The #DisneyInHomeBloggers trip was incredible, but the highlight for me was our visit to the Disney Animation Research Library (ARL). The ARL is the official “safe house” of Disney animation property. Once known as “the morgue”, the ARL is now a state-of-the-art preservation and storage facility. The location of the ARL is kept secret and we were not permitted to take our own photographs inside of the building. (all photographs in this post are property of Disney, used by permission) We met two incredible, passionate ARL team members: Fox Carney, an ARL Librarian and Lella Smith, the Creative Director for the ARL. Their Disney and animation knowledge blew me away. It was a huge honor to have them conduct our tour.
Our tour started in the camera rooms. Here, specialists take high-resolution photos (and I mean HIGH res…the output of the images could be printed onto your living room wall) of individual sketches. This method replaces the old scanning method which caused undo stress to images from being flipped upside down and pressed down by the scanner lid. It also allows Disney to send sketches electronically, when requested, instead of having multiple sets of (gloved) hands manipulate the papers. I am amazed at the patience the specialists have. Can you imagine snapping a photograph of every single piece of paper used to sketch a full-length film such as Cinderella?
Once the sketches are photographed, they are cataloged. The digital images are assigned special tags and file names. The amount of digital storage used by the ARL is beyond massive, as you can probably imagine, but the filing system makes it easy for the ARL team to find what they’re looking for. One of the techs showed us an animation sequence from the digitized Cinderella sketches. I’m pretty sure you can tell by the expression on my face how amazing it looked to see those sketches “dance” on the screen in front of us.
The sketches are packaged and archived into large vaults within the ARL. We went inside the infamous Vault Three, which houses films from Snow White (1937) to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977). The vaults are protected with a fire system which uses gas, instead of water, to diffuse any fires and protect the contents within. As Mr. Carney put it “putting out a fire in here with water would be trading one evil for another.” In other words, water is just as bad as fire when it comes to protecting a large amount of paper. We also saw some very rare hand-painted glass planes, used for backgrounds on a multiplane camera, which created a three-dimensional effect in two-dimensional animation.
The vaults also house many 3-D pieces, some of which were uncovered in the trash or in random storage boxes. These pieces, called maquettes are used by animators to get a better perspective on how a character should/would react to light and shadows. This Pinocchio was used while animating the film (you can see Walt Disney with this marionette in the photo)
We also had the great pleasure of meeting some of the ARL design team. This team is responsible for designing everything from artwork for high-level executives offices to exhibitions featuring Disney art. We got a sneak peek of the plans for the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic exhibition at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Fransico, which will be on view from November 15, 2012 to April 14, 2013. The ARL design team works on everything, including things like choosing a wall color or frame for the art.
My favorite part of the tour came at the end. We were brought into a room with original sketches and concept art from Cinderella. I stood right in front of something the legendary Mary Blair drew. There were tears in my eyes and a chill down my spine. Mary Blair has always been my favorite Disney artist and to see something her hands actually touched? It was incredible. Mary Blair worked on concept art for Cinderella and her influence is seen throughout the film as well as several other Disney films.
It was truly a once in a lifetime experience getting to tour the ARL and see original artwork up close. It’s something I will never forget and always be truly grateful for. Hey, who knows, maybe if I get that Masters in Library Science degree one day, I could find myself working at the ARL. Dare to dream, right?
Be sure to check out the Cinderella Diamond Edition Blu-Ray and Disney DVD Combo pack on October 2.
I attended the #DisneyInHomeBloggers event on behalf of SippyCupMom.com. Disney provided my transportation, accommodations and other incidentals in exchange for coverage of the events. While talking points were suggested, all thoughts are my own.