Samantha Vilfort has been a Story Artist with Disney Animation for four years, working on Ralph Breaks the Internet and Frozen 2. In this episode of Sketchbook she draws Mirabel, the star of Encanto. (Disney/Richard Harbaugh)
SKETCHBOOK: an intimate instructional documentary series featuring talented artists and animators. Disney Plus Originals. Premieres on April 27, 2022.
Sketchbook is a new behind-the-scenes series, that features Disney top artists sharing their art process in a combination of a profile and dynamic how-to-draw demonstration. In a brief interview, I chatted with one of the featured talents, Story Artist Samantha Vilfort. She recently worked on the Disney acclaimed 2021 animated feature, Encanto. For her episode of Sketchbook, Vilfort did a step-by-step character study of Encanto‘s main character, Mirabel.
Mirabel is a kid just trying to figure things out, someone anyone can relate with. As a longtime cartoonist, I was intrigued by Vilfort’s very natural, careful and graceful approach to the character. This is an impressive demonstration that will inspire anyone interested in drawing, whether you’re totally new or a seasoned pro. During our conversation, I had to share with Samantha the drawing I did from following her instruction on Sketchbook.
It was a lot of fun drawing along with Samantha!
Samantha gained so much inspiration as a kid drawing from a Mulan how-to-draw book. So, it all comes full circle as she has a chance now to give back to fans and guide them on their creative journey. “I firmly believe that drawing is a teachable skill just like anything else,” says Samantha. “Anyone can draw–and not just stick figures!” This is something that I love to pass on to folks every chance I get! I encourage you to seek out Sketchbook on Disney Plus!
Would I have seen Parasite differently if I’d never heard of it and I’d simply stumbled upon it? I believe that I would have recognized it as something unique. But how high would my praise have gone? The important thing now is to go see it! Part of the point of the movement for change at the Academy Awards is to shake up the playing field and reconsider what makes for great cinema. Looking back on the Oscars, I see now how painfully obvious it would have been for 1917 to have won for Best Picture. It certainly delivered the goods but all too much in an Old Hollywood tradition. Director Bong Joon-ho is, of course, well-versed in and part of a new generation that is upturning the status quo. It’s all about mashing up genres and exuberant irreverence. While 1917 is in the great anti-war spirit, Parasite is as disruptive as the best work by another fellow cultural rebel, Jordan Peele. As is the case with many movies that take on an iconic status, you can read all sorts of things into Parasite. Many people, without having seen it, believe it is a movie about the need to care for others. I’m sure that Bong Joon-ho would be the first to laugh at the irony over some of the platitudes being said about his horror fable. Yes, there is social commentary. But, in the end, it is an artful, and highly entertaining, story told well.
It is the contrast between the poverty-stricken Kim family and the ultra-rich Park family that is the linchpin to this tale. We begin with the Kim family and find mother, father, and teen daughter and son literally hunched over in their tiny decrepit basement apartment. Played for laughs, we see them as they struggle to catch a free Wi-Fi signal from a neighbor. They are so starved for space that even the bathroom works as a suitable meeting area. In fact, it might be one of the bigger spaces as all functionality has been pushed up against a wall. You need to walk up some steps in order to reach the open toilet that rests just a few feet below the ceiling. Fast forward a bit and we see that the Kim family has set their sights on exploiting the wealthy Park family. First, it’s the son who lands a job as a tutor and, from there, it all spirals out of control as the whole family takes over each remaining staff position. It is a splendid caper that allows the Kim family to, at least, have a taste of the good life. Representing the best is the Park’s home, built by a famous architect and the ultimate in spacious elegance.
The story takes a decidedly grisly turn once the plot goes underground and focuses on activity in the Park’s secret bunker. Like any good horror movie, Parasite is by degrees turning up the heat in the frog kettle. Without spoiling a thing, it’s safe to say that this is a tale of one thing leading to another and then another and the consequences that arise. One by one, each of the Kim family members must confront what lives in the basement. If not for their own scheming, the Kim family could have remained blissfully poor and naive and all the better for it. But sometimes you gain wisdom once it’s too late. The rich Park family aren’t villains, even if they think the Kims smell of damp old rags. The Kim family only needs to look in the mirror to see the true culprits.
Basking in Luxury
The rich are not like you and me, so said F. Scott Fitzgerald, in one of the most celebrated lines of fiction. Bong Joon-ho enjoys his take on it with gleeful passion. While much has been said about the one percent versus the rest of us theme attached to this movie, another aspect is simply human folly. The rich, just like anyone else, can be utterly duped. The reason it’s important when it happens to the rich is pretty obvious. There’s money to be made from human vanity and ignorance. A perfect example in the movie is when so much is made of the Park family’s little boy who has aspirations to becoming the next Jean-Michel Basquiat. A obviously splapdash painting hangs in a hallway there as a shrine. It is definitely not lost on Bong Joon-ho that Jean-Michel Basquiat himself remains a bit of a mixed bag of authentic artistic genius and oversaturated superstardom. Jean-Michel Basquiat provides a cautionary example not only to the viewer but to the celebrated movie director as well.
1917 is a movie that brings World War I to life, a story told in the trenches and meant to be sobering. Early scenes in the film are looking down into the trenches. The humble title sets the tone for a narrative that focuses the viewer on a specific time, place, and protagonist. This is a journey that one soldier must take in order to save a battalion of 1,600 men. The battalion is being ordered to stand down in order to avoid an enemy trap and two soldiers have been tasked as couriers to send that message.
Crouching toward the goal.
Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) never expected such a dangerous, and pivotal, assignment but there he is, paired with another soldier (Dean-Charles Chapman) who he doesn’t really care for. But any callow sentiment is quickly wiped away once the race is on. As the two move above ground, they can’t help but remain low, crouching toward their goal. It’s not long before Schofield loses his teammate and the focus tightens upon the determination of one man.
Schofield’s silhouette often holds together the composition of scenes.
Designed to play out in the form of a single, extended, endlessly mobile shot, 1917 is visually stunning, bringing The Great War into brilliant 21st century relevance. No, we are not at all that different from our early 20th century ancestors, even with our technological superiority and cultural awakening. Bravery is the overriding theme. Schofield is the unlikely hero who is but a little cog in a system. It has been foisted upon him to do the right thing and that will only happen if he follows his conscience and precisely follows orders. Now, the camera moves closer on Schofield and his silhouette often holds together the composition of scenes.
Schofield retains the grace of the understated hero.
Director Sam Mendes pays tribute to his grandfather’s exploits in this epic film. Both Mendes and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns were guided by family war stories. The narrative is, by all measures, epic in the extreme. Influenced by the lore found in some of the best in cinema, literature, and even video games, this is a movie packed to the gills with intensity, a veritable roller coaster of highs and lows. Sandwiched between two heart-wrenching scenes of mortal combat, there’s even a quiet moment when Schofield stumbles upon a mother and child quietly surviving in the shadows. This tender scene inspires Schofield to sing a few lines from Edward Lear: “On a winter’s morn, on a stormy day, In a Sieve they went to sea!” Not long after that, Schofield himself is fighting the mighty life-threatening river currents. No doubt, this is a movie that can get caught up in its own grandiloquence. And yet, through it all, Schofield remains the stalwart understated hero and preserves for this epic film the irresistible charm of a fable. For all its grandeur, 1917 manages to retain a great sense of humility. Among its many influences is the classic novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, a story that is decidedly humble. Within this big epic film resides a modest human heart.