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Sue Nichols Maciorowski, Disney animation artist behind Lion King, Hercules & Mulan, dies at 55

By James Comtois

Sue Nichols Maciorowski, the artist responsible for shaping the look and stories for many animated Disney films from the 1990s, including The Lion King, Hercules, and Mulan, died on Tuesday after a years-long battle with cancer. She was 55. 

“We’re deeply saddened by the passing of Sue Nichols Maciorowski, an influential visual development and story artist who helped define the design and narratives of the films of the Disney Renaissance and beyond,” the official Twitter account of Walt Disney Animation Studios tweeted Wednesday.

Maciorowski chronicled her battle with Metastatic Breast Cancer on her personal website.

Born June 10, 1965, Maciorowski graduated from CalArts with a visual animation degree in 1987. Her first paid animation job was painting cells for a film about abortion while still studying at CalArts. She later worked on such animated series as My Little Pony and Muppet Babies (which won an Emmy when she was on the team) before developing the visuals, characters, and stories for several Disney films. 

In a series of tweets, Disney highlighted Maciorowski’s accomplishments at the studio, from contributing to the “visual development and story” for Beauty and the Beast, to creating the “early visual development artwork for Aladdin.” She then went on to design the characters and visuals for such animated Disney films as The Lion King, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mulan, and Lilo & Stitch.

For her work on Hercules, which included supervising the film’s look “across layout, animation, effects, [and] color styling,” Disney created for Maciorowski the title of Production Stylist, since “no one had done a similar role before at Disney Animation.” Maciorowski also helped storyboard and design the memorable sequence for the song “Almost There” in The Princess and the Frog, which was inspired by such Harlem Renaissance artists as Aaron Douglas.

“She will be sadly missed by those of us who had the good fortune to work with her, but her influence on those films will be there forever,” said animator and director Eric Goldberg in a statement

“Sue may be gone but her legacy remains with us in the credits of many Disney films and publications she contributed to as an accomplished artist,” reads her obituary posted in the Tribute Archive, which also noted that Maciorowski had wanted to be a Disney artist "since she was eight years old."