Disney Spotlight: Walter Peregoy

The Artist Behind the Lines of 101 Dalmatians

 

 

As the great art form of the 20th Century, few artists are given the opportunity to define the entire look and feel of an animated film. Emotion, movement, story and style must all exude from the animator’s use of lines and choice of colors. Walt Disney’s animated adventure, 101 DALAMATIANS holds claim to a style and emotion unlike any animated feature film. This visual approach to the telling of Disney’s first contemporary animated film was refined by the extraordinary color styling of Walter Peregoy.

 

Generations have marveled at the world Peregoy created within Disney’s telling of 101 DALMATIANS. His work on this classic feature has influenced the look and style of many contemporary animated favorites. Though his work is respected within international art circles, Walter Peregoy is relatively unknown. When asked about the source of his inspiration for such a unique style, he reflectively responds with one word -- “life.”

 

Peregoy never studied art formally. He was more consumed with living life rather than ‘studying’ it. As a young child, it was clear Peregoy had an artistic gift, attending Saturday art classes offered at the California College of Arts & Crafts. As a young 10th grader, Peregoy dropped out of high school to work as an in-betweener at Disney Studios. This lasted for just over a year when he left to pursue life in all its colorful glory. Odd jobs took him across the globe, as he sketched his way to Europe.

 

Peregoy returned to Disney Studios years later working his way up to Clean-Up Artist. Hand selected by Ken Anderson, the Art Director for 101 DALMATIANS, Peregoy was promoted to Color Stylist and given free-reign as he began defining some of the most distinctive color styles and background artwork within the Studio’s history. With a wink, Peregoy admits that Disney never warmed to his designs for ‘101.’ “My style was unusual for Walt Disney. He tolerated me,” reflects Peregoy, though he’s quick to point out that he was ‘tolerated’ for over 14 years at the Disney Studios. “I had to be doing something right.”

 

“Conventional approaches just won’t work and my work has been anything but conventional,” quips Peregoy as he reviews his years at Walt Disney Studios. This unconventional use of color is a strong Peregoy trademark “There’s not another artist in this world that has my color sense. It’s not ‘warm’ or ‘cool.’ It’s what I feel. How am I going to know what color to put there before I get there? It’s really what I feel.”

 

The Artwork on 101 DALMATIANS marked a new trend in the realm of animation. In an attempt to simplify the monumental task of consistency with the countless spots on 101 Dalmatian puppies, Disney turned to Ub Iwerks’ technical prowess and the application of Xerox technology. “Disney was the first company to use the Xerox Camera,” notes Peregoy. 101 DALMATIANS was the first film to utilize this technology throughout its entire production. In a film that is hinged on the simplicity of its lines and forms, Peregoy reflects “You’re not aware of the Xerox line on this film at all…to a degree. 101 DALMATIANS was the first film that I was completely free to wipe lines out or put lines in, thanks to the Xerox technology.”

 

Peregoy’s distinctive use of color is accentuated by the simplicity of line. “I would approach color freely – painting behind the Xerox overlay. This gives the work a free, almost watercolor quality.” A clear example of this can be found in the beginning sequences of the film at the park. “It’s all staging,” notes Peregoy. “The color styling serves the sequence and the animation. None of my backgrounds take away from the beauty of the animation.”

 

Today, Peregoy works mostly in oil pastels, and is continually inspired by life. “I listen for what should be there,” referring to his muse, who Peregoy claims has a sharper eye than he may have. “If you really love to express yourself visually, it’s a shame if you don’t do it. If you keep ignoring the muse, it disappears, and in this world today, it’s in sore need!”

 

All text and images © 2015 Disney. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted by permission

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