At the beginning of this project, I didn’t think the interview was going to be all that helpful.
I. WAS. WRONG. It helped loads! A lot of the information I got from it ended up being implemented into my speech, and even the parts that didn’t helped me get a better overall understanding of my eminent person.
At first, I was at a loss for who to interview. The first people I emailed were actually Mary Blair’s own nieces! They run a website called Magic of Mary Blair, and I think it’s amazing that they carry on her legacy. Unfortunately, I got no response.
I then tried emailing John Canemaker, which I knew was a bit of a long shot. He is the author of two well-acclaimed books about Mary Blair in particular (The Art And Flair Of Mary Blair: An Appreciation, Magic Color Flair: The World of Mary Blair) and is also an independent animator. I found his email on the Tisch School of the Arts website, since he is a professor there. He did, in fact, reply, but not with good news:
Dear Ms. Lalani,
Thank you for your request and your interest in Mary Blair.
I am not able to help you at this time.
My best wishes to you and your project.
On Sat, Nov 7, 2015 at 5:08 PM, Hira Lalani wrote:
Hello! My name is Hira, and I’m a student in Grade 9. I’m conducting a
project on Mary Blair, and I was wondering if perhaps I could interview
This project is based around eminent people, and I chose Mary Blair, since I know how much she’s inspired others! It would be greatly appreciated if I could ask you some questions about her, about how you think she shaped the future for Disney as well as female animators. It does not need to be time consuming, it can be completely over email, if that works for you.
Thank you so much for your time and consideration.
On Sun, Nov 8, 2015 at 11:30 AM, Joe Campione wrote:
Absolutely Hira, I would love to help. Let me know what you need and I’ll do whatever I can
On Mon, Nov 9, 2015 at 5:41 PM, Hira Lalani wrote:
Thank you for your reply!
I’ll be recording your answers and posting them to my blog, if that’s okay with you! I need to be able to prove I conducted an interview. Thanks so
much for helping me with my project, I really appreciate it. Here are the questions I have written up for you:
•Why do you think it is important to recognize the people behind the final product?
◦Mary Blair has recently become recognized for her work and appreciated for what she’s provided for Disney, how do you feel about that?
•How do you think Mary Blair has influenced the artists of today?
◦How do you think they implement her work?
•How do you think Mary Blair helped define Disney’s legacy?
•What do you think Mary Blair’s eerning point was in her career, the moment where she really found herself as an artist?
•Do you think Walt favoured her as an artist/employee? Why?
•If you had to take a guess, why do you think Mary Blair quit the Disney company in June of 1941?
•What are some things that you find especially unique about Mary Blair and her artwork?
•Do you think Mary Blair has had an impact on the future for women in the animation industry? Did she pave the way for them at all?
•Why were the 40’s a difficult time to work in the art industry?
◦Was it even harder for women?
If you have any other words to say about Mary Blair, feel free to include them!
Again, thank you so much for taking time to help me with my project.
On Tue, Nov 10, 2015, at 1:54 PM, Joe Campione wrote:
No problem Hira. Let me know if you need anything else from me!
So for me, the people behind the final product are just as important as the product itself. I’ve always been fascinated with those behind the scenes, as well as the “story behind the story,” partially because I love seeing how a film was made, but also because the people tend to be very unique and interesting. And honestly, it’s the people behind the scenes that make the final product as good as it is. In all of the great movies, especially animated ones, there’s great writers, animators, musicians, voice actors and actresses, and if each behind the scenes element isn’t great, then the film will suffer. There is no product without the people who put it together.
I’m very happy about Mary Blair’s recent surge in recognition, and honestly, it’s been long overdue. It’s great to see so many people start to recognize what a great and unique artist she was, and things like “The Art and Flair of Mary Blair” and various showcases and art shows dedicated to her will help even more people to learn about the legend that is Mary Blair.
Mary Blair has influenced artists today in a couple of ways. First is just from a technical aspect; Blair put colors together in a way that not many other people, especially at the Disney studio, were doing at the time. Between the vividness of the colors and the combinations, her style stood out greatly, and I think it was different enough and appealed enough to people that, even today, artists take inspiration and can learn from Blair’s style. I also think that her ability to distinguish herself is a lesson many artists today take. You can just look at a drawing and identify it as Mary Blair. Between the colors, the whimsical nature and just the style of it, it’s unmistakable who the artist is, and I believe that’s something that artists today strive for as well.
In Disney in particular, you can actually see Mary Blair’s influence in recent films. The artists on “Tangled” readily admitted that they turned to Blair’s artwork for inspiration, and that can be seen in the bright colors and vivid backgrounds used in the film. “Up” is the same way and also claimed that Blair influenced their art direction. The biggest thing that people seem to take from Blair is her “explosion of color” style, so when you see a studio like Disney using bright and vibrant colors, there’s at least a hint of Mary Blair in there.
Mary Blair helped define Disney legacy in two major ways. For one, she was at the studio during a real turning point in the company’s history and absolutely contributed in the films that really helped keep the studio afloat and led to it’s financial rebirth. In the 40’s, times were rough at the studio due to WWII, and Blair was a major part of the studio’s ability to keep cranking out shorts to keep releasing some type of features and keep money coming in. She even was a member of a team of animators who made a goodwill tour through South America during the time, so it’s safe to say that she was a vital member of the crew. Then, once the studio started making features again, Blair really came into her own with her concept art. Cinderella, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Lady and the Tramp; these are all classic movies that Blair not only worked on, but had major contributions on. And the second way she defined Disney’s legacy was in her style. There was undoubtedly a difference in Blair’s style compared to what we had seen from Disney before her arrival, particularly in her colorful and modernistic approach, and I think that Blair’s style helped shape and mold what we know as the Disney style today.
There’s certainly a case to be made for Blair’s trip to South America, as it was there that she began to use charcoal and really came into her own and changed her style by using bright and surreal colors, but for me, Blair’s turning point, I think, was Alice in Wonderland. In the early stages of development, the studio had problems trying to adapt the story to film. Blair submitted some concepts of how she viewed Wonderland that were bright and very surreal, which Walt Disney liked so much that he actually began to reshape the film to match the feelings of Blair’s artwork. To this day, when I picture Alice in Wonderland, I picture Mary Blair’s artwork, and I think that her work on the film, as well as Walt’s reactions to that work, took her from a good artist at the Disney studio to a great and irreplaceable member of the team. So, for my money, Blair’s personal turning point was South America, but her professional turning point was Alice in Wonderland.
I know that Walt loved Mary Blair as an employee. Her art was so different from what Walt had been accustomed to in the past. On films like Snow White and Pinocchio, Walt had concept artists who were much more realists. They painted in a kind of European storybook style that emphasized realistic colors and sensibilities. Mary Blair, on the other hand, was a surrealist and a modernist, and she brought something to the studio that it hadn’t had in the past. Walt always loved different, and I think he valued that Blair’s art was so unique from everyone else’s, especially when it came to color. Mary Blair also had a bit of spunk to her, which I think Walt appreciated. Going back to that South American goodwill tour, there’s two stories as to how Blair went on that trip: either Walt handpicked Mary or Mary told Walt she was absolutely going on the trip. Either way, it’s clear that Walt had a fondness for Mary Blair, and that can even be seen years later when Walt asked Mary Blair to help come up with concepts for It’s a Small World. It’s even been said that Mary Blair was Walt’s favorite artist, and it’s hard to argue that point when you see how many times Walt came back to her for ideas and artwork.
Frustration, plain and simple. Mary Blair had worked as an independent artist for a long time. She came up with a concept in her head and she painted it. When she was first hired at the studio though, she was mainly joining projects that were already underway, which meant that she was basically painting and drawing someone else’s vision, and that can get stifling for someone as creative and used to working on their own as Blair was.
What I find unique about Blair’s artwork, first and foremost is the coloration. I keep harping on the brightness of the colors, but it’s also a lot to do with how she put colors together. There’s combinations that shouldn’t work, like dark blue with dark purple or bright red with darker red, but somehow they just do in her art. Her artwork pops off the page, and she’s able to create a world that you can see so clearly just from one picture. She has the incredible ability to both be vague and detailed, showing you exactly what the world and the concept is, while leaving enough open to the imagination and interpretation. And like I said before, there’s a lot of artwork where, I’ll look at it and try to figure out who painted it. Not with Mary; you see any of her work, concepts, murals, paintings, and it’s undeniable that it’s a Mary Blair work.
Oh absolutely. Mary Blair wasn’t the first woman to work in animation, but, especially for that time period, she’s probably the most well known. I also think the fact that she not only worked at Disney but got Walt’s approval was a major help in this. Walt Disney had an unquestioned respect in both the film and animation industries. For anyone, man or woman, to have his respect and approval was a huge deal throughout the industry. So now, to look at the fact that a woman in Mary Blair gained Walt’s approval and was a major contributor in the look and development of Disney’s films, it led to more people looking at women in animation differently. Maybe they could be more than just inbetweeners and maybe their art and concepts could be just as good as a man’s. While I can’t tell if Mary Blair ever directly led to the hiring on a woman in animation, I don’t think there’s any question that at minimum, she indirectly helped many women break into and gain more respect within the industry. Now, that being said, as for the future, there’s still ways to go. Lead animators are still really a boy’s club, but with so many people out there who still consider Mary Blair to be one of the top artists in the history of the Disney company, I’m hopeful that one day you’ll see a woman as a lead artist on a Disney feature.
The 40’s was a tough time to be a lot of things, and this was especially true of artists. With the war going on, people just didn’t have the money for art, and even the prototypical artist backup for money, working as an animator, was tough because so many studios were closing with their crews going to fight overseas. Even once the war ended in 1945, it wasn’t necessarily a return to normal in the art industry for quite some time. And women in general were seen as second class citizens in a lot of respects in the 40’s. There was still a strong stigma that anything a woman could do, a man could do better, and this carried through for artists as well. It’s this stigma that made what Mary Blair managed to do even more important. She showed that she was just as, if not more talented than any male artist out there, and luckily for her, Walt Disney recognized this talent and the rest was history.
On Tue, Nov 10, 2015, at 3:57 PM, Hira Lalani wrote:
Thank you so much for your answers Joe!
I very much appreciate you taking time out of your day to help me with my project, your answers will help me greatly! I will send you the link to my blog once I have completed this project. Thanks again.
There were so many points that Joe brought up that I just had to use in my speech! The whole idea of Mary Blair being the “story behind the story” was intriguing, and ended up in my speech. It also helped shed some light on how extraordinary it was for Mary Blair, a woman, to be working in the 40’s. And although it wasn’t how I saw it, it was very interesting to see what other people thought Mary Blair’s “turning point” was. This interview found its way into my speech through little details, but all those details added up make a huge impact to my speech overall! It really added that ‘pizazz’ I was looking for.
I didn’t realize how helpful the interview could be at first, but after conducting it, I could see it was very fruitful. I’ll also remember for next year’s eminent project that there is always someone to interview! Whether they are an expert on your eminent person specifically or just some expertise in a similar field, you’re bound to find something.