Mark Henn has been an animator for Disney for the past 38 years. He brought to life some of our favorite Disney Princesses – Ariel, Belle and Jasmine. Also our favorite lion – Simba. Last year he also worked on the animations for Ralph Breaks the Internet.
Creating new storylines, princesses and characters with each their own unique characteristics is not easy. The journey might take a weekend as it might also take a year.
Have you ever wondered how a character is chosen? Who come up with the new design? How can someone become an animator?
Mr. Henn answers some of the questions we have about the magic that Disney creates with its film.
Can you tell us a little bit about your role with Disney Princesses?
MH: “We have 14 [princesses] in the show, and I’ve been responsible for almost half of them over the course of my career. Someone affectionally labeled me the ‘Princess’Guy.’”
How is a new character chosen?
MH: “It all depends. It really does. There’s a group of artists that start on any production that are called visual development artists. They start early, and they start creating artwork that just enters questions what if. What could a character look like? What would a symbol look like? What would the Princess and the Frog look like as a frog? What would Tiana look like as a human? They just they just put up tons and tons of art. We come in a little later as a supervising animator, and we’ll start looking at some of that artwork. We’ll have lot of meetings, and it’s just ‘we like this; I don’t like that; I like this hair; I like this body.’ It’s just a lot of art by committee.”
Do you use muses to inspire you a new princess?
MH: “I don’t know if I have ever had a muse per se. Maybe you’ve heard the story, but I had animated Ariel, I animated Belle and I was given Jasmine. And I hit a bit of an artistic block on Jasmine. At one point I was at the Florida studio animating, and I literally remembered in my hip pocket my sister’s graduation photo. My younger sister Beth. And I gotta think ‘okay Jasmine is about 18-19 years old; she’s got kinda dark hair in my mind and this kinda look and shape.’ I pulled out my sister’s picture, and I looked at it and went ‘yeah! That can work.’ So I made a copy of it, blew it up and stuck it on my desk. And that kinda got me over this artistic hurdle – this block – to get through to discover Jasmine.”
How was animating Ariel?
MH: “I wish we kinda had a computer to help with the hair. That was certainly one of the trickier aspects with her because you could have easily gotten lost in just endless movements. We tried to simplify the hair design and handle it in a way that particularly in hand-drawing animations, a lot of people have to be able to draw the same character over and over. So we tried to simplify it and make it animatable as possible… But yeah, that was certainly a challenge ’cause I did her both underwater and on land, and it was just part of making her as believable as possible.”
Where will the new princesses take us?
MH: “I don’t know because Ariel kinda set the mold for the new style of princesses. She’s very different. What makes this generation of princesses different from the Cinderella and Snow White’s? My theory is that the stories are a lot more involved, and their role in those stories is much more proactive. Cinderella is very unique in her own in her own way, but essentially a lot of those early princesses are very reactionary. Things happened to them whereas Ariel kinda set a mold of a more proactive heroine that draws the story. She made decisions, good or bad, that started advancing the story. They won’t be just kinda like the helpless, you know, kinda thing.”
What did you think when you saw Penelope meeting the princesses?
MH: “It was great. It’s bold, and they had some conversation with the people across the street, meaning the studio, to see ‘you guys are ok? ‘Cause there’s corporate brand, you know kinda you can’t do this, but they loved it. Because we are not making fun of them. That’s the key. We are celebrating them.”
You created Simba. What does it feel like seeing The Lion King being turned into a live action?
MH: “It’s kind of weird, I guess… They are trying different things. We had a chance to meet with the animation crew on The Lion King, so I talked to other animators who worked on the film, and we did a Skype session where we talked about the characters and answered any question they may have. For me the big encouragement to them was to make their version of their own because it will be different. It will be the same, but it will still be different, and they need to take ownership of their making. You know, make it theirs as much as it was ours the original.”
Does someone need to draw well to become a good animator? What would you suggest to someone who wants to do the same job as you?
MH: “Animation is kinda funny because until the computer came along there was any number of various degree of artistic talent in animation. Some people draw really well, but aren’t necessarily great animators, and vice versa. There are guys and gals who are really good animators but maybe didn’t draw as well, but they can still communicate their ideas. That’s like a chicken and an egg kinda question.”
Coming up with new story ideas or new designs is not an easy feat. It takes time and a lot of people working together. It takes creativity and passion.
Would you like to try drawing Penelope from Ralph Breaks the Internet? If so, follow the next few shapes and share your design with us.
- Penelope is from the world of sugar rush, so to start draw a popsicle with two sticks.
“That’s kinda like her basics proportions. Her proportions are very classical. They are very similar to what Mickey’s proportions would be, and a lot of classic cartoon characters are very similarly proportioned with a large head roughly about 3 heads high.”
2) The circle is the cranium, and now you need to had the other elements of the face. A little bit below halfway of the circle, draw a line indicating the eyeline.
3) Draw the nose right in the middle of the eyeline.
“We need to embellish the circle. The circle is kind of the cranium, so that’s like the foundation for a lot of our characters, but then you can build on to that circle, and Penelope is no different.”
4) The s shape represents her cheeks, so taking into consideration those elements draw her eyes on either side of the nose and her eyebrows.
“She’s got a bit of an attitude, so we’ll give her a little of attitude with her eyebrows here.”
5) Rough in her mouth, the pupils, the irises and the eyelashes.
“You can kinda shade that in a little bit. These little dots here kinda represent a highlight, which when you are drawing you have to draw to indicate what you’re asking for.”
6) Draw two large ears at the side of her head.
7) Imagine a Hershey’s Kiss for her hair. It is wide at the base and then it becomes pointy at the top. Add a ponytail that sticks up from the top.
8) Start on the bottom part and indicate where her hoodie ends and where her leggings start.
9) Draw a miniskirt and add lines to indicate the plaid.
10) Penelope keeps her hands in her hoodie, so draw two angles to indicate her arms. Add a line in the middle of the hoodie to indicate the zipper.
11) Her leggings have stripes so draw horizontal lines on one leg, and slightly oblique lines on the other leg.
“I’m just gonna give a feet here just a little extra length on her feet – her shoes.”
12) Go back to the head and draw the bangs with the dividing line slightly on the center’s right.
“Our bangs are asymmetrical, so she’s got more hair on one side than she does on her other side where her hair flies away like that.”
13) A last advice?
“And if you want she’s got dark hair, so you can shade that in too, but you don’t have to.”
Here’s are Mark Henn’s and my final drawing of Penelope:
Also, check out my super easy DIY Little Mermaid Inspired 2 Ingredient Lip Balm!
The Little Mermaid on Blu Ray & Digital Now Available
The Little Mermaid, a Disney classic based on Hans Christian Andersen’s haunting and mystical short story, will have its 30th Anniversary. To celebrate the anniversary the two time Academy Award® winning movie will come out on DVD in 4K Ultra HD for the first time ever February 26th. There will be new bonus features and sing along modes perfect for a Little Mermaid watch party with your Disney lover.