Stealing Sleeping Beauty and Other Art

Should I apologize again? Sure, why not. I deeply regret if I’ve offended my Italian colleagues and the nation of Italy. Okay, that’s done.

Way back in the nineteen fifties, my pal, film composer George Bruns speculated on how he would handle the music score of our feature film, Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty.” Eventually, we decided to simply appropriate the beautiful music Peter Ylyich Tchaikovsky had written for the famous ballet. George said, “They’ve been stealing from Tchaikovsky for years. We might as well steal from Tchaikovsky” too. It would appear that Walt Disney is guilty of theft, doesn’t it? After all, he never received Tchaikovsky’s permission to use his music.

When a group of young artists arrived at the Walt Disney Studios back in 1956 we wandered the offices, hallways and story rooms soaking up everything we could. Finally we had access to the work of the Disney Masters and we were determined to learn everything we could. Did we steal from them? You’re damn right we did. We wanted to draw like them, we wanted to paint like them. We wanted to BE them. Not surprisingly, young artists would check the wastebaskets in the evening looking for Milt Kahl sketches or the paintings of Eyvind Earle. On occasion, a background artist would discard a painting and toss it into the trash bin. You can bet there was an aspiring background artist who couldn’t wait to get his or her hands on this remarkable painting. After all, this is what young artists do. This is how we learn. As a young story artist I roamed the upstairs story rooms in a attempt to soak up everything I could from the old Disney storytellers. I studied the storyboards of Al Bertino, Milt Banta, Joe Rinaldi and Bill Peet. I wanted to know how these guys thought. I wanted to know how these guys drew. I, along with my colleagues attempted to “steal” everything we could find from these Disney Masters.

I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with the late Steve Jobs some years ago, and Steve was fond of quoting the famous artist, Pablo Picasso who said, “Good artists copy. Great artists steal!” Steve Jobs knew the importance of being aware of great ideas and quickly folding them into whatever you were doing. He encouraged the Apple employees to look for the best and appropriate those ideas when creating new products. “Use them. Borrow them. Steal them,” if you have to. That’s what great artists do, and Steve was known to admire the best of the best. When Apple was developing Macintosh many years ago he continually pushed this idea of the best. That’s why he had a German baby grand piano and an Italian motor bike in the lobby of the Apple facility. These items were not part of their work. They were a constant reminder of good design. Steve Jobs believed this was critical to their products success. Steve had this unique design esthetic. He appreciated good ideas and great design. It was evident in every Apple product under his supervision.

A few months ago, I was working on a comic story involving a group of preteen boys and girls who were off on an adventure. While searching for design ideas, I stumbled across an Italian comic story under a pile of books in my studio. I so admired the design sensibility of the artist I wondered if this particular style could be folded in to the idea I was working on. Because of the availability of digital technology, I was able to sketch and print out the pages I created to see how the style would look in print. The pages were never published. The work was never sold. It was simply a part of the design process all artists go through. It’s pretty clear because of the fire storm I started, this was a poor decision and I will remove any trace of the artists work from my comic should I do it. I was not trying to steal from the artist, I simply admired his work and was hoping to emulate his wonderful drawings. I have only the highest respect for my fellow colleagues and it was never my intention to steal from anyone.

Some years ago, our talented mentors at the Walt Disney Studios encouraged us to learn from each other. Of course, we were encouraged to learn from the aging Disney Masters as well. That’s what we do as artists. Much the way my talented wife, Adrienne learned to paint by copying the work of the talented, illustrator, Drew Struzan. When meeting Mr. Struzan for the first time, my wife was eager to tell the gifted illustrator she copied his work and that was what helped her become a better artist. Artists have always borrowed from each other. Copied each other, and “stolen” from each other. It’s what artists do. And, much like musicians, such as the talented composer, George Bruns once said while composing our score for Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty, “If you find something good, use it.” Finally, our mentors encouraged us to be the very best. “Work to become a better artist,” they said. “If you do that. If you finally reach that level of excellence then guess what will happen next? Other artists will steal from you.”

Be aware I'm stealing the work of Milt Kahl, Marc Davis, Tom Oreb, Ken Anderson and Eric Cleworth. I totally confess it all on this blog post.

Be aware I'm stealing the work of Milt Kahl, Marc Davis, Tom Oreb, Ken Anderson and Eric Cleworth. I totally confess it all on this blog post.