Disney Animation : The Hand-drawn Classics

Welcome Disney lovers, and if you aren’t a fan of Disney, continue reading anyway to maybe learn something about the company you didn’t know.

As some of you may know, I studied Disney Animation in my last year of University and fell in love with the history behind the company. People sometimes only acknowledge Disney for what it is now, but there is so much more and how it continued to be the successful studio it is today. Today, I want rewind all the way back to the original hand-drawn animation and how it evolved.

Mickey Mouse

Disney Animation Studio The Beginning

The Disney Animation studio was first found by Walt and his brother Roy Disney on 16th Oct. 1923. At the start of the company they had a series called, The Alice Comedies, which were short silent film with half animation and half live action. These lasted from 1925-1927, when they decided to go a different route and the birth of Mickey Mouse was not too long after. Mickey was the first to have a short with synchronised sound by the company – Steam Boat Willie (1928).

Over the years, the studio continually improved their animation skills and started a series of experimental animated shorts called, Silly Symphonies. Here are some of the processes early animators went through when it was all hand drawn :

  • Animators take the story board and begin developing characters. Every movement is drawn by the animators (24 frames per second of film)
  • Animators sometimes use a mirror at their desk to capture facial expressions for the characters
  • Test photographs capture each drawing in sequence, one at a time, before playing it back on the projector called a Moviola
  • Next is the inking department, where every line is carefully traced in detail on Celluloid paper.
  • Final stage is colour
  • Backgrounds are painted in watercolour and later combined with the character celluloids to be photographed on the master camera in Technicolor

Note: Some of these techniques are still used, but with the technology of computerised animation these days, some may vary.

Walt Disney Studios Disneyland Paris

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Snow White is Disney’s first animated feature film released in 1937, which became an amazing success and milestone for the studio. Snow White had 250,000 painted celluloids and photographed nearly half a million times on the master camera to complete the film. It launched the studio into a new direction and along came films such as Fantasia (1940), Pinocchio (1940) and Dumbo (1941). Although not as successful as Snow White, because of WWII going on, the Disney company was continually developing and progressing animation in a whole new way.

Due to Walt’s death in 1966, sadly the company began to decline. Even with animated futures still coming out, the company was struggling to stay afloat. Until, the resurgence happened.

Disney Renaissance (1989-1999)

After a few difficult years after Walt’s death, the studio decided to get back to Musical animated films, and along came The Little Mermaid (1989). The film was a major success and went on to win an Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Score and Best Song for “Under the Sea”. Disney once again found its footing, and reclaimed its classical Disney style. Beauty and the Beast (1991) also found major success, nominated for multiple Academy Awards and won Best Song Score. These successes continued to lead the studio into producing Aladdin, Lion King and so on. Many of these films went on to be critically acclaimed and commercially successful, all of which are based on well-known stories.

To summarise

The Walt Disney Studio’s has had many successful films, most recently Frozen 2 that is computer animated. But, what I love about hand-drawn animation is the aesthetic and feeling of it. Don’t get me wrong, I think CG animation is great, but when you go back to the classics you can almost feel the animators work through every movement. Some of my favourite classics are Robin Hood, Bambi, Sword in the Stone and Beauty and the Beast. They all have a unique quality about them I can’t quite put my finger on, but I just get a different feeling when I watch them compared to CG animation.

When you look back at how the studio started and how animation continuously evolved, it is quite amazing to see how far animation has come. I do love the recent films Disney has made, but I’d love to see another classic hand-drawn film again. What do you think? I’d love to hear your thought on whether you are an hand-drawn classic Disney fan, or a CG?

Follow me on Instagram @Double_j_creative

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