Design By Disney

I’ve always had an appreciation for the design sensibility of Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. I confess I was taken the moment I saw the early sketches of Disney character artist, Tom Oreb and master animator, Marc Davis. Their task was a daunting one. They were charged with creating characters that could live in a world designed by color stylist, Eyvind Earle. The Gothic and Renaissance styles usually seen on the walls of Cathedrals and abbeys would be utilized to full effect by the bold background artist looking to break away from the traditional cutesy Disney house style.

Tom Oreb made no secret of his use of actress, Audrey Hepburn as his inspiration for the early sketches of the princess, Briar Rose. Oreb’s inspired sketches were soon refined by Marc Davis along with a fair degree of visual reference filmed on the Disney sound stages. Actress and dancer, Helene Stanley would be called upon to provide the delicate movements of Sleeping Beauty. She had done the same some years earlier when she perfomed the animated character, Cinderella. Had you been in a position to visit the office of Marc Davis back in the fifties you would have seen his drawing tables filled with sketches of the Disney heroine. A glance at the master animator’s drawing disk would reveal stacks of “Rotoscopes” on the pegs. The Rotos were mixed in with Marc’s rough sketches and provided a live-action reference for the characters movement. Never traced by the animator, the Rotoscopes were simply a visual reference that allowed the artist to keep his movements life-like. Once the Walt Disney motion picture moved into full production mode, several clean-up units were established to finalized the completed rough animation. As you can probably already guess, each character in the Disney animated film had its own clean-up team. In the case of the very difficult Briar Rose, that task would be given to three exceptional young women whose office was ajacent to the master animator. Although they labored on the motion picture for two or more years, none receieved a screen credit. That explains why no one knows their names today. However, that little oversight will be taken care of now. Their names are, Mary Anderson, Doris Collins and Fran Marr.

As I stated earlier, I’ve always had an appreciation for design sensibility of the Sleeping Beauty characters. I love the straight against curve in the drawings and the level of sophistication in these unique Disney characters. You can be sure that animator, Milt Kahl made his contribution as well. Besides being an exceptional draftsman, Kahl was particularly gifted at capturing the essence of a character in few lines as possible and his design skills served him well on this Disney film. Never an easy motion picture to work on, Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty remains a hallmark in the patheon of animated films and it set a standard for art and design I doubt we’ll ever see again.