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Vicki Tracy

The Four Faces of Snow
David Johnson

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.

Snow White by the wishing wellTo 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.

Walt Disney (left) and Ham Luske (right)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. 

Snow White Scale Model
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.

Grim NatwickEnter 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 Natwick's Early drawing of Snow Whiteanatomical 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.

The Young Marge Belcher
This photo of Marge Belcher was taken shortly before she began work on Snow White.
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.

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").

Snow White Model Sheet 1
Snow White Model Sheet 2

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.

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?

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
This is the only known picture of Jack Campbell, and done in black & white, conveys little to the viewer of his bright red hair.


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 version of Snow WhiteCampbell'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.

A young woman - Marge Belcher
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),

A Later drawing of Snow White by Natwick
Another later drawing of Snow White by Natwick

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.

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)
Luske's Revision of Snow White
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.  Stoke's version of Snow WhiteShe 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.

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.


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Disney Art School Part 1
The Four Faces of Snow
Not Rouge!
The Image Part 1
The Image Part 2
Wilford Jackson
Grim Natwick

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