Thursday, July 28, 2011

Disney Dreamboat: Disney Heroes by David Kawena

I was in the midst of narrowing down who I wanted the next Disney Dreamboat to be when I remembered a series of artworks that I had seen a while back. They depicted the men of Disney in a very captivating visual style that straddled the line between realism and cartoon. I also remembered being very impressed by the genuine artistry involved and how darned hot he made the already yummy Disney dudes look.

The artist's name is David Kawena. Sound familiar? He gave himself the pen name (or should it be brush name?) in honor of Nani's boyfriend in Lilo & Stitch. Since that is my favorite Disney movie, he's already scored mad props from me.

He does an amazing job taking 2D animated characters and re-imagining them as fully dimensional, flesh and blood men. It is especially impressive when the characters are from movies where the art was highly stylized, like in Hercules or The Emperor's New Groove. He changes the look of them so that they seem believably human, but retains enough of the style of the film that they are recognizable as their characters. He also throws in a pinch of exaggeration, a la Tom of Finland, to keep things interesting.

Hercules (you mean Hunk-ules!) was the first Disney hero that he tackled, appropriately enough. I've always thought Herc was pretty dreamy, but he had such a distinct and cartoonish look that it's fascinating to see it translated to a real person.

I must admit that I never though Kuzco was all that fetching. I stand corrected. No touchy, indeed.

His Kronk is a bit of a stretch. I'm not so much a fan of using devil Kronk, since that's not really how he is seen for most of the movie, but whatever tickles your pickle. Once again, I'm amazed at the way he translates the essence of the 2D characters into 3D forms.

His work has tended to focus on more recent Disney movies. Most have depicted characters from The Little Mermaid on. He gives us a dashing Prince Eric, who is often cited as the dreamiest of Disney princes. I think it has something to do with the dark hair, blue eyes and those dimples.

He has ventured into older movies only twice so far. His Prince Phillip from Sleeping Beauty looks rather generic, but I must say that so did the original, so the blame doesn't rest on Kawena's shoulders for that one. Truthfully, many of the early Disney princes are rather interchangeable. He did, however do a fascinating depiction of Peter Pan. He aged him a bit so that you don't feel dirty looking at him and really captured the spirit of the character in an original way.

He also did a great job with David from Lilo & Stitch. Chris Sanders has a really distinct style that is on full display in the movie. Everything on the characters' bodies is widened and spread out. No one looks exactly like what a person would look like, but somehow the characters look more real at the same time. They are not super-skinny, wide-eyed and cleanly rendered, so they have a more imperfect, comforting feel to them. It's part of what makes the movie so affecting. Kawena's David still has the wide-set eyes and wide nose and the thickness of the characters in the film, but on a more human scale. Alooooohaaa!

He has been making new entries in the series fairly regularly, including the two newest Disney princes. Both were pretty scrumptious in their cartoon form and Kawena has certainly done right by them. I also like the fact that he has started to incorporate additional elements from the film into the portraits so that it's not just a character against a flat background, such as the pond and flowers with Naveen from The Princess and the Frog.

Tangled is a breed all it's own in the Disney pantheon. The look is still very much influenced by the style of Glen Keane, who is responsible for Ariel among other characters, and the look of classic Disney 2D animation. At the same time, it uses new technology to give the art in the film a more dimensional look. I love the movie because it was able to combine the best of both worlds. It has the spirit and artfulness of the old style using the technology and tools that are now available to the artists.

It's very interesting what he has done with Flynn Ryder. Since Flynn was already a 3D character, I was curious what Kawena would do to flesh him out. He has also done some live action characters from movies like Enchanted, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Chronicles of Narnia, but they fell a bit flat for me since it had the feel of more traditional celebrity portraiture only showing a bit more skin. But since Flynn very much has the look of an animated character, as opposed to creepy motion capture Polar Express digital animation (shudder), it made for a very cool piece of artwork. Once again, I enjoy the touches like the pan and lanterns that are part of the work.

Now, before you assume that Kawena is a one trick pony, here is some other art from his website that is equally fantastic without being quite so naughty. I'm a huge Giselle fan. She is underrated and should be an official Disney princess in my estimation. Part of what I love about her, and the animated portions of Enchanted in general, is the influence of the Art Nouveau style, which is the period with my favorite artistic style. I love the flowing lines, intricacy and elegance of it. He really tapped into this for his portrait of Giselle.

Apparently, he also has animation training. From the quality of his artwork, it seems that he could easily work for the Mouse himself. His Tiana is as good as a lot of the inspirational and promotional artwork that I've seen anywhere for The Princess and the Frog

I love this piece that he did inspired by Lilo & Stitch. He has spoken about how much he loves the film and how moving it was for him. You can tell from the spirit of the art that he really put his heart into it. He really captures the feel of the movie, both in the artistic style and the emotion.

His website, David Kawena on Deviant Art, has a lot more of his artwork, both Disney related and not. It is well worth checking out. It is leaps and bounds beyond most Disney fan art. If you commit to really exploring, he takes the time to discuss each of the pieces individually, giving you insight into his influences and process. He also seems to be very responsive to his fans, really trying to have a dialogue about his work. It's a very rewarding site to spend a spell with. 

Kawena now has a poll up on the site asking which guy they would like him to portray next in the series. I voted for Roger from 101 Dalmations, since his most interesting and eye-opening pieces have been based on the least realistically rendered characters. Plus, come on. Roger is a total cutie. Plus he can play piano. And guys who play piano are automatically hot. 

The Deviant Art website has a whole subsection devoted to Disney fan art that I have just started to scratch the surface of. Some of it is really fantastic, some of it not so much. If I find anything that is really unmissable, I'll be sure to share it with y'all.

What do you think? Is Kawena a little too far out or is he right on point with his shekshy renditions of Disney heroes? Which would you want to see him give a makeover next? Who is your own personal Disney Dreamboat?

1 comment:

  1. I think u r absolutely right! Even tho David Kawena is really only a cartoon figure, I've had the hots for him right from the start, lol. Kuzco is pretty hot too. The artist himself also called David Kawena, is bloody brill with what he does. He tries very delicately to make cartoon charaters meant for children, sexy for us older types and amazingly pulls it off. Hats off and bravo to him, lol. Wish him all the best, coz as a fellow artist, it's tough competition out there just to be heard about so congrats. XXX :-D