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Featured Artist of the Month

Valar Morghulis

Like a single-origin dark chocolate next to one made from a blend of various flavors, a particular animator's character design and art style can sometimes speak to an artistically-inclined fan more loudly and clearly than even the rest of the animators on staff at a certain studio. In The Lion King, as with most Disney movies of the era, each character was designed and animated by a supervising or lead animator who worked independently from the rest of the artists, each following his and her own muse and vision. Timon's designer and animator, Mike Surrey (who also animated Clopin in Hunchback), has served as an especially effective inspiration for this month's Featured Artist, Valar Morghulis, who specializes in outstandingly accurate and on-model renditions of Timon, as well as new imaginings of him with naturalistic realism every bit as appealing as his Disney design.
Wow....I am... speechless. Honestly. I had to check my mails about three times until I finally believed that the mail I received was real and that I got Artist of the Month.

Unfortunately I am not very good at writing 'speeches', especially with my school English, but I'll do my very best.

People who know me a bit better might say 'Here she goes again.' now, when I say that I really didn't expect becoming Artist of the Month. Why? Well, because I tend to be very critical about my pictures. The more I am thankful for all those people out there who never stopped encouraging me. I want to take this chance to thank all of them — especially my friends (you crazy fellows know who you are :3). Thank you for your support, your compliments, but also for your criticism and of course, thank you for this title. It really means a lot to me!

When I was watching "The Lion King" for the first time in the cinema at the age of nine, I never thought that this movie would affect my life that much. As a child I couldn't really tell why, but today I think that I started loving this movie that much, because in contrast to most of the other Disney movies I had seen so far, "The Lion King" had the most well-balanced character variety - villains, heroes, a wise shaman character and funny sidekicks. Back at elementary school, every time someone asked me which character I liked most, I answered 'All of them.', because for me it was the mixture of all those characters that made "The Lion King" that loveable. "The Lion King" wouldn't be "The Lion King" without the hyenas, without Rafiki and Zazu, or without Timon and Pumbaa.

Talking about Timon and Pumbaa... I give in, it is not very hard to guess which character I fell for most, though. Before I watched "The Lion King" for the first time I didn't even know what a meerkat was. Today they're my favorite animals, thanks to Timon. You could say that meerkat definitely had a very strong, but positive influence on my life — and that's why I love this character so much. Some people might wonder 'What is so interesting about a sidekick?' now. Well, I have to admit, that I fall for sidekicks very often, because they are faithful to the main character, funny and in most cases the characters without much background information — what offers a lot of space for own interpretations.

I always look up to animators who are able to create such interesting characters. It must be very hard to capture an animal's characteristics and the voice actor's personality to create a new character — and I think Mike Surrey did a wonderful job on Timon. It is amazing how much his expressions resemble Nathan Lane's. I can only encourage people to have a closer look at this character, it is amazing what you'll find. Timon's cheeky, yet loyal character always fascinated me and I think it is the reason why I enjoy drawing him that much — even after 13 years I haven't lost my enthusiasm for drawing him and the other Lion King characters. Especially the sidekicks in this movie are very interesting characters, I think, and it is fun to think up background stories for them to fill plot holes. Give it a try, they're worth it! :3

People often ask for tips and want to know how to draw Timon / TLK styled meerkats. The one and only answer is — practice. I started drawing Timon and all the other Lion King characters by redrawing official cliparts — which is NO encouragement to flood the archive with redrawn cliparts now, of course. It's what you should do 'offline' as practice. Try to work out the characters' characteristics. What differs adult Simba from Mufasa, Nala from Sarabi? I often paused the movie to redraw scenes I liked, over and over again. By doing so, you more and more gain a feeling for the characteristics. You'll realize details like Timon's extreme thin wrists, Rafiki's elbow fluff, Scar's slim figure in contrast to Mufasa's body etc. The trick is to find out what is typical for the character first, the rest is done by practice. Another important thing is self-criticism. You won't improve when you're not analyzing your pictures to look for mistakes you can work on the next time. It's from the mistakes you'll learn.

Ok, that was a long rant, I know. I somehow still can't believe that all my babbling here will be shown on the front page now. xD Still, I hope I got the point across. So again, thanks a thousand times for that title, it's such an awesome feeling! — and keep drawing, because that's what we're here for.

Valar Morghulis has built a solid and enviable reputation through years of work as the resident Timon Specialist here at the Archive. Her on-model representations of everyone's favorite wisecracking meerkat are every bit as full of life and character as Mike Surrey's production animation drawings—which is no easy feat, since Timon's character design is famously idiosyncratic and difficult to get right. Yet Valar Morghulis has the mastery of it, as the pictures to the left and right attest; every Timon is unmistakable and faithful to the original.

This would be impressive enough in itself; but Valar Morghulis has gone further, by leveraging her Timonaholism to push her to try unusual and challenging poses, such as the foreshortened portrait second from bottom at right, or the dynamic "hula" pose at left. Timon is hard enough to draw in straightforward poses like the ones from his character model sheets; but to make the effort to render him convincingly in these engaging and ambitious invented situations is the mark of a truly committed artist.

Another such mark is that not only has she mastered Timon's figure in on-model art, but Valar Morghulis has also developed a "naturalistic" look for Timon (as in the bottom right picture) that's more faithful to real life meerkats than Surrey's stylized design, but yet just as expressive and versatile. Seeing the two meerkat styles next to each other (as Valar Morghulis has drawn once or twice) is a lesson in how much fun and enjoyment can be derived even just from the variations on a single character out of the whole Lion King cast.

This is not, however, to say that Valar Morghulis only draws Timon; she's also mastered many other canon characters, including Pumbaa, the various lions, and even herself as a human interacting with Timon. She's one of the most on-topic artists you'll find here at the Archive, setting a prime example of the breadth of the canon Lion King universe.

Be sure to give Valar Morghulis's gallery a look—the sampling here is only a glimpse into the variety of Timon- and meerkat-related art in her gallery, much of which is in an unfinished sketch state and even more vibrant and spontaneous-feeling than her finished work. It's a real treat to see the work of someone who's found a rewarding niche and has committed to extracting all the inspiration from it that can be had. There's bound to be a lot more where that come from.

Congratulations to Valar Morghulis!

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