THE BACKGROUND ART OF DISNEY'S KIM POSSIBLE
© 2002 Ron Barbagallo
THE BACKGROUND ART OF
Disney’s Kim Possible is an animated TV show about a teenage high school girl who saves the world.
It is also the first show of original material from creators and
executive producers, Mark McCorkle and Bob Schooley, who wanted
the look of their show to have a style as daring as the show's
premise. The task of devising that style fell to art director Alan
Bodner and executive producer/ director Chris Bailey, who along
with a team of talented background artists, used futuristic designs
from the past to help transform Kim’s comic book world into a visual adventure.
When Bailey first read the script for Kim Possible, he was struck by the humor found within the material. Even though Kim sometimes
finds herself in situations that are grim and real, there was always
an element of comedy. His first impulse was to visually complement
that, which meant the characters and the backgrounds would have
an element of humor within their design.
To that end, Bailey and Bodner looked to “futuristic” designs created during the 50’s and 60's. Free flowing lines, kidney-bean shapes and caricatured details became
the springboard for some of the most striking, stand-alone background
designs TV animation has seen in some time.
When asked how they arrived at this retro-modernist look, Bodner and Bailey had
this to say:
We really started looking at some of the marionette shows, like [Gerry Anderson's
Supermarionation TV show] Thunderbirds...
What was great about those shows was that they were trying to be modern. All
the accouterments, buildings, and machines were the 50's and 60's versions
of the future. They had an element of caricature to them, in that they
were probably one third larger than they'd be in real life. If a character
picked up a cup, or sat on a chair, it would be thicker and chunkier.
Exterior daytime (above) and interior night time (below) background painting
of Kim Possible's 50's styled family homestead. Color values are
used to establish a point of view and determine depth. Texture is
added, not to give a representational appearance, but to suggest
the feeling of an object.
We also looked at furniture books and the Disneyland attraction posters from
the 50’s, which were patterned after the European travel posters of the last century.
We liked them for two reasons: they separated the foreground and the middle
ground very simply with a strong, almost abstract sense of shape and design.
It has a real silhouetted look, using shapes to create contrast, a real
distancing between foreground, middle ground and background. We wanted
to utilize that in our show and marry those characteristics to our backgrounds.
It’s one of the things that was so critical to the show’s design. We wanted three degrees of value: a relative black, white and gray
to each character and to each background setup. When Kim Possible has her black
action gear on, there are no white lines to define the outside of her body.
When her arms cross in front of her body or she walks in front of a black background
she just disappears -- but because she has such a clean, simple design, the
little flashes of flesh that you see on her arms or on her face or the little
bit on her middrift, allow your brain to fill in where her body is.
Foreground tree elements, like the clouds, have been rendered as simplified eccentric
graphic shapes are used to create an exotic feel to this night time
exterior background painting.
This even played out when we were trying to do the design for the layouts.
There was not as much a great interest in details. You could loose them
in many areas. You don't need to see every facet of the furniture or every
piece. As long as there was a real sense of perspective and there was a
solidity to the objects and the environment, the designs were fine. It
gets very abstract at times and it still works wonderfully.
Swirling kidney bean-shaped curves within the clouds and snow frame this exterior
Another thing that was critical to the show's design was, while the shapes
tended to be very flat in nature, the one thing Alan and I wanted to do
was to get a three dimensional sense of depth into the backgrounds. At
the same time, we wanted to bring that kind of graphic sensibilities to Kim. I wanted 3D characters
whose feet can be planted on the ground and communicate a sense of space.
That’s where Alan came in, making an amalgam out of those two sensibilities.
When we started to see how the background designs were looking on film, it
was beautiful. We found we could really push the color around even further
as we went along. Whether it was in the North Pole, or Thailand or Cambodia,
we wanted to get a very strong contrast. You could expect the color of the
sky to go anywhere from green to chartreuse to pink. It was beautiful and the
I think as we went on Alan stopped using blue skies, even in normal locations.
If you were to look at the shows chronologically you would definitely see
a progression as the shows got more abstract and simpler in design.
The use of three color values help establish a sense of depth within these interior
The darkest value used is the one where shadows are placed to indicate depth.
The Jungle backgrounds paintings were a big breakthrough because their shapes
got very abstract. Alan would just float plants in the air. You wouldn’t even know what things were, if they were flowers or what. But they were just
these goofy fun shapes and it influenced the shows that came afterwards.
There is something else you might have noticed within the backgrounds. There
are two textures painted into each shot: a little sponge texture
or splatter texture. Alan didn’t really tie down where textures were going to apply within the backgrounds to
the artists overseas. He described more a sensibility of how they
should work. Let’s pretend you are in a wide shot and there is no texture in the wall behind the
character. If you jump in close in the next shot, you want to add
that texture or an abstract shape behind the character to provide
a little more interest rather than being so literal.
Texture applied to the floor, ceiling beams and monkey statues suggest a corridor
made of stone.
Kim Possible, a Walt Disney Television Animation Production, premiered on Friday
night June 7, 2002 at 6:30pm. Episodes continue to air on the Disney
Kim Possible First Season credits for Location Design are:
Louis M. Police
Kim Possible First Season credits for Background Paint are:
W. Ashby Manson
All images are © Disney Enterprises Inc, Inc. ALL RIGHTS
The author would like to thank Gary Miereanu, Howard Green, Dave Smith, Ray Morton
and Dave Koch for their help..
This article and interview is owned by © Ron Barbagallo.
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BY RON BARBAGALLO:
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Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, in an interview exclusive to this web site, Nick Park speaks about his influences,
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For a complete list of PUBLISHED WORK AND WRITINGS by Ron Barbagallo,
click on the link above and scroll down.