The Disney History blog reports that Disney visual development artist Mel Shaw has passed away at the age of 97. He was born Melvin Schwartzman in Brooklyn on December 19, 1914. Shaw was among a handful of artists who worked at Disney both during its Golden Age in the late-1930s as well as during the studio’s resurgence in the 1990s.
Shaw’s first job in motion pictures was at the age of sixteen when he worked a summer job lettering movie titles at Pacific Titles. The studio was owned by Leon Schlesinger, and through him, Shaw was introduced to animation directors Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising. He worked at their studio, Harman-Ising Productions, for “four or five years” before being hired by Disney in 1937. Shaw contributed visual development artwork to films such as Fantasia, Bambi, and The Wind in the Willows, which was later produced as The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.
Shaw left Disney in 1941 and rejoined with Hugh Harman at his studio Hugh Harman Productions. There, they worked on military training films, and also spent some time developing a live-action/animated feature adapatation of The Little Prince with Orson Welles.
Little Prince concept art by Mel Shaw
Later, during WWII, Shaw spent two years in India running an animation unit for the US Army Signal Corps, where he helped produce a live-action/animation documentary about the Burma Campaign. After the war, he started a design studio with former Harman-Ising co-worker Bob Allen called Allen-Shaw, where they designed ceramic figurines and toys for Disney. They were also involved in designing the Howdy Doody puppet.
Pastel concept piece for Fox and the Hound by Mel Shaw
Shaw returned to Disney in 1974 and contributed visual development and story ideas to films including The Rescuers, The Fox and the Hound, The Great Mouse Detective, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King, among others.
Pastel concept piece for Beauty and the Beast by Mel Shaw. For more of his concept art from this film, visit Hans Bacher’s blog.
(Photo of Mel Shaw from LaughingPlace.com)