I was asked to sketch the three good fairies from Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and simply doing this art brought many thoughts to mind. It makes me realize how much things have changed in the animation business since the nineteen fifties and how Walt Disney Productions was such a different company than the one we know today.
Back in the old days when Walt created his feature animated films he usually employed three different directors because making a feature film was such a massive job. Most of the Disney classics were made using three directors and various sequences were spread among the three. Sleeping Beauty would be a challenge on many levels so Disney’s animated film would have a supervising director and sequence directors as well. Clyde (Gerry) Geronimi was a Disney veteran with several films under his belt. He would supervise the film even though sequence director, Eric Larson would direct the lion’s share of the motion picture. The motion picture was not storyboarded in sequence and seem to follow live-action movies in the way it was filmed. The first sequence to move into production would be the meeting of Briar Rose and the Prince in the forest. This was sequence 8, and it would become famous for taking the better part of a year to complete. The next sequence would jump to the story’s beginning as the evil fairy Malificent is introduced and places a curse on the Princess Aurora. Then we jumped to the “Fairies Plan” as Flora, Fauna and Meriweather look for a way to thwart the evil curse. If the filmmakers appeared to jump around in the story it was because they were busily developing the characters. That means they choose sequences that would best define the characters they had to bring to life through animation. In one sense this was very effective. Unfortunately, it was not cost effective.
As the years moved past and costs began to rise, Roy O. Disney reminded his brother about the economic situation and the need to get the film wrapped as quickly as possible. Veteran animator, Les Clark was given the opening sequence and encouraged to move through it as quickly as possible. Not an easy task since this opening sequence was filled with pageantry and crowds. Clark had the benefit of two amazing layout artists, Jack Huber and Homer Jonas who were up to the task. Using clever staging, multiple passes and effective camera moves, the brilliant layout artists gave the sequence a sense of full animation. In truth, there was hardly any animation in the sequence at all. Woolie Reitherman, known for his action sequences would be perfectly cast as director of the dragon battle near the films’ end. The massive dragon was effectively animated by Eric Cleworth, a little known but super talented character animator. Disney animation fans probably attribute the dragon to the “Disney Nine.” However, please know that the formidable dragon was the work of Mr. Cleworth.
Sleeping Beauty was of course, a remarkable motion picture. Not only did it require the work of six hundred artists it probably had the greatest number of Disney directors on a single feature. But now storm clouds were on the horizon and as the movie wound down the talk of cutbacks and layoffs were in the air. Now the future appeared ominous even though magazine ads promised nothing but optimism. “Suddenly it’s 1960!” announced a new car promotion as we viewed the upcoming decade with a degree of dread. However, there was a glimmer of hope from the third floor of the Animation Building. Storyman, Bill Peet began drawing sketches of spotted puppies and talk of a new animated feature began to circulate around the studio. Maybe - just maybe the nineteen sixties were not going to be that bad after all.