Yesterday, I was privileged to be invited to the Disney Animation Research Library in Los Angeles. For me, this was nearly a dream come true; I'm such a Disney nut and to see some of the rare artifacts we were shown was incredible.
I was among about only ten people who got this opportunity, and boy did I take advantage! Not only did I take nearly 150 pictures, but I got to see some of the first drawings of Snow White, Bambi, and Lady and the Tramp. Actually, we were invited to continue in Disney's celebration of the release of the Platinum Edition of Lady and the Tramp's 50th Anniversary on DVD.
What made this experience more intriguing is we were shuttled to the Animation Library from the Disney lot in Burbank to a secret location somewhere in Los Angeles. The email we received gave us so little instructions, even the guards at the security gate didn't know what was going on.
We finally got to the Library, and were given a tour through most of the building; there were still some sections that we weren't allowed to see. One in particular was a section on the upcoming Disney/Pixar film Cars; the animators were working on a special demonstration and it wasn't complete so they told us we weren't allowed to see it. The Animation Library also just received some material from Miramax Films, which just adds to the over 60 million pieces of archival material they already own.
To give you a little history lesson, the Animation Research Library (ARL) houses all of the animated art for all feature films, featurettes, TV shows, and animation projects outside of TV. Did you know that in the 1950's, Walt Disney, himself, made animated videos for educational purposes to show school children his vision for the future? Well, it's true, and we got to see some of that art on our tour.
The ARL has been around since the beginning of Disney, but nothing was stored until much later. A lot of the material from the early days of Disney are lost or have been sold off by the animators themselves or private purchases. The Library recently moved to this ‘secret location' about five years ago; prior to that, it was on the Disney lot.
There's nothing they don't keep, from original concept art, to modifications, to model art, to sketch drawings, to final drawings, and then to cells. Believe me when I tell you this, some of the concept art was so incredible, it couldn't help but become the final product. And some of the concepts were so completely hokey, it could only be stored in the Library.
The main reason why we were there, Lady and the Tramp, has some history at the Library, and has some real history in animation as well. It's the first animated film to ever be made in Cinescope; as far as the ARL, they've got drawings and cells in the original standard size, as well as in Cinescope. Our main tour guide was Lella Smith, who is the Director of the ARL; she was joined by Fox Carney who is the head Librarian of the ARL. Both of them know just about everything about Disney animation and were excellent tour guides.
The ARL is a reference for the Disney company; for the Platinum Edition DVD of Lady and the Tramp, animators came in and requested to see every single background they used. The purpose of this was so they could color correct every shot in the film. Visual development was looked at and story sketches were scanned in to make sure everything was perfect for the release of the DVD.
But, the Disney animators aren't the only people that get to use the ARL, any company using a Disney character or logo is able to use the facility as a reference for character development. They recently have had requests from Buena Vista Games and Disney Mobile to use certain images. Just to give you an idea of requests that come in, last year alone, they had over 500 projects on their bill.
The ARL is divided up into three different parts: The Museum Researchers, or curators; their job is to work with the client and find out what they need to do on each project. The second group are the Archivists, a digital archivist and a hands on one; they store the footage in the correct places. The final group is for exhibits and displays; they show the material at different functions, such as theme parks and different stores.
Throughout the tour, we were shown all kinds of concept art, and original drawings of different Disney characters. As I said earlier, we were taken into one of the archival rooms where we were shown the final sketches of Snow White as they were seen in the theater. Since these drawings are so rare, some are in plastic to keep them safe; others are handled very carefully. Only certain people are allowed to hold the drawings; Fox Carney is one of them, but even he needs to wear protective white gloves while holding them.
The archive rooms hold all the art from the over 70 year history of the Disney company, including Steamboat Willy. Because it wasn't mandatory to save art and concept art back when Lady and the Tramp was being drawn, and even before then, a lot of the material is gone. Now, everything that's thought about, drawn out, scribbled, doodled…you name it, it's saved. Lella Smith was telling us that for Mulan, there were over one million pieces of art saved; that's compared to under 100 for a movie like Lady and the Tramp.
What I found very interesting, as Lella pointed out, Lady and the Tramp is told in the view of the dogs. That is why you rarely see the tops of the trees in certain shots. Lots of concept art was drawn of Lady and Tramp. One of the neat things Fox pointed out was there's a whole sequence of Tramp describing what it would be like if dogs were the ones in charge and people were the pets. That's something you can watch on the DVD; you can see the story sketches and concept art.
In one of the archive rooms, called the ‘Maquette Room' where all the original Disney figurines and models are kept. This is one of the most amazing rooms I've ever seen; there are figurines from Aladdin, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and even Disney/Pixar's newest film Cars. But one thing stood as the most coveted model in the room �" the original Pinocchio marionette that Walt Disney actually used as a prop to get the proper movements for his beloved cartoon character.
The last room we went to was called a ‘reading room;' there we saw concept art and original cells and drawings from Lady and the Tramp. We were met by David Jessen, who is the Vice President of DVD Production for Disney. He told us all about the art and talked about the different layouts of the film.
If I could describe being at the ARL, it would have to be like a kid at a candy store! I know that sounds cheesy and overused, but it's true. Think about it, I took 146 pictures and was just in awe of what I saw. It's something I will never forget!
But most importantly, it's my duty to tell you about the 50th Anniversary Lady and the Tramp DVD coming out on a two-disc, Platinum Edition set. It will be released on February 28th; but hurry, because it won't be there for too long. Soon, it will go back in the Disney Vault to be held for another 50 years.
The 50th Anniversary Edition of Lady & the Tramp comes to DVD this Tuesday.