Sketching Sleeping Beauty

I can’t help but cringe everytime a kid asks me to sketch Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Whether it’s Briar Rose or Aurora, this particular Disney heroine is darn difficult to draw. I should know. I worked on Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty for nearly two years back in 1957. Of course, I never worked on the character, Briar Rose, although I did put in some time on Prince Philip, Rose’s love interest in sequence eight of production 2082. The task of animating the Prince went to the studio’s premeire draftsman and master animator, Milt Kahl. The erasible artist did not enjoy his work on the film and muttered continually about being given an impossible job.

If you know your Disney history you’ll know that the characters in the film were initially designed by Tom Oreb. Of course, Tom’s inspired sketches were finalized by the Directing Animators, and you already know who they are. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston had a good deal to say about the design of the good fairies, Flora, Fauna and Meriweather. Milt Kahl would be tasked with making Prince Philip a believable character, and Marc Davis would bring marvelous screen life to the evil Malificent and our heroine, Briar Rose. I’ve already spoken about the Malificent clean-up team consisting of Dale Barnhart, Fernando Arce, Ruben Apodaca and Bob Longo. However, Marc Davis had a remarkable clean-up team as well, and they were all talented young women. In recent years, Walt Disney has often been characterized as a gender bigot denying opportunity to young women. If these critics knew their history (and, of course they don’t) they would know that the Sleeping Beauty animation staff consisted of several young women working in every phase of production. However, that’s a subject for another time. Let’s get back to the challenging task of sketching Briar Rose.

The young women worked in D-wing on the first floor of the Animation Building and they were next door to Directing Animator, Marc Davis. Should you enter Marc’s office you would see stacks of “Rotos” (rotoscoped frames of live-action film footage) on his drawing board. The live-action rotoscopes were never traced by the animator or his assistants. They were simply used for reference and allowed the artist to follow the path of action of the character. They were simply a guide or a visual assist to help in creating animation. The “rotos” were never traced, and if they were traced…the scene would surely look like hell. This meant the artists had to know their stuff. They had to be able to draw, and these young women were the best of the best. They had to be. They had to follow Marc Davis.

Let me introduce them to you because it’s doubtful you even know their names. First, there’s Mary Anderson. Quiet and soft spoken, she was an amazing Disney artist. Regretfully, there’s not much more I can tell you about Ms Anderson because we never spent that much time together. The next young woman is Fran Marr. Fran was a little more outgoing. She often wore the patterned, poofy skirts popular in the fifties and she had a real passion for the Dixieland Jazz of the Firehouse Five Plus Two. I hope I’m not going too far when I say she had somewhat of a crush on bandleader and animator, Ward Kimball. Finally, there was Doris Collins. Doris appeared to be serious and stern when correcting my drawings, and I confess I was somewhat afraid of her. In time, I would come to realize that Doris was one of the sweetest women I’ve ever met. Apparently another guy thought the same. He was also a Disney artist and oddly enough was working on one of Marc Davis’ characters as well. While Doris sketched Sleeping Beauty, her husband to be was working on the character, Malifient. I’ve since lost my dear friends, but thankfully, I still know their children today.

Finally, let’s return to my sketch of Sleeping Beauty, Prince Philip and the fact that these characters remain very difficult to draw. I truly labored on this particular sketch because in spite of working on Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty for two years, it hasn’t become any easier. I still sweated this drawing trying to keep the characters on model. In a odd way, I feel Milt and Marc are still looking over my shoulder.

These Disney characters remain damn hard to draw. Don't believe me? Just ask Milt Kahl.

These Disney characters remain damn hard to draw. Don't believe me? Just ask Milt Kahl.