A tour of the Walt Disney vault can be nirvana for hardcore Disney fanatics – like me! This secret location houses all production elements from classic Disney flicks, which means conceptual art, storyboards, animation pieces, backgrounds and other reference modeling. And it’s just all things animation: live-action films and Disneyland have their own separate vault locations.
Walt Disney came up with the idea of having archives for educational reference, as a legacy and to be inspirational for creatives. For example, the Frozen team came to the animation archives and referenced Cinderella; you’ll see that Elsa’s transformation was conceptually and emotionally inspired by Cinderella’s change from maid to princess.
Back then, the biggest challenge for archivists was to convince the artists of the value of their scribbles and scraps; so often they’d toss concept material away or take it home for their kids to draw on. Even today, the studio finds pieces here and there of Disney film productions at auction houses that should really be in the vault for preservation.
Vault 3 is known as Walt’s Vault because it contains everything he touched and oversaw while alive, from Snow White to Jungle Book.
In the archives’ camera rooms, art is constantly being scanned for publications, consumer products, supplemental footage or exhibition. New art is scanned at a rate of 1,000 pieces per day while older materials take about 100 per day; extra care is needed not to damage this art and to closely capture details.
Art can’t be out of the vault for more than a few hours a day to preserve its integrity. Additionally, vaults have Wi-Fi so Disney team members can monitor how much light is being exposed to the pieces.
Additionally, archivists are currently in the process of digitally scanning and rehousing all content in sequential order which can be accessed by Disney directors, animators and writers.
I got a tour of the archives on the heels of the soon-to-be released Pinocchio from the Walt Disney Signature Collection. Fans who purchase the Blu-ray version of Pinocchio will be delighted to see original concept art from Gustaf Tenggren included in the packaging.
I have watched Pinocchio many times and was excited to learn new tidbits about this classic tale from Disney archivist JB Kaufman, a chronicler of Disney history who has written the essential book on the making of Pinocchio.
When you watch the movie, notice that the bigger shots have longer horizontal art to focus on landscape/details; closer shots are smaller and square-ish which allows the focus on specific elements or emotional beats.
To Kaufman, Pinocchio was a milestone for Disney because the studio was at the height of power and it was the first film to reach full potential without money being an obstacle. Kaufman admires that Walt developed an incredible animation studio that he elevated to the next level. On Pinocchio the sky was the limit – and you can see the results on the screen!
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