© 2004 Ron Barbagallo
The poster for the Disney short Lorenzo.
Comedy and color take center stage in Disney’s new short film Lorenzo.
Directed by Mike Gabriel, who also served as the film’s production designer, Lorenzo tells the story of a fat cat whose haughty manners become the cause of his own
undoing. This animated short was based upon pencil sketches and a
story idea created by Disney veteran Joe Grant 60 years ago. Shepherded
by executive producers Roy E. Disney and Don Hahn, Lorenzo was given to Mike Gabriel who embellished Grant’s idea with his own paintings and storytelling to create a cinematic tango of
brisk color, music and timing.
The look and feel of Lorenzo, is very different for a current day Disney film. Some of that is owed to Don
Hahn, who first suggested that Gabriel consider using tango music
as inspiration when conceptualizing the picture. Letting the accentuating
rhythms of the tango be his muse, Gabriel went on to create conceptual
paintings and produced hundreds of story sketches. He also designed
the characters and painted production backgrounds -- ultimately tailoring
every aspect of the film’s visual identity.
A series of five story sketches by Mike Gabriel from Scene 33 of Lorenzo.
As the concept phase of the film neared completion, Gabriel’s art, like the tango that inspired it, ended up having a transplanted European
flair. This was communicated in his design choices and in the spontaneity
of his paintings. Despite the fact that conceptual art at Disney
is never anything more than a springboard for later design choices,
the qualities in found Gabriel’s paintings were what the filmmakers most wanted to keep.
Producer Baker Bloodworth explains, “As Mike explored the look of the film, he painted tempera paints on black construction
paper. He kept saying ‘I want the movie to look like this.’ Usually our visual development art is not what the finished film looks like,
but we were so excited by Mike’s style that we wondered if it was possible to find a way to translate that to
The task of getting computer software to emulate the organic feel of quickly
brushed paint as it seeps into black paper fell upon to a team of
craftspeople - including Dan Teece, the team’s software expert, who came up with a new CG application called Sable.
Three conceptual character poses for Scene 33 - 3, 4 and 7 as painted by Mike
Gabriel in preparation
Media: tempera on black construction paper. Size: 13 1/2 inches by 18 inches.
A still production frame from Lorenzo where the computer program called Sable combined brushstrokes
created by Gabriel with key animation drawings to duplicate the look of his
original tempera paintings.
Dan Teece elaborated upon
the process, “With the characters in Lorenzo, there is a dry brush feeling, as if each drawing was hand painted. Mike wanted
the viewers to feel like they were watching a painting move; as if
the characters were painted frame by frame.”
To this end, Gabriel painted a series of brushstrokes in about 18 different styles
that were then scanned into the computer. Once this was done, the
digital team put curves -- 3D placeholders or indicators -- on all
the key drawings. When combined through Sable, this led to a more articulate way to simulate the manner paint brushes onto
paper. As digital effects supervisor John Murrah explains: “The only other alternative would have been to paint every frame individually,
which would have given the film a very distracting and chattery look.
This is a great example of adapting technology for a particular artistic
Not only was Sable used to keep the spirit of Mike Gabriel’s paintings alive in the moving characters, but, as Murrah concluded, “His actual background paintings are in the film. He would paint the backgrounds
and we’d either put them on cards or composite them in directly. You could go into his
office and look at all the background paintings on the walls, and
then go into the theater and see a lot of the exact material up on
the screen, but with moving animation in front rendered to look like
Production still of Molly from Lorenzo.
Once pre-production was completed, many of the artists and technical teams at
Disney Paris, who worked on the Salvador Dali inspired, Oscar® nominated short Destino, helped to bring a genuine European sensitivity to Lorenzo’s final animation. When the time came time to score the film, the creators went
back to the music that inspired Gabriel when he was creating the
look of the film and commissioned Juan Jose Mosalini and his Big
Tango Orchestra to record a brand new version of Bordoneo y 900.
Executive Producer Roy E. Disney recently said of Lorenzo, “Animated shorts are a wonderful medium for exploring stories, styles and creative
visions that might not work in a feature format. It provides the
filmmakers and animators with opportunities to be bold and experiment.
And it allows us to try different approaches to our storytelling.”
As a completed work, Lorenzo, with its dancing hues of bright wet paint, never appears to the audience as
a conventional CGI or 2D film. Instead Lorenzo feels like a back alley soiree painted right before your eyes. The short has
its nationwide theatrical release on May 28, 2004, playing in front
of Raising Helen, starring Kate Hudson and directed by Garry Marshall. Lorenzo will make his European premiere at Annecy on June 7, 2004.
A CLOSER LOOK -
Mike Gabriel on the Creative Process for LORENZO
© 2005 Ron Barbagallo
Chords from a piano gingerly roll past a streetlight as a silent flash of lightning
momentarily robs the landscape of color. This gesture not only marks
the beginning of the Academy Award® nominated Disney short Lorenzo, but as reds, purples and greens return to the screen, also announces the key
roles that color and timing will have throughout the film.
In many ways the visuals for Lorenzo seem effortless. Comedy. Music. Timing. Color. Character animation. Lorenzo has it all. To have these moving paintings appear on the screen the film’s director Mike Gabriel started drafting the project with pencil and marker.
Later he used paint on paper to lend color and mood to the world
of the blue colored Lorenzo and his black cat nemesis Malo. The
hand drawn and hand painted images seen below are unedited and
in the sequence they were created. All the art comes from the hand
of Mike Gabriel and were used in the production of the film.
To accompany the art, Gabriel elaborates on the creative process behind the making Lorenzo -- from his storyboard direction on through creating the concept paintings for
In doing my research for Lorenzo, I learned that the classic setting for professional tango dancers was under
a single spotlight. With that in mind, I used city streetlights throughout Lorenzo to give the same effect.
Earlier in the film, with Malo’s introduction, I wanted to hint at his magical powers by having the streetlights
blow out as he walked under them, an idea I got from Chris Buck.
In Malo’s reappearance in the climax, we blew out the streetlight above Lorenzo to signal
All storyboards were drawn by Mike Gabriel.
Media: graphite pencil and marker on paper. Size: 5 1/2 inches by 8 1/2 inches.
© Walt Disney Company.
The knife idea is actually another classic melodramatic tango image, one of
the revengeful woman tango dancer dancing with her unfaithful lover. Often
she is depicted with a knife behind her back that she uses to kill him during
the dance's final steps.
I had a little trouble pushing the envelope visually at this point. The music
was really taking off, so I finally went a little nuts with Malo's
neck, elongating and twisting it, tightening the narrative by having
the knife come close and closer and closer, right at us.
Originally I was planning on just leaving this sequence's background black with
a single streetlight, but with a black character against a black
background I would have lost too much of Malo’s image by the time he came close to screen. I didn’t want a floating knife.
I never used music during Lorenzo as just beats to match the animated action. My attempt was to use the music
as a film composer does, by letting the music reflect internal emotions
not just physical syncopation. So when the music hits the strong
punch, I don’t match it with a zoom in. I match it to the emotional punch reaction of Lorenzo
and his tail to the sight of the knife in Malo’s teeth. I am matching emotion to the music -- not action to the beat, as if
it is being scored post animation.
BACKGROUND STRESS PAINTINGS
All background stress paintings were painted by Mike Gabriel.
Media: tempera on black construction paper.
Size: 13 1/2 inches by 18 inches.
© Walt Disney Company.
Here is Lorenzo's mental breakdown. It was up to me to try and express this
cat's breakdown. The best way to do that was to feel it first inside myself.
In order to try to get that feeling into the backgrounds I first mixed up a huge
pot of the fiery red I could mix, closed the door to my office,
and got out a big fat paintbrush.
I mentally wanted to feel Lorenzo's intensity so I just stared at that Lorenzo
expression until I felt I could feel exactly that intense mind
set. Then I started firing away on the black paper. Anything, it
didn't matter what it looked like. I wanted it to feel like anxiety,
like insanity. I threw the paint around the room splattering my
kids photos on the wall. Who cares, this was go for broke time.
I ended up with about thirty or forty of these insane spatters
of madness. I whittled them down to the few that felt most insane.
I hoped that if I felt in my body and brain the same feeling Lorenzo is feeling,
somehow the emotion would be felt through the paintings. In other
words I painted the backgrounds as if I were animating the backgrounds.
Feel it first, then get that feeling onto the page. There is also
a subtle intensifying of the red hue as the scene and his insanity
CHARACTER POSE PAINTINGS
When the street light blows out, I decided to go into a silhouette of Lorenzo
for two reasons. First, to punch the contrast for higher drama, and secondly
to sneak his fur back to normal after all the preceding scene where Lorenzo
becomes scorched and mangled.
This sequence marks the return of Malo, and the return of the color red to
I started the film in reds to establish the danger and mood, and to inject
Malo's scenes with as much menace as possible -- but have laid off them from
the point in the film with green fountain on -- so that it would feel like
a return not only of Malo, but of the color red. The more you can get a full
circle feeling in your ending the better. This time the reds are hotter than
before too. I saved the hottest reds for the end.
As you can see from the storyboards, I originally didn't have any wild paintings
in mind behind the long neck dance. That came later on while making the
character pose paintings for the production.
I would always play the music for Lorenzo as I painted the backgrounds to let it influence my color and design choices.
The music really starts pumping here as Malo’s neck starts elongating so I started doing some wilder flings and splatters
with the paintbrush, to follow the music’s lead.
While I painted some variations of different colored backgrounds, I let our editor
Jessica Ambinder-Rojas play with the timings and cut to the beats
to juice up the visuals to match the level of intensity of the music.
I left her cuts exactly as she cut them together and in her order
of shots, too.
At the last minute we switched the second cut back to Malo. It used to be just
a repeat of the previous Malo scene cutting his tail action, but
closer and closer. Baker Bloodworth thought we should do something
new and make it more interesting. I came up with the "tick-tock, time is wasting" idea, and Baker added a nice touch with the idea to have Lorenzo's scared expression
seen in the flash of the knife's reflection.
The tail almost had a pair of eyes along with it’s mouth early on. Roy Disney asked us to try a pair of eyes on Lorenzo, and in
fact some of Joe Grant’s drawings had eyes on the tail as it came to life. I just felt it got a little
creepy and less appealing to have these eyes peering out of the fur.
I left them off and hoped the animation would prove the eyes weren’t necessary. Roy went with it without argument, and never mentioned it again.
These guys know how to produce.
My color concept was to get very vibrant, lively hues pumping, but keep the
hot reds out again to relieve the eye for the upcoming finale. I was a
little nervous that this color blinking effect going on behind Malo's head
coming forward with the knife was maybe getting a wee bit too "Aristocat-ty." The "Everybody Wants To Be A Cat" type affect. But the crew liked it so it stayed in. They were right as usual.
As Lorenzo contemplates a horrible proposition, the music gets intimate which
allows me to dip down all hue, except pale pink, to give the upcoming
reds as much punch as possible. I punched the value contrast between
the reds and blues during the knife fight sequence where Lorenzo
is fighting with his tail -- the darks and lights, and blasted the
reds full screen for the first time.
The run back to the cafe goes from insane warped world into normalcy by the
time he reaches the door and ducks back into the cafe. Most people probably
aren't aware that this is supposed to be the same cafe he started in.
Once Lorenzo is back in the cafe with the tail on the outside I wanted to flatten
out all the values and eliminate the hot reds, so when the door is
flung open you feel the sudden surge of contrast, really strong darks
and lights, and hot red hues.
Plus I wanted the knife and Lorenzo's eyes to be the only thing you are watching,
so I kept them lightest and brightest in the scene. Once the door
is flung open I wanted to be at peak screen visual intensity so I
pulled out the stops. Even the characters are drawn with sharp angles,
rather than their normal curves.
The animation that was originally done for this scene was not quite wild or frantic
enough so I asked the animator to really cut loose and go nuts with
it. I told him to have the cat run cycled in four frames on ones.
Full rotation of all four legs in four frames. I knew it could be
done because I had done it on The Great Mouse Detective with Felicia running from Toby at the end of the film. When I opened this new
pass at the scene up on my computer I flipped. It was exactly the
level of madness I was hoping for, and then some. Superb intuitive
animation. You can only get that kind of scene done straight ahead
All character pose paintings were painted by Mike Gabriel.
Media: tempera on black construction paper.
Size: 13 1/2 inches by 18 inches.
© Walt Disney Company.
I was always amazed the studio never once flinched at the depiction of Lorenzo
cutting his tail off. The ending was always going to involve the tail being cut off. But we never felt
we should leave the audience in that emotional state. We needed an
additional tag. The day before Don Hahn and I flew to London to record
the music with Juan Jose Mosalini and his big Tango Orchestra, we both
thought of the same idea. Have the band strike up a fast burlesque
type version of the music and have the characters actually come out
and take a bow to let everybody know no animals were harmed in the
making of this short. All just cartoon fun, folks. We tried other ideas
but this one where they take a bow seemed to set a nice upbeat tone,
but I wanted to let the audience know that the tail was cut off nonetheless.
All images are © Disney Enterprises Inc.
The author would like to thank Mike Gabriel, Baker Bloodworth, Howard Green,
Ray Morton and Dave Koch for their help.
This article and interview is owned by © Ron Barbagallo.
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ARTICLES ON AESTHETICS IN ANIMATION
BY RON BARBAGALLO:
The Art of Making Pixar's Ratatouille is revealed by way of an introductory article followed by interviews with production
designer Harley Jessup, director of photography/lighting Sharon Calahan
and the film's writer/director Brad Bird.
Design with a Purpose, an interview with Ralph Eggleston uses production art from Wall-E to illustrate the production design of Pixar's cautionary tale of a robot on
a futuristic Earth.
Shedding Light on the Little Matchgirl traces the path director Roger Allers and the Disney Studio took in adapting
the Hans Christian Andersen story to animation.
The Destiny of Dali's Destino, in 1946, Walt Disney invited Salvador Dali to create an animated short based
upon his surrealist art. This writing illustrates how this short
got started and tells the story of the film's aesthetic.
A Blade Of Grass is a tour through the aesthetics of 2D background painting at the Disney Studio
from 1928 through 1942.
Lorenzo, director / production designer Mike Gabriel created a visual tour de force in
this Academy Award® nominated Disney short. This article chronicles how the short was made and includes
an interview with Mike Gabriel.
Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, an interview with Graham G. Maiden's narrates the process involved with taking
Tim Burton's concept art and translating Tim's sketches and paintings
into fully articulated stop motion puppets.
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, in an interview exclusive to this web site, Nick Park speaks about his influences,
on how he uses drawing to tell a story and tells us what it was like
to bring Wallace and Gromit to the big screen.
For a complete list of PUBLISHED WORK AND WRITINGS by Ron Barbagallo,
click on the link above and scroll down.