Take a Peek Inside Disney’s Animation Research Library #LittleMermaidEvent

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Disclosure: Disney paid for my flights, lodging, and expenses for this trip but all opinions are 100% my own.
One of the most interesting parts of my Disney trip to Los Angeles last month was going to the Disney Animation Research Library.  The Animation Research Library is where most of Disney’s art is stored.  There are over 65 MILLION pieces of art currently in stored in the Animation Research Library from the early days of Disney films to the newest computer animated films and everything in between.  It is a great resource of Disney employees to use to look at older movies and gain inspiration for new movies.
As soon as we walked in the ARL we were told that we weren’t allowed to use pens anywhere the art was kept so we were all given pencils to take notes with.  There is no food or water allowed near the artwork and the use museum quality handling standards such as using white gloves when touching any artwork.
Right now the ARL is working to digitally photograph all of the art to be able to preserve it forever.  There are 2 different processes for photographing the art.  They use high resolution cameras that use 240 mega pixels per file and take about 2 minutes PER PICTURE for older artwork and less stable artwork such as charcoal.  For animation art they use a lower resolution cameras (instant art camera) that use 60 mega pixels.  On average this camera can take 1,000 images per day per camera.  The ARL has scanned 800,000 pieces of art in the last 3 1/2 years!  They do daily quality control checks for color, continuity, etc.  They check for things such as hair, dirt, etc. that might have gotten into the picture and they are viewed at 24 frames per second of animation when they check so the person checking as to really keep an eye on details.
The Design Department is the department that loads out art work for exhibits and creates lots of projects for theme parks, museums, and more.  There is no original art work in this department so they have a large workshop where they can put art together for projects, use all types of medium to design exhibits, and get really creative for many different Disney departments.  The Design Department uses colored pencils to enhance colors to levels that printers can’t.  They also help put books together such as a Tinkerbell book coming out this fall as well as a visual effect book on hand drawing that is coming out soon.  There are 2 musicians in the Design Department so we were told that there are lots of afternoon jam sessions to boost energy and creativity while working.   See the guitars?

To really get a taste of Disney’s history we were lucky enough to be able to go inside several of Disney’s vaults- an area usually closed to non-Disney employees.  There are 11 vaults at the ARL and they contain over 40 years of Disney history.  They are all temperature controlled and COLD!  9 of the vaults house flat art such as individual cells, drawings, layouts, etc.  The art is all handled with white gloves and the vaults are earthquake protected since they are in California.  Much of the older sketches and storyboards have coffee rings, food stains, and notes on them from their original artists.  Early in Disney’s history they didn’t have scripts early in the movie making process.  The lines were all written on the story boards and we were able to see some examples of this.  In the 3D vaults models, puppets, and anything not flat is stored.  One interesting thing we learned is that they often used models to figure out shadows instead of getting a whole orchestra to come in.  The multi-plane camera paintings on glass are also store here.  The Little Mermaid was one of the last films that was created using a multi-plane camera.  It was also the last Disney movie to use hand painted cells (except for a small part at the end of the movie).
The final stop on our tour of the Animation Research Library as to meet with Lella Smith, the Creative Director of The Little Mermaid.  She as across from us, behind a table covered in various original art work sketches from The Little Mermaid.  She shared with us how Ariel’s hair was designed with more body than individual strands of hair since she was underwater so her look was more like astronaut’s hair.  She shared with us how at one time Ursula was going to be designed after Joan Joan Collins.  It was Roy Disney who said no, no, no she should be more like an octopus.   I found it interesting to learn that Ariel was originally going to be a blonde.  I just can’t see Ariel as a blonde, can you?
It was originally discussed to make The Little Mermaid in the 1930’s but it was then shelved until it was finally made in 1989.   Now the new Diamond Edition of The Little Mermaid will be available October 1, 2013.  It is not simply a rescan of the original.  It is old Little Mermaid footage manipulated into a new 3D version.  Make sure to check it out!

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