WORKINGS: DISNEY’S THE LITTLE MERMAID
Inside the creation of Ariel, the mermaid we all know and love.
The Sephora Glossy’s Holly Siegel paid a visit to Disney HQ in Burbank, California, to get a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of our newest makeup muse, Ariel. “The Little Mermaid was the last feature production using hand-painted cells,” notes Disney Master Artist David Pacheco, one of the animators responsible for Ariel on the film. Even beyond the intensely detailed art, the production steps it takes to make a Disney film are mind-blowing.
The animation team is divided by character.
“On The Little Mermaid, Glen Keane was the Directing Animator and five of us worked under him,” says Pacheco. “Glen was crucial in Ariel’s design, although Directing Animator Mark Henn also worked on her with Glenn. I drew Ariel and some Flounder.”
Ariel was a girl of the ’80s.
“The princess’s gowns are very reminiscent of what was happening in fashion at the time. Ariel’s wedding dress has those huge ’80s puff sleeves. Same thing with makeup and hair. We asked ourselves, ‘Does she have short or long hair?’ We had dozens upon dozens of sheets of 1980s hairstyles. [Even] asymmetrical hair that’s shaved with fuzz on the side of the head!”
Dark nails are for dark characters.
“The nails have to contrast. Usually the villains have darker nails—usually red.”
Auditioning for a voice at Disney is anonymous.
“The voice is usually done first, because it inspires the animator and the pantomime that is done by the actress. Jodi Benson did the voice of Ariel. We’ve had lots of famous people [doing voices], but when Walt was casting voices he wasn’t really looking for a name; he was looking for the perfect voice. He didn’t want to be influenced by the girl’s looks, so when Snow White was in production, he sat behind a screen so he could just listen to their voice rather than see it in their face.”
Ariel was almost a blonde.
“The producers’ initial discussions were that mermaids were blonde. Ultimately the red hair seemed to fit with the feisty and independent nature of Ariel. And besides that, the yellow of blonde against the blues and the greens of underwater would make her look sickly and more green. Red played well against blue and green.”
An actual actress swam in a fish tank for Ariel animators.
“An actress named Sherri Stoner did the live action for Ariel. We had an observation tank over at Imagineering that was outdoors and had windows all around it for underwater observation for the submarine rides or whatever. So we would put [Stoner] in there and she would have to swim, sit, and rock her head back and forth so we could study the movement of her hair. We would actually film this to get that sense of realism.”
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