Disney’s Animation Research Library helps uncover the story behind the story for the home video release. By Tom McLean
Alone among Disney’s classic animated features, 1959’s Sleeping Beauty is better known for its antagonist — the villainous Maleficent — than the titular princess heroine.
Thus, with the home video release of the summer’s live-action retelling Maleficent, it only makes sense for the studio to revisit the original with a Diamond Edition release, out Oct. 7.
The first step in any historical Disney endeavor is the Disney Animation Research Library. Housed in a nondescript building in Glendale, Calif., the library is home to between 60 million and 65 million pieces of art spanning every aspect of animation production from the studio’s earliest days through the present.
Doug Engalla, part of the research team at the library, says the producers of a new Blu-ray, DVD and digital release will approach them usually in search of unused story materials.
“We were asked about any kind of rare material, usually in the story area, where it might not have been seen, they might have discarded some ideas — even songs that were written for the movie that did not make it into the film,” says Engalla.
The artwork on a movie like Sleeping Beauty will be re-housed: placed into a safer holding than they were originally found in. “We will take that material and start organizing it, using the finished film and any surviving storyboard Photostats that they took during production to re-piece the entire collection of story sketches together, so that we know what was in the film and what wasn’t in the film,” he says. “Once that’s done, we catalog every piece of those story sketches and then they’re captured digitally, which then can be reviewed for the producers of the Blu-ray supplement.”
The rehousing process on Sleeping Beauty took 18 months, and then went into cataloging and then digital capture.
And what treasures relating to Beauty were found?
“They did a lot of exploration in terms of ideas — who Maleficent was going to be,” says Engalla. “The original Sleeping Beauty story was not as expansive and with as much conflict as the 1959 film version, so they did have to come up with ideas such as reducing the amount of time that the princess slept, which in the original story was a hundred years. They just reduced it to one night so they could keep the relationship age-appropriate, if you will.”
Maleficent herself went through multiple versions before her iconic look was settled.
“She was a fairy. She had wings. She — along with Flora, Fauna and Merryweather — had antennae,” Engalla says. “There were times at which Maleficent had a falcon instead of a raven as her sidekick. At one point she even had a buzzard that spoke in a kind of a wisecracking style that actually reminded me of Iago from Aladdin. So it had a lot of development in terms of its story and where they wanted to go.” The vulture scene is one of three never-before-seen deleted scenes included in the Blu-ray edition.
Another interesting tidbit is a sequence cut from the film, in which the two kings, Stefan and Hubert, compare portraits of their children. “It gets a little wilder and wilder each time, as they are trying to one-up each other,” Engalla says. “It’s a very funny sequence, but it definitely in the context of the whole film, doesn’t really fit.”
The film was in production through most of the 1950s. “The original press release stated that the film was six years in the making, but there has been evidence of a story treatment that went back as far as 1951,” Engalla says.
The process also reverals interesting things about the artistry of a film, such as the work done by Eyvind Earle, who worked as an animator on the film and designed much of its distinctive look. “Because the film had to have a very uniform look and (Earle) couldn’t paint all the backgrounds himself, he was able to create sort of a tutorial panel for the artists,” says Engalla. “These long boards show his process of painting one layer at a time to create the look of a bush or a tree, so that it would maintain his particular style.”
Little if any of this would come to light were it not for the efforts of the crew at the library, says Engalla, who admits it’s a pretty cool job to work with all this classic artwork. “They do find some really interesting things, and they call us over and we look at it, we marvel at it and we can’t wait to share it with the viewers,” he says.
Animag: What kind of special features will you have on the DVD for season one? Roiland: I wanted to make a DVD that would really incentivize fans to want to buy it, because now it’s just so easy to torrent stuff, and I always will buy a DVD if I see that there’s commentary on every single episode, that there’s animatics for every single episode, and these are all things we have. There’s also an 18- to 20-minute long documentary behindthe-scenes. Probably one of the coolest and most exciting things to me is that we got guest commentary tracks for three different episodes. We got ( The Walking Dead exec producers) Robert Kirkman and Scott Gimpel. We also got The Simpsons guys, Matt Groening and Al Jean and a handful of Simpsons writers, to do a commentary track for another episode, and then we got Pen Ward, creator of Adventure Time and Kent Osbourne who also works on Adventure Time. So you actually get three — technically four, including the animatic — opportunities to watch the episode in a new way, which is huge I think in this day and age of piracy and stuff. So we just make it easy for everybody to get it all in one package and not have to download some ridiculous cumbersome file off of BitTorrent.