Ric Holland's Blog

Barry Dean








Barry Dean’s professional career began in 1982 as an assistant animator – he later worked as an animator on TV commercials and corporate audio-visuals. He was employed by Hanna-Barbara as a layout artist from 1987 until 1988.

In September 1988 he joined Walt Disney Animation Australia – making the decision to specialise in painting background art. During the next 17 years he produced more than 40 000 pieces of art for Disney, contributing to 175 TV episodes, 17 feature films and two short featurettes. His traditional media include oils, acrylic, watercolour and pastels.

In 2002 he was re-trained by Disney to work digitally – matching the traditional look of their early films using PhotoShop 7 and Corel Painter 8. The studio also provided training in Flash 8 before it closed in 2006. In 2008 Barry undertook the Advanced Diploma of Digital Media at Randwick TAFE which focused on Lightwave, After Effects and Premier Pro.

Barry’s teaching career began in 1997 and ran concurrently with his service to Walt Disney. He organised and taught the Saturday TAFE Plus course in traditional animation for six years. He currently teaches traditional and digital drawing to Design and Illustration students at Enmore TAFE, and 2D Flash animation to Multi Media students at Randwick TAFE. Last year he ran a series of workshops in Flash at Dulwich High for years 8, 9, and 10 and this year he conducted a workshop on cartooning and an eight week traditional life drawing class for the staff of Capgemini.

Throughout all these years Barry’s one great passion has been to draw the human figure. Having explored most if not all the traditional media over the years he bought a laptop and a Wacom Intuos II in 2004 and since then has discovered new frontiers of drawing within the digital domain. His favoured software is Corel Painter X.







Creating digital paintings that look completely traditional

One thing the Disney Studio consistently excel in is their animation art – in particular the backgrounds painted for their films.

I had the privilege of working for the Australian Disney studio from 1988 to 2006 as one of their background artists. The images we painted weren’t just pretty pictures. Our job was to create atmosphere and to illuminate each scene to support the animation and propel the film’s story.

Chameleon of styles

A background artist needs to be a chameleon when it comes to painting technique and style. The goal is to have a film with a specific and consistent look or style. The film’s style is established by the art director in the form of pre-production keys that show the colour, atmosphere and mood for each sequence.  I needed to worked closely with the ten other background artists in our department to carefully analyse and match the art director’s key. If we all just went off and did our own thing we’d end up with a sequence of background images that were disjointed and without continuity. The film would be a mess.

Creating sequels to the classics

Many of the films we produced were direct sequels from films made in the 40s and 50s – the Golden Age of animation – films like Jungle Book, Lady and the Tramp and Peter Pan. The art direction for these films was masterful. It needed great care from us to perfectly match the look and feel of the original. Whenever possible we would use the same materials – paint, brushes and illustration board. It was an enormous challenge mimicking the masterful brush strokes of artists who raised animation art to the highest level. Yet our biggest challenge was about to come.

Training on full quota

In 2004 we were preparing to tackle a sequel to Bambi when news came that our department was to be converted to digital. Out with the traditional paints and brushes and in with the graphic tablets and three-screen computers. We would have just six months to train and then only three hours each week. At the time we were still in full production on Lilo and Stitch II using traditional watercolour and there was no provision in the budget to lower our quota for re-training. So we somehow managed to produce five backgrounds per artist per week for Lilo while learning the intricate art of digital painting. At the time most of us were computer illiterate.  We did get three days off for a fantastic workshop with a trainer from Corel on Painter 8 and later a two-week ramp-up time without any quota. After that however we were expected to produce one digital background each day that perfectly matched the original Bambi style. 


Remarkable achievement

Well, we hit the ground running and I think all of us individually and as a team achieved something remarkable. Here is one of my first production backgrounds for Bambi II.

What makes this background so dear to me is that the foreground branch and leaves were painted entirely using a Wacom tablet while the soft focus bushes behind were a scanned re-use original Bambi background. I needed to apply some Photoshop adjustments for continuity and some blending with Painter but I made sure the original 1942 brushstrokes in oil were preserved. Here we see a meeting of the new and the old.

 The digital backgrounds produced by our department looked so traditional that it became possible for original Bambi footage to be cut into the sequel as flashbacks – traditional art blending seamlessly with digital.  Thinking back over the 17 years I was with the studio, the digital art we produced for Bambi II was the department’s greatest achievement.  I remember at the time that the film was released one critic wrote, “It is as if the old masters of the golden age of animation have returned.”