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A Rare Look inside Disney’s Top Secret Animation Research Library
I was included on this tour as part of a media event promoting the re-release of The Little Mermaid. My expenses on the trip were covered, but I was not otherwise compensated and my opinion remains my own.
When you think about what you treasure most in your home, it’s probably the people and the history you share…the old photos and letters and things that connect you to where you came from, right?
Well, the same goes for Walt Disney’s Animation Studios, and the volumes of one-of-a-kind creations that have become part of what makes Disney movies legendary.
They keep all those priceless treasures in what’s known as Disney’s Animation Research Library…it’s so top secret that you’re not even allowed to know the address, but on a recent trip to learn about what goes into making Disney Animation creations, I was allowed behind the scenes in this never-to-be-revealed location, and given access to some pretty amazing information.
First, know that we were not allowed to take any pictures past the lobby. None. So, the images you see are provided by Disney, and used with their permission (and can only be used in this article, so please respect that rule).
Second, know that you can only visit this place with special guides. It’s not part of any tour you can buy through Disney, so there’s no way for me to tell you how you can get to visit, too, as much as I wish I could (because I know you’d be overwhelmed by the magic, too).
So I’ll do my best to fill you in on all the awesomeness here.
The Animation Research Lab houses the largest collection of animation art in the world. Its goal is to preserve the Disney history, using the best tools possible. It’s also used as a resource of sorts, so that Disney creators (Imagineers, if you will), can visit what is stored there as they work on future projects.
They are currently trying to digitize the collection of art…a major undertaking, considering there’s about 65-million pieces of art stored in the building…and they have special equipment that scans each item. We watched as they captured different images to store digitally, making it possible to pull them up in the future without human touch on these priceless pieces. One particular camera literally takes two minutes to scan each image, capturing every tiny detail of each delicate piece of art. It can only capture about 100 images each day. The other camera scans in seconds and stores between 1200-1300 images each day.
The ARL design crew was next on our tour of the building. These are the folks called on when Disney wants to tap into its history for things like the Art of Animation Resort in Walt Disney World.
If you’ve been to the Art of Animation, you’ve most likely seen the massive images along the walls at the check-in desk. Those are replicas of what you find in the ARL, and the design crew was part of making that happen.
Then we moved on through to the Vaults. Yes, the Disney Vaults, the ones they refer to when they’re promoting Disney videos for limited time periods. When they say a movie is ‘going back into the vault’, this is the place they mean. Pretty cool, huh? Inside the vaults (which are fire proof, hurricane proof, and burglar proof as far as I can tell), you will find the molds that were created for characters that play integral roles in the movies, along with awesome painted on glass that helped with the movie production (a discovery that was donated to the ARL years ago—something that could have just as easily been tossed into a garbage bin if the person who found them hadn’t been paying attention).
We got to see some of the conceptual art that went into making The Little Mermaid—a movie that Disney first looked at producing back in the 30’s. It was decided it was too depressing at that point, so it sat on the shelf, literally, until writers/directors Ron Clements and John Musker gave it life again, with a happier ending.
We were able to see images of the original Ariel, who was actually a blond!! And we got to see the original drawings of Ursula, who originally was created to resemble Joan Collins. Disney decided that character was a bit too frightening (agreed!), so they plumped her up to the image we know today (the original drawing is among those you can see at the Art of Animation Resort in Orlando).
We got to see some amazing things and, even better, meet the people who spend each day dedicated to keeping Disney safe and sound for the rest of us. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I’m happy to be able to share with you. I hope I captured just a tenth of its awesomeness in this article. This is truly one of those times I wish I could have taken every reader along for the fun!
Don’t forget, the Disney masterpiece—The Little Mermaid Diamond Edition—is being re-released on Blu-ray DVD October 1st!
ABOUT DESIREE MILLER
Desiree Miller is a mother to children ranging in age from 19 to 8 and an award-winning veteran journalist with a background in television news who now also enjoys writing and vlogging at Stress Free, Baby, a site she created that provides a daily dose of humor, hope and inspiration. She loves travel and shares stories on Traveling Mom and the upcoming 60 Second Escapes. Awarded ‘Atlanta's Top Mom Blogger' by WXIA, Desiree enjoys a focus on Atlanta, as well, and hosts the Atlanta Baby & Child Expo each year for expectant and new parents.