polo with Walt and Spencer Tracy, followed by some amazing tales of shooting on Lord Mountbatten's film crew during the war. He lived large and his contribution to film and animation is immeasurable."
Art Director/Layout Supervisor Ed Ghertner (“The Great Mouse Detective,” “Beauty and the Beast”) recalled, “Mel Shaw taught me a lot about presentation. I remember walking into his office one time with a number of drawings, and he explained to me that in presentation you have a very short time period to get your point across, so pick the most clear dynamic compositions and then punch the compositions with color that will keep the attention of the person you’re showing it to. Mel used pastels to render his artwork. He felt that pastels appeared like a rendered piece of artwork with the tightness of a finished painting. It left the feeling that there was more to be told, and wanted the imagination of the viewer to complete the image and become involved with the artwork in that way. Mel showed me how to use color and simplicity of color with pastels to tell a full story with a minimal amount of drawing.”