Disneylicious: Hi David, welcome to Disneylicious.com You’ve become very popular among Madonna fans for the amazing portraits of the Queen Of Pop published on Madonnatribe.com and among Disney fans for the innovative and daring portraits of the Disney Princes. We know your works very well but still, you remain very mysterious. What can you tell us about your life and background?
David Kawena: First of all I would like to thank you for welcoming me to the site, and I would like to say "Hello" to all the great Disney fans out there! It is a real honour to be featured here on the site.
Yes, popularity and I are getting to know each other more and more lately.I t is great fun actually. I really love the fact that people know me through my works. I’m trying to keep it that way and keeping my personal life exactly how it should be – personal.
If I may go a little bit "off the subject". I think the world we live in today is so overly obsessed with people’s personal life. TV shows all over the world are glorifying that notion with shows like ‘Big Brother’ and "Survival". I find it a bit disturbing to be honest, and I have to admit I don’t watch any of these shows. I want to be known for what I’m creating, for my works, not so much for taking my clothes off on some ‘deserted’ island in a reality show, or videotaping myself screaming and crying on youtube or something like that.
The more popular I get, the more I see it as a must to have my personal life on a low profile. So there’s not much to tell about my background, but I think you’ll get to know me and about me a whole lot more by the time this interview will be over! :)
Disneylicious: You are known as an "internet artist", with your online gallery displayed at deviantart.com. How did the internet change your life?
David Kawena: Wow – How did the internet changed my life?! That’s a big one! I can remember vividly growing up in a small village I had no computer and no internet until the age of 16! I remember I was visiting my family in the big city and my cousin teling me I have to come see this thing they have on their computer called "the internet"! I said that I don’t want too, and she replyed – "there’s so many Disney stuff on it!" So I went right away – the first website I’ve ever seen in my life was Disneypictures.com! My god that was amazing! Just seeing pictures from all the new Disney movies… A month after, I got an online connection in my home too – I will never forget the first trailer I saw online – it was for Mulan! It took me like 7 hours to download with that old dial-up connection… But it was so worth it!
Today I use the internet as a platform for most everyday activities. I never thought of myself as an "Internet Artist" – that’s a great title! I like this title! I remember that I was thinking about finding a place online where I could display my works to the world, and that’s how I came up to know of Deviantart.com. I could recognise immediately what a brilliant platform it is for artists. Every person with an online connection all over the world can view my works in every given time – this kind of exposure is outstanding! But I have to admit that I never thought in my life that I would become this popular. More than 1,000,000 people have visited my gallery on deviantart.com – that never stop to amaze me. I also made some great friends online and that is to be that greatest thing that internet has entered to my life. There was no other way I could have meet so many people from all over the world without the net and I cherish each and every person I got to meet online. Most of them became my best friends in real life too!
I guess you can say that internet hasn’t really changed my life, but actually became a part of it.
Disneylicious: The Disney Princes really needed to be dusted off and be more contemporary. So you brought them to our days and made them look bold and sexy and how did you come up with the idea of drawing them like that?
David Kawena: When I started the first drawing in this collection, (the one of Hercules) I was just plying around with an old idea of mine, of seeing some Disney characters as ‘real’ but not 3D rendered. I always loved pushing the envelope with my art, especially to the point when people can no longer tell it it’s a drawing or a picture. That was a great way of plyaing with this concept even more, by taking clearly recognizable hand drawn characters and mix them up with realism in a way that has never been seen before! At first I thought of drawing Herc dressed up like in the film, but I felt like it still needed more change to it, a newer look and feel, so the black underwear came into the picture! Even before I finished it, I already knew that is going to be a collection! I thought of it like a photo session, where I’m the photographer and the Disney Heroes are my models. I was inspired by works of my favourite phographers like Steven Klein. This collection has, what I like to call, a life of its own. It’s been popping up on tons of websites all over, and people seems to like it a lot, boys and girls alike.
David Kawena: You know me, Madonna is always an inspiration, but in this case I have to say I wasn’t thinking of her and that famous Mondino picture while I drew Hercules. When it comes to the specific poses, each hero calls for something different. Hercules was a sure show off. Captain Li Shang had to have this martial arts pose, it was a lot of fun to draw that, and it’s actually one of my favourite portraits of the collection so far. The Jim Hawkins one just came to me in a dream, trying to think how would he react if I was a photographer taking his picture, he’ll be shy for sure! The most ambitious piece I’ve done in the collection so far is the portrait of Sitka from Brother Bear. Sitka holds a very big place in my heart, and I really thought he deserved a big royalty type of portrayal for his character, something like the head of his tribe, with all these antlers and fur around him. Another challenge was the portrait of Will Turner from Pirates of the Caribbean. Here I was up to take a real life person, Orlando Bloom, and make him fit in with a cast of 2D characters. I was constantly asking myself, should I make this more drawing like, or life like?! I was a great fun to do.
Disneylicious: Are you going to add more Princes to the collection?
David Kawena: Yes! A lot of people ask me that and I’m always answering that as long as there are Disney Heores left out there, the collection will not be finished! I’m saying that hoping that the Disney Studios will keep on bringing us all more new brilliant movies and heroes… I can’t wait to get to the point where I’ll have Prince Naveen, from the upcoming "The Princess and the Frog", added to my collection!
By now I already have some new Disney Heroes portraits in my couldron and I’ll share them with the world soon enough… I won’t tell you who they are but I can give you all some hints… One of them is a doctor, others just graduated, another one is a living dead, one of them always stays the same and the other one has but one song… Can you guess???
David Kawena: I get alot of that question too! And the answer is always – yes! I will be doing a ‘Disney Heroeins Collection’ too. But don’t expact it to be like the guys collection. It will be just as realistic and modern too, and I already have some rough to almost finished drawaings from that collection. You will see them appearing online this year!
Disneylicious: You’ve taken your "stage name" from one of the male characters from "Lilo and Stitch". Why did you choose David Kawena?
David Kawena: It started out as a game between me and my friends online, where we called each other with names of our favorite characters in online forums and stuff like that. Well, I thought calling myself Pocahontas (my favorite Disney character of all time) would be wierd and ‘Lilo & Stitch’ just came out in theatres – and of coures everyone was "Stitch626" or "StitchFan/Lover" and stuff like that, so I immediatly thought of mister Kawena, who is also my favorite character in Lilo & Stitch! What can I say, I like his butt and fancy hair!
Disneylicious: Many artists that love to draw characters have the inner dream of working for Disney one day. Do you also have that dream?
David Kawena: Oh yes! I would like to see myself working with or at Disney. It is one of my life long dreams, and we all know that "when you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are…" right?! So I really hope this dream will come true in some form, it is all up to me really.
Disneylicious: You’ve also worked on original projects and your own original characters. What can you tell us about that?
David Kawena: Well, I always make up my own characters and stories. I was working on a lot of original projects during my time in the university where I was studying animation for 4 years. Nothing of my original stories and characters has been published yet, but I’m hoping some of my original stuff will see the light of day in some form this year. And that’s all I can say about this subject for now.
David Kawena: Wow! That’s going to be a long answer! :P
2. Lilo and Stitch/Brother Bear
3. Sleeping Beauty
‘Pocahontas’ is the one film that had the most impact on me. I look at it more like a true life changing experiance than a movie. I was 12 when ‘Pocahontas’ was released, and at the time I was going through puberty and a big journey of self discovey in terms of my ways of thinking, my sexuality, my views on life. ‘Pocahontas’ taught me about myself more then any other thing in the world until that point. It gave me reasurrance to be who I am and to know that that’s o.k.; "no matter if we are white or copper skin." It gave me hope, that even when everyone around thinks that what you’re doing is wrong, love can still "turn every darkness into light". It taught me to always think outside of the box, never be afraid to go and explore what is waiting for me "just around the riverbend". And up until today, when I’m about to start a new drawing I’m reminding myself to "paint with all the colours of the wind".
Since a very young age I’ve had a strong fascination with the world of Native Americans, and I was always a very spiritual person. ‘Pocahontas‘ thouched me right there, on this deep level and made me re-visit my family passed generations that has roots in the South American Indians. Also, the love and appreciation I have towards animals and nature fit so well with the character of Pocahontas, how could I not love her that much?! The film’s visual style had such a deep impact on me, the amount of details in the backgrounds pushed me to go further and further in breaking my own limitations in drawings, and gave me the biggest growth I had ever had in a very short period of time in termes of my abilities to draw. All because I wanted everything I do to look exactly as it is in the movie.
My love towards different cultures, and different art styles re-found itself in ‘Lilo & Stitch". The look of the film was the first thing that caught my eyes. While seeing the first pictures of Stitch, Lilo and Nani, and I felt so amazed by that visual look of the characters, and yet it had something familiar in it. I can only refer this familiarity to pictures I had seen of a storyboard strip from "Beauty and the Beast" which was done by Chris Sanders. When I came to realise the entire visual style of ‘Lilo & Stitch’ was based upon Chris’s work, everything made sense! After the visualy stunning straight, sharp lines on Lilo’s precessor, ‘ATLANTIS: The Lost Empire’, and after spending most of my life trying to figure out the sharp shape visual styles of ‘Pocahontas‘ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’, Lilo’s oval, fluid, and almost liquid like visual design was like a breeze of fresh air. The film had such heart to it, so much warmth and love. I was so overwhelmed by it. I never thought there will be a time where a movie would effect me almost as much as Pocahontas did! Each character had a story to tell, and the fact that the film didn’t had that typical good against evil type of story line was just outstanding!
That leads me straight to "Brother Bear" – a film that has no evil characters at all! What a change to a studio that has a line of villians in stores. It also had no hints of love story in it, nothing that can be add into the princess line, aside of maybe, Tanana! LOL! And guess what? It was all about the Native American culture, all about nature and all in breathtaking visual design! How could I not fall in love with it?! I knew ‘Brother Bear’ was going to be the movie that would have had the most impact on me since Pocahontas from the first time I heard of it. I was so sure this will be more then another great Disney movie to me, that I actually booked on a flight to New York to be part of it’s world Premiere! I was fortunate enough to be there, to be a part of it, to meet Tina Turner, Michael Eisner, and the movie directors and voice cast. It was amazing. And the movie didn’t fail, not at all! It went straight to my heart and is up there in my favourite list, scond only to Pocahontas, and tie in with Lilo & Stitch.
"Sleeping Beauty" on the other hand was not a new movie to be released in theatres, it is more of a movie I re-disscovred! Before Pocahontas, Sleeping Beauty was my favorite Disney movie ever! But, I based that only on the two times that I’ve seen it in movie theatres as a child, and I didn’t own it on VHS growing up, simply because it wasn’t released back then. I remembered it had stunning visuals, especially of the forest, and I always remembered how much I loved that giant dragon at the end! But I only saw it once before Pocahontas can along. A few years later it was released on VHS and I got it and re-experiance the brilliance of this film! But something felt wrong to me while seeing it on VHS. It was not the same as I saw it in movie theatres. when I grew older I realised that was true as the VHS version of the film was Pan and Scan or FullScreen version. When the movie was finally released on DVD it was a day of celebration to me. Seeing the entire Cinemascope splendor of the art in this movie was outstanding. Sleeping Beauty is pure brilliance in every way – It is still amazes me each time when I think of it, that Princess Aurora appears in such little scenes in the film and yet she manages to remain its heroine and one of the leading Disney Princesses of all time, second only to Snow White and Cinderella!
Disneylicious: Do you have a favourite Disney Villain?
David Kawena: Oh yes! Helga Sinclair from "ATLANTIS: The Lost Empire". But I don’t know if you can really categorize her as a real villian though. When it comes to the true villians, I divide them into two categories. The comical ones, and serious ones. In the comical category, Yzma, Madusa and Cruela DeVil are the top notch! And in the more serious category: Maleficent and the Evil Queen! These two are the most scary and ladies Disney ever made. I guess I love that ‘diva’ type of characters, the ‘grand scale’, over the top characters. Can’t wait to see what kind of villian we’ll be having in The Princess and the Frog!
Disneylicious: The Villains are also a good material to work on. If one day you’ll be considering to draw a series of Disney villains like the princes what would you do to them, make them look even more scary, or more sexy?
David Kawena: Actually I’m planing on doing a series of the Disney Villains too, but it wouldn’t be a more sexy version of them! No way! I would make into fierce, scarily realistic portraits of them! Something like the drawings of H.R. Giger or something off that sort. This series of drawings will happen later this year.
Disneylicious: Our "mutual" passions, Disney and Madonna, somehow coincided in the 1990 Disney produced film "Dick Tracy", featuring Madonna as Breathless Mahoney. Wasn’t it great to see the real Madonna brought to life as a comicstrip character in that movie?
David Kawena: Oh, that was fantastic! She was great, really. one of her greatest roles on film. The art design in the film was brilliant. It reproduced the comic book look with it’s vibrant colours and brilliant costumes. Madonna was breathtaking in every different dress she had on, especially that black one she has on when she goes to see Tracy in his office. I really like it when different passions of mine come together, especially if it’s both of my greatest passions. I also have to mentioned the film Evita which was also distributed by Disney. There’s a big thrill in my heart every time I see Madonna‘s name mentioned in one of my hundreds books of Disney – "Disney: The First 100 Years" book (page 175)… :)
Disneylicious: You’ve built up a quite big base of fans of your works, how does it feel to be an artist that is becoming more and more known and do you want to say something to your "fans"?
David Kawena: It is an absolute thrill! not a day goes by without me feeling blessed by the love and support I get from people. At times it feels like I can’t thank my fans enough, I don’t think they really know how much their support means to me. So I’ll take this opportunity here to thank you all, each and every one who came across my works and loved it, who took the time to send me notes or an E-mails with ideas, thoughts and just random ‘I love your work’ – I can not possibly answer you all, but I do read them all, and I just love each and every one of my fans, and I’m really moved that my work has touched so many people, inspired them, and impowered them. Just for these reasons only I will continue on creating! I thank you all from the bottom of my heart!
Disneylicious: What do you think of Disney animation nowadays? Do you prefer 2D animation to 3D and what are your hopes for the many Disney projects that have been announced recently by the company?
David Kawena: 2D for sure! It’s not even a question. Nothing can over come close to the wormth, the depth and the magic of lines on paper that are coming to life. I would like to know if anyone out there can point out the work of a single 3D animator in a movie, as they can spot the hand work of Glen Keane behind Beast, Pocahontas, Tarzan, or Andreas Deja in Hercules and Gaston. I wonder if they can point out to a single visual style in a 3D film, as they can point out Chris Sanders’ captivating styiling of Lilo & Stitch, or the visually brilliance of Sleeping Beauty! Nothing can top that magic…
My love for Disney will never die. It is something I will take with me till the last day I will walk upon this earth, and beyond it. But you asked me what do I think of Disney nowdays, or more so the Disney of today, and I find it hard to answer. There’s just so much going on with Disney now that it’s even hard for me to keep paste! Only a few months ago I got to (finally) see HSM 1&2 after I bought them on DVD, and I have yet to see HSM3 or Camp Rock! I still hadn’t seen the new Tinkerbell movie! There’s a lot of commotion going on with Disney. A lot of great new live action movies came from Disney in the passed years, especially the "Pirates Of The Carribean" and "The Chronicles of Narnia" series and they felt so right for me, this is something I would love to see more of. But now we hear that Disney had decided to drop off the third part of ‘Narnia’ and I can’t see why?!
As a studio Disney is making a lot of wrong decisions lately. I find it hard to think that it’s not all about the money. Way back in uncle Walt’s time, some of the classic hand drawn movies failed miserably at the box-office, "Melody Time", "Make Mine Music" even "Fantasia". But Walt never stopped making them! A few years ago it seemed like 2D movies are no longer doing great in theaters as they used to, so Disney just dropped them for 3D films. Eventually they will have to admit it was the wrong decision to make. "Meet the Robinsons", "Chicken Little" and even "Dinosaur" did very poorly at the box office. And even though they are critically acclaimed, the "Pixar" films start to under-perform in the box office too.
(Finding Nemo – $339,714,978, The Incredibles – $261,441,092, Cars – $244,082,982, Ratatouille – $206,445,654, Wall-E – $223,806,889)
Then there’s the whole ‘sequels’ and ‘prequels’ thing, which at first when they came out I didn’t care for them at all. They were horribly animated ("The Return of Jafar") to being ‘far from amazing’ (Pocahontas 2: Journey To A New World" "The Little Mermaid 2: Return To The Sea") and had no true heart in them. But then, from each film they got better and bette. "The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride" was really great and had some amazing music in it, Tarzan 2 was cute enough for kids to enjoy and had some great visuals for us grown up fans. "Peter Pan 2: Return to Neverland" got a well deserved theatrical release, that showed us that these ‘cheap-qules’ have a lot more to offer then we thought. Then came the visually breathtaking "Bambi 2" that also got a theatrical run in some countries and a long with "Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch" the Disney Toon Studios finally shut us all up with brilliant story telling, brilliant music and a level of animation that looks just like the original movie. In times where Disney had no longer provided us fans with our yearly 2D film in theatres, these films were the only way to get some high quality hand drawn animation from the house of mouse. And now, with the release of ‘The Little Mermaid 3: Ariel’s Beggining’ they had annouced that the no-longer-cheap-qules are being cut off.
Still, if that’s what it takes in order to bring back 2D animation into movie theatres, starting with next years "The Princess and the Frog" then I’m all for it! "The Princess and the Frog" is the only upcoming Disney film I’m really excited about and that say a lot of the studio and how I feel about it these days. if only I had my way I would bring back the studio to it’s glory days of the early 90’s, or even better, to times of Snow White, Bambi and the Jungle Book… "The Princess and the Frog" is the first step in that direction. My hopes for this Frog is that it will turn into a blooming charming young prince not only on screens.
And who knows? Maybe the Frog Prince can take the thrown way from the former Lion King.
David Kawena: Thank you so very much for having me here! It’s been my pleasure!