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Production Design Picks from Barry Kooser at Worker Studio Animation - #1
About Barry Kooser
After graduating with a degree in Fine Arts from the Kansas City Art Institute, Barry began working full-time as a Background Artist at Walt Disney Feature Animation Studios in Orlando, Florida. While with Disney, Barry contributed to some of the most iconic animated films of what is now known as the "Disney Renaissance" era, including: The Lion King, Pocahontas, Mulan, Lilo and Stitch and Brother Bear.
Barry also ventured his painterly eye as a Fine Artist, exhibiting his work in galleries around the country, and is now Chief Creative Officer, and a partner at Worker Studio Animation in Colorado. You can see a gallery or Barry's original paintings, production art from his Disney days, and his current creative endeavors at Worker Studio on his company team page.
What is Production Design?
We asked Barry what the Top 5 Production Designs that continue to influence his career in filmmaking. His influences range from classic Disney films to some of the most gorgeous live action films of the past 30 years. Yet, just what is Production Design?
In brief, a production designer's role in motion picture production or television encompasses creating, or designing, the overall aesthetic look of the picture. They typically oversee many of the visual departments including sets, art direction, costume, makeup, locations, and sometimes visual effects. They bring a cohesive, creative vision, in collaboration with the director and producers, to inform the production's visual tone.
In terms of animation this role is largely comprised of creating the backgrounds and environments that house the story, but may also involve how many elements, like costume, color palates and character, look in the story. With Barry's history creating and painting backgrounds for Walt Disney Feature animation, as well as his pieces of environmental and landscape painting, Barry has honed his craft and eye for Production Design.
'Lady and the Tramp' - Walt Disney (1955)
Barry's first selection for the top 5 production designs of influence is Walt Disney's 1955 animated feature, Lady and the Tramp. It was the first animated film produced for CinemaScope, giving it a wide screen aesthetic unlike anything seen in animation. This gave the backgrounds a richly detailed feel, along with it's gracious use of painted light to evoke the film's moods.
Pools of subtle light in the backgrounds have been noted for setting the stage for character action in the film. It has also been noted that the backgrounds, while intricately detailed, never distracted from the action on screen. (www.mouseplanet.com)
Disney used miniature models of the backgrounds, like the Victorian mansion where Lady lives, and used scaled figurines of the characters for artists to reference an authentic "dog's eye-view" of the surroundings. Background artist Claude Coats built the miniature mansion, and he fittingly had experience in architecture. Fellow background artist, Eyvind Earle, built miniatures for the famous spaghetti slurping "Bella Notte" scene in the film.
With producing the film in CinemaScope, the use of close-ups and cuts weren't as necessary for the characters to move in. Since fewer scenes were needed, artists could give loving attention to the backgrounds, filled to the brim with life and detail. - Worker Studio Blog
Ward Kimball famously said of the production: "Our layout men, whose work is analogous to that of set designers, had to re-scheme the staging of all action to suit backgrounds twice as long as those we had been using. In doing so, they soon made a discovery: in CinemaScope, cartoon characters move, not the backgrounds."
Solid Artistic Foundations
The above image is a still from Disney's Lady and the Tramp, but it is not original production art from the film. The painting was done by Barry Kooser during his early testing at Disney's Orlando Studio. Budding artists at the studio had to complete full replicas of classic Disney backgrounds in order to prove their fundamental artistic abilities.
An image of the original production art from the actual Disney film is below. The gorgeous paintings are not only testament to one of Disney's most memorable production designs, and influential features at that, but also to the incredible talents of Barry Kooser even at the start of his career.