Mel Shaw (1914-2012)

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.

For a full accounting of Shaw’s career, there is a fantastic 50-page interview with him in Walt’s People, Vol. 12:. To see more of Mel Shaw’s personal artwork, visit MelShawStudios.com.

(Photo of Mel Shaw from LaughingPlace.com)


  • Michel Van

    It’s very sad to hear that he passed away. He made such wonderful work. My condolences to the Shaw family.

  • James Madison

    Great body of work.

    RIP

  • Steven Hartley

    RIP Mel Shaw – it’s rather amazing that your career began as early as 1930 for Harman-Ising. Peace.

  • http://www.animatorisland.com/ J.K. Riki

    That’s some heck of a run. We should all be so lucky to have a long, productive life, and his work shall live on for as long as we humans do.

  • Brad Constantine

    RIP Mr. Shaw!! 97 aint too bad! You were a big inspiration to me and countless others.

  • Polecat

    That pastel he did from The Fox and the Hound is really very nice–strange, but it strikes me as much nicer than many of the actual movie stills.

    • Bud

      That’s because you had the likes of jim coleman in charge of backgrounds. They should have hired someone with a painting background to translate, set the tone, and supervise.

  • Mel

    Despite the fate of the eventual film, Disney’s “The Black Cauldron” generated many fine development color pastel drawings by Mel Shaw, one of which graced the cover of Michael Barrier’s “Funnyworld” magazine in the mid-to-late 1970s.

  • Matt Sullivan

    That’s a pity. RIP old friend.

  • http://mattjonezanimation.blogspot.com Matt Jones

    RIP Mel Shaw-last of the greats

  • http://www.synchrolux.com Kevin K

    I was lucky enough to be in attendance when that top photo was taken. I only met him briefly, but he seemed to be a sharp, upbeat gentleman. Rest in peace, Mel.

  • http://www.tomsito.com Tom Sito

    Just heard the news yesterday. I got to work with Mel a bit on development of Beauty and the Beast in London. Mel was a wonderful gentleman and a gentle soul. A life lived for art that lasts until age 97 ought not to be mourned, but celebrated. Well done, Mr Shaw!

  • ShouldBeWorkin’

    Mel Shaw had also illustrated the Golden Books’ adaptation of Bambi. I don’t know of other books he illustrated.
    I know the bigger sized Golden Book had his credit. Not sure about this one but I’m pretty sure it’s him:
    http://www.amazon.com/Bambi-Disney-Little-Golden-Book/dp/0736423087

  • http://www.MelShawStudios.com Casey

    Although I never personally met Mel, I was honored this past year to be involved with creating his new website to preserve his artwork and life story. I encourage all to visit it at http://www.MelShawStudios.com.

  • http://MSN Thomas Nardinelli

    I had the extreme pleasure to have me Mel in May of 2010. His daughter Melissa made a visit to my Art room and we had about a 45 minute visit. Mel shared several stories back to the days when he was drawing deer at the Walt Disney Studios. Melissa reminded him about the time they were with Walt walking around the orange orchard prior to Disneyland being started. I feel so lucky to have heard such words from such a wonderful, creative, and giving gentleman.

    • http://MSN Thomas Nardinelli

      Correction! I should have set “met” instead of me. Sorry Mel! I should have proof read my condolences.