Founded in 1923, the Walt Disney Company has been shaping childhoods and fostering imaginations for nearly a century now. Both baby boomer and millennial have grown up with timeless films like "Cinderella", "Peter Pan", and "Alice in Wonderland" among their favorites, the charm of these much loved Disney characters truly enduring the ages.
The Walt Disney Animation Studios did not transition to CGI completely until 2001, meaning three-quarters of their years of filmmaking were spent working by hand with the aid of a number of skilled animators. Working this way, as you might imagine, was quite an extensive production, and you might be surprised to find out how early Disney animators were able to create such realistic and beautifully animated films.
'MIRROR, MIRROR, ON THE WALL...'
Animators were able to heavily utilize different references to create realistic movements and expressions. For example, each artist often kept a mirror at their desk. To give their characters some realistic expressions, they made expressions of joy, fear, anger, and surprise into their mirrors and recreated what they saw.
The animators in Photos 1-4 of this card showcase a number of expressions that were used to help create characters for 1950s Disney films like "Lady & The Tramp", "Sleeping Beauty", and "The Three Caballeros".
Another technique used is often referred to as 'rotoscoping', or live action referencing. With the rotoscoping technique, live actors dress up as the different characters in the film and are coached to act out a number of scenarios that would end up in the film. The animators then work to translate those movements to their characters on paper. Some of the most popular scenes of classic Disney films were made with this technique, including the Mad Hatter's tea party and a majority of Tinkerbell's close-up scenes in "Peter Pan".
Photos 5-9 show a number of other iconic scenes alongside the original live-action actors that acted them out for the animators. (I particularly love the scene featuring Maleficent. Can you imagine having to create or even wear that outfit for a team of animators?)
Finally, I added a behind the scenes video of the creation of many scenes in "Alice in Wonderland", most of which used the rotoscoping technique. The technique is explained and also features Kathryn Beaumont, the actress who not only voiced Alice in the final cut but was used as Alice's live action reference for some of the film's most memorable moments.