Sweet! Or what it’s like to work at Walt Disney Animation Studios

This week, we’re excited to have Maggie Malone guest posting on the blog. Maggie is the co-author of The Art of Wreck-It Ralph and director of development at Walt Disney Animation Studios, where she has worked on films including Tangled, Tinker Bell, and The Princess and the Frog.

Working at Walt Disney Animation Studios is full of surprises. I guess it’s to be expected that when you put 800 artists together in one building crowned with Mickey Mouse’s hat from The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, something creatively crazy is bound to happen.

As Director of Creative Development, it is my job to help all of our directors find, research and develop the worlds of their animated stories. Normally, my day is all about words. I’m reading feature scripts, looking for writers to hire onto our projects and I’m reading outlines of the films we are working on.

But daily I walk down corridors full of visual development art for our films. The visual development art is all exploration done by world-class artists who could be selling their paintings in galleries but who choose to devote the bulk of their creative energy to Disney Animation in pursuit of helping the directors define the final look of our films. What’s crazy to me is that usually the public doesn’t see any of this early art, unless it is on special exhibition in museums around the world, or in some of the galleries on Main Street in one of the Disney parks.

The only place the public can truly see all the art that goes into deciding the designs of our films, is in the Art of books—like The Art of Wreck-It Ralph.

One of my personal favorite moments working on Ralph was the day I came into the building and I realized that my office smelled like a cookie factory. “What is going on?” I thought and started peeking into the artists’ cubicles on my hall. And sure enough, I found visual development artist Brittany Lee sitting at her desk covered in bags and bags of candy.

Brittany had been asked by Rich Moore, the director of Wreck-it Ralph, and the art director Mike Gabriel, to build the world of Sugar Rush out of candy. Sugar Rush is a candy go-cart racing game world, in which our hero Wreck-it Ralph gets stuck and meets the loveable Vanellope Von Schweetz.

The world needed to be exceptionally inventive as well as meticulously authentic. What better way to figure out how to achieve this look in the computer than to start with a real candy model as inspiration?

It took Brittany weeks to assemble a series of models of the Sugar Rush town square and race track. She spent the better part of one afternoon pulling out white Neco wafers from wax paper sleeves full of assorted colors, just so she could make a candy flagstone path.

And this is what working with the artists at the Walt Disney Animation Studios and writing The Art of Wreck-It Ralph has taught me. Sometimes in pursuit of an original, detailed creation, you have to spend painstaking hours doing something monotonous and maybe a little absurd-sounding; to invent something new and never-seen-before, you start by researching and working with what you know. And if you let go a little and don’t take your art too seriously, you may find that you delight and surprise yourself. And if you can entertain yourself, chances are you may be able to entertain the world a little, too.

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