D-Day painting

I would like to make a quick addition to the D-Day post today.  This painting is in commemoration of the Allied Invasion of France (Europe) on June 6th, 1944, commonly known as D-Day.  The term D-Day was a generic military phrase that referred to any day on which a particular invasion or mission was to take place.  There was a corresponding H-Hour that was the designated hour that the invasion was planned to commence.  Operation “Overlord” (the actual code name for the invasion of Europe) was to become such a momentous and pivotal event in history, that the use of the term D-Day as it correlates to any other military invasion, before or since has become rather meaningless.


First wave at Omaha Beach

Members of the 116th Infantry Regiment who came from the Virginia and Maryland area National  Guard were among the first to set foot on the beaches of Normandy.  They were part of the 29th Infantry Division.  Some companies such as “A” company from this regiment suffered losses as high as 90%.  Troops arriving later in the day would still be horrified at the red color of the surf  from the blood of these young men.

Bedford, a small town in Virginia had more of it’s sons and brothers die on that beach, on that day, than any other town in America (on a per capita basis).  It is for this reason that the National D-Day memorial is located today in Bedford.

Statue at D-Day memorial

D-Day memorial at Bedford VA

The similarities between the poses of this statue and my painting are purely coincidental, but nevertheless profound.

wide view of statuary at D-Day memorial

Going ashore

The only thing that bothers me about showing my painting is that too many people think that I am remembering or commemorating the movie “Saving Private Ryan”.  It is not the movie I am paying homage to, but rather the historical event.  I wish more people understood the sacrifices that were made by my father’s generation for the cause of freedom around the world.

Tower of Terror, Easter Island Mural

In Japan, Tokyo, to be exact, The Oriental Land  Company teamed up with Disney to create the japanese version of Disneyland.  The first park was called Tokyo DisneyLand, and the second was Tokyo DisneySea.  In the DisneySea park there is a waterfront area that is themed after the New York City waterfront.  This is where the Tower of Terror is located.

The attraction is themed as a hotel.  The guests go inside the lobby and wind up riding the elevator for the thrill.  As Disney attractions tend to do so well, the whole experience is themed with a backstory that is entertaining in and of itself.  This particular attraction has the reputation of being one of the best overall themed attractions that Disney has done in any of it’s parks worldwide.  It was an honor and pleasure to be a part of it.

I created the artwork that appears in the lobby as murals telling the story of Harrison Hightower and his travels across the globe to acquire rare and precious artifacts.

Let me show you the Easter Island Mural.

Easter Island-Tower of Terror

Hightower and Smelding set sail

Here’s a photo of the mural in the lobby.

Tower of Terror lobby mural

a snap shot in the lobby of the Hightower hotel

I was given this ruff color sketch to work from.

initial sketch

Rendered by Chuck Ballew, a Disney imagineer

Hightower is shown in some of the other murals as having to escape an angry mob.  He basically has stolen something from them and they are upset.  In this location however, it appears that the natives, at least for the time being are happy to part with their treasure.  In this case, they seem to be satisfied with a barter involving a victrola.

tribal chief with his part of the deal

We're not sure what it is, but it sure seemed like powerful magic when they made it make sound!

Smelding is as usual doing all the work, as Hightower strikes another pose.

Harrison Hightower

Tally forth there Smelding!

Easter Island detail

Smelding the coxswain

Here is some detail of the ocean waves.


The ocean waves of Oceana.

Next time we’ll look at the Egypt mural.

tower of terror mural -Egypt

snap shot for lobby mural, Egypt

Omaha Beach Painting

A while back I did a painting for a World War II veteran who had landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day + 3.  He was a delightful gentleman and had interesting tales to relate about his experiences in the war.  He wanted a painting that he could put in his front room that would be a remembrance of the D-Day invasion without the gore and horrors.

This oil painting now serves as a conversation piece, and depicts a non specific location on Normandy that makes visible the various elements of the terrain, such as the beach, the sea wall, the bluffs and hedge -rows.


Typical terrain at Normandy Beach

I am an ardent history buff when it comes to World War II.  I will be posting some of my paintings that are dedicated to that subject.  I wish I could focus on that full-time.  We must always remember, we must always be proud, we must always be prepared, so we can always be free.  Thanks to those who have sacrificed so much for the cause of freedom around the world.

D-Day painting detail

A young soldier facing the task

Tower of Terror -Tokyo DisneySea cont’d

When I was a youngster, an old sage told me that as I grew older I would learn about nations and about peoples.  That has turned out to be true.  Working on the Tower of Terror -Tokyo mural project gave me a tremendous opportunity to learn about nations and peoples.

Let me tell you about the Japan mural since it is the host nation of the attraction in Tokyo, Japan.

preliminary design sketch

Preliminary design sketch for the mural concept

Harrison Hightower and his trusty assistant, the ever calm Smelding, apparently absconded in the middle of the night with this Samurai warlord’s armor, weapons, and colors.  I would assume that they had entered as guests, perhaps even welcomed.  But when all others had retired for the evening, the two world traveling collectors dispatched the guards at the door with a generous offering of saki and made off into the night with their prize.

saki effect

no resistance here

Smelding of course is dutifully pulling the rickshaw, while Hightower admires the fine workmanship of his new samurai sword.  It will make an excellent addition to the collection back in New York.

over the bridge

another clean get-away

The warlord has been alerted and desperately attempts to recover his belongings, but in vain.

they've got my stuff!

Too little too late to catch our "heroes"

The process of creating these paintings involves gathering reference material and making preliminary sketches to design the best possible image.  The following are samples of the various items of reference and different stages of the painting.

ricksahw reference

Badden Powell in a rickshaw.

samurai reference

Samurai armor used for reference

castle reference

The himeji castle that I used for reference

the castle

the mural version

Early painting

They all have to start somewhere.

progress is happening

The painting progresses

finished version

all done

The paintings were painted at one third the size that they would appear in the lobby of the attraction hotel.  This painting was about 30 inches wide, and 13 inches tall.  The mural installed would be printed at 95 inches wide and 45 inches tall.

Tune in for my next installment…Easter Island.

Schmelding at Easter Island

Reed boats, and giant stone heads!

The Tower of Terror at Tokyo DisneySea

Come, let me tell you a tale of adventure and intrigue, of foreign lands and exotic places, of danger and mystery.  Let me tell you the story of the greatest mural project I have had the pleasure to create.

It all begins in Orlando Florida, at Walt Disney World.  To be exact, the Disney MGM Studios theme park (as it was called then).  In 1994, a brand new ride was introduced to the theme park public.  The Tower of Terror.  I remember watching the progress in the years and months leading up to it’s grand opening.  I was working at the Walt Disney Feature Animation Studios which were located at the MGM Studio Theme park, right next door to the Tower of Terror.

The Tower of Terror attraction in Tokyo

That ride has become very popular and has since been recreated in Disney parks around the world.  The Tokyo Disney-Seas attraction opened in 2006.  It needed a different back-story since the Japanese were not interested in using the story line from the american TV series, “The Twilight Zone” on which the ride was based in the US.  I was commissioned to paint eleven murals that would help tell the story to the guests that arrived at the Tokyo “Hotel” attraction.

One description explains it like this:

“Guests then enter the lobby, a very elaborate and well-decorated room filled with lush furniture and beautiful art. Across each arch near the ceiling is a mural of Hightower* on one of his adventures. If one looks closely, they will notice that he is actually escaping the people in some way with a valuable artifact or item in his possession. At the end of the lobby are the elevator doors, broken open slightly and held in place by a plank of wood. The broken cable is visible inside. Guests are then ushered into a room filled with many pictures of Hightower, his expeditions, and his hotel.”

* Harrison Hightower is the main character in the story line, a wealthy New York hotel baron that travels the world collecting rare artifacts and antiquities.

You can see the ad for the attraction on YouTube.

My task was to paint murals in a victorian style that depicted Harrison Hightower and his travels.  He was always accompanied by his trusted assistant and valet, Smelding.

Hightower and Schmelding in Egypt.

Egyptian treasures.

These treasures were always brought back to the grand Hightower Hotel, located on the waterfront in late 17th century New York City.

Unloading the goods.

Unloading at New York's Waterfront.

In future installments, I shall describe the grand exploits of  Hightower in places such as Mesopotamia, Japan, Transylvania, and Africa.


In a small dugout canoe, Hightower transports his discovery.


The show poster that was used for the grand opening in Tokyo, 2006.

Illustration Examples

Here are some examples of my work. Disney work for theme parks in Tokyo and Orlando. The centaurette from Fantasia, and a portion of a mural from the Tower of Terror attraction in Tokyo. Also children’s book illustrations.

Animation Backgrounds

Looking back over some animation backgrounds that I painted long ago, and thought I’d share them here. The top image is from Disney’s Pocahontas.

This is from a Don Bluth film, “Thumbelina”. The film itself has many shortcomings, yet contains some beautiful artwork. I cut my teeth as a background painter on this film.

This is by far the most “famous” background that I painted while at Disney. It was a beautiful moment between father and daughter in the story as well as a pretty picture (MULAN).

This scene was featured in promotional spreads in TIME magazine, and newspapers around the world. Disney also used it for reproduction cels.

Book Jacket Cover

I am still searching for the best design for this book cover. This one is intended to be less dark and less seductive. Which do you like the best? Which would get you to pick the book off the shelf? That is the question.