Thursday, August 13, 2009

Pioneering Animation of Sleeping Beauty

(Article published in today's San Francisco Examiner)

One of the most beloved Disney animated features ever made, “Sleeping Beauty” took nearly a decade to reach the screen from the time that initial production started until it was released to critical and audience acclaim in 1959. An almost obsessive attention to detail and quest for quality were among the reasons behind the long timetable, which ultimately resulted in a visual richness and exquisite sense of style that has remained virtually unmatched ever since.

San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the film with a special exhibit, “Once Upon A Dream: The Art of Sleeping Beauty,” featuring everything from original model sheets and copies of pencil sketches to behind the scenes photos and actual animation cels from the production of the fairy tale classic.

Disney artist and illustrator Ron Dias, whose personal collection provides the bulk of the material for the exhibit, looks back fondly on his time spent on the film and the creative design of the production, which was handled quite differently than previous Disney projects in that everything had to adhere to the lush designs of one person, Eyvind Earle.

“Walt, being the innovative person that he was, was always looking for something different and new. He was actually worried I think that everything was looking quite moldy-fig and having the sameness to it.”

“Sleeping Beauty” was the first major project that Dias worked on, joining the Disney team in 1956 at the age of 18, working as an Inbetweener and Clean Up Animator, where he helped draw the intermediate frames to create the seamless animation that gave life to the characters of Princess Aurora and the devilishly evil Maleficent.

“It had to be precise and exact, or it would jitter and jump—and we had to make sure that we were looking at the model sheet at all times, because she was designed so differently than any other character,” says Dias. “We had to make sure that it not only moved smoothly, but did not look awkward. When you look at a character you look at their face, their eyes, and a mouth that’s moving, and she moved smoother than almost any other female character.”

Visitors to the exhibit can catch a glimpse of the great efforts that went into such a lavish endeavor, back before the time of modern computer animation when talented artists had to hand paint each individual frame, giving it a look and feel that no computer program could ever hope to achieve. The exhibit also features examples of Dias’ later work, including animation cels and concept art from films such as “The Little Mermaid,” “The Secret of NIMH,” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”

In the years since he stopped working on feature films, Dias has done many projects for both Disney and other notable companies, providing artwork for books, DVDs, limited edition lithographs, and even theme parks. He still gets fan mail from people of all ages, and loves to meet the people who have grown up with his art.

“I’m finally beginning to realize how many people we all have touched, and we’ve put so many smiles on faces—that’s really a wonderful thing.”

If You Go:

“Once Upon A Dream: The Art of Sleeping Beauty”
Exhibit open through January 10, 2010
Cartoon Art Museum, 655 Mission St., San Francisco
Opening reception with artist Ron Dias, Saturday, August 15, 7-9 p.m.
Regular gallery hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Tickets: Reception is free; regular admission $2-$6
(415) 227-8666,,

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