The Four Faces of Snow

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Stoke's version of Snow WhiteBy the summer of 1936, according to Marc Davis, tensions between the two key Snow White animators were running about as high as the infamous September weather most Los Angelenos have become accustomed to. Jack Campbell was at that time Ham Luske’s assistant. Originally he had been assigned to Grim Natwick, under whom he enjoyed not only an incomparable tutelage but with whom he was becoming good friends. As the demands for Snow White increased, however, Jack was increasingly unhappy, not with Grim but rather at his unrequited desire to animate completely himself something he felt he was born to do. He had expressed this to Grim and knew he would most likely better his chances by becoming Ham’s assistant - he was, after all, the supervising animator and politics, even among animators at Disney’s was no different from any place else. So, some time around the New Year (1936) Jack defected and joined ranks with Ham. Judging by his later work on Snow White, Jack might have also been more in sympathy to Luske’s conception than to Natwick’s, and this may have been a further reason for his defection. Campbell’s Snow White does bear a greater resemblance to Luske’s second, more mature Snow White than to Natwick’s but it differs from both. And although when he went to work for him, Ham had not yet revised the character, it is not impossible to suppose that Campbell himself had some influence in persuading Luske to re-model his character on more mature lines. Whatever the reason, something completely unforeseen was happening right under everyone’s noses the consequences of which would have a profound effect on the look of the final film. Snow White was about to undergo a very expensive face-lift.

Compare the early Snow White drawing of Grim with these two later ones and note similarity in face with the later photo of Marge Belcher taken about the same period.
This is how Marge looked about the time of Grim Natwick's later drawings.

During the Spring of 1936, as tensions were beginning to grow, so was Margie. She was becoming a young woman who, at sixteen was rapidly leaving all vestiges of her former girlish looks behind her. This was largely unavoidable, but due to the fact that her scenes were often filmed sporadically, with months in-between, her maturity was now becoming progressively more obvious with each new filmed sequence, something no one had foreseen or even given a thought to. Thus by the summer Grim, who probably took his cue without thinking, began to incorporate her maturing into his drawing, something Ham was loathe at first to do. Even in Grim’s first scenes to survive Walt’s chopping block (he apparently had most of it right even in the early stages as very few scenes came back for re-animation, according to his recollections), the sequence of Snow White and the huntsman, she has a more mature look than in the early scenes by Luske. If anything, Grim’s fault was in making her too fashionable, with a kind of “thirties model face” with its plucked and highly curved eyebrows. While both animators would go on to further refine their drawings, Grim would eventually display an often uncanny resemblance to Marge in his drawings more so than any of the other two. This is particularly noticeable in the (later-drawn) scenes of Snow White at the castle window, especially where she kisses the dove and sends it to the prince. Some (though not all) of his scenes in the entertainment sequence of the film also show this definite likeness. Although it is not on record and therefore only supposition, it is my hunch that, as Walt sat in the sweat boxes that summer and viewed Grim’s work, quite different from Luske’s, he began to sense that this was what he was after and, consequently had Luske redesign his own character. We know that by the end of 1936 a newly designed Snow White model sheet was prepared (almost certainly by Luske or Campbell) and a comparison of this one with the one made earlier that same year (by Luske) proves that there was indeed something afoot to bring about such a drastic change. For so much work had already been done and yet it must have been at Walt’s insistence that they could do better, much better, even if it meant throwing away vast amounts of money already spent. And with Roy breathing down his neck almost daily about all the wasted money, even Walt had to face reality, perhaps the chief reason why the early scenes by Luske still remain. It is to Luske’s credit, however, that in spite of any disagreements he may have had with Natwick (or even with Walt) over his character, he was able to change his earlier concept and produce some of the finest animation of his career . The close-ups and medium shots of Snow White in the forest after her ordeal (the very ones he had earlier on labored over and for so long to Walt’s dissatisfaction) are nothing short of miraculous and display an extraordinary sensitivity to line and expression as well as animated with an attention to anatomical accuracy he was incapable of just eighteen months before. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, for all this he could thank Grim Natwick, without whose work Snow White might today be just another “nice” cartoon. For it was largely due to Natwick’s keen attention to detail and his unerring visual sense that both Luske and Campbell modified their drawings (under duress no doubt from Walt). What has been bequeathed to posterity is now a title character much more feminine and winsome than was certainly apparent from the early drawings, one whose charm shines forth in virtually every frame of this masterpiece.

This re-designing was particularly fortuitous in Campbell’s case, for in my opinion, at least, his concept of the character is the most perfect embodiment of the fairy-tale feminine ideal of purity and innocence. While Natwick’s animation is supreme, Campbell’s Snow White appears the least dated and gives a more sensitive and vulnerable expression that seems to linger in the mind long after the film has faded from view. He would go on to animate the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio. His scenes comprise the very opening shots of Snow White, including the wishing well song, some in the forest and in the dwarf’s cottage, throughout the film (a series of drawings attributed to Campbell in Treasuries of Disney Animation Art is in fact by Natwick); also the deleted soup sequence, parts of the entertainment sequence, parts of the morning “good-bye sequence” (which he shared with Natwick) and the final sequence (also shared with Natwick). His work is instantly recognizable (as is Natwick’s; Luske’s style slightly less so, save in his earlier “cartoony” version of the character). Before moving on to Snow White’s fourth and final animator, it may well be worth mentioning here the remaining footage by both Luske and Natwick. From the former are (besides those noted earlier) the scenes of Snow White going up to the bedroom and the “discovery” sequence by the dwarfs (this last was actually the pilot scene of the film done before any of the others in mid 1935). Those by Natwick in addition to the above-mentioned include Snow White running down the stairs (boiling kettle) to “Supper,” part of the entertainment sequence and virtually all of “Some Day My Prince Will Come,” and the “Good-night” sequence. He also animated, in conjunction with Milt Kahl, the Prince.

By early 1937, Snow White was in full production. As life at the studio grew more and more frenetic it soon became apparent that even the three artists and their assistants could not cope with all the as-yet incompleted scenes that were still in storyboard. So Walt decided to bring in yet another animator, destined to remain obscure yet whose single Snow White sequence would contain perhaps the single most published drawing of the film’s heroine: Snow White ready to bite into the apple. This was Robert Stokes. It is thus ironic that Bob Stokes’s work on both Snow White and the Queen has gone so long un-recognized. Art Babbitt (the only-named animator of the Queen), in his usual bid to take all credit never acknowledged to this writer (or apparently anyone else, for that matter) that nearly half of the Queen was drawn by someone else (he rather begrudgingly admitted to me that Stokes had done “one tiny scene” of the queen running down the stairs).


Stoke's version of the Queen
Babbit's version of the Queen
Note difference in detail of crown. Stokes draws a small horizontal line under central (spiked) orb, probably in keeping with original crown prop wore by Queen live model.

Even a casual viewer will notice, when pointed out, that the Queen in front of the mirror halfway through the film looks slightly different. She is more angular, less “cartoony” but maybe a little less satisfying as well and bears a distinct resemblance to the live action model for the Queen. Even in the crown detail, he departs from his colleague in what surely was a more accurate rendering of the one actually used by the model. Indeed, for among the few remaining memories of Stokes was Marc Davis’s comment to me: “He was a very realistic artist.” Therefore, if one takes the time to notice, Snow White in the sequence with the old hag does look different - less of a cartoon character but somehow lacking in warmth and tenderness. She is beautifully drawn yet somewhat cold and detached. She certainly is light-years away from Ham Luske’s early version of the same character and her resemblance to Marge Belcher is, in spots, even more markedly noticeable than Grim Natwick’s. Yet something is missing and one senses that for all the virtuoso draughtsmanship, there is at the core less of a true personality in his princess. His is, for this reason, I think the least interesting of the four faces. I have been able to find hardly any information about Robert Stokes, save that he worked at Iwerks Studios prior to coming to Disneys. He was obviously a superb draughtsman and perhaps a bit intellectual to judge from his work. He seemed to be a literalist, although not without a sense of humor (who could survive at Disneys in those days without one!?) as he would show a year later with his devastating Katharine Hepburn caricature in “Mother Goose Goes Hollywood.” He remains nevertheless a great animator and Walt might have done far worse if he had not been around to complete the four faces of Snow White.

Later in this same sequence her cartoony appearance alternates with a more mature looking and, at least to my liking, infinitely more satisfying presentation. Much of this “revised” Snow White was done by neither Luske nor by Natwick (who did none of this sequence), but by our third creator, Jack Campbell. The question arises, what prompted Walt to persuade (if not demand) Luske to virtually re-draw his own character, a decision that would permanently alter the face of Snow White for well over four-fifths of what we see now in the final film?







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This article is Copyrighted © 2000 by David Johnson, and have beed printed here for the first time in Animation Artist Magazine with Johnson’s permission. David Johnson is a regular columnist for Animation Artist Magazine, and we thank him for his insight and willingness to contribute his knowledge and talent to the animation world.