Monday, July 16, 2007

I Think I've Ustinov Ink On Sir Peter!

I've always had a fondness for the various British character actors I grew up watching. Here's one of my favourites - the wonderful Peter Ustinov. He's such a fun actor to draw as well, as he has such an expressive face with that broad nose, mischievous glint in his eyes, and a very unusual mouth shape. I've seen a fair number of his films and have drawn him many times, though these three are probably the only ones I took to finished ink line.
Here he is in perhaps the first role I saw him in when I was a kid, in Disney's 1968 comedy, "Blackbeard's Ghost". Watching it today, I feel that Ustinov's presence probably raised the film up from being just another lightweight Disney comedy to something rather inspired. It looked like he had great fun hamming it up in the role of the ghostly pirate trying as best he could to make amends for all his earthly wrongs, so as to break the witch's curse on him and set his soul to rest. On a side note, I recall that I had a tough time drawing his co-star, Dean Jones, a Disney regular throughout the 60's and 70's. I drew this one originally for a fan club newsletter down in the Walt Disney World area, back when I used to work there in the early 90's.
This drawing dates back to 1979. (I feel so old!) Peter Ustinov was playing "King Lear" on the Stratford stage and my parents and I went to see the show. I had also done a full-colour painting of this, which I had framed up and presented to him backstage after the performance. "King Lear" is a very long play, and it was clear that Mr. Ustinov was tired, but he was still very gracious and chatted with us for about 10 minutes before heading home. It was quite a thrill to meet him and, yes, I got his autograph on my drawing!
This last drawing of Sir Peter Ustinov (yes, he'd been knighted by then!) dates back to 1996. He's definitely looking older and the bagginess of the flesh around his eyes has reduced the upwards slant that was evident in my earlier drawings. Just a year earlier, I'd taken my Dad to see him in a one-man show he did at The Royal Alex Theatre in Toronto called "An Evening With Peter Ustinov". Ustinov was an extremely witty raconteur, and the audience just loved him. My Dad had also been a longtime fan of his and it was a really special occasion for me to spend with him, as it was usually pretty tough to convince him to go see a show. He seemed quite keen to see this one, I'm happy to say, and he thoroughly enjoyed it. A very happy memory...

Here's a short video of Sir Peter in action. You get a great sense of his storytelling abilities along with his great gift for mimicry. There's also a quick glimpse of one of his more famous fans sitting in the audience.

Finally, I can't resist ending off with the role that Peter Ustinov is famous for to Disney animation fans - Prince John in "Robin Hood". Here's a compilation of clips somebody was good enough to cobble together on YouTube. I think there is a very strong likeness of the actor in the broad lion nose and bright, slanted up eyes. Also, as I mentioned earlier, Ustinov has an unusual mouth shape with the upper lip protruding over his lower lip and the corners of his mouth stretched back when he talks. The Disney animators, most notably Ollie Johnston, have interpreted his mouth movements into the animation, resulting in a character design that is capable of producing that distinctive vocal sound. This is something I always tell my students at Sheridan to pay attention to in their own character designs - that the design has to be credible with the voice coming out of it. By analyzing the mouth shape and jaw structure, you can tailor the design perfectly to being able to create the given vocal quality and mannerisms.

Sadly, the world said goodbye to Peter Ustinov in 2004. Happily though, he'd had a long and productive life and career. I heartily recommend seeing his many great films. "Topkapi" and "Hot Millions" are both a hoot!

12 comments:

Tapan Gandhi said...

hey i remember him! you talked about him last semester! very inspiring as usual, mr. emslie :)

1979?! do u know how old i was back then?! -7

Pete Emslie said...

I always find that I look back on my life using influential films of the time as landmarks to note the passing years. I was 13 when "Robin Hood" was the Disney Christmas release in theatres. Looking back, I know it wasn't a great film, but it remains a guilty pleasure of mine. I still find it immensely enjoyable, mostly due to the great character animation and the fun vocal talents like Peter Ustinov and Terry-Thomas.

By the way, I was 17 when "Star Wars" first premiered. Tapan, you would have been just a 2 year old toddler, innocent in the ways of the Force. Of course, these days you're a full-fledged Jedi, the way you wield a pencil!

Will Finn said...

wow!Peter these are absolutely masterful! i too admire (and miss) this wonderful actor... for all my ROBIN HOOD-bashing i still admit i'm fond of 'hiss' and old 'pj'--largely thanks to the voices, (and Ollie, my idol).

gotta add to your 'must-see Ustinov' list: SPARTACUS, where he won an 'oscar' for his inspired portrayal of a wily slave trader.

brilliant work below,too. i'm only 47 myself, but if i lived closer i'd enroll in your class!
--cheers

Clinton said...

Awesome stuff! I really likes your lines!

Pete Emslie said...

(Apparently I can't do simple math. I just realized Tapan would have been 5 years old, not 2, back in 1979. Sorry about that error, Tapan!)

Hey Will,

I think "Robin Hood" is largely a showcase for the group of veteran animators who were still in top form at that time. I can forgive the film's pedestrian plot, as I'm really just enjoying it for the colourful characters. I love Ollie's work on Prince John, and I also think his animation on both Robin and Little John is the most pleasing as well. This was also the last feature that John Lounsbery worked on too, and his animation has always appealed to me a lot. I think my own drawing style tends to be naturally similar to his, which is probably why I relate well to his characters. Oddly enough though, my favourite character design in the film is Alan-a-Dale, the rooster. I have a nice production cel of him from the opening scene by Milt Kahl as he's sitting down on the letter 'O' about to tell the tale, "Like it is, or was, or whatever..."

Tapan Gandhi said...

i was born in 1986! :)

Will Finn said...

looks like old age is setting in, i made a math error myself: i'm 48, (not 47)!!!

but at this rate, who's counting?

best
wf

ps. made a spelling error in the previous comment, hence the deletion...

Boris said...

Very fine work!!
Looking forward to having you as a teacher next year.

Brian Sibley said...

Superb caricatures! The essence of Ustinov!

Pete Emslie said...

Hello Brian,

I'm glad to see this one got your attention. As you know, I really admire a lot of the British character actors. Perhaps I'll get around to drawing some of your favourites!

Cristi said...

I LOVE Peter Ustinov. First time I saw him in "Around the World in 80 Days", then in "Blackbeard's Ghost" and... I never forget him.
I am Romanian (I am 30), communism didn't allowed to see much movies... not I don't have any excuse: I will look to see all the Ustinov's movies. :-)
A GREAT ACTOR, A GREAT MAN.

Sometimes to see movies is not enough - you have to tell that people that they are great... I am sooo sorry that I don't have this chance now. :-( God bless you, Peter Ustinov, rest in peace.

barbie desoto said...

i love peter ustinov! he is SO wonderfully dynamic. you really capture his huge expressions!

thanks for this post. your style is really lovely. are these done in pen or brush and ink?

i think i'll be checking up on your blog quite a bit. i'm an aspiring artist hoping to study illustration and your work is great inspiration.