Disclosure: This is part of a sponsored collaboration with Disney and the DisneyToons Studios. I received an all-expense paid trip from Disney so that I could gather and share this information. However, all experiences and opinions are always 100% my own as this post is written by me in its entirety.
Before an animated movie can be created there are many aspects that come into play. First you need a story artist to take the story from words to pictures. You also need an animation supervisor to oversee that those pictures stay consistent throughout the story. There is so much more that goes into an animated film that I would have ever believed. So allow me to introduce to you the Story Artist and Animation Supervisor, both of whom worked very hard to bring to life the newest Disney Tinkerbell movie, Tinkerbell and the Legend of the Neverbeast.
Mike Greenholt joined Disneytoon Studios in October 2005 as an animator and character modeler. He has worked on a previous Tinkerbell movie, Tarzan, Atlantis, Fantasia 2000, Treasure Planet and Home on the Range. As the animation supervisor for this film, Ryan was charged with the task of working with the team of animators to oversee the characters physical performances stayed consistent throughout the film; movements, facial expressions and acting. A lifelong fan of drawing, his passion for animation was sparked at age 14 when he saw “The Little Mermaid.” He attended the Art School at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Fla., graduating as an illustration major. He learned to animate while at Disney.
Ryan Green joined Disney as a story artist in 2010. He has worked on Pixie Hollow Games, Secret of the Wings, The Pirate Fairy and Planes: Fire and Rescue. As story artist Ryan worked directly with the director and story team to help realize the film’s character personalities and story. His job is to draw the cinematography and character performances from the script pages, creating a visual for animators to work with. Ryan earned a Bachelor of Science in biology (vertebrate physiology tract) from The Pennsylvania State University. After taking a drawing class as an elective at Penn State, he discovered a passion for animation, returning to college to earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts in time-based media studies (animation tract) from the Columbus College of Art and Design.
Ryan, what does a story artist do and what is your role in this film?
As a story artist, I deal with the director and the writer and the head of story. And we’ll sit in a room kind of like this and we’ll kind of discuss the story and figure out the story beats and then all the story artists run away to the computers and we just kind of draw draw draw draw draw. And then we come back with all the panels and we put them up on-screen and we look at them and say, “is this working?”. And it never works the first time or the second or the third [time]. And we basically draw out about four or five full movies before we send it off to animation. My role specifically in the movie was to deal with a lot of Fawn and Neverbeast’s relationship moments.
Ryan’s background in biology helped in the development of Gruff. He was able to explain and do the overlays to show how a Neverbeast was built including incorporating the hump on his back, being that he was a herbivore and plant-eating animals have a certain dynamic to the way they are built. Mike made sure that these tiny details came to life.
Mike, how many Neverbeasts were there from the beginning to end?
There was only one but there were maybe seventy variations of it. You build something and you screen test it. You say to yourself, “well he looks weird, can we shorten this, bring the eyes farther apart, closer together”, fine tuning. Or we try to make him move, but the range of motion is limited. So we keep tweaking it until he’s production ready. Subtle changes, but different.
And was there anything new on this that you’ve never done with other projects that were challenging, but really took the cake?
Gruff was new, I mean, he was a monster. He was bigger than most of the other characters that we’ve done in Pixie Hollow. And because he didn’t speak, his performance was all through his body language and pantomime and so that was a challenge, but it was a lot of fun.
Knowing that Director Steve Loter wanted the green color for the storm clouds and connection to Gruff through his eyes, Mike and Ryan had to find a perfect match.
How did you come up with such intense eye color and did you test out different greens?
Mike: His eyes are green and that connects to the comet that, so it shows that it not only wakes him up but that there’s a connection between the two of them.
Ryan: There was an image early on that the Steve had come to the table with and it was this concept of the big eye as almost this glass ball and Fawn looking into it and seeing herself. And that was one, something we wanted to keep to to the final stage so it’s this mysterious eye, you don’t know what he’s thinking behind. And then you get some emotions through the other aspects, but it’s definitely more of a bizarre kind of eye.
Mike, how long did this film take to complete from start to finish and how many animators worked on the film?
It’s about three and a half years. It stretches out because story and design happens first, then that overlaps animation a little bit. And that overlaps effects, so it’s not everybody working at once for three years. But everyone does their part of a project.
We had about forty animators. The challenge with that is you might have ten people working on Gruff, you have to make sure they’re all animating him the same way, maintaining that personality and the same with Fawn. There’s a team of us, we’re animating Fawn, let’s all make sure we know who Fawn is and how she behaves.
All of the voices for the film are recorded first, which allows for creativity and freedom of performance. The recordings are at times done in stages to help the animation process along. So if there is a change to the story, the dialogue has to change too. The audio is used as a springboard for the animation.
Mike: An example is the last scene of the movie, earlier [on] it played as sweet. But then we got the note to amp up the emotions, so they brought all the actresses back and asked them to play this as emotionally as they could.
Ryan: And sometimes early on when we don’t even have the actor or actress set up to do the part yet but we need a voice there, so it’ll be like, hey, Mike, come into the booth.
Luckily Mike’s voice sounds almost exactly the same as Fawn. But that’s not all the animators do, sometimes they have to act out a scene to get into the story.
Mike: A lot of times the easiest way to start a scene is just to act it out yourself. So a lot of the Fawn scenes, a lot of Nick’s, some Gruff, sometimes you will get on all fours and, and do things, because you just need to. Okay, if he’s getting down like this, how does that work. Or even just you can feel it out. So if you feel, okay, I know how this feels to me, you can put that into the character.
It seems simple enough to be able to make an animation do what you need it to do, but that is not always the case. But these are the things that become the showcase of the movie. Like Gruff’s fur, fur is not an easy thing to work with and most try to stay away from it. But Gruff is covered in fur, and there are close up shots of it in the movie. So the animators are tasked with making things that are difficult or nearly impossible, possible.
Tinkerbell and the Legend of the Neverbeast is available for pre-order now and is scheduled for release on March 3rd. The latest Tinkerbell movie is a definite must add to your movie collection for the entire family.