The Four Faces of Snow
The face of Snow White seems ageless and indeed for over sixty years has commanded our attention as probably animation's most
famous heroine. Yet upon closer scrutiny, this most popular of fairy-tale females has no less than four distinct looks which only makes her over-all harmonious impression all the more remarkable. The
full story of her facial quartet is one of the most interesting aspects of the film's history and, never before given more than a passing mention, is here presented for the first time.Her head was large for her body as were her eyes, large almost round-shaped
orbs that would ultimately limit the expression and, strangely, even the projection of more complex human emotions. Other anatomical and facial features were
likewise over simplified, not merely because of the difficulty in drawing (for Walt nothing was impossible) but simply because Ham evidently saw her that way.
Ham's art school training prior to coming to Disneys was not extensive and he, like most others at the studio, received the greater part of his anatomical studies
"on the job" at Don Grahm's famous classes, which Walt had initiated in 1932 and to this day unique in the annals of animation. Ham also had a knack with the
female character that set him apart with his colleagues. It soon became apparent, however, even to Ham that the task confronting him was a colossal one and
repeated attempts at early scenes were scraped. Walt was becoming more and more dissatisfied.
To the casual viewer, whether
a first or multi-timer, the character of Snow White looks like "Snow White." With a costume either in rags or in the more familiar quasi-medieval outfit of yellow dress, blue bodice
flanked with small striped bell sleeves and a high back collar, the face of this most famous of animated heroines appears happily consistent throughout the film. There are
few, if any, of the early critics (or later writers, for that matter) that mention anything that might suggest a different "look" to the character at various parts of the story.
Of course, this was the intended result and has come to be expected even with repeated viewing of the film by most people, young or old. Walt would have
been pleased. In fact, the face of Snow White is not consistent and her various incarnations and their reasons are far more interesting than if she had been.
Consistency in character drawing - particularly of humans - has been, and still is, one of the chief problems in feature animation. Because of the enormous task and
the many thousands of separate drawings involved, many artists must draw the same character if he or she is to be on screen for a any length of time. Even with
non-human characters, if a strong personality and/or wealth of details is needed, this can result in a distinct difference in styles and looks between artists, not only
in their animating styles but in the details which are often supplied by assistants. Model sheets were thus employed even in the early days of animation in an effort
to mitigate these differences, something that early producers and animators of cartoons were only too well aware of. Even with model sheets, however, this is
at best only adequately achieved, especially if the character is a complex one and this only through great effort on the animator's part.
The reason for this difficulty lies in the personality of the artist himself. In this light is interesting to note that in an interview made several years ago with animator
George Rowley - a special effects animator, mind you, not a character animator, this very aspect of the animator was discussed (and not in the context of
consistency). He spoke of how even in this apparently "objective" work one could see differences between the various (special effects) artists because each one "put himself
into each drawing, into each drop of water," making even this uniquely his. How much more complicated then, would it be to make consistent a
figure like Snow White, surely one of the most demanding ever attempted in the cartoon medium. It is another of this film's many and remarkable achievements
that one is rarely aware of any change in the visual appearance of the face of the heroine.
For Snow White the original animator and actual designer was Ham Luske, one of the great animators at the studio
(Albert Hurter, the Swiss artist hired by Walt a couple of years prior to Snow White's actual inception as an inspirational artist, was the creator of her costume, seen throughout most of the
film but the look of the character herself was done by Luske). He, according to Grim Natwick, Snow White's other "premiere" animator (he had created "Betty Boop" in 1930), was the only other
animator besides himself who could draw let alone animate a believable girl (of course Fred Moore could, and did, but this was after the early period to which
Grim was referring and Les Clark's unsuccessful foray into the unchartered realms of anatomical realism for "Goddess of Spring" left much to be desired, to
say the least). Ham had superbly drawn the Mae West caricature in the 1934 hit "Who Killed Cock Robin?" but this was also a far cry from the intended
real-life-looking fairy tale princess. However his expertise was evident, especially to Walt, where it mattered most, and it was thus into Ham's lap that this most
plum of all assignments fell. But disenchantment with Ham's concept was not long in coming, at least after actual animation began.
That animation did not take place until late in 1935, a good year after the project was first announced. Although there were many suggestions by various artists, it
was Ham's that, at least at the time, must have appealed to Walt as the most desirable. Ham conceived of Snow White as a "cartoon" rather than as a realistic
character as can been see from the early model sheets.
Enter Grim Natwick. As soon as he had heard that Walt was planning a feature cartoon, Grim knew that was where the action would be and he
wanted to be in on it. There was only one problem: Walt had, it seems, a policy of never hiring anyone who had previously refused a job offer, which Grim, in fact, had done shortly after he had created
Betty Boop (he had offers from virtually every cartoon studio but wanted to remain in New York with Max Fleischer). At that time Grim (like so many others
"back East") was of the opinion that Walt was primarily a businessman and that Ub Iwerks, his key animator was the real creative force behind the Disney Studio.
Luckily for Grim (and, as it turned out, for Walt and the Studio as well as for posterity), their mutual friend and Walt's key storyman Ted Sears persuaded
Walt to give Grim a second chance and Grim began work at the Hyperion Studio late in 1934. As far as Walt, Grim and Snow White were concerned, there
would be few future regrets. Yet all was not smooth sailing for Grim who, then in his early forties, was easily the oldest animator on the lot. From the first, Grim's
art school background (eight years of it, with three in Vienna) made him unique among his fellow artists and put him at variance with Luske as soon as animation commenced on Snow White
. It didn't take long for Grim to realize some of the sources of Walt's dissatisfactions. As Grim's then-assistant Marc Davis would
later tell me, Ham's lack of training would drive him up the wall. Luske's work looked to him "like s***" and had little or no anatomical basis. The work was not "spined- based," for Grim
an important factor in realistic representation. Apparently Ham thought the same of Grim's work, for aside from the question of ego (after all, Ham was the character's designer and supervising
animator), Grim's concept of the character was far from the cartoony one Ham had envisioned.
No doubt Grim's training would prevail over any "cartoony" conception, as far
as anatomy was concerned. But it was also in Grim's approach to Snow White's face that set him at odds with the character's originator. Partly because of the many thousands of life drawings
that he had done over many years, partly because of his own attention to detail ( he was known to have one of the best pair of eyes in the business), Grim began to
absorb more and more of the actual live model than from the model sheet.
This happened to be one Marge Belcher, a young dancer chosen to act out and be filmed for most, if not all of the action required of Snow
White, as a guide for the animators. Marge, whose father owned a prestigious dancing school in Hollywood and who would later find fame as Mrs. Gower Champion, was
fourteen when she began her assignment. Naturally Grim had such a mastery of the human figure that, by his own admission, he disdained much of the "rotoscoping," the term
used for the process of photographing the human movements (the blown-up single frames of action were thus called "rotoscopes" and given to the animators as separate sheets along with the live-action
movie footage which they could run on their moviola). In fact, much of his animation was done without apparent effort, something the struggling but gifted Ham did not wish to dwell upon.
|This photo of Marge Belcher was taken shortly before she began work on Snow White.
By early 1936 work on Snow White was taking up more and more of the studio's resources. Yet virtually nothing had been inked and painted. Although a
considerable amount of animation had been done, mostly by Luske, in the several months prior to this, none of it had passed Walt's severe standard as a more
flowing, life-like and natural look to Snow White's movements now seemed mandatory . Snow White's scenes in the forest singing to her newly-befriended
animals was one of the first that was finally okayed to be inked and painted but Walt soon changed his mind and the results were scrapped (this same scene
would undergo at least one other complete transformation, cleaned-up and ready to be painted before Walt would again veto his decision and send it too to the
trash can to be re-incarnated in its third and final version). The earliest scenes of Snow White that were allowed to remain in the film (and which Walt had also
wanted to re-do yet again but was reluctantly forced to concede over his brother's protests) comprise the sequence from her first glimpsing the dwarf's
cottage until the commencement of "Whistle While You Work." Even here, several sections of this sequence were eventually re-animated and it is in this
portion that the discrepancies between Ham's early version and the later modified one are most obvious to the keen observer. The animation is faultless yet she
appears quite cartoony with her large, round eyes and somewhat pouting mouth. This is particularly noticeable when Snow White peers through the window and
she is identical here to the early model sheets (as well as some later ones showing relative sizes of characters, which, bearing a date of 1937 are obvious tracings of
earlier ones and which the figure of Snow White was not bothered to be "updated").
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?
Both Snow White model sheets drawn by Luske and his assistant Campbell. Note date (12/11/36) of revised model
sheet in upper right-hand corner. The earlier one is much more cartoony and exaggerated.
By 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.
|This is the only known picture of Jack Campbell, and
done in black & white, conveys little to the viewer of his bright red hair.
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),
|This is how Marge looked about the time of Grim Natwick's later drawings.
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.
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 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).
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.
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
This article and images are 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.