How 50,000 Sketches Became One Animated Feature Film: Planes

While I attended an expense paid trip by Disney to the Monsters University Premiere and other events, all opinions are 100% my own.

I wish I could draw. I really wish. Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself fairly artsy in a crafty way, but my drawing (and my handwriting for that matter) is not pretty. It seems like such an amazing talent, to pick up a pencil and make beautiful characters come to life. I don’t have the talent (visual proof in a moment), but it is a talent I appreciate each time I see an animated film — or any thing hand-drawn.

Of course, there are many parts that make a great Disney animated movie, but if it weren’t for the incredibly talented artists who bring the characters to life visually, the movies would not be as powerful. And it all begins with 50,000 sketches.

During my visit to DisneyToon Studios while in LA last month, I had the opportunity to meet Art Hernandez, a Disney Story Artist who worked on Planes. As I listened to him describe his role on an animated feature film, I became even more amazed at the animation process. For story artists like Art, it is more than just the ability to draw. These artists must also be able to capture and convey the essence of what the writer is trying to say with a sketch, and then pitch their interpretation to the director. 

Disney Story Artist Art Hernandez

Before dialogue, before rigging and animation (which I learned about from Ethan Hurd) — before a cartoon can be made it all begins with a story board. I’ve seen photos of Walt Disney working with his team on the development of Snow White with pages and pages of paper lining the walls mapping out the story. And although Art and his team have advanced to digital screens for telling their story, the process is very much the same. The first step in the animation process is to story board the whole cartoon, and that means sketching out the entire thing until everyone is satisfied with its direction.

Art explained that the entire story is broken up into small segments, which are then assigned to a story artist to sketch and plot the visuals. To show us how this process works, he walked our group through a 13-second introduction of El Chupacabra that he worked on for the movie. Beginning with quickly sketched images of El Chup, Art showed us what a typical pitch looked like. Not only did he have to present his drawings, to further present his ideas Art “acted” out the scene giving life to his drawings. 

Although Art finished his part of helping to create the movie Planes nearly two and a half years ago, he still knew every nuance and inflection for the scene. Having just watched the movie and the final cut of the scene, it was really neat to see how his work evolved into what we saw on the screen. Planes was created from roughly 50,000 individual sketches created by nine artists over a year and half period that were then used as the building blocks to created the fully animated feature film. 

After sharing his sketches with us, it was time for us to try our hand at sketching Dusty. Although he walked us through the process line by line, my rendition didn’t turn out quite like his — although it is not as bad as I thought it would be.

Disney Planes Dusty Captain Barnacles

It took us several minutes to sketch Dusty, and when we were through Art drew Dusty in real time — a few seconds.

(By the way, in case you are wondering. That little character with my drawing is Captain Barnacles from the Octonauts — my daughter’s favorite show. He traveled with me to LA and hopped in many of my pictures.)

While the sketches created by Art and his team don’t appear in the final form of the movie, they are the foundation from which every other detail is built from. That is a pretty powerful job!

See how the sketches all come together when Planes soars into theaters August 9, 2013.

Disney Planes Dusty

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