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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Reference and Visual Memory 1

Maurice Noble had a unique way of using reference. Rather than drawing directly from source material for a particular design, Maurice would pull inspiration from what he called his "Visual Memory." This "Visual Memory" was a store of visual images in his brain that he had built over time through travel, viewing art, and other experiences that would make an impression on him.  Later... sometimes years or decades later... he would redraw his impression of a place from memory for a design... using its strongest characteristics. 

Here are a few Maurice design examples, and their original inspiration:
"Claws For Alarm" and Mark Twain.

It is well known that Chuck Jones was a huge fan of American author Mark Twain. What is less known is that Mr. Twain found his way into a number of Chuck's cartoons. Here Maurice gives us a "poor man's" version of the grand hall from Twain's 19 room Connecticut mansion in "Claws For Alarm." (1954) 

"Deduce You Say" and the Tam O'Shanter.

Maurice often drew design inspiration from life experience. His assignment for "Deduce You Say" (1956) was designing old world London. But since he had never been to Europe, he referenced the second best thing... The Tam O'Shanter restaurant on Los Feliz Blvd. Pictured here is Walt Disney's favorite table.

Inspiration from "Lost Horizon." (1937)

Frank Capra's movie "Lost Horizon" was one of Maurice's favorites. From it he drew inspiration for bits of "How The Grinch Stole Christmas," "What's Opera, Doc?" and many other films. This is a great example of Maurice's use of visual memory. He couldn't look at still frames of the movie, but he had seen "Lost Horizon" enough times that certain scenes made a distinct impression on him. Finding their way into his work.

Supplement to pg. 77 of The Noble Approach: Maurice Noble and the Zen of Animation Design.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Rockwell Kent and the Denison Museum Collection

Above: Khari Saffo ’15 with “The Noble Approach” and Rockwell Kent’s “Twilight of Man.”

The folks at Denison Museum of Granville OH were a huge help in putting "The Noble Approach" together. They kindly allowed me to include Rockwell Kent prints from their collection in the book. Khari Saffo of Denison has written a lovely article about the experience which can be found HERE! Originally I had intended on including more Kent images, but unfortunately because of space issues I was only able to include one.

Rockwell Kent was one of the most famous American print-makers of the early 20th century. Kent's use of light and dark pattern, and the way he stacked values had a huge influence on a young Maurice. Years later, while training at Chuck Jones Film Productions, Maurice taught us that... "good use of light and dark is the first important step in learning to use color." He cited Rockwell Kent as a great example of how to use value. 

Many have asked... "What exactly does stacking value mean?" In simple terms, it describes the method of putting an element in a picture against something darker or lighter than itself so that it "reads" easily. In these Kent examples, every single element in his picture can be seen clearly in spite of using a limited value range.

To see more... please check out page 91 of The Noble Approach.

Images courtesy of Denison Museum.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Maurice and the McKean Hospital & Leper Colony Chiang Mai

Above: A quick tour of The McKean Hospital via scooter.

Chiang Mai was always a special place to Maurice. In 1908, Maurice's uncle, missionary Dr. James McKean, and Pauliang (Guardian Father) Chantah Indravude set up a leper colony after asking the King of Thailand for a parcel of land. The McKean Hospital still exists there today. Gifts from Dr. McKean, such as Thai and Indonesian batiks, made a huge impression on young Maurice, who in turn created his own batiks at home. For the rest of his life he would foster a love of Asian arts and crafts. Maurice's uncle had such a strong influence that for a time Maurice considered becoming a missionary. In later life Maurice had serious plans to build an animation studio in Thailand. Our first project was to be "The Pumpkin of Nyefar," but Maurice passed on before we could start production. 

The Noble Approach first five day workshop 2012
To see a list of artists that attended, please visit HERE

Originally "The Noble Approach" was to be published in the spring of 2012. To celebrate we arranged a five day workshop in Chiang Mai based on a few of Maurice's basic teachings. Because of circumstances beyond our control the book wasn't published until late 2013. Now that the book is out we are planning more "Noble Approach" workshops in the very near future.

Thursday, January 9, 2014


Maurice never gave much praise to many non-Disney, non-Warner's cartoons. But one of his favorites was the 1961 Oscar winner "Surogat" by Dusan Vukotic. Maurice felt that the film was a great example of what the animated medium is best at; "graphic imagination."  It's not too far of a stretch to see how this film could have helped influence Maurice's own Oscar winning effort, "The Dot and the Line." (1965)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How The Grinch Stole Christmas: A Christmas Classic

In 1966 M.G.M. released what would become a Christmas classic, "How The Grinch Stole Christmas." The TV special was directed by Chuck Jones, based on the book of the same name by Dr. Seuss (Ted Geisel.) Maurice art directed the short, taking inspiration from Seuss's book illustrations, adding to them his own Noble twist.

Above: Maurice rough location design pencils (left), with marker color studies for "The Grinch."

On the Looney Tune's shorts of  the 1950's Maurice had painted numerous design keys in cel vinyl for the background painter to follow. Many of these keys were in essence small versions of the final backgrounds. By the 1960's Maurice began making small marker sketches directly over his rough pencils. Magic Markers weren't in common use until the late 1950's and they were simply faster than paint. The more staging ideas Maurice could get through... the stronger his final compositions would be.

Above: Maurice "Grinch" story and concept sketches.

Maurice's duties went far beyond simply designing the films he worked on. Early in the film making process he would often give numerous staging, story, and gag ideas. Most of these ideas didn't make it into the final film, but many did, and the influence he had on the staging and feel of "The Grinch" is undeniable. The back and forth story process that Maurice and Chuck Jones used is described on Pg. 56 of "The Noble Approach."

"The Grinch" was one of Maurice's favorite films from the period. But for many years Ted Geisel never expressed how he felt about the film. In 1991, during Geisel's memorial service, Geisel's doctor relayed the following message to Maurice: "Ted wanted mee to tell you how much he loved Grinch, especially your work on it." Amused, Maurice later told me, "This was typical of Ted, always getting in the last word."

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Noble Approach California Mini-Book tour

With the talented Brooke Keesling at Cartoon Network.

 Things have been a bit quiet here on the blog as we have been traveling throughout California with "The Noble Approach." We gave various Maurice talks, and book signings throughout the region. Everywhere we went we were met with great questions and great enthusiasm! It was fantastic seeing old friends, and meeting new ones. A number of the Noble Boys joined our discussions, and a good time was had by all. A huge thanks to Disney Features, Disney TV, Cartoon Network, Pixar and CTN 13 for hosting us! A special thanks to Chronicle Books for believing in this project, and helping make it a reality!

 With Disney Vet and designer Cynthia Ignacio Gordon
 With the happy story man Julius Aguimatang who loves to goose people when he's happy.
 At the famous Lucky 7 pub with Andrew Gordan, Sirid Garff, and Scott Clark
 In the Pixar lobby, the closest I've been to having an Oscar in years
 At one of the Noble talks. You can see the excitement mounting. 
A complimentary shirt from the lovely ladies of The Cartoon Saloon!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Mike Giaimo on Maurice Noble

Art director Mike Giaimo (Frozen, Pocahontas) was one of my early design instructors at Cal/Arts. Though I had enjoyed Maurice's work for many years on TV, I had no idea who the man was. It was Mike who first introduced my class to the wonders of Maurice, and many of Maurice's ideas. 

Mike first met Maurice on March 12, 1974 at the Brand Library in Glendale, CA. At the library Maurice went through his work history, showed a few of his films, then discussed his thoughts about design in the Q and A session. In many ways his talk was basically a condensed draft of what would become The Noble Approach The chat made a huge impression on a young Mike; who recently said of the event, "I can remember it like it was yesterday. Maurice had the small gallery filled with easels on which he displayed bg's, layouts, etc. I distinctly remember a very long pan bg of the planets X, Y, and Z from DUCK DODGERS, as well as some practice watercolor bg's he'd done on SNOW WHITE."

Several years ago, Mike generously shared his feelings about Maurice and his art for "The Noble Approach." Unfortunately because of space issues I was only able to include a small portion of his essay in the book. (pg 47) I am pleased to present the text here in it's entirety.  


"What is the “Noble Style”? What makes Maurice’s work so distinctive, unique and appealing? The key to understanding his work lies in the world of opposites: his touch is light and easy, yet sure handed. It is fanciful and whimsical on the one hand, dramatic and bold on the other. It is decorative without being fussy, and solid without being overbearing. . It is never strained or overwrought.
In his work there are both masculine and feminine traits-a perfect design synthesis of yin and yang.

Maurice was a true modernist, and it’s no surprise that his work came into full flower during the mid 20th Century where a refined, minimalist aesthetic prevailed in architecture, painting, advertising, and applied arts. Maurice’s design sense folded nicely into this movement, and like all great modernists, his work remains fresh and contemporary today.

Above: A background set-up from Boyhood Daze (1957) Courtesy of Mike Giaimo.

It is hard to imagine a Witch Hazel cartoon without his subversive visual wit, where staircases, tables, sofas and curtains seem to defy gravity, and multi- point perspectives abound. Under Maurice’s deft touch, Witch Hazel’s quirky world seems right and reasonable.
In DUCK DODGERS, could anyone but Maurice have transported us so dramatically (and humorously) to the 21st ½ Century with such a keen sense of cinematic scale and endless technological invention?
In the Ralph Phillips short BOYHOOD DAZE, Maurice proves his versatility segueing from the darkest depths of the jungle to the wide open reaches of space to the dank confines of a prison cell with ease. Indeed, the visual locales of the Ralphs Phillips shorts are stunning not because we see them as identifiable places, but because they are flights of Ralphs’ (and Maurice’s) vivid imagination.

As director John Ford found his visual muse in Monument Valley, Maurice found his particular brand of cinema language through the ROADRUNNER series, where his sense of staging and camera perspective came into full play. One senses in this series that not only is Maurice a master with camera direction and design, he’s having a heck of a good time as well.
It is interesting to follow the evolution of Maurice’s style thru the ROAD RUNNER cartoons. In the earlier entries of this series the desert landscapes are caricatured, but they pale by comparison to the more surreal and whimsical heights he would achieve with these environments by the mid-fifties. The visuals would evolve to reflect more and more the precarious relationship between the Coyote and Roadrunner, with huge boulders that rest unsettlingly upon the top of pin-point buttes, desert plant life that looks more like spiky specimens from another planet, and strange cloud formations that anticipate and punctuate the Coyote’s eventual demise.

Maurice’s ethos at Warner Bros. hit a high water mark in 1957 with WHAT’S OPERA DOC? Here his skills in layout, design and color came to its fullest fruition. Visual invention seems to burst from every frame. With grand, cinematic scale, expressionistic fauvist-like color, and decorative detailing, this is truly Maurice’s’ magnum opus. What’s truly surprising in WHAT’S OPERA? is how we are transported to a realm far beyond the common Looney Tunes world. Visually WHAT”S OPERA? seems to bridge the gap between fine and commercial art. It is a masterful piece of work with Maurice firing on all cylinders. Indeed, looking at Maurice’s output during his Warner years one could say that if it weren’t for his sly graphic wit, there would never have been a distinctive stand out style at Warner Bros. Without his touch, the Looney Tunes are polished and serviceable but visually unremarkable.

Perhaps Maurice’s most sublime effort was his styling for THE DOT AND THE LINE. The abstraction of the lead characters (literally a dot and a line) called for a non-representational approach to the production styling. This is Noble styling at its minimalist best; a modernist tone poem where line and shape and color are exploited to their fullest. Abstract, angular shapes visually support the rigid line character, while the frivolous dot is enhanced by graceful and decorative curves. Bold color blocks give mood and atmosphere, and though the shapes are simple, the world Maurice creates for THE DOT AND THE LINE is rich and full.

In the1966 television special HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, Maurice’s styling proved to be a beautiful compliment to the very popular Dr. Seuss book and illustrations. Maurice achieved a distinctive, whimsical look in GRINCH without treading upon the familiar Seuss style. Indeed, watching the film and then referring back to the book’s illustrations one feels that Maurice managed to further resolve and define the look of Whoville and its environs with his graceful use of curves, dramatic camera angles, and Noble “decorative touches” which are found on everything from snow capped peaks to garlands, bows, and stocking wire.

Smart cinema language and a confident use of line, shape and color all contribute greatly to the Noble style, but perhaps the most defining (and less tangible) key to understanding Maurice’s sensibilities lies at the inner core of the man himself-his integrity.
Though we see on the surface of Maurice’s work charm, sophistication and playfulness, there is an underlying sincerity and truthfulness that holds all the design elements together. This is why his work is so honest and engaging. With Maurice there is never a visual false note or misstep.

What is the noble style? It is artistic authenticity , which is timeless."

m. giaimo

Jan. 2011

all text © tod polson and Mike Giaimo