It's wonderful to see my old boss Pete Docter of Pixar Animation proclaiming Ronald Searle as a key influence on the design of his new film 'Soul'. In an August 2020 interview with 3D World magazine he is quoted:
The human world of the film marks a departure in the usual style of the studio from large, cartoon eyes to small eyes set in exaggerated features with long limbs, angular elbows and pointy feet - all hallmarks of Searle's style.
Filmmakers’ approach to the film and the characters’ performances was inspired in part by two diverse influences: the art of English artist and satirical cartoonist Ronald Searle, and the animation from Disney’s 1961 animated classic “101 Dalmatians.” Says animation supervisor Jude Brownbill, “Searle and ‘101 Dalmatians’ influenced the look and feel of ‘Soul’ in almost every department—from the imperfect shape of buildings, furniture and props, to the number of folds on a characters’ clothing. For animation, Searle’s influence inspired bold and direct posing within clear compositions that lead the viewer’s eye through the scene. Studying ‘101 Dalmatians’ reinforced the importance of laying out one acting idea at a time and holding within key poses to allow important moments to be read more clearly.”
Early concept art shows the artists working with a Searle-esque line quality.
artist: Nancy Tsang
Art director Daniel Lopez Muñoz on designing Joe Gardner with Searle in mind:
Disney animator Milt Kahl’s influence can be seen in the way Joe seems inspired by Roger from 101 Dalmatians, but the influence of British illustrator Ronald Searle can be seen in the character designs as well.
It’s so great that you noticed that. I haven’t actually discussed that with anybody when I was designing Joe. You have the character Roger in 101 Dalmatians and he is obviously a very classic, white character from a Disney film, but I really wanted to find a new character that could live on the way that character did, so there are certainly some influences there, but the artist I really narrowed my sights on was Searle. He had an incredible eye for representing people’s personalities and their interior persona onto a caricature in a wonderful, masterful way. He hadn’t done that many representations of people of color. Most of his work is of the white people surrounding him in England. We got inspiration from him, but had to find our own way, thinking of his shapes and angles, in creating the diverse characters in the New York cityscape.
Although Searle made his reputation lampooning stuffy, white British people he did, in fact, portray Black characters often, most notably when he first visited America in the late fifties and explored NYC with his sketchbook. In an interview he professed his fascination with the city:
and that they are going to start off with one big drawing as a double-spread and follow it each week or
so with single pages or double spreads. I'm expecting to get off tomorrow another packet . . . Central Park, Chinatown, Harlem, perhaps even the Bowery. I may have to go back there for a bit more material. It's exhausting I must confess but I still enjoy drawing Manhattan almost as much as Paris."
In 1960 Searle travelled to the south to cover the New Orleans jazz scene for HOLIDAY magazine.
'Sweet Emma Barrett' from Searle's New Orleans sketchbook
On another reportage assignment in Atlantic City Searle captured the visitors to the BoardwalkFantagraphics
Of course the cat in the film has a direct correlation to Searle's cats.