To celebrate the release of Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs as the first new Walt Disney Signature Collection, I was invited to Walt Disney Studio for a private tour of their Ink and Paint facilities and process.
For over 70 years, the artists of the Disney’s Ink & Paint Department brought the magic of color to every Disney animated short and feature length film. Line by line, stroke by stroke they created the dappled light of Bambi’s forest, midnight flights over London, and the underwater shimmer of a little mermaid’s world. Today, the artistry of Disney Ink & Paint lives on in limited-edition animations artworks that are prized and collected worldwide.
During this rare opportunity, I was blessed to go back in time to learn some of the earliest animation processes and discovered 7 Things you may not know about Walt Disney Studios Ink & Paint Department.
All Mixed UP
The individual cell below of Mickey Mouse conjuring up a world wind of magic in the movie Fantasia looks like it could be one or two colors. However, the beautiful backdrop and moonlight were hand inked and painted using ten different colors. On average it took 24 frames per second and 400,000 individual frames to complete an animated film.
Unfortunately, they didn’t know how valuable the cell would become. Therefore, earlier cells were given away; some where saved in Walt Disney’s Animated Research Librarey or thrown out. Today’s avid collector will happy play thousands of dollars for an original production frame.
At one point the Ink & Paint Departement made limited edition film cells to commemorate a particular movie for Disney employees. Below is an example of the hand drawn cell they create for the movie Brother Bear. The directors provide the team with a print out of the scene they wanted to recreate. Then the team would match the colors using their library of 4000 colors. They would try to get as close at they could which was a challenge since the filmmakers utilized a much broader color palette that consisted of endless color options.
A New Era
Animated features, such as “Snow White” was hand drawn and painted. Till, Disney begin utilizing Xerox technology in the animated feature “The Rescuers Down Under”. The Xerograph allow filmmakers to develop several copies of their line work cutting 5 hours of production time down to 1 hour which ultimately reduced the cost to make an animated film. In 1990, the studio began using computers. The last animated films created using Xerox technology was “The Little Mermaid”, and the animated short “The Prince and the Pauper”. Disney still uses their Xerography camera to create employee cell, the licensee, and other merchandise cells.
A Rainbow of Colors
The early years of Disney Ink and Paint Department artist created their own colors in a paint lab using a secret formulated gum based resin paint. Although the artist love the paint it took 8 hours for each cell to dry. In 1986 for the animated film Oliver & Company they begin using faster-drying paint in an attempt to speed up production time. However, it was a total disaster because the mixing process required a full-time chemist on staff. After the experienced the vow never to be in the manufacturing side of paint again. By 1988, for the film “The Little Mermaid” Disney started creating color for their animated films using the base colors of high-quality acrylic paints. There is a record on file for color combinates used in their films in a master Rolodex, which technique consider their most valuable tool.
Tinker Bells delicate Fairy wings where design by using a stencil and applying the paint on the front side of the cell with a traditional airbrush. The average frame took 24 cells, and this technique was applied to each cell. The challenge of using an airbrush is the paint drys very quickly which can be an issue on hot days and the cells have to be extramly clean or the paint will not stick.
Son White and the Seven Dwarfs theatrical release was in 1937. At the time is was the highest grossing movie of its’s time until two years later when Gone with The Wind came out. Walt Disney reinvested the money made from the film by purchasing 50 of land in Burbank California to build the world’s first Animate Studio. In honor of the film’s accomplishments, When the team Disney building was made, Walt Disney included statues of the seven dwarfs holding up the building to symbolize how the profits from the film “Snow White” held up the company. Each figure is 19′ tall with the exception of Dopey who is 13′ tall and each weighs 20,000 pounds.