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Norman Rockwell Museum celebrates the art of Walt Disney's first feature-length animated film
“Snow White Dancing with Dopey and Sneezy. Doc, Happy, Bashful, Sleepy Playing Music.” Disney Studio Artist Reproduction cel setup; ink and acrylic on cellulose acetate. Courtesy Walt Disney Animation Research Library. ©Disney.

STOCKBRIDGE, MASS.- This summer Norman Rockwell Museum pays tribute to Walt Disney, another American icon of the 20th Century, with a special exhibition celebrating the 75th anniversary of the acclaimed visual storyteller’s first feature-length animated film. “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic” os on view at the Museum from June 8 through October 27, 2013.

The exhibition celebrates Walt Disney’s vision and the artistry of his dedicated staff, illustrating how they shaped and defined an entirely new American art form through their creation of this groundbreaking film. Guided by the vision of a master storyteller, 32 animators, 1032 assistants, 107 inbetweeners, 10 layout artists, 25 background artists, 65 special effects animators and 158 inkers and painters and countless production staff came together to create the masterpiece. The exhibition is organized by The Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, California, and guest curated by Lella Smith, Creative Director of the Walt Disney Company’s Animation Research Library.

“We are honored to be able to share this inside look at the creation of one of the most important, artistic achievements in the history of film,” says Laurie Norton Moffatt, Director/CEO of Norman Rockwell Museum, chosen as the sole East Coast venue for the exhibition. “Walt Disney maintained a friendly relationship with Norman Rockwell through the years, and the Stockbridge exhibition will include examples of the correspondence between the two artists, each of whom was a force in 20th century visual and popular culture.”

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic” features more than 200 works of art including conceptual drawings, early character studies, detailed story sketches, and animation drawings. Also featured are delicate thumbnail layout watercolors, meticulously rendered pencil layouts, rare watercolor backgrounds, colorful cels, and vintage posters all illustrating how Walt Disney advanced the creation of an entirely new art form.

The exhibition is organized by sequence through the progression of the movie, featuring some never-before-seen works of art with behind-the-scenes stories about the film’s production. The exhibition also features artwork from deleted scenes from the film, some of which were only partially animated. One is the “Bed Building Scene,” in which the dwarfs build and carve a lovely bed for Snow White. Filled with numerous gags, these sequences were great fun, but Walt felt that they took the focus away from Snow White’s story. Other, less-developed scenes included a fantasy scene of Snow White dancing in the stars, and the lodge meeting in which the Dwarfs decide to make a bed for Snow White.

Walt Disney’s daughter Diane Disney Miller, co-founder of The Walt Disney Family Museum and a member of Norman Rockwell Museum’s National Council, shares, “My Dad was completely and intimately engaged in this film from start to finish. It was the first of its kind to have the depth of character, careful attention to story, original music that helped tell that story, and superb artistry. It was, and is still, a masterpiece and I look forward to sharing it with our community and beyond. I hope visitors come away being inspired just as my Dad hoped to instill creativity, innovation, and imagination in the artists he worked with.”

The Fairest of Them All
The Walt Disney Studios began work on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1934 and it was released at Hollywood’s Carthay Circle Theater on December 21, 1937. While being the first full-length, animated feature film was a milestone, much of its cinematic importance to the evolution of animation derives from the skill with which the Disney artists imbued their characters with an inner life filled with emotion and thought. As Walt himself described, “Of all the characters in the fairy tales, I loved Snow White the best, and when I planned my first full-length cartoon, she inevitably was the heroine.”

After its premiere in 1937, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” opened in 1938 at Radio City Music Hall and continued to play across the United States and in Europe throughout 1938 and 1939. The film was wildly popular, becoming the top-grossing film of all time, up to that date. Appealing to audiences of all ages, a wide variety of Snow White merchandise appeared in stores, ranging from toys and books to watches and puzzles. The film’s songs were published on sheet music and RCA Victor albums featuring the film’s memorable songs marked “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” as the first film to release a multi-record musical soundtrack.

Walt Disney’s groundbreaking masterpiece drew worldwide acclaim, winning the Grand Biennale Art Trophy from the Venice Film Festival and special awards from the New York Film Critics Circle and The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. The film also received an honorary custom-made Oscar® which consisted of one standard Oscar® statuette alongside seven miniature statuettes (representing each of the dwarfs), which was presented to Walt by Shirley Temple in 1939—this by far was the most distinctive award in Academy history.

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” continues to garner accolades and awards. In 1989, it was among the first 25 featured films to be preserved in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, and in 2008, it was named the Greatest Animated Film of All Time by the American Film Institute. The film also marked a pivotal milestone in animation. Calling upon the experience they gained from creating the early Disney animated shorts and the award-winning Silly Symphonies, Walt Disney and his artists defined the artistic foundation that would shape all their other animated feature films to follow.

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Process
Story Sketch

In making “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” the artists began by creating thumbnail drawings of key scenes called story sketches, which were then pinned in sequence to large boards. This process, called “storyboarding,” allowed Walt to preview the story visually and make adjustments long before the first frame of film was shot. This innovative technique, perfected at The Walt Disney Studios, is an industry standard today.

Concept Art
Whether a simple sketch or a fully realized painting, concept art helps establish and define the visual style of a film, hundreds of concept drawings were created to establish the look of the characters, the locations, and the film’s colors and visual moods.

Model Sheet
Once the visual style of the film is determined, official model sheets are created for use by the Disney artists. This crucial visual tool ensures the characters, props, and locations remain consistent throughout the film.

Layout and Background
Layout artists act as the animated film’s cinematographer. Layouts establish the camera’s point of view and the special relationship of the characters to the background environment. Backgrounds bring a predetermined layout to life, creating an environment infused with color, light and mood. Together, layouts and backgrounds create the animated equivalent of live action movie sets.

Animators hand-draw every movement of the character, changing each movement and expression slightly with each successive sheet of animation paper. Every second of animated action requires 12 to 24 drawings. The lead animator makes rough pencil sketches (called ruffs in animation shorthand) of the movement’s extreme limits, concentrating on the dynamics of motion and acting. The assistants, or “inbetweeners,” produce the intermediary drawings, bridging the movement between the beginning and ending limits. Finally, cleanup artists rework the rough sketches, turning them into finished drawings.

Every line crafted by animators in the animation drawing is painstakingly copied onto the front side of a cel by artists specifically trained in the art of inking. Once inked, cels, short for celluloid, are then painted to their full color glory on the reverse side of the acetate sheet, so none of the line work is affected. The mixing of well over 1500 colors and shades defines the final hues used for painting characters and backgrounds.

Cel Setup
The final step involves photographing each of the inked and painted animation cels against the finished backgrounds. When projected consecutively on film, these individual production cel setups are brought to life with full vibrancy and convincing movement. Approximately 125,000 cels were painted for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, representing only ten percent of the more than one million pieces of artwork created for the film.

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