Raya and the Last Dragon, 2021, Paul Felix, concept art, digital painting © Disney Enterprises
Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) Paul Felix, concept art, digital painting © Disney Enterprises

Disney: The Magic of Animation education resource

Learn about the creativity and innovation behind Walt Disney Animation Studios' films and discover the magic of animation.

Recommended for Year levels: 3-8

Learning areas: Media Arts, Arts, English, Technologies

Capabilities: Creative and critical thinking

This stand-alone, classroom-ready resource is inspired by the exhibition and the artistry and creative storytelling for which Disney is renowned. Our resource offers rich insights into the art, design, and storytelling of Disney Animation, and includes creative prompts and activities.

Your students will also enjoy completing the activity sheet (below).

About the exhibition

Shown in Australia for the very first time, exclusive to Melbourne, Disney: The Magic of Animation contains original sketches and rare artworks from 1928 to the present day, including a world-first exhibit of artworks from Raya and the Last Dragon (2021).

The Walt Disney Animation Studios have been creating extraordinary films for nearly a century, and every film begins with drawings that capture the essence of character, story and emotion.

This exhibition features over 500 artworks including original paintings, story sketches and concept art that have been specially selected by the Walt Disney Animation Research Library in Los Angeles, California from over 65 million physical artworks!

These works are a great resource for Disney artists and animators but are rarely seen by the public. They reveal the development of beloved stories and animation techniques from favourite Walt Disney Animation Studios films, including Mickey Mouse’s first talkie, Steamboat Willie (1928), and films such as Fantasia (1940), Sleeping Beauty (1959), The Little Mermaid (1989), The Lion King (1994), Frozen (2013), Moana (2016), Frozen 2 (2019), and the studio’s latest release, Raya and the Last Dragon (2021).

The five sections of this exhibition each focus on a different era of innovation: perfecting the technique of bringing two-dimensional drawings to life in the 1920s; the creation of the first animated feature films in the late 1930s and 1940s; the stylistic innovations of the post-war years; the renaissance of the 1990s; and the digital revolution and advances of present day. The exhibition charts the Walt Disney Animation Studios' process in continuing to tell diverse and inclusive stories for contemporary audiences.

We are sure you and your students will be inspired by the artistry and creativity behind favourite characters and stories, as you discover how drawings are brought to life, from pencil and paper to today’s computer-animated wonders.

Section 1: Bringing Drawings to Life

Animation can explain whatever the mind … can conceive.

Walt Disney

The magic of drawing

The Walt Disney Animation Studios have been creating animated movies for almost 100 years and from their earliest days, they led the way.

Drawing sits at the very heart of animation, whether it’s pencil on paper, or a tool on a computer screen. It’s a special kind of drawing that can capture a character in a few lines and convey a sense of life and emotion that we instantly understand.

During the pencil and paper era, Disney artists were encouraged to draw quickly so their drawings would be simple and free-flowing.

1. Choose something to draw – it could be a cup, a chair, anything. Using a grey-lead pencil, try to capture the object in just a few simple lines. Work quickly and do a few different versions.
2. Now set your imagination free and turn your drawing into something funny and surprising. Maybe your cup has sprouted antennae like a snail, or your chair has grown hair.
3. How could your imaginative drawing be brought to life through animation?
4. Use the Draw Like a Disney Animator worksheet (below) to help you get started.

The power of the imagination

For Walt Disney, animation was all about the power of the imagination – whatever can be imagined can be brought to life through animation. If you can imagine a mouse steering a steam boat, you can bring it to life.

Walt Disney and his team experimented with shape, weight and timing to produce fluid, lifelike movements and characters who could express a wide range of emotions.

Animators are often described as actors with pencils, as they draw their characters' performances communicating a range of emotions and even letting the audience know what the character is thinking. As you look at the character designs and animation sketches in the exhibition, think about what is being communicated about each character.

During the early days of Walt Disney Animation Studios, Walt Disney and the team created a set of animation techniques that have stood the test of time: the 12 Principles of Animation.

5. Using the power of your imagination, think of an unexpected idea, character or experience that you could bring to life through animation.
6. Find out more about the techniques or principles of animation that make Disney animated films so special.
7. Choose one of the principles of animation (such as 'squash and stretch' or 'staging') and explain how it works to a friend or classmate.
8. Watch a short sequence from Plane Crazy (1928) – Disney's first completed Mickey Mouse film. How many animation principles can you identify?
9. Prospective Disney animators were often asked to show how they would animate a bouncing ball. One animator added wings to allow the ball to fly away! How would you animate your bouncing ball to impress the Disney Animation team with your skill and imagination?
Plane Crazy (1928) Walt Disney Animation Studios

How does an animation come to life?

Sometimes called cartoons, an animation is a way of making a movie by photographing a series of drawings, objects or computer images one by one. Small changes in position are recorded frame by frame. When these frames are played back one after another at a set speed, our eyes and brains bring the movement to life.

10. Download our walk cycle worksheet to practise and learn more.
Disney Identity: Steamboat Willie (1928) Walt Disney Animation Studios

Make a flipbook

Create your very own comical character and bring it to life with a flipbook made out of a post-it notepad.

  1. Create your character. Keep it very simple – remember you have to draw it about 20 times to get a good animation. Give it a clear outline.
  2. Think of a simple sequence of movement such as jumping, waving, disappearing behind a wall or walking onto and off the page.
  3. Choose a part of the drawing to change each time. Plan this on scrap paper by drawing 10 squares and sketching each movement in order. Slightly change the action of one part of the drawing on each square.
  4. Draw each picture on one of the small blank pages in your booklet. Start with the last page of the book and work forwards, so you can see the previous drawing beneath. Trace most of that image and change one thing slightly each time to give the illusion of movement.
  5. Keep the figure as close as possible to the edge of the page.
  6. Flip through the booklet and watch your character animate. Magic!

Make a zoetrope

Seeing an animation come to life has a special magic.

The zoetrope is a simple animation toy invented long before people could watch a movie on a screen.

To make a zoetrope animation, a sequence of gradually changing images is pasted onto the inside of a cardboard cylinder. The cylinder has thin slits along the side. Once the cylinder starts to spin, you look through the slits to see the images come to life in a repeating loop.

Use the template to make the spinning zoetrope drum and to draw a sequence of images to create your own animation loop. Try a walk cycle, a bouncing ball or the sun rising and setting. Remember you need to match the first and last image in the series.

11. Download the template to design and make your own zoetrope animation.

Steamboat Willie

I like Mickey because he is always happy.

Year 3/4 student St Albans Heights Primary School

Steamboat Willie (1928) Walt Disney Animation Studios

Steamboat Willie (1928) was the first Mickey Mouse animation to be seen by audiences in the cinema, and people fell in love with Mickey's cheeky energy. Steamboat Willie is also the first Disney animation to include sound that matches the movements of the characters. This is called synchronised sound.

1. Watch Steamboat Willie (above) and notice how the sound and the movements work together. You might like to watch some without sound to see how much the sound adds.
DisneyStudioArtistCleanUpModelSheetPhotostat on paper.jpg

Disney Studio Artist; Clean-Up model sheet; Photostat on paper; © Disney

Designing Mickey

Mickey Mouse soon became one of the most recognisable characters in the world. Mickey is such a well-designed character, that he can be recognised by his shape or silhouette. What do you think makes Mickey so special?

Characters in a Disney Animation movie are shown in many different ways. Their faces and bodies move and change. Look at the model sheet (above) to see some of Mickey's expressions and movements.

2. Use the Design Your Own Comical Character worksheet to design your own special character.

Section 2: The Magic Begins

We start with something they [audiences] know and like. This can be either an idea or a character, as long as it is familiar and appealing ... But there must be something that is known and understood if the film is to achieve audience involvement.

Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson, The Illusion Of Life: Disney Animation

Having achieved great success with their lively and innovative short animations, Walt Disney Animation Studios decided it was time to set a new challenge – to begin making feature-length animated films. Audiences loved watching Disney's short, animated films when they were screened before the main movie of the evening. By producing feature films, Disney's animated films would become the main attraction.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) is Disney's first-ever feature-length animated movie. It is also the first feature-length animation to be produced in glorious Technicolor.

In planning and making this wonderful movie, Disney Animation used all they had learned to create a magical fairytale world. They also tried out many new ideas to help bring the characters and their stories to life. The movie was made for audiences of all ages and was very, very popular. People still watch it today. Have you seen Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?

1. Watch the video below to discover how Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was made.
'How Walt Disney Cartoons are Made' (1939) Walt Disney Animation Studios

Connecting audiences with characters, story and world

To create a story that connects with audiences and their emotions, Disney artists and animators work together to create appealing characters and a believable world. It is important that the characters and their world have a visual connection.

One of the special features of Disney Animation's feature films is the way the story world connects with the emotions of the characters to help tell the story. The imagined worlds of films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio (1940) and Dumbo (1941) are part of the magic that draws audiences into the story.

To design the characters and get the right look and feel for the world of the film, Disney artists have always begun by creating a range of concept artworks. Concept is another word for idea, and the creativity and imagination that we see in Disney feature-length animated films emerges from all of these shared ideas.

Many of these concept artworks are now kept at the Walt Disney Animation Research Library. A special selection is displayed in the Disney: The Magic of Animation exhibition to help us learn more about the Disney production process.

2. Download The Magic Begins – Character Design worksheet to think more deeply about Disney Animation character creation.
3. Download The Magic Begins – World Design worksheet to create your own piece of concept art.

Making the magic real

For an audience to be able to connect with a story and care what happens to the characters, the characters need to have personalities and familiar human thoughts and feelings. Think about the different personalities of the Seven Dwarfs and the love that Bambi and Dumbo have for their mothers.

Disney animated films are particularly loved for their appealing and heartfelt animal characters. One of the very special skills developed by the Disney animation team over the years is the ability to create a fully rounded character while also giving us a sense of the real-life animal.

Walt Disney felt it was very important for Disney artists and animals to begin with real-life examples and then apply their imaginations and creativity. When the film Bambi (1942) was being planned and designed, the team spent months sketching living deer in the studio to help create the character of Bambi and tell his story. You can find out more here.


Bambi (1942) Disney Studio Artist; Story sketch; coloured pencil and graphite on paper; © Disney

4. Here you can see a Bambi story sketch created by a Disney artist. What do you notice about the character design of Bambi and Flower (the skunk)? What is the artist communicating about the character?​ Explain how you know this.
5. Find out more about the real-life inspiration for Bambi. Now try creating your own animal character using real-life inspiration. You could start with a photo, a video, a pet or even an insect.
6. When you watch the Bambi trailer (below), what stands out about the design of Bambi's character? Focus on colour, movement, expression and voice. What did you notice about (a) the world of the film and (b) the other characters?
'Bambi Diamond Edition Trailer' (2011) Disney UK
7. Meet the challenge! Imagine you are designing hero and companion characters for a new Disney movie. Create your own character-focused concept artwork using the worksheet provided.

Multiplane camera

Disney Animation has always combined creative artistry with technological innovation. The multiplane camera was adapted over time as a way of giving the illusion of depth to the world of an animated film. The multiplane was made up of separate layers containing different visual elements of a scene. The bottom levels were usually painted in oils on masonite or hardboard and the middle and upper levels were most often painted in oils on glass. The camera shot from above.

In Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs the multiplane camera helped bring the world of the story to life so that, rather than looking flat and two-dimensional, the world appears to have depth.

For the Disney: The Magic of Animation exhibition, we have created a life-size multiplane experience. The layers are placed horizontally instead of vertically, so that visitors can become part of a Disney scene.

8. Watch Walt Disney explain how the multiplane works in the video (below). Now see if you can explain how it works to someone who hasn't seen the video.
9. Choose a scene from one of the films featured in The Magic Begins section of the exhibition and create a diorama that shows the separate layers that bring the world to life.
'Walt Disney Introduces the Multiplane Camera' (1957) Walt Disney Animation Studios

Section 3: Producers of Magic

With each new project, Disney Animation drew on its pool of talented artists to find the right look for the story. The Studio also invited other artists who did not usually work at Disney to share their ideas. When people join together and offer their different perspectives something special happens, and the feature films made during the 1950s and 1960s each had their own distinct look.

1. As a class choose a favourite book. Begin by working separately – and quickly – to design the look of the main characters. Next join together in groups of 3 or 4 to share your designs. Choose the best elements from each design to create a collaborative design. Now share with the class. What have you learnt from the similarities and differences between each group's ideas?

Reimagining Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written by Lewis Carroll in 1865 and is a very well-known story. When Disney decided to make an animated version of the Alice story, they wanted it to be surprising and special.

Much of the concept art for this brightly coloured and often surprising animated film was created by Mary Blair. You can see how her love of colour and simple strong shapes give Disney's Alice in Wonderland a very special look.

The character design as well as the look of the world in this movie are unique. When many people think of Alice, they picture the yellow-haired character with the blue dress and white apron created by Disney and when they think of the Cheshire Cat, it is the pink and purple feline created by Disney Animation.

Begin exploring the art and design of Alice in Wonderland by watching the trailer.

'Alice in Wonderland Trailer' (1951) Walt Disney Animation Studios

Would you like to read Lewis Carroll's original novel? You can download it here.

2. Have a look at the original illustrations by John Tenniel in Lewis Carroll's book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (above) and then watch the trailer from Disney's Alice in Wonderland. What are some of the similarities between John Tenniel's drawings and the Disney version of the Alice character? What are some of the differences?
3. Imagine you have read the Alice stories but know nothing about the movie. What impression would the trailer have on you?
4. The Cheshire Cat created by Disney Animation is a very memorable character. Imagine you have been asked to help design a new Alice in Wonderland animation for Disney. It is your job to create a completely different look for the Cheshire Cat character. What would your character design look like? Think about colour, shape, face, and body. Download the Walt Disney Family Museum's Tips & Techniques: Shape Language (below) to help you get started.

Live action reference in Alice in Wonderland

Disney animators often filmed live action movement so that they would have something to refer to when animating a character's movements.

The young actor Kathryn Beaumont was not only the voice of Alice, but also performed scenes from the film for the animators to watch. That way they could make sure they were making their animated character as real as possible.

'Alice in Wonderland Behind the Scenes' (2011) Blu-Ray special feature, Walt Disney Animation Studios
5. Let's reverse the live-action referencing process! See how well you can recreate a sequence of movement from a Disney animated film.
6. Animators also act out characters' movements and expressions to help them get the right look. Working in pairs, practise some of the movements and expressions of the characters you saw in the Alice in Wonderland trailer. Why not start with the Cheshire Cat's smile!

The world of Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Much of the look of this stunning animation is owed to the artist Eyvind Earle. He created hundreds of concept artworks as well as painted many background paintings that were used in the movie.

While other artists before him had inspired the style of a Disney cartoon, such as Mary Blair for Alice in Wonderland, this was the first time that one of the Studio’s films had so directly used an artist’s backgrounds designs and colours as they were initially presented by the artist.

The animators had to adapt the design of the characters to match the style of the world created by Earle. This explains the angular and stylised shapes of the characters.

In Sleeping Beauty, the evil fairy Maleficent transforms into a dragon. Notice how the design of the two sides of her character – human and dragon – connect with the distinctive angular look of the world of the film.

7. Watch the trailer (below) to see some of the beautiful backgrounds used in Sleeping Beauty. Create your own fairytale background inspired by Eyvind Earle. Make sure you use surprising and vibrant colours.
8.In Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent transforms into a dragon. What are some of the ways the design of her character communicates the fire-breathing dragon part of her identity?
'Sleeping Beauty Official Diamond Edition Blu-Ray Trailer' (2014) Walt Disney Animation Studios

Designing a villain: One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)

When Walt Disney read The Hundred and One Dalmatians book by Dodie Smith, he immediately wanted to make it into an animation. Disney Animation was a studio known for its lovable animal characters, and the artists and animators would have a lot of fun designing so many dog and puppy characters. They had even more fun creating one of the most evil villains ever – Cruella De Vil.

When designing characters and making them part of the world of the animation, Disney artists make sure everything is designed with a purpose. Everything about Cruella – her face, body, clothes and car – tells us she is a villain who cannot be trusted.

Cruella was designed by artist and animator Marc Davis, who is remembered for the wonderful female characters he created during his time at Disney Animation. When asked which was his favourite, he replied, “Each of my women characters has her own unique style; I love them all in different ways.” You can read more about him here.

Watch the trailer to see Cruella – and the dogs – in action.

One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961) Walt Disney Animation Studios
9. After watching the One Hundred and One Dalmatians trailer, share with others what stands out for you.
10. Imagine you are describing Cruella De Vil to someone who knows nothing about this character. How would you describe her?
11. Complete the Designing Villains worksheet to think more deeply about character design.

Section 4: Towards New Dimensions

Being an animator is really like being the actor in the movie.

Rob Minkoff, Co-Director, The Lion King (1994)

In the 1990s, Walt Disney Animation Studios released some of their most beloved films of all time. They started with evocative stories, created vibrant characters and worlds and added rich musical scores. In fact, Beauty and the Beast (1991) and The Lion King (1994) have gone on to inspire hugely successful Broadway musicals and have been remade in the twenty-first century for new audiences.

The films in this section also mark Disney Animation's entry into the digital age and the development of a new set of tools for animators to explore. Computer graphics improved with each new film, later becoming the primary method for the production of animation.

The Little Mermaid (1989) saw the beginning of this process with characters and backgrounds being digitally combined in combined in the next-to-last scene of the film.

By the time of Mulan's (1998) production, the artists were able to use new techniques for computer-produced graphics to create a huge battle with over 2,000 warriors on horseback, each with individual movements.

Yet, while the technology was changing, the fundamentals remained the same. If an artist couldn’t draw an appealing character, no amount of computer-produced special effects would help.

1. The films featured in this section are: The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Lion King (1994), Pocahontas (1995) and Mulan (1998). As a class, choose one of these films as your research focus. Building on what you learned when visiting Disney: The Magic of Animation at ACMI, see how much you can find out about the production process and the innovative digital technologies used.

Connecting through colour

Colour is used in filmmaking to communicate information about character, mood, and emotion. This is particularly the case in animation which allows for a more imaginative and stylised use of colour. The films featured in Towards New Dimensions have very distinctive colour palettes. Colour palette refers to the range of colours chosen as part of the production design – specific characters may have their own colour palette and the film as a whole will work with a particular range of colours. The thoughtful use of colour adds meaning to the story, while colours can also express emotions and feelings.

2. Look at the colour palettes (below) to learn more about the distinct range of colours used in each Disney animated film. Focus on the colours used in one of these three films and discuss with a partner what these colours mean to you. Now watch the trailer from the movie and think about the use of colour.
3. Design a film poster for your chosen film, using its colour palette.
Disney Animation Colour Palettes

Walt Disney Animation Studios Colour Palettes ©Disney

Glen Keane: animating characters for a new generation

Ariel from The Little Mermaid is one of the most beloved Disney characters of all time. As a sea creature who becomes entranced by human existence, Ariel has a special quality that comes from being between two worlds.

From the earliest days of Disney Animation, animators took up the challenge of animating water – Pinocchio and 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' from Fantasia are great examples. Decades later, Ariel presented a new challenge for animator Glen Keane. Audiences need to believe in her watery world and her magical nature as a mermaid but also respond to her love for a human prince.

Keane recognised that the key to Ariel's character was the fluid movement of her long hair and the curves of her tail. Making her hair move gracefully underwater was a big challenge, but Keane solved the problem by observing how the long hair of real-life astronaut Sally Ride floated in the zero gravity of space.

The Little Mermaid (1989) Glen Keane, Rough animation drawing, Graphite on paper.jpg

The Little Mermaid (1989) Glen Keane, Rough animation drawing; graphite on paper © Disney

4. What do you notice about this animation drawing of Ariel?​​ What is Glen Keane communicating about the character?​​ Explain how you know this.
5. Did you know that Walt Disney Animation Studios presents 'how to draw' videos on their YouTube channel? In the video (below), find out how to draw Ariel from Mark Henn, Directing Animator on The Little Mermaid.
'Draw with Disney: Mark Henn' (2020) Walt Disney Animation Studios

Music: Building character, story and world

Disney's animated films have always used music and songs to help tell the story and explore themes. Music adds emotion and drama, and the songs communicate the thoughts and feelings of the characters.

The music also works in time with the movement of the animated characters, so that in a song like The Little Mermaid's 'Under the Sea', it adds fun and energy. And in 'Colours of the Wind' in Pocahontas, the song combines with what we see to bring the beauty of nature to life.

In The Lion King, the songs and the music build the world of the story as well as connecting with the dramatic events. The music was such an important part of the film that the first trailer released was of the film's opening with the song 'Circle of Life' communicating the style and mood of the film. You can find out more about this opening scene here.

6. The song 'Under the Sea' in The Little Mermaid is a great example of how the rhythm of the music can add energy to the animation. Compare the animation in this scene to Steamboat Willie. What is different and what has stayed the same?
7. Watch the opening of The Lion King. As a class discuss what the song adds to the visuals. Try watching the scene without the music to help you understand what is added by the music.
8. What is your favourite Disney Animation song? Explain why you like it so much and what it adds to the story of the movie. Use the Music worksheet to help you with your answer.

Section 5: Bringing People Together

“We have a choice. We can tear each other apart or we can come together and build a better world. It’s not too late.”

Chief Benja, Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

Walt Disney Animation Studios have moved away from hand-produced art to computer graphics but remain dedicated to telling vivid and original stories and creating unique characters and imaginative worlds. Focused on innovation from the very beginning of their long history, Disney Animation have always been on the lookout for new ideas to enhance the animation process and add greater depth and interest to character, world and story. It is all about the and exploring new ways to draw viewers into the story and connect them with the experiences of the characters.

The stories that Disney Animation choose to tell in the twenty-first century contain strong messages about human connection, the diversity of experience and responsibility towards others and the environment. Female characters such as Rapunzel, Elsa, Moana, Raya have become independent leaders who take action in the face of challenges, while male leads come in a variety of guises – gentle souls like Kristoff and Hiro and rough diamonds like Maui, Nick Wilde and Flynn Rider.

Tangled (2010): a new kind of fairy tale

“Rapunzel’s hair is like a superpower.”

– Year 3/4 student, St Albans Heights Primary School

Tangled is Disney’s first fairytale adaptation using computer animated characters. It may be another Disney fairytale, but in this movie, the princess is brave and powerful. It is a fractured fairytale where a lot of the story elements we would normally expect are turned upside down. Brave prince? No, not really. Scary villains? Many of them have a heart of gold. The evil female villain Mother Gothel is the one familiar fairytale character in the film who doesn’t surprise us.

Tangled is a new and different version of the traditional Rapunzel fairytale, but her very long hair remains an important part of the story. Disney Animation experimented with innovative CGI technologies to bring the hair to life. You can find out more about this here.

In the digital age, storyboards remain an important tool in helping animators visually map out each scene. It is fascinating to see the original sketches lined up alongside the completed film. Watch the beautiful 'I See the Light' scene (below) to discover how it was planned out by the Tangled animation team using storyboards.

'Tangled Side by Side' (2020) Walt Disney Animation Studios
1. In Tangled, Rapunzel's hair is an important part of who she is and plays an unforgettable role in the story. How would you describe the way Rapunzel's hair moves and acts to someone who hadn't seen the movie?
2. Do you know the traditional Rapunzel fairytale? Find out more about this story and compare it with the Disney Animation version. What is the same? What is different?
3. Tangled is a fractured fairytale. It takes the old fairytale story and changes it. This can be surprising and funny. It also makes us think about the values of the traditional fairytale. Which fairytale would you like to update and why?
4. Use the Fractured Fairytale worksheet to plan your own story.

Independent female heroes

It has been many years since a female hero (protagonist) has needed a handsome prince to save her in a Disney film! The independence and energy of characters like Mulan and Rapunzel can also be found in Anna and Elsa (Frozen, 2013 and Frozen 2, 2019), Moana (Moana, 2016), Judy Hopps (Zootopia, 2016) and Raya (Raya and the Last Dragon, 2021).

The stories that are told about these complex female heroes have changed so that the most important thing is their actions and deeds, rather than whether they fall in love. They are faced with the challenge of achieving their goals and learning more about their place in their world.

5. Use the worksheet (below) to explore the character design and development of the Disney hero characters in the Bringing People Together section of Disney: The Magic of Animation exhibition.

Concept artwork: Building character, story and world

The connection between characters and their worlds is at the heart of good storytelling, and in animated films much of this relates to visual storytelling. In films such as Moana, Frozen, Zootopia, Frozen 2 and Raya and the Last Dragon, concept artists create artworks that inspire the animation and production teams and help them bring their characters and story worlds to life.


Moana (2016); Lisa Keene; Concept art; digital painting; © Disney

6. This beautiful concept artwork (above) represents an important moment at the beginning of Moana and looks forward to the film's climax. How do the colours of Moana's world help tell her and her people's story? Download the Artwork Response worksheet to guide your response to this remarkable artwork.
Zootopia, 2016 Cory Loftis Concept art digital painting © Disney Enterprises

Zootopia (2016); Cory Loftis; Concept art; digital painting; © Disney

7. Look carefully and you will find Judy Hopps, Zootopia's tiny hero character, in the artwork (above). This work communicates so much about Judy's world and her place in it. But, despite her tiny size, we can also see her cheerful optimism. Use the Artwork Response worksheet to guide your response to this unique artwork.
Frozen II

Frozen 2 (2019); Lisa Keene; Concept art; digital painting; © Disney

8. Elsa's strength and isolation can be seen in this beautiful concept artwork (above) created for Frozen 2. Use the Artwork Response worksheet to guide your response to this powerful image.
Raya and the Last Dragon, 2021, Paul Felix, concept art, digital painting © Disney Enterprises

Raya and the Last Dragon (2021); Paul Felix; Concept art; digital painting; © Disney

9. Raya and Tuk Tuk grow up together and travel the world on a quest to bring Raya's father and land back to life. If you look carefully at this artwork, you will see many special story and character elements. Use the Artwork Response worksheet to guide your response to this powerful image.

Heart plus innovation in Big Hero 6 (2014)

“My favourite movie is Big Hero 6. I like it because of the characters. It has cool actions and details. And I’m up for a sad movie.”
– Year 3/4 student, St Albans Heights Primary School

One of the most loveable Disney characters ever created is Baymax from Big Hero 6, a white blob with black eyes. He has been described as a huggable robot. To make him such an adorable character the Disney Animation team emphasised his soft shape as well as the contrast in size and shape between him and Hiro. Baymax's slow and jerky movements, particularly the way he leans forward and walks, suggests the innocence of a baby – in fact, Baymax's walking movements are inspired by the way a toddler walks when wearing a diaper. Other very important parts of the creation of Baymax's character are his voice and the sound of his vinyl body.

Watch this clip from the movie – it's where Hiro and Baymax meet – and think about the techniques used to introduce the audience to Baymax and to make him so appealing.

'Discovery' Clip – Big Hero 6 (2014) Walt Disney Animation Studios
10. After watching the clip, discuss with a partner everything you noticed about Baymax – how he looks, moves, sounds and talks. Write down or draw all the things you and your partner noticed. Now share these ideas with the rest of the class and see how many features and techniques you can list.
11. Animators often act out scenes so as to work out the best way to recreate movements and emotions in animation. Try acting out the scene where Hiro meets Baymax. Does this teach you anything new about the characters or the animation process?
12. Dig deeper into the scene and learn more about how to read a film by downloading the Scene Response worksheet.

As with all of Disney Studio's animated films, Big Hero 6 is part of a long tradition of drawing and animation that places the most importance on the emotional connection the audience forms with the characters in the story. Technological innovations are therefore about creating a better and more relatable story. As with the CGI breakthrough that gives Rapunzel's hair so much personality, revolutionary software helped the Big Hero 6 team bring the characters and stories to life. For instance, light is used to great effect in Baymax's character design and this is owed to Disney’s Hyperion rendering software.

You can find out about this and other innovations that helped bring the characters and world of Big Hero 6 to life in this short video.

'The Innovative New Technology Used in "Big Hero 6"' (2014) Walt Disney Animation Studios

Bringing people together: Raya and the Last Dragon

With a focus on trust and diversity, Disney's most recent animated film sends a message about the importance of working together to solve problems. With the goal of restoring a dying world, the film's hero Raya perseveres against the odds, gradually bringing together a group of characters from other lands. They are very different from each other but share a common purpose.

The ideas explored in Raya and the Last Dragon are complex ones relevant to real-world issues. Raya's team is made up of people who should be enemies but discover, that if they work together their differences become a shared strength. This is also a great lesson about the value of collaboration.

The ideal of trusting others comes with the knowledge that this trust might not always be rewarded. The message is not that people should learn to be wary of deceit but, instead, be prepared to keep showing trust in the face of disappointment. Eventually, it might just pay off.

Watch the trailer to be reminded of the different characters Raya meets and the lands she travels to as she searches for the pieces of the dragon gem.

'Raya and the Last Dragon Official Trailer'(2021) Walt Disney Animation Studios
13. Describe the characters who join Raya to bring the world together.
14. As well as showing the strength that comes from difference and diversity, the contrast in the characters' appearance, age and size is funny and interesting. Which of these companion characters is your favourite? Explain why.
15. Despite their differences, the characters in Raya's team also have several similarities. In what ways are they similar? What qualities do they share?
16. What are some of the things you notice about the different worlds and settings? Pause the video and look carefully at each different setting. What do you notice? What stands out about each of the different lands?
17. Do you agree that if someone you trust lets you down, you should give them another chance?
18. Although Raya and the Last Dragon is a fantasy, the message it teaches can be applied to the world we live in. If we learned to accept difference, trust others and work together towards a shared goal, what are some of the things we could achieve and change?

Disney's 'plus' factor: the creative power of collaboration

Raya and the Last Dragon's message about the power of working together and building strength through difference can be applied to the collaborative process of making animated feature films and is celebrated and promoted at Walt Disney Animation Studios. Next time you watch an animated film created by Disney Animation, take the time to watch the credits to see how many people contribute to making the film a success.

As you leave the gallery after visiting Disney: The Magic of Animation at ACMI, you will hear from many of the people working at Disney and learn about the different roles involved in making an animated film and running a production studio. Disney Animation's recognition of the many ways people contribute and the different talents and skills they bring to a project links with the Studios' belief that the creative process is about building ideas collaboratively – 'plussing'.

In the final production stage of Raya and the Last Dragon, the production team had to work together remotely because of COVID-19. To bring such an extraordinary and richly imagined story to life is a credit to the power of Disney Animation's collaborative processes and creative teamwork. You can learn more about how this worked in the video (below).

'Untold With The Filmmakers of Raya and the Last Dragon' (2021) Walt Disney Animation Studios
19. What extra collaborative skills do you think the Raya and the Last Dragon production team needed to be able to finish the movie while social distancing because of COVID-19?
20. Visit the Walt Disney Animation Studios website to learn more about the people who work there and what they do: https://www.disneyanimation.com/

Start creating!

Now it's time for you to start collaborating on your own animated movie. You can either work in teams or work together as a whole class. Remember how much can be achieved when collaborating with others and using each person's different skills and talents to achieve a great outcome.

Why not get started with ACMI's simple guide to Stop Motion animation!