Eyvind Earle and Real Disney Art

Say what you will about the art of animation it simply doesn't get much better than this. Back in 1956 a group of young animation trainees visited the second floor of the Animation Building on the Disney Studio lot. We entered the double doors of 2B to find a hallway filled with original background paintings. Not reproductions, mine you. This was original art from the motion picture then in production. Of course, I'm speaking of Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty.

I still find it difficult to describe what we felt that morning as we stared slack jawed at the amazing art work that covered the walls. This painting was one of the originals we saw. Of course, the artist was the talented, Eyvind Earle who was Walt's choice for color stylist on the film. Mr. Earle had a talented team of background artists who worked with him. Prolific as he was, Eyvind Earle could not paint every background needed for the film. Included on his artistic team was a who's who of great Disney background artists that included, Walt Peregoy, Frank Armitage, Thelma Whitmer, Tony Rizzo, Dick Anthony and others.

I can't tell you how many of these amazing background paintings made their way out of the Disney Studio and into private hands. Why, you ask? Well, one of the reasons for so many of the backgrounds “walking away” was because many of them were replaced by revisions determined by Mr. Earle. You see, early in production there were complaints about Eyvind Earle's stunning backgrounds overpowering the animation. The background paintings were so beautiful the studio audiences spent more time looking at the backgrounds rather than the animation. The problem was resolved when Mr. Earle decided “gray down” his backgrounds and replaced them with a series of new ones. That meant a good many Sleeping Beauty backgrounds were replaced and the original paints were never seen again. (except in the hands of private collectors)

No matter. This stuff happened a long time ago and I often regret I didn't score an Eyvind Earle original back in the day when the “discarded backgrounds” were all over the place. However, that wouldn't have been exactly honest, now would it? In any case, honesty didn't deter a number of “collectors” who managed to walk away with a king's ransom in original Disney art. I've had the opportunity to see a good deal of original art from Sleeping Beauty recently. I remember when this old veteran was a young man staring transfixed at some of the most beautiful Disney art ever created. Over fifty years have passed since I first looked at this amazing art. Digital creations will come and go but this Disney art will remain forever.