[Trigger warning: Disney]
Back in the days when Disney wasn’t (as) evil, they produced this video about artists working production of Sleeping Beauty. It covers just as much about the nature of art as it does about the nature of teamwork on such a big project.
There are so many things to say about this piece.
Often there’s this perception that as an artist you must always have your own voice and always strike out on your own trail. Obviously this is a propaganda piece from Disney (it’s as much of an job advertisement than anything — yo, young guys who might be interested in art, it’s okay you can keep your identity and we want you to be the best artist you can possibly be but also Disney is a really great place to work join the army), but it’s important to think about artists working on such a huge project as a hand-animated movie. Every artists, from the character designers to the background artists, has to subsume his own personal style and quirks to the greater whole. The animation style has to be reproducible by all of the artists, not just one guy, so nobody gets a monopoly on design.
At the same time, there’s the sense of camaraderie, of people pulling together to work on something that’s bigger than each of them. I’m reminded of artisans working on cathedrals, or the reasons people give when they join the army. Walt Disney’s narration takes a similar view: “This entire operation puts one in mind of a symphony orchestra, where men who are good enough to be soloists in their own right are thinking only of the effect they are producing on the whole.”
While the movie is a visually stunning and cohesive end product, there’s the vast differences between each man’s individual styles. Some of the end products are very 50s looking, but that’s okay. You have the architectural/structure guy, the 3D/form guy, the personality guy, and the detail guy. You can see their strengths in the individual art they produce, and can see how those strengths would be of benefit when they all combined as a group.
Character Animator (refining the ideal character in motion)
Tree as explosion of force – reorganized into its most decorative aspect
Tree as a microcosm of the richness and variety of nature
“Portrait of a trunk”
Supervising Effects Animator (magic fairy dust)
Tree as a living thing, full of personality
Tree as engineering, structure
Personally, I find it fitting that they’re working on Sleeping Beauty, which I find to be the most beautiful of all animated Disney movies. The backgrounds (especially the animated backgrounds!) are one of my very favorite things, and the “dueling fairy dust” scene is one that I can distinctly remember watching as a child. Since there are no coincidences, of the four artworks produced in the making of this film, I favored the study of the tree trunk painted by the background scenery artist.
On a technical note, I appreciate how the script was written to both give the reader a sense of conversation, but also to explicate and narrate each artist’s focus and process. The end result does sound hokey (because it’s neither natural conversation nor a polished voiceover) but despite that it kept me engaged. Kind of a peek behind the curtain of how everyone worked together as a team, with complementary thought patterns in addition to art styles.
This is the best kind of “behind the scenes” production. It gives insight into the process of making the movie, highlights some of the people who do the work, and allows Disney to explain some of their philosophy of art. Plus, it’s interesting to watch.