Lady and The Tramp (1955) a film I adored as a 10-year boy,
As a boy in the 1950s, I was obsessed with the work of Walt Disney and would while away hours copying characters from his latest animated films. A great deal of their magic happens in the beautifully illustrated backgrounds to the action. And one of the most brilliant Disney staff artists responsible for these vistas was Eyvind Earle.
Earle at his studio easel.
Earle was originally born in New York, he moved with his family to Hollywood; at age ten, he started painting. He had his first solo show in France aged 14. He rapidly progressed, always improving his talent and later exhibiting in New York at the Charles Morgan Galleries in 1937, at which the Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased a work for its permanent exhibition. In the 1940s, he signed on with the American Artist Group and clocked up 800 Christmas card designs for them.
Then came the job that would put him on the map: he joined Walt Disney to assist on backgrounds. It was here that he was to excel, creating work for a range of popular Disney characters. He first worked on Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom – a short film that picked up an Academy Award in 1953. That pushed him up the Disney ladder, where he worked on Peter Pan, Working for Peanuts, Pigs Is Pigs, Paul Bunyan, and Lady and the Tramp. His later styling and background work on Sleeping Beauty was highly acclaimed.
Top: Earle plotting the storyboard for Sleeping Beauty (1959), followed by some backgrounds being painted by him. Lastly, some finished works complete with their cell overlays.
Earle was selected by Walt Disney to set the style for the long-in-production feature, Sleeping Beauty. However many of the animators actively disliked his art direction and openly protested, but Walt Disney supported Earle to the very end of the production.
After leaving Disney in the mid-1960s, Earle started his own studio, Eyvind Earle Productions, Inc. He produced animated and trailer for the feature film West Side Story, under the close eye of Saul Bass. He also designed a number of TV series trailers. In the mid-1960s. He eventually turned his back on animation to concentrate on painting alone in his studio. Out of this came a myriad of work: oils, watercolours, scraperboard, line illustration and sculpture represented by a number of large galleries across the states and he sold a lot of works through theses. But a lot of finished left after his death had never exhibited.
Above a selection of Earle's work. It is evocative of a combination of the work of Frank Newbold, Grant Wood and Japanese traditional paintings.
He left behind an astonishing body of work that has gained a big following from illustrators and animation artists over the years, inspiring a new generation of creatives.
In 1998, Earle was honoured at the 26th Annie Awards with the Winsor McCay Award for lifetime achievement in the art of animation. And in 2015, Earle was inducted as a Disney Legend. His daughter, Kristin Thompson, accepted the award on her father’s behalf.
Here is a scene from Sleeping Beauty