Sleeping Beauty

Someone requested this sketch of Briar Rose and the little animals from the Walt Disney classic “Sleeping Beauty.” Attempting a sketch of this particular Disney Princess is always a challenge even though I worked on the animated motion picture back in the fifties.

As I prepared to attempt this little color sketch I first looked over some of the artwork from the Disney film that was created over fifty years ago. I remember first seeing a Tom Oreb sketch in Cosmopolitan Magazine while I was still a kid in school. I also remember my first trip to Disneyland in 1955 where Walt Disney had been generous enough to share a few sketches of the motion picture then in early development. Of course, I remember finally arriving at the Walt Disney Studios in 1956 where production 2082 was only beginning to pick up steam. Of course, as a young, green apprentice I had no idea I would going anywhere near this animated Disney masterpiece. After a year had passed an order came down from the Old Maestro himself. “Get this film completed!” Walt demanded. “Put as many artists you can find on the project and get it done!” Suddenly, the Walt Disney Studios moved into high gear and animation units were quickly formed to accomplish the task. Animator, Freddy Hellmich and his team would handle the three good fairies, Flora, Fauna and Meriweather and I suddenly found myself a part of Freddy’s team. Even with the order from Walt Disney our job would take no less than two and a half years to complete. No doubt a daunting task awaited us all but we were up to the challenge. Our team would occupy a series of offices in G-wing on the first floor of the Animation Building and we would remain there until the job was done.

Today’s CGI animators can burn through animation footage in a matter of months. Sometimes the work can be accomplished in weeks. Not so back in the fifties when animated films were made by artists using only pencil and paper. Our films were crafted by hand and more than a measure of talent was needed to get the job done. Of course, every scene went through sweatbox screenings and every sketch passed the discerning eyes of the Directing animators, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. I do not exaggerate when I say each scene was often drawn multiple times. For the young Disney artists this was our animation boot camp and it was the best training any animation artist could ever hope for. If you survived “Sleeping Beauty” there was little in animation you couldn’t do. 1958 is a long time ago, but we managed to wrap up the animated movie on schedule and the rest is history. As I sketch this scene from the film I can’t help but remember the wonderful years we spent working on what can only be called one of the most amazing animated film ever made.