Behold! The secrets of the Disney Animation Library

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May 2, 2017, 11:30 AM EDT (Updated)

If you're a Disney-phile, then it's likely you've heard of the famed Disney Animation Research Library in Burbank, California. It's essentially the repository for the entirety of Walt Disney Animation. The unmarked, modest building houses the single largest animation collection in the world: 65 million pieces of art from the days of the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio to Moana.

Syfy Wire was able to take a tour of the Disney Animation Research Library to celebrate the recent Signature Collection re-release of its 77-year-old masterpiece Pinocchio on Digital HD. Fox Carney, manager of research at the Animation Research Library, and film historian J.B. Kaufman walked us through the facility, where they showed us original concept work from Pinocchio as well as a treasure trove of other materials. The building is so important to the company that it has its own state-of-the-art fire prevention system, and visitors have to use pencils to take notes. (Pens and their vile ink are not to be trusted in the wrong hands!)

Below are some of the amazing things we learned.

A workspace within the Animation Research Library.

1) The library started a digitization process seven years ago to catalog every single piece of art they have collected in the building. They started with the oldest and most fragile pieces. In that time, they have managed to digitize one million individual pieces that are now available to Disney Imagineers and artists for research via their inter-office digital archival computer system.


The Walt Disney Vault.

2) The building houses 11 individual vaults that each hold archived collections. Vault Three is known as the Walt Disney Vault as it holds films that Walt Disney personally worked on in his lifetime, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree.


Early concept art from Pinocchio

3) As an example of how long it would take to make a theatrical, hand-drawn animated film back in the day, J.B. Kaufman says Pinocchio took about two years. "But there were lots of people working simultaneously on the film, in the neighborhood of 700-800 artists."


4) Fox Carney says the concept artists would work on story beats and then pin up all the sketches on the board to pitch them to the director and Walt. "What you wanted to have happen is that Walt started making suggestions, even if he said, 'Nah, I don't like that part, but this part is good,' he was engaged. What you didn't want to have happen was have him arch his eyebrow and tap his fingers on the chair because that meant whatever you were pitching just wasn't working."


Sketch from the deleted song in Pinocchio

5) There was a deleted song from Pinocchio called "Three Cheers for Anything." It was to take place as the kids were traveling to Pleasure Island and singing about all of the rotten things they were going to do. Carney says, "At the time, they realized it was taking too long. We don't need to have a song break for that, but we have these sketches to show the creative process."


Pleasure Island's evolution.

6) Pleasure Island was at one time known as Bogey Land and Boobyland (as in 'silly,' not, ya know, boobs). "Their thinking was maybe everyone was eating candy and chocolates. But they decided to get away from the candy business," explains Carney. "They asked how about if this were a place where kids are allowed to do what they wouldn't be allowed to do elsewhere? And as a result of that, when they become donkeys you see for every action there is a reaction, which is very dark for an animated film."



7) In the famed whale sequence, Kaufman says, "They really went to town on the water effects. For the waves, a lot of the shapes were cut out on blue construction paper, and the shading was done individually for each frame with ground-up black and blue mechanical pencil leads. On top of that, for the foam on the waves they explored wash-off relief cels where a drawing could be transferred from the cel directly to the paper photographically. The rest of the emulsion was washed away and you could paint it like a normal cel. And in the scene where the whale is about to sneeze, there were six different animators that worked on that scene. It was on the screen for four seconds."


Pinocchio background art. 

8) For the early scenes in Geppetto's workshop, they built working models of some of the cuckoo clocks. "According to Frank Thomas, they did it partly because Walt would look at some of the designs and say it would never work," says Kaufman. "So they would build a working model so they could show him that it would."

For more archived art from Pinocchio, check out the Signature Collection Blu-ray or the Digital HD edition available now.