Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Marc Davis's Chanticleer

If anyone could draw a sympathetic looking rooster, it was Marc Davis (1913-2000). The senior Disney animator was a master of designing appealing characters, from Brer Rabbit to Tinkerbell.
He teamed up other veterans Ken Anderson, Woolie Reitherman, Milt Kahl to develop a animated feature that told the story of Chanticleer, the rooster who was so proud that he thought his "cock-a-doodle-do" brought on the sunrise. The story wove together the comedy by Edmond Rostand (of Cyrano fame) together with the classic tale of Reynard the Fox.

He began by sketching real chickens to learn their forms and personalities, and then anthropomorphized them into human types.
Unfortunately the material failed to win over Walt Disney, and it might not have worked with American audiences. The studio cancelled the project and put its muscle behind "The Sword and the Stone" instead.
Fortunately, Davis's drawings survive as a fine example of character design. 

You can still get copies of the printed storybook version with Marc Davis illustrations called Chanticleer and the Fox: A Chaucerian Tale (From the Disney Archives)

And the story of the unproduced feature is chronicled in Disney That Never Was: The Stories and Art of Five Decades of Unproduced Animation
All images ©Disney Corp.


Phillip Burnett said...

I love Marc Davis's drawings. It's also interesting that because Walt Disney canceled this project Don Bluth ends up making a movie about Chanticleer. It's called Rock-a-Doodle. Even though his version is definitely different from the Disney version.

Aaron said...

Interesting, huh Phillip? Though a completely different film, Rock-a-doodle has alot of the same elements. James mentioned that it was tabled in favor of "The Sword in the Stone"(1963). Most people know of Bluths work with Disney in the 70's, and his exodus in 1979, but not everyone knows that Bluth originally worked at Walt's from 1955-57, before freelancing and working at Filmation. It's just a fun little conspiracy theory of sorts, but Davis would have probably been working at Disney around the same time Davis was working up his story? Hmmmm (Not a hack at Don Bluth, whom I am a big fan, just curious if he was around when the pre-production for this was going on, and maybe remembered it years later.)

Super Villain said...

the early disney artists were PHENOMENAL!!!! each of those early disney classics are true works of art, alice in wonderland, peter pan, pinocchio, sword in the stone, cinderella, snow white. no computers, all hand drawn, hand painted backgrounds and cells.

something secret and so powerful about that kind of hand created magic, so beautiful! computers and 3d really have not been able to recreate that kind of tactile intensity you feel when seeing those images. something very raw and wonderful about something being hand made.

Janet Oliver said...

These are wonderful! I've been drawing chickens lately, too, and for similar reasons.

Phillip Burnett said...

Yeah. I wasn't sure since it says Don Bluth was the assistant director for The Sword in the Stone. I'm sure he must have seen something. But I have recently started looking at so much drawings from legends who worked at Disney. And Marc Davis is definitely on my list.

Laura said...

Yay chickens!!! This are incredible! XD

jsmitty89 said...

chantecleer is a character from disney.... in a movie called rock-a-doodle

Gina Florio Sous said...

Yourself and Andreas Deja are the writers of my top two favorite art blogs. It's fun to see a little crossover! Mr. Deja always has fascinating posts with beautiful art from the Disney archives - even the rough sketches are great. And he always has interesting insights from his own time at Disney. He has a real love for the craft of animation.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Gina. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Deja last year at the CTN convention, and I really enjoyed watching him draw.

Janet, I love your chicken drawings!

Super V: You said it. As much as I love some of the more recent animated films, there's nothing like the handmade feel of Pinocchio or Fantasia. The amount of labor and care in those films is incredible.

I'm glad you guys brought up Rock-a-Doodle--that's another fascinating connection.

K_tigress said...

Now this would have probably been a wonderful movie, unlike Rock-a-Doodle which to me was not.

Coincidentally I have a rooster character that was originally created a number of years ago based on a spoof title page for a sketch book which I called my doodle book back then. Then I took the pun based on my doodle book and named the rooster Mr Doodle. I don't have my rooster character showing any more on my web site since of course that was a number of years ago but I do plan on writing and illustrating a children's book based on this character. I already wrote a prequel but it still isn't right for for the first story about a rooster with an obsession. The story has to be just right for its intended audience.

Daroo said...

I'm a huge Marc Davis fan, both for his work as one of "the 9 old men" and as one of the first "Imagineers". There is a book detailing his work on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride filled with Davis' great pirate drawings and concept designs (unfortunately they are printed on the small side.)

I think I remember from Canemaker's "Paper Dreams" that there was some sort of creative power struggle going on at Disney's at that point, between a lot of the star animators on one side and storyman extraordinaire, Bill Peet, on the other. According to Peet's point of view, they made a bunch of pretty drawings but failed to solve the story problems to structure a compelling story.

Its a good lesson for the artist-storyteller to not get blinded by good drawings and lose the story thread. Few people can outdraw the uber trio of Davis, Kahl and Anderson.

I got to meet Marc Davis back in the 90s and also his wife, Alice, who BTW, designed/fabricated the costumes for the animatronic cast of the pirate ride.