Background Artist

What's it take to become a Disney background artist? I would imagine it requires the skills my fellow classmates had. I'm speaking of those who studied illustration at Art Center College of Design back in the day. Back in those days we were able to study the original art of Al Parker, Coby Whitmore, Jon Whitcomb, Robert Fawcett and others.

At the time I remember struggling to master the mediums of oil, watercolor and gouache even though I never entertained a career as an illustrator. Magazine illustration was all the rage back in the fifties and this popular medium had not yet been marginalized by photography. I had the highest respect for those who could paint well, and we had more than our fair share of talented students. Ralph McQuarrie often sat next to me in class and he was a darn good illustrator. Years later he would earn fame as the artist who conceptualized the world of Star Wars for writer, director, George Lucas.

Once arriving at the Walt Disney Studios in the fifties we had the opportunity to observed this wonderful art first hand. In some cases, the background artists would even pass on a few tips to all of us eager young artists. There were always a handful of apprentice inbetweeners who aspired to be background painters some day. some of the talented artists eventually made the transition from pencil to paint. They went on to impressive careers as animation background artists. Their names include, Gloria Wood, Ron Dias and Fernando Arce.

I never had the artistic chops to become a background artist even though I actually had to paint production backgrounds on occasion. There were always emergencies where even a marginal painter like myself had to step in and help complete a series of backgrounds. I even remember a tutorial Disney Master, Eyvind Earle provided showing how to create one of those amazingly complex Sleeping Beauty backgrounds. The brilliant artist had worked the whole thing out and made it fairly simple so even a novice painter like myself could follow it. Just to challenge myself, I even painted a few of those richly textured Eyvind Earle trees from Sleeping Beauty.

While working at the Disney Studio I was able to meet a good many of Walt's finest painters, and that darn near includes a who's who of the Animation business. Art Riley, Bill Layne, Al Dempster, Thelma Whitmer and Ralph Hulett to name a few. I even met the amazing Maurice Noble who is now more closely associated with his years at Warner Bros. Studio. Of course, who can forget the amazing Walt Peregoy who claimed he could paint Eyvind Earle backgrounds better than Eyvind Earle. Anyway, I admire these guys and it was truly a joy working with them over my many years at the Walt Disney Studio