'Lorenzo' Visual Development Gallery — Part 2: Characters

In our second visual development gallery for Disney's new short Lorenzo, VFXWorld takes a look at the characters conceived by Joe Grant and transformed by Mike Gabriel.

Be sure to check out Part 1 of the Lorenzo Visual Development Gallery that features the backgrounds used in the short.

Walt Disney Pictures' acclaimed new short, Lorenzo, which screened domestically in theaters earlier this summer and took the Annecy Grand Prix award, uniquely captures Mike Gabriel's artistic vision by bringing his raw brushstroke style directly to the screen with the aid of a digital renderer called "Sable." The look and emotion of the art is seen in Lorenzo's "moving painting" approach, which is part traditional and part CG in telling its funny tale about a nasty blue cat with a tail that magically comes to life. The result, set to a tantalizing tango, is a liberating tour-de-force for Gabriel, who directed, designed, storyboarded and painted all of the backgrounds.

In part two of VFXWorld's exclusive visual development gallery, we focus on the characters of Lorenzo, Molly, the mysterious black cat, and that irksome tail. Lorenzo, it should be noted, was inspired by the concepts of the legendary Joe Grant back in the late `60s. Gabriel briefly discusses how he adapted Grant's work and his own creative take on the character designs.

"The attitude of Lorenzo was something I wanted to keep. A long face with a snooty air about it. If you look at my version, I really did keep the proportions, the distance between the nose and the mouth and the eyes to the nose. The only thing I did to the eyes was make them bigger and closer together. As far as the look of the pastel drawings, it seemed so obvious but at the same time very original. The idea of a cat with a tail that came to life and he couldn't get away from it. It just seemed so funny. It taps into something you've seen, and Joe takes it to the next step, which is that the way a cat's tail moves it has no control over it. I liked seeing this cat being tortured living on the satin pillow of life and ending up so tormented by the situation. I looked at those drawings and wasn't really blown away by them believe me, Joe has so many great ideas but once [producer] Don Hahn introduced the tango idea, that's what got me going. I quickly drew those drawings of the cat dancing the tango with his tail just to sell the idea. No matter what, I thought, I've gotta get this short just to bring that scene to life.

"I guess once I found the track, I knew it was dripping with possibilities so off we went. As far as Joe's pastel look, I wasn't able to retain it simply because I don't know how to do pastels. Every time I tried, Joe kept giving me chalks and on Lorenzo I just ended up with a pile of blue dust. The original intent was not to lose what Joe's got. His cat has no feet showing, for the most part, and that was what I was trying to retain. You just see the fur go straight to the floor. It's a great look and somehow when I got into the dance and the action and the animation, I just couldn't pull it off. I like doing broad stroke painting and design, so when I started using that one inch brush, I started flying the end off and it felt like fur.

"The thing with Joe's skinny black cat, it [was] a little bit generic and I wanted to push it. There have been so many spooky black cats, and it seemed to me this black cat should have no tail and is being picked on by Lorenzo. And the other thing with the black cat design, they're usually skinny, so I gave him a little bag of a belly. There's something really disturbing about that pouch belly. It's a very unhealthy, withered look, so I pictured a belly full of maggots. The other thing with the black cat, I gave him more of a hyena crouch because it made him creepier. But then I thought of pushing the neck long with really long ears. It's going to mainly be eyes, eyes, eyes, so I made just a tiny nose and tiny little mouth and then I quickly tried to think of him as mysterious I didn't want him coming in looking for trouble. I just pushing the ears longer and longer and had fun with that. And go really long with the ears and whiskers. Playing with the proportions. The scary part was I realized that I had a black cat in a black world. Did I really want to go there? All I did was pop in Dumbo and looked at the Elephants on Parade' section where they're skating on the ice. Since Walt [Disney] used to do that all the time, I thought, `Hell.'

Lorenzo became very iconic right away with the blue paint, the white eyes, the black dots and dark pupils and just a lighter blue/green on the muzzle. With every element in the design of the short, it was take away detail, take away eyebrows and take away whiskers. The eyebrows made me a little nervous because I didn't want to lose expression. I wanted it to be pungent. After viewing a few scenes with the animators, I knew it was going to work great.

As far as the tail, Joe was really playing it like a nightmare, but with the tango, I decided that it was obviously going to be a fun character that wanted to dance the night away. It made him very appealing. You gotta love characters that just love life. They make the best villains. The only thing [was that], Roy [Disney] wondered if the tail should have eyes. But once we looked at a drawing with eyes, it was too strange. Roy agreed. So we thought we could get away with all attitude and the mouth, and I'm surprised that we did."

Mike Gabriels goal was to keep the attitude Joe Grant gave to Lorenzo (left). Mike kept the cats long face, which gives off an air of haughtiness. (right). All images © Disney.

Mike Gabriels goal was to keep the attitude Joe Grant gave to Lorenzo (left). Mike kept the cats long face, which gives off an air of haughtiness. (right). All images © Disney.

Gabriel responded to the idea of a pampered cat being tormented that was introduced in Grants drawings.

Gabriel responded to the idea of a pampered cat being tormented that was introduced in Grants drawings.

Grants black cat (left) felt generic to Gabriel, who decided to make the feline tailless and add a small belly (right).

Grants black cat (left) felt generic to Gabriel, who decided to make the feline tailless and add a small belly (right).

For a minute, Gabriel and Roy Disney entertained the thought of adding eyes to Lorenzos tail, but decided not to after being creeped out. Gabriels rendition for the tail (right) doesnt stray far from Grants original idea.

For a minute, Gabriel and Roy Disney entertained the thought of adding eyes to Lorenzos tail, but decided not to after being creeped out. Gabriels rendition for the tail (right) doesnt stray far from Grants original idea.

Bill Desowitz is editor of VFXWorld.

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