Ever wanted to take a deep dive into the history of Walt Disney Animation Studios? Look no further than the than the Animation Research Library, which houses an estimated 65 million pieces of art in its collection.
The ARL preserves the art from Disney shorts and feature films, so future generations of artists can reference and be inspired by it. Their enormous catalog spans the early projects from the 1920’s all the way to the modern-day productions and is carefully stored in massive vaults. Since its contents are immeasurably valuable, the ARL does not open its doors to just anyone, so we knew we needed to savor the experience.
In celebration of Pinocchio joining the Walt Disney Signature Collection, we had the chance to talk to J.B. Kaufman (film historian and author of Pinocchio: Making of the Disney Epic) and Fox Carney (the Manager of Research at the ARL) who revealed some fascinating facts from inside the archive. Here’s a few things we learned:
1. There are 11 vaults that house the staggering collection.
Vault 1 contains the earliest shorts dating all the way back to 1923, while Vault 11 contains art from the most recent film, Moana. These rooms are controlled environments to minimize negative effects from temperature or humidity on the artwork, which ranges from cels to story sketches to concept art.
And don’t think these vaults are just limited to 2D animation. There’s one vault that’s home to all the maquettes from stop-motion films like Frankenweenie and Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.
2. You can take a peek behind the scenes and see rare, original story sketches.
Though photography is not allowed in the ARL, Disney was granted permission to do a live tour of the facilities hosted by Carney. Viewers were treated to a look at an early stage in the production of Pinocchio: graphite sketches from a scrapped scene in Pinocchio that would have featured the song, “Three Cheers for Anything.”
These story sketches, drawn by illustrator Gustaf Tenggren, give us “a window into the creative process” and are featured as a supplement on the Pinocchio Blu-ray. Considering these drawings are nearly over 77 years old, it’s truly remarkable to see pieces of history in such good shape.
3. By digitizing the library, the ARL can recreate pencil tests and more from decades ago.
Also shown in the video tour, the image capture team works tirelessly to digitize the physical collection. With over a million pieces photographed in the past 7 years, animators and other employees of The Walt Disney Company who receive special access can access the files right from their own computers.
This technology allows you to zoom into an image more closely than if you were looking at it with your naked eye (mostly because your nose would get in the way).
4. Animators could use any medium they preferred when crafting their concept art.
Walt Disney was, of course, a tireless proponent of creative expression. His vision of preservation is why we have access to so many of these amazing historical touchstones, but he also allowed his artists to create using the tools with which they felt most comfortable.
The result of this was an astoundingly diverse collection of concept art from Pinocchio that included graphite, watercolor, colored pencil, and pastel.
5. The character of Pinocchio could have looked very different had it not be for one animator.
According to J.B. Kaufman, animators “worked a lot on that character design before they arrived at the final version. The artist that came up with the finished version was an animator named Milt Kahl.”
Kahl thought it was a mistake to approach Pinocchio as a wooden puppet. Instead, he thought of him as a little boy and added features like wooden joints. Focusing on the more human aspects of the characters brought about the Pinocchio we know so well today.
6. The shelved “Grandfather Tree” sequence would have shown us a world from Pinocchio’s perspective.
This scene remains one of our favorite story ideas that was devised and not used. In the sequence, Gepetto tells Pinocchio a story of the pine tree that was his actual ancestor. Here’s how J.B. Kaufman described it:
“On the soundtrack, Pinocchio was envisioning the whole story in his imagination, but it was early in the story and he’d never been outside of the workshop. So, he was picturing it in terms he understood.”
In other words, the audience would have seen little wooden or mechanical birds, just like Pinocchio saw Gepetto make in his cuckoo clocks.
7. The memorable Pleasure Island scene could have been very different.
According to Kaufman, “some of the artists at the time saw it as a relatively benign place. It was all candy and junk food and parades and circuses and so on, which might be appealing to a little boy rather than going to school.”
It was actually Walt’s decision to make Pleasure Island more of a “creepy amusement park” to maintain the arc of the story and its moral message.
After touring a tour of the vast treasure trove of Disney artwork, a sense of nostalgia and imagination was palpable in the ARL. For those looking to relive a bit of that timeless magic, Pinocchio is available now on Blu-ray, Digital HD, and Disney Movies Anywhere.