The first thing to do when beginning any animated scene is to thumbnail. Thumbnailing is to do little drawings exploring the posing and acting of a character in a scene. Here are some from early in my career.

In the movie Beauty and the Beast one of the sequences I animated was Beast in front of the fireplace having been wounded by the wolves. Belle is trying to clean his wounds and they get into a fight. I spent three weeks figuring out the sequence before doing any animation. I did piles and piles of thumbnails working closely with Glen Keane.

Continue reading The first thing to do when beginning any animated scene is to thumbnail. Thumbnailing is to do little drawings exploring the posing and acting of a character in a scene. Here are some from early in my career.

Old Animation Design Drawings

In packing my home, I’ve come across some old animation design drawings I’ve done over the years. These particular drawings are from Aladdin, The Lion King, Mulan, and Brother Bear

These are a few life drawings I did of tigers in preparation for creating Rajah from Aladdin

The next few were from early in the design process

Here is where I finally hit the design that ended up in the film.

These are few life drawings I did from lions that were brought into the studio at the beginning of production on The Lion King

These next few sets of drawings I did were from the design process of creating Young Nala

These drawings are from creating the Ancestral Ghosts from Mulan

These were little pen and marker thumb-nails I created in trying to find different compositions for a mountain climbing scene in Brother Bear.

The Legend of Tembo – Here are some concept paintings and character designs I created during the Development of The Legend of Tembo

These images are from a film I was co-directing called “The Legend of Tembo”. I am always deeply involved in the design of the films I am directing. I try to create the images that I am trying to explain to people on the crew. I feel it is much better to show than to explain. It gives a clearer picture to the Art Director, modelers, lighters, and animators. This cuts down tremendously on the number of iterations needed to achieve whatever it is we are shooting for this in turn eases the impact on the budget of the film.

Legend of Tembo Pencil Test

Here is a pencil test I did early in the development of “The Legend of Tembo”. I wanted the riggers and animators to see what I had in my head as far as movement and personality for young Tembo:


Here are a few old Mulan designs I found…

Here are a few drawings from when I was doing some design work at that beginning of Mulan. I ultimately was the supervising animator for Yao and the Ancestors but I helped on a number of different things in the beginning. These were a lot of fun. I especially enjoyed the charcoal. This is not even a fraction of the hundreds of drawings I did.

Here is a new oil painting I just completed as a commission for a private client. I’ve included a step by step process. .

It starts with me doing a digital comp in photoshop. I can easily work out all of my compositional problems at this stage.

I then print out my image and grid it so that transfer to the large canvas is quicker and easier. I grid the canvas the same way and begin to transfer the drawing.

Ugh!! A blank canvas…such a long road ahead!

Beginning to draw in charcoal pencil. I use charcoal pencil so that I am able to produce details in the drawing. I like to get as much information in the drawing as possible before I start to paint. Notice the grid on the canvas.

Continuing on the drawing…

The finished rough sketch on the canvas. Although I want a fair amount of detail in the drawing, I’m not trying to make it look pretty at this point.

This next step is very important to me. After sealing the drawing with Final Fixative, I then tone the canvas with an underpainting. I like to rough in the basic color of what the objects in the painting will ultimately be. I do this for two reasons: 1. If for some reason I neglect to cover a small portion of canvas, I won’t have glaring white showing through, but most importantly, 2. It knocks the white of the canvas down into the midtone range. When painting on a midtone you can more easily judge the lights and darks that you’re applying.

Now it’s time to start painting. Here I’ve started with the face of the male lion.

I continue into the mane. Notice that I apply my darks first then work lighter.

As the head of the lion began to develop, I felt it was time to start laying in the background to get the lion to sit in it’s environment.

I then jump back to the lion and continue with the mane and roughing in his body.

Here I’ve gone back to the background to lay in more savannah. Also, notice that I’m starting to build up color and texture, particularly in the body of the male lion. When I rough in an area, I like to let it set for a day or two and dry. I then can start to scumble other colors over the roughed in area. I particularly like to play with color temperature at this stage. This builds volume, texture, color and just generally makes the area more interesting to look at.

After adding more texture and interest to the background, it’s time to start work on the lioness.

I continue working on the lioness, but I’m also starting to jump around the painting at this point. Colors going into the lioness will get scumbled into the male’s body and vise versa. I’m also continuing with the mane.
Here I’ve finished with the lioness and have gone onto the finishing touches in the foreground and background grasses.

Here I am putting some of the finishing touches on the grasses. I particularly like this shot because it shows off the texture of the painting itself. I like paintings to have brush and paint texture. I actually like to run my hands over the painting after it’s dry.

Here I’ve posed with the painting thinking I was done. The next day though after looking at it, I decided to add a few more darks in the tall sprigs of dried grass.

“Protecting the Queen” 36″X48″ Oil on Canvas

I painted this Great Blue Heron after waking this morning and watching him from my bedroom balcony. It’s painted in CS6 and I’ve included the steps taken in producing it.

I start with a warm midtone back ground.

I then add a level and set it to multiply and add various textures. This will come in handy when I paint the algae covered rocks.

Here I’ve created another level and have roughed in the drawing. It’s important to have good reference!

Here I’ve created yet another level and set it to multiply to retain the texture underneath and roughed in the local color.

Here I’ve created a level under the drawing layer and layed in the basic water color and value.

This was a slight adjustment, but I didn’t like the angle of the head so I brought it down a little and fixed the beak. I also lightened the body of the heron a bit.

Now it’s time to start roughing in color. It’s also the stage where I start to pull out some of the detail.

I continue this on the rocks. I also roughly lay in the color for the dead grasses.

Here I’ve created another layer for laying in final details. I go back and forth between my rough color layer and my final detail layer constantly.

At this point I felt it was time to lay in the water. Water is a tricky, subtle thing. It takes lots of observation to understand how the reflections, and lighting of water works. It can get away from you very easily.

Here I went back to my final detail layer and continued on with the heron and the rocks.

Here I finished things off by working out the grasses. I also darkened the bottom of the piece to balance it out a little better.
I intended the piece to look as if the heron was fishing but I felt it still lacked a little of the “story” aspect to it, so I added the ripples of a fish just having hit the surface.

Here is a new Photoshop creation and the steps taken to create it.

I start with my rough sketch on it’s own level on a mid tone background.

I then lighten the rough sketch, then create a new layer and refine the drawing.

Next I create a layer under the drawing layers and lay in my local color. Local color is the color of an object in neutral lighting.

I then create a new layer on top of the local color layer but under the drawing layers. I set it to multiply, pick a cool, blue gray and begin to lay in my shadows. I imagined the light to be straight up out of frame. It’s important to really think about the form at this stage.

I now add a layer on top and start to lay in my light areas. I generally grab the local color with the eyedropper then lighten and warm the color for the lights.

Here I create a new layer under the light layer but above the drawing layer. I set it to multiply and begin to lay in the deep darks. I’m constantly going back and forth between light and dark to let the image develop evenly. I’ve also added a layer of reflected light. It can be seen under the nose and some of the branches.

I often like to add a secondary light source. It adds interest and helps describe the form more.

Here I’ve continued with my deeper darks and I’ve started to lay in some mottling in the skin around the eye.

This stage is fun. I take many digital photos of my face and rough wood. I then grab sections of those photos and lay them over the painting. I drop the opacity and increase the contrast so that the painting will show through but still have the texture above it. Here you can see I’ve layed in the facial and wood textures. It’s subtle but goes a long way. I also go back in above the texture layer and define the highlights even further.

Here I’ve decided a wanted a very realistic eye. I took a picture of my own eye then lassoed it and dragged it over and added it to the illustration.

At this point I felt it was time to add a background. I grabbed a section of a photo I had in my collection of a flower garden and dragged it over and blurred it. I then added a subtle layer of light rays.

Here I’ve added a layer of particulate in the air and started to play with the focus. I’ve also added a layer of out of focus foliage in the foreground.

Next I combine all of my layers. Be sure to do this as a copy so that you can retain your original layers. Then on my combined layer I start to color dodge some of the highlight areas to give it a hotter feel.

The finishing touch is adding a layer of grunge texture set to multiply. I like the feel that it gives the illustration.

A new character design done today in Photoshop.

A new character design done today in Photoshop.

I’ll be teaching my techniques for doing character pieces such as this for film at the Photoshop World Conference in Orlando, Florida, April 17-19.


The King of the Elves -Elves/Hidden Creature designs.

These are a series of characters I designed for a film I was developing a few years ago. Creating fantasy creatures like these is a joy for me. When I was young growing up in the Everglades of south Florida I spent a large amount of time out in the swamps and forests drawing and painting. I often imagined that there were creatures there that I couldn’t see. I’d like to add that these were all done well before Avatar.

I love painting gulls. Here is a new step by step of a pair of Laughing Gulls I digitally painted last night.

So, once again I like to start with a textured, toned background. This is several watercolor textures I have in my files layered and set on multiply over a warm tone.

Next,I played with the textures a bit more and roughed in the gulls.

I wanted to play with warms and cools in this piece so I next layed in a blue gradient tone. I also added shadow tones in the foreground for composition. The gulls also got shifted up a bit.

After looking at the composition in reverse, I decided to once again move the gulls over slightly. This is also where I create a new layer under the drawing layer, set it to multiply, and rough in the tones on the gulls.

Because of the feather detail, I decided I wanted to tie the drawing down, so I turned the texture levels off so that I could see the drawing layers better and begin to tie down the drawing.

Tied down drawing with layers turned back on.

Once again I wasn’t quite happy with the gulls compositionally, so I enlarged them a bit. This I felt was more pleasing.

Now I’m ready to start rendering my values further. This is where I also start paying particular attention to color temperature. Especially between shadow areas and light areas.

Notice that the feathers in shadow tend to reflect back the color of the sky where they face up and the warmth of the ground where they face down. Getting these color temperature changes right will really get your subject to sit in it’s environment not to mention increase the sense of actual light. At this point I’ve also roughed in the light and shadow shapes of the back and wings.

Here I’ve rendered the feathers of the back.

Time to get to gull number two.

Here I just use my eye dropper to grab the same colors of the first gull and I begin to render the second gull.

Once the second.gull was rendered out I felt the background needed to darken. I wanted to get the gulls to pop better and have a better sense of light.

At this point it’s a matter of laying in the ground texture and shadows. Here I kept things loose and really just played with texture, value and color. I really pushed the blues in the shadows to play against the strong oranges, browns and reds of the seaweed.

As a final touch I compressed all the levels and color dodged the warm areas around the gulls on the ground to warm, and brighten it up. It gives a much better sense of light.

One of my digital animal paintings, step by step

I first like to start with a textured, toned background.

I then rough in the layout. This is where I resize and move things around to get the composition right.

I then lighten that level, and create a new level to start the more refined rendering.

Once the drawing is done I roughly start laying in local color. I set this level on multiply so that I can retain the texture underneath.

At this point I create a new layer and begin to find my darks and lights. I also pay particular attention to color temperature at this point. In a dominantly warm or cool piece hitting just the right amount of opposite temperature can really make a piece sing.

At this point I’m going in between light, dark, warm and cool. Cool doesn’t necessarily mean colors in the blue, violet and green range. I’m really playing with varying temperatures of the earthy ocher colors of the lion’s coat.

At this point I start to add the details of the background. This is where the texture that I started with really comes in handy. I really let it do a lot of the work. It surprising how little detail you really have to create in order to convince the viewer they are looking at a field of grass.

I continue adding the details to the background. I make sure to pay attention to color temperature just as in the lion. Also adding small indications of detail such as the little white flowers or the dried orange leaves really get the whole thing to sing. It’s important not to overdo this. A little will get you a lot.

Photoshop CS6 Sketch – Aaron Blaise

So I just upgraded to CS6 and was playing with the new pencil brushes. They are VERY cool! Very natural looking. You can even wear the edges down!! So cool.

Here’s a new step by step approach to one of my Photoshop paintings.

Start with a toned textured background. I always start in a mid tone so that I have room to judge both my lights and darks. When starting with a white canvas I find it difficult to properly judge my lights because they are always darker than the surrounding canvas so they don’t look light enough and my darks look too dark against the white so then I don’t go dark enough. Also, the texture will come in very handy when creating the Baobob Tree.

I add a layer and roughly lay in my composition. I tend to use the thirds rule when finding my focal point. If you break up your composition into thirds both vertically and horizontally you will end up with four points on your composition where the lines intersect. These tend to be visually comfortable areas to place your focal point. The monkey in this case is basically in the upper left point of intersection. This is not a hard fast rule. I use a lot of other methods for  finding the focal point, the best being just what feels right, but it’s a good rule to remember.

This is where I make a lot of compositional changes. In this case I wasn’t happy with the monkey’s pose so I decided to change it. I’m looking for a meditative feel to the piece. The monkey is so small compared to the gigantic Baobob tree. It was very primal when I first saw it in person. I want a pose that reflects that feeling.

Still not happy with the pose, I changed it again. This time I like it and I roughly lay in some lights on the monkey to get a better sense of how it will sit in the composition.

Now I just start laying in color. The bark of the Baobob is somewhat shiny and therefore reflective of a lot of the surrounding color. I pay particular attention to changing temperature.

Here I start to refine not just color but also pushing the range of the values. I try to keep a dominant value range which in this case is a slightly dark mid tone, I then find areas to sweeten by finding just the right amount of lighter values. In this case the monkey starts to pull the eye already because it contains the broadest value range in a such a concentrated area.

I now feel like I want to push the canvas textures a bit more and make them work for me. I multiply the textured layer I started with and bring it up to the top of the layer order. Only the monkey, which is on it’s own layer, is on top. I then set the texture layer to multiply so that it will pick up everything underneath.

Now with the color working for me and the value structure basically in place I set about pushing my value range. It’s important to be disciplined at this stage. Broadening the value range too much over all will flatten the composition and confuse the viewer as to where the point of interest truly is.
Here I continue with the value structure and the tree texture. I go back to the monkey periodically but I really try to work the whole composition at the same time. Creating the texture and reflected light on the right side of the tree was particularly fun.

At this point I originally felt that the painting was finished. I woke the next day though, not happy with it. I felt I had lost my focal point a bit and the value range was a little all over the place. So…

I added a layer on top and set it to multiply. I then grabbed a cool blue grey and set about creating shadows and dappled sunlight. I put the monkey in the sun as if he were welcoming the morning. I also set my brush to color dodge and burned in the monkey a bit to give it a feel of warm sunlight. Also, I hit one of the dead leaves to give a little balance.

Torch Tiger

A few years back at Disney we created a book called Torch Tiger. It was a collection of works by Disney artists and the content had to be each individuals interpretation of the title. My wife Karen had passed away the year before after a long battle with breast cancer and I wanted to do something for her. This is what I produced.

Some ink drawings I did a few years ago.

This was a pen drawing done during one of our story meetings.
This was one of two brothers I observed in Samburu National  Park, Kenya in 1998
I observed this lion out on the Masai Mara, Kenya in 1998

This was another pen drawing done during one of our story meetings.

Here is some recent personal work.

Drawing and painting the animal world has been an obsession of mine since I was a child. I’ve been blessed with the experiences of having traveled the world photographing and painting the natural world. Everything I paint or draw, I’ve seen in their natural environment.

Here is a random sea creature/mermaid I created

Here I wanted to create what I thought a real mermaid might look like. I wanted it to be something that you might actually see out in the ocean. I had recently designed elves with the same notion and so I wanted to give it a shot for creatures under the sea.

This was a little elf design I did years ago.

Please look to my King of the Elves post to see many more designs from this project

 So when we were designing our elves, we wanted them to feel as if they could actually be out in the forest. If they had been there for thousands of years without having been seen, how did they do it? We looked at animals that use camouflage and mimicry to conceal themselves. Eventually the elves began to take on a unique feel. They began to grow leaves right out of their bodies! We thought that there are so many insects, lizards and birds that match the foliage that they live in then why not the elves?