Monday, October 1, 2012

The Stepmother

"Boy, I thought, that's a tough assignment for some poor guy. I wonder who's going to get it?"
Frank Thomas was reflecting in an interview on what he had thought about the character of Cinderella's stepmother. Little did he know that Walt Disney had Frank in mind to bring her to life.
"The Stepmother was one of the toughest characters I did" he added.
In the end Frank did enjoy animating her, and he got very strong performances on the screen. I think some of his best ever.
A character that doesn't move much at all is a challenge for any animator. The acting becomes all about subtleties, and the quality of your drawing is even more important. There needs to be some motion within the longer held key poses or the character won't look alive.
Frank got some help from actress Eleanor Audley, who voiced the Stepmother in a way that sends chills up your spine. She also provided strong live action reference.
What I love about her character concept is the fact that she never lays a hand on Cinderella, but her vicious verbal abuse makes her one of the most evil villains of all time.

Here are a few samples of Vis Dev as well as production art.
Mary Blair painted these early portraits of Lady Tremaine. They already show an icy personality, which Frank took great advantage of in his animation.

I was very surprised when I saw these design drawings by Milt Kahl a few years ago, because I had always thought that Milt had nothing to do with the development of this character.

These are a few of Frank's animation drawings from various scenes. 
Whenever the Stepmother is on the screen she is powerful, commanding and completely convincing as a real personality. She is animated Hitchcock!