Disney Films from Scratch

Updated: Apr 20

Still from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) Walt Disney Studios

With the recent launch of Disney+; the new content streaming wing of the the Walt Disney empire, I though it appropriate to pay a small homage to the companies begins. Before its day as a global media and entertainment empire, there was simply the films.





Animated movies tugging at our heartstrings; so much so that we are willing to pay a monthly fee to binge watch them at any time we wish, some seventy years later. Two incredible things came out of Disney's creation of these films. Obviously the first being the "magic". By that, I mean the way they tug on our heartstrings and allow us to be a child for the full runtime. Truly classics passed down and enjoyed for now three generations. The later being the technical feat that was achieved to bring Mickey, Snow White, and so many more to life. This is an extraordinary effort that I believe has gone under acknowledged for too long.


On a basic level most people understand that time it may take to draw frame by frame animations. The tedious act of drawing characters over and over again often twenty times per second. The Walt Disney Studios truly took the craft of drawn animation to an astronomical level; near perfection in fluidity, not the smallest detail over looked, even inventing new method of creation. Keep in mind all each step I am about to run through would take place after the developing of characters, storyboard, world building, and script.


Animators, once handed the script and storyboard, would get right to work on drawing. Drawing, and more drawing. Every frame containing movement of the character throughout the entire length of the film. This would result in a very crude version of the film consisting only of character line drawings. Each frame was then photographed and ran back through a projector and critiqued to make sure the movements were all natural and not a single frame felt out of place.


Once settled on the character movement, the frames were traced onto cellophane sheets. by a team of tracers. From there the frames were handed off to another team and each individually painted. *Side note: the colors uses were all uniques to Disney. A team of chemists mixed near 1500 colors just for the Snow White project. Following this painstaking process the frames needed to be reshot and and placed on a real.


At the same time that the characters and their movements were being flushed out, an entirely separate team of illustrators, were working strictly on the backgrounds. Backgrounds need to fit the characteristics of the setting as well as make sense with the story board. These were water color works on long landscape oriented sheets of paper. This would make for a great stage for the cellophane characters to act upon.


Once again the the cellophane character sheets were placed over the background illustration. Frame by frame, placing and photographing. After hundreds of thousands, sometimes half a million frames were captured and recorded, the film was complete. But wait at this point it was silent.


Here comes the sound team. They were now tasked with creating original sounds and performing them live within the timing of the film. We have to remember that at this time there was no sound libraries online, or sound editing software to arrange affects. Heck there was no line to be on back then. Once the sounds were captured in order and the voice overs were done the film was complete.


So what? Work goes into films we all know that. I think that today we take for granted the amount of work as well as the experimentation that goes into the art we see. Softwares have made it so simple to just mess and end up with something good, that we lack appreciation for the craft. Now we focus on the concept. The why it was made rather than the how. We can't have one without the other. Unappreciated craft ceases to be.