They drew the scenes that became the movies

Times Staff Writer

Film history buffs take note: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences plans to open an exhibition featuring more than 110 color and black-and-white storyboards, sketches and watercolor renderings celebrating the works of three illustrators on Sept. 28.

The exhibition, which will feature storyboards for Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," Cecil B. DeMille's "The Ten Commandments," the 1942 animated classic "Bambi" and dozens of other films, is a first for the academy.

"We've had motion picture illustration as part of exhibitions but most frequently done by the art directors and production designers of a film," said Ellen Harrington, director of the academy's exhibitions and special events. "This is the first time we are focusing on the journeymen."

The featured illustrators are William B. Major, who got his start working under DeMille at Paramount; Harold Michelson, who became an art director and got an Oscar nomination for "Terms of Endearment"; and Walt Disney's legendary illustrator Tyrus Wong, who did the backgrounds for "Bambi."

All three men were classically trained artists and pumped out dozens of watercolors and sketches each day as part of the illustrator team. Because the studios employed them, they worked both on films that have become classic examples of cinematic excellence and movies that are perhaps better forgotten, such as "Fun in Acapulco."

"Their finest work is not always done for the best films," Harrington said.

All three also had the foresight to hold on to some of their work, which was rare at that time.

"The works were viewed as only important until the movie got made and then were usually thrown away," Harrington explained. "But you look at some of this work and how incredibly accomplished it was and how quickly they had to make it and that it was never intended to last. It's thrilling that we get to show what this job was."

The exhibit, "The Art of the Motion Picture Illustrator: William B. Major, Harold Michelson and Tyrus Wong," will be on display Tuesdays through Fridays at the Academy's galleries at 8949 Wilshire Blvd., in Beverly Hills. It ends Dec 16.


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