Back in 1999, I was working for Disney Feature Animation. Tarzan had recently come out to great success, and the studio was busy with more films such as Home on the Range, Atlantis, The Emperor’s New Groove, Fantasia 2000, Dinosaur, and the ultimately unproduced Wild Life. So much was going on, and it was a swell place to be employed.
In my early days as an illustrator, I did a few “Where’s Waldo” style books about the Bible. I thought, “wouldn’t it be neat to do a ‘Where’s Waldo’-type painting of the main Feature Animation building?” I just wanted to capture a snapshot of the whole place – kind of a day-in-the-life sort of thing. So, I set out to work on this self-induced project, little knowing that it would take up four solid months of nights and weekends to pull off.
To start with, I was able to acquire maps of each floor of the Disney Animation Southside building (the “hat” building) in Burbank, CA. (We had another 4-story building over by the Burbank airport called “Northside” where Fantasia 2000, Dinosaur, and visual effects for live-action movies were being done.) These floor maps were great because they outlined every cubical and office with the names of each employee who worked in that space.
Secondly, I needed to know what everyone looked like. Sure, I worked with these folks, but I don’t have a photographic memory. They had an online database used internally called TIMMY where you could type in any animation employee’s name, and their photo and a short profile would pop up. I printed out many such profiles for reference.
To illustrate four floors, and the 800+ people who worked in the building, the original art had to be large. I worked on a 30″ x 40″ piece of illustration board, painstakingly pencilling the entire piece, then inking it all with Rapidograph pens and waterproof ink, then painting in every little detail. It was so large that I often laid it on the floor and worked on it there. And it took so long that I even shipped it to myself on vacation so I could work on it then, too. Why? Because I had a deadline.
The studio would allow employees to sign up for personal art shows. The waiting list was two years, but I knew mine was coming up. I wanted to do this for the show knowing it would be well-received by my colleagues. It got finished in time, and was displayed with four 11″ x 17″ charts of each face with the employee’s name next to it so they could see what they looked like, then go find themselves in the painting. It went over so well that many asked for copies.
So, after getting permission from Disney’s lawyers, I had 27″ x 40″ prints made and sold them at the studio complete with a 10-page list of who was in it and a Certificate of Authenticity. Many people purchased them, and seemed to enjoy them. The ultimate compliment came when one day I had cause to go visit Roy E. Disney at his office on the lot. Roy’s office was in the old office suite of his uncle Walt. As I started down his hallway, there was a poster for Pinocchio, one for Fantasia 2000, and then this one.
I recently donated one of these limited edition prints (#153 of 850) to the Help the Hodges charity art auction run by the National Cartoonists Society Foundation (NCSF). It has gone live on eBay TODAY, and will be available for bids until March 14, 2010. If you are interested in going for it here is a link to the auction: Chad Frye’s Disney Southside Print