Behold! Story sketches from another era. I’ll bet Disney geeks would recognize these storyboard sketches, right? They’re from the Walt Disney Feature Animation film, “Mulan.” An animated motion picture that turned out very well, if I must say so myself. Like most animated films, “Mulan” got off to a rocky start. The initial story reels lacked focus and a clear story line. After a good deal of work was completed in 1994, we found ourselves starting from square one in early 1995. Only this time around we made sure we knew what story we were telling.
The story sketches below were pulled from a series of boards I did on our “Mulan” training sequence. I began by viewing martial arts as well as Chinese action movies. Although I did a number of drawings, nothing really felt as though it was taking shape. No matter how many boards I sketched out, the sequence remained totally flat. There just wasn’t any entertainment on the screen. The young Chinese soldiers were put through their paces, but it all seemed rather dull and redundant. How do you make a training sequence interesting, we wondered? The answer was provided by song writers, Matthew Wilder and David Zippel. The song “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” seemed to bring all the elements together, and suddenly the sequence sprang to life. Mulan goes through her training exercises, but now the sequence had meaning and purpose. If you know the motion picture you’ll remember Mulan getting it together as a warrior. She even manages to climb to the top of the pole in the center of the camp. The young woman (although nobody is supposed to know) finally proves she has the right stuff and can compete side by side with any man.
Another interesting element in the storyboard sketches below is the presence of a character named, Bao Gung. Gung was a seasoned veteran who played a rather important role in an earlier iteration of the story. He was the drill sargeant. The grizzled warrior who had seen and done it all. However, Bao Gung was suddenly eliminated from the movie. It was screenwriter, Chris Sanders who decided that Mulan’s love interest, a soldier named, Chang, should be moved to the forefront and the character, Bao Gung should be scrapped. At the time it seemed like a crazy idea, but it was actually a smart one. The soldier, Chang began to assume a more important role in the films storyline, and in time he would reveal his love for Mulan. These are the things that happen when a films storyline is being constructed and major changes are made. It’s difficult to believe these storyboard sketches were made back in 1994. It was an amazing time in the animation business. The Disney Company had already released a string of hit films and no one had any idea what the future would bring. In time, the “Mulan” team would move to Disney’s Orlando studio located in Walt Disney World as the movie ramped up for full production. With my “Mulan” story chores completed I would soon be moving as well. Although not to Florida with my animation teammates. Another movie was being developed in nearby Northern California and they were nice enough to invite me to participate. The brand new animation studio would soon be making a string of animated hits on its own, so it was good to get in on the ground floor. However, we’ll talk more about that later.