On June 8, 2018, members of the SLASC had the pleasure of attending a tour of the Disney Animation Research Library (ARL). This tour was a once in a lifetime opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes view of where over 65 million pieces of original Disney animation artwork from the past 95 years are preserved. The ARL is not open to the public and its location is a secret; only our volunteer drivers were given the actual address to the building. It houses every piece of artwork that went into the production of a Disney animated movie and includes story sketches, concept art, cels, layout drawings, and background paintings, dating as far back as the 1920s.

The 90-minute tour began with our tour guide leading us to a room where several pieces of original animation art drawings were displayed on a large black table. Some of the pieces displayed were created during the 1930s. The artwork at the ARL is used for internal educational purposes and any Disney employee in any division can access the ARL, either in person or through the digital database. This could be animators working on a Disney movie or artists needing inspiration or reference. The ARL’s research team receives requests for many different aspects of Disney art. Common requests include characters such as Snow White and Tinker Bell.

Next, we were brought to the design team area who handle animation art that goes on display at Disney art exhibitions throughout the world. Other current projects include Disney-themed murals for children’s hospitals and Mickey Mouse’s 90th birthday, which is coming up in November.

There is a total of 11 temperature-controlled vaults in the ARL. We got to see vault 1 which houses props and maquettes, small scale models used as reference objects. Many of the maquettes are grey and made of tough resin but there are older ones that are very delicate and easily prone to rot. In addition to the maquettes, we got to see some of the original puppets used in The Nightmare Before Christmas movie. Next, we had the pleasure of visiting “Walt’s Vault” which contains all of the original artwork created during Walt Disney’s lifetime, up through The Jungle Book (1967).

The ARL has been digitizing and cataloguing individual pieces of animation art for the past nine years. Disney has a unique cataloging system exclusive only to Disney and a thesaurus with Disney-specific terms was recently completed. We visited the photography department where individual pieces of art are photographed or scanned then sent to quality control and catalogued with unique barcodes. This allows them to be viewed digitally and easily located in the library. On a good day, 1,000 pieces of animation art will be photographed. So far, over 1.5 million pieces of art have been digitized with roughly 63 million more to go.

This tour is a real treat for anyone with a passion for Disney and it is a fascinating learning experience, particularly for students interested in archives. The SLASC hopes to schedule a second tour of the Disney ARL in the near future.

This post was written by Assistant Communications Director Sharon Vigil. To read more about Sharon (and the rest of the SJSU SLASC Executive Committee) click here.

Categories: iSchool SLA


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