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The Evolution Of Disney's Art (Mar 02, 2012)

Almost a half century after his death, Walt Disney’s creations, both on-screen and off, continue to capture the imaginations of children and adults, alike. As K-G-O-U’s Jim Johnson reports, an exhibit showing at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art quite literally illustrates the evolution and scope of Disney’s cultural and artistic relevance.


From Disney’s earliest animated shorts to the full-length animated motion pictures, the building blocks remain the same.

(Mark White)

Mark White: “An animation cel is a piece of celluloid, traditionally. Hence the name ‘cell’ that is painted on by the animators using a gwash paint.”

That’s Mark White, Curator at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art which is set to debut A Century Of Magic: The Animation of the Walt Disney Studios. The cels in the collection come from resident collector, Janis Scaramucci (and Domer ‘Jay’ Scaramucci).

White: “And so you would have a clear sheet that they would paint upon. That sheet would then be laid over a water-colored background that could be used over and over.”

One individual cel only makes up 1 frame of film, meaning it takes roughly 24 frames for each single second in a motion picture. So, how do the hundreds of thousands of animation cels become a full-length, animated feature film?

White: “It would go from the animators, who would sketch everything out… to the inkers, who would refine the drawings and actually ink them onto the cels. Then everything was shot using a camera… one frame of film per cel.”

The exhibit traces Disney animation techniques back to the 1930s featuring early Disney stars, Mickey Mouse and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

(Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work we go… )

By 1942, Disney started to move away from the fantastic and whimsical… to a more, realistic style.

White: “They wanted to make Bambi look as realistic as possible. That style kind of prevails in Disney animation until roughly the late 50s/early 60s. When the Xerox technology comes in, there is an increasing emphasis on ‘line’ and a kind of sketchy quality that you see in 101 Dalmations and Sword in the Stone.”

By the 1980s, the Xerox technology gave way to computer-generated Imagery, or CGI…leading to a monumental film that also became the first animated film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

(title song from Beauty and Beast)

The exhibit has mostly been kept under wraps until tomorrow’s opening, but he says the few who have seen it have been transported, however briefly, back to a place of child-like wonderment.

White: “When we were picking up the cells, some of our registrars were helping to pack up the cells… and ‘ooh-ing’ & ‘awe-ing’ over an image of Dumbo… They spent probably 5 minutes looking at that (cel) instead of packing up the cels (laughs).”

A Century of Magic: The Animation of the Walt Disney Studios runs through September 16th at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.

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