Do you know how much time and work truly goes into making a movie? What about a movie that is 100% animated? Disney makes amazing films, as you know, and we were able to get a behind the scenes tour of the Animation Research Library and see original drawings from Peter Pan!! Our tour was led by Fox Carney who is extremely knowledgeable about the ARL.
What is the Animation Research Library?
The Animation Research Library focuses primarily on preservation of original drawings and other items from Disney films. Many studios threw out drawings and items after a movie was complete but Walt Disney didn’t. He saved the work from his artists from the beginning in a “morgue.” The morgue was used in the older days where they would keep used but still reusable materials like clippings and photographs and things like that.
Walt Disney felt that the art needed to be kept safe and archived for illustrators to come look at and reference in the future. The collection at the Animation Research Library includes 65 million pieces in 11 vaults including drawings, concept art, backgrounds, and maquettes from movies dating back to Oswald to Disney’s newest releases!
Inside the Vaults
It is chilly in the Animation Research Library because their primary goal is preserving the items as well as they possibly can. Each and every time someone handles art, they wear white gloves. Inside the ARL there are several vaults and within each of those is a catalog system with what is included in that vault.
Some art is stored in glass cabinets and others in boxes and still some in binders. The cataloging system is very detailed and each piece of artwork is carefully stored by movie title in the appropriate place.
In this day and age, everything is digital. So, while the ARL will always keep the original artwork, they are also working to digitize each piece that they have into an online vault. Therefore, they have a team who photographs artwork all day and then a quality team that verifies that it is all there and correct.
This allows illustrators and other Walt Disney employees to access art at their desks instead of coming to visit the ARL and spending hours or days looking at, taking notes on and remembering what they saw. While this is still an option, digitizing will allow more convenience to the illustrators.
Peter Pan Original Art
While we were in LA for the Peter Pan Bluray release, we were able to see original drawings from the Peter Pan movie at the ARL. The team at the ARL pulled a lot of different types of art of us to see because there are a lot of different processes in making an animated feature. The original Peter Pan was released in 1953.
Peter Pan is a classic and I am SO excited that it will be celebrating its 65th anniversary and coming to Digital May 29 & Blu-ray June 5 (stay tuned for more about that release)!
Fox shared that you have the story process, the animation process, the background painting, the layouts and concept art and more. We learned that “model sheets are the pieces or artwork that would often be photographed and then printed on photo paper and given out to the crews of each individual character.”
Mary Blair was one of Walt’s favorite artists. Fox shared that Walt and Mary had started working on Peter Pan in the late 1930s before World War II. “They had an artist by the name of David Hall who was actually painting a lot of the story-sketch panels that they would actually photograph and create film-type presentations that were known as Lycia-reels. This helped them to get an idea of the pacing of the story and whether the story would work.”
David worked for the studio for 13 months, between May 1939 and June 1940 but then the project was shelved until after the war. “After the war, we get back to Mary Blair who has the visual style that was crucial to the look of the film, the use of the colors, the uses of simple shapes, the juxtaposition opposition of colors and more so it became much more of a different look.”
Concept art is “what is our film? what will it look like? what are the kind of moments that might happen in this film? You get an idea that you have this whole series of artists who are trying to understand all of this but then you also have story artists that create thousands and thousands of story sketches which they pin on boards and pitch to Walt and the other directors.”
All day, every day the collections team at the ARL preserves the art whether it be animation drawings, concept art, story-sketches, background paintings, layout drawings, etc. They preserve them, make sure they identify it, organize it properly, house it properly to ensure that it will last as long as possible.”
Peter Pan Flies onto Digital May 29th and Bluray June 5th!
Want a look inside Walt Disney’s office? Check out our Tour of Walt Disney’s Office + A Peter Pan Scavenger Hunt!