Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Chris Sanders Sketches: Beauty and the Beast

New Croods news is slowing to a crawl. Until the DVD is released, it's probably going to stay that way. Unwilling to give up this blog and get on with my life, I've devised a number of slightly off-topic posts intended to keeping things popping. This is the first.

Back in the late 80s/early 90s, Chris Sanders worked as a story artist on Beauty and the Beast. For those of you unfamiliar with the term 'story artist,' here's a job description nicked from a recent Disney recruiting ad:

Story Artist Job Responsibilities:

Translate story ideas into visual sequences based on notes and meetings with the Director and other members of the story team

Work closely with Director, Head of Story, Art Director and other members of the production team to develop the cinematography and staging; choosing initial camera placement and angles; defining action and camera movement

Convey the essence of story line, scene structure, character emotion and create action and humor in alignment with the overall direction of the film

Solve story and structure problems -- punch up scenes

In short, they do a bit of everything. While this rigorous regimen no doubt wrecked havoc on the young Sanders' psyche, it proved a windfall for his fans. After all, we wouldn't have nearly this much art to ogle if he'd been assigned to a less demanding department.

So here it is, every bit of Chris Sanders' Beauty and the Beast art that I've been able to scrounge up. If you know of any more, please leave me a link in the comments section. I simply cannot get enough.

Sanders' early concept sketches of the Beast show a pre-Croods affinity for critter-combos. They're also a little reminiscent of Captain Gantu from Sanders' Lilo & Stitch.

From the 1995 edition of Christopher Finch's The Art of Walt Disney:

The Beast is a formidable creation, but a worthy match for him. [...] Dark and faintly exotic-looking (story artist Chris Sanders contributed much to her final appearance), she is addicted to books but...we understand that she is also has a solid, practical streak.

Yes, you read that right. CHRIS SANDERS HELPED DESIGN BELLE! How had I never heard this before?!

Before Chris Sanders drew this sketch, Cogsworth was going to be a tall, rococo grandfather clock that rarely interacted with the other servants. After this sketch, Cogsworth was magically transformed into one of the film's lead characters.

Waitaminute -- doesn't that make Chris Sanders a...a WITCH?!

Here's a sketch of the finalized Cogsworth, along with Lumière and Mrs. Potts.

I wanted you to enjoy that extended storyboard sequence uninterrupted. But now that we've reached the end of it, PREPARE FOR ASIDES.

First off, here's some storyboarding advice Chris Sanders shared via his website:

If you are inclined to be a board artist there are some things to make note of. I learned a few things from Disney board artist Burny Mattinson that help the legibility of these panels. Burny taught me to fade background lines away when they collide with a character -- this helps the character read against the background, boosting the clarity and keeping the image from being too busy. When the character is actually in contact with something, [...] then its okay to have all the lines connect. The other trick Burny would use is shading places and elements you need to pay attention to. [...] Your eye will always travel to the point of highest contrast. 

Regarding the scene shown above, allow me to quote from Charles Solomon's Tale As Old As Time: The Art and Making Of Beauty and the Beast:

Chris winces when he describes working on the "escape from the castle" sequence. Terrified by the Beast's wrath when she has violated the privacy of his lair in the West Wing, Belle decides to break her promise and flee. Chris was intrigued by the situation and imaginied a long, perilous journey: "How will she escape from a building where the very walls have ears?

"She opened up her wardrobe and got her stuff. She stepped over the little stool that was actually the dog, and she went down the hall: it was at least two or three stories long -- really big," he recalls. "When Burny Mattinson stopped by my office, I pitched him the whole sequence, and I was so excited. Burny went to the first board, pointed at maybe the fifth drawing, and said, 'I think you could cut from' His finger traced every line of the first board, then the second board, and stopped about two drawings from the end of the third board. And he said, ' here.' And that's exactly what we did. Belle says, 'Promise or no promise, I'm leaving.' She throws on her shawl, you cut to the outside of the castle, and she's riding away. Because nobody wants to see her make her way through all these hallways, stepping over sleeping furniture. He was right. And that's what hurt."

Do you remember this frightening scene from Beauty and the Beast? It's nighttime and a blizzard is raging in the forest. While fleeing a vicious pack of wolves, Belle's horse falls through the ice, tossing her to the ground. As she struggles to stand, the wolves surround her. Their snarls grow louder. Their lips curl, dripping saliva, revealing their long, sharp teeth. Belle tries her best to fend them off, but it's obvious that she's outnumbered. Suddenly, out of the shadows appears the Beast! He leaps in front of Belle, growling ferociously and slashing his claws at the wolves! Belle is saved!

You see what just happened there? What took me almost ONE HUNDRED WORDS to describe, Chris Sanders got across in THREE STORYBOARDS. Not only that, Sanders' storyboards are far more emotionally expressive and packed with detail that my screenplay-inspired summation. It all goes back to that old cliche: A picture is worth a thousand words. Or, to put it another way: One word = one word. (Bad news for us bloggers!)

I'd always assumed that Stitch introducing his 'broken' family to the Grand Councilwoman was the first time that Chris Sanders reduced me to a blubbering mess of snot and tears. Turns out, he actually achieved that way back in 1991 with the death scene in Beauty and the Beast. Sanders describes storyboarding this beautiful moment in Tale As Old As Time: The Art and Making of Beauty and the Beast:

"Of all the memories I have of the Disney Studio, working on Beast's death and resurrection is one of the most vivid. If you can be aware that you're doing something important, that would be one of the few times I was. [...] Linda [Woolverton] had written the scene, and I had gone through it putting lines through all the extraneous things. I brought it down to the moment where Beast says, 'You came back' and touches her face. It struck me that the whole movie was in that moment."

I'd say he nailed it. How about you?

To purchase Beauty and the Beast, CLICK HERE.


  1. Marvelous post. Please feel free to continue in the same vein. I'm really enjoying this entire site. I've now seen The Croods theatrically twice - first in 2D, then in 3D which was even better. I'm a big fan of Chris Sanders' work, so this post was a real treat. Thanks!

    BTW, I'm sure contributors can come up with additional Croods-related topics prior to the home video release (which cannot come soon enough for me, anyway).

    1. Thanks for the kind words! I agree with your thoughts about the 3D version of The Croods. While I'm not normally a big booster of 3D, it really did add an extra bit of magic to the picture. In particular, the scene where Eep is grasping at the small, floating embers. Not only was it beautiful to find oneself surrounded by them in the theater, it was also very touching to see the little kids in the audience reaching out to try and grasp them, too.