As a young boy, Disney story artist Bill Peet used to spend hours at the circus, drawing everything he could.
"I did have hopes of doing something with it. In those days, my secret ambition was to be an illustrator of animal stories."
Years later, when Walt Disney announced to his animation staff that their next picture would be Dumbo, Peet realized that all of those hours spent drawing at the circus were about to come in handy.
"The thing was, I was a circus buff, so Dumbo was great chance for me to get in and do a lot of boards. That was the first time Walt really noticed my work. Since I knew the circus, and had done so much sketching at the circus, the old big top circus, I just loved working on that thing.”
Peet’s detailed knowledge of circus life, as well as his ability to draw a wide variety of circus animals, made his storyboards for Dumbo really stand out. In the end, Peet was not only involved in the storyboarding of the film, he also created many of the character model sheets.
Oh, and there was one other source of visual inspiration for Peet’s work on Dumbo: His infant son, Bill Jr.!
"[He was] a definite influence in the way I drew the baby elephant."
To learn more about Peet, check out his delightfully illustrated autobiography: Bill Peet: An Autobiography (Link leads to Amazon.com)
Info & illustrations via here, here and here.