Disney´s Little Mermaid - from concept to animation

1989
1989

 

 

Even though Disney´s "Little Mermaid" was released in 1989 for the first time, Walt Disney had the idea of making an animated movie based on Christian Andersen´s fairytale already  50 years earlier.

"Silly Symphonies: King Neptun" 1932
"Silly Symphonies: King Neptun" 1932

However, the mermaid theme fascinated Walt Disney even earlier: In 1932 a short animated musical novel entitled "King Neptun" part of the "Silly Symphonies" series was produced, starring a red haired mermaid as one of the main characters, which probably layed the foundation for Ariel´s future aspect.

Little Mermaid concept art by Kay Nielsen, 1941
Little Mermaid concept art by Kay Nielsen, 1941

 One of the first visual concept paintings of the actual theme of Andersen´s "Little Mermaid" were drafted by Kay Nielsen in 1941 for Disney. His works were much closer to the original story than the future movie. The character concept for the little mermaid herself however, already shows some resamblance to the finished Ariel with long floating hair and a big eyed face. Unfortunately the plans changed at that time and the concept was put on ice for a long time.

In 1985 one of Disney´s directors, Ron Clements, became interested again in adapting Andersen´s story. By coincidence he came across the visual development work of Nielsen, which had a big influence on the future work of the animators.

little mermaid concept drawing Keane/Henn 1985-1989
little mermaid concept drawing Keane/Henn 1985-1989

The two leading animators to create the character of Ariel were Glen Keane  and Mark Henn who worked before together on "Oliver & Co" and "Basil of Bakerstreet".

The first concept drawings of Ariel focus on the under water dynamics especially of her hair.

Giving the little mermaid  long, floating hair as in the Nielsen concepts was no point of discussion. The under water effects of Ariel´s hair were inspired by footage of the female austronaut Sally Ride taken while she was in space.

Alyssa Milano
Alyssa Milano

 

 

Regarding her personality, Ariel was developed to be less melancholic than Andersen´s little mermaid, the story itself was changed to fit more to the Disney style as well. As the model for Ariel´s appearance, like the facial and body features, the young actress Alyssa Milano was chosen.

Little mermaid concept drawing 1985-1989
Little mermaid concept drawing 1985-1989

Passion, desire and also willingsness to make sacrifices for love were atributes the animators borrowed from the original Andersen storybook for Ariel. Seemingly they also wanted her to have an adventurous and a somewhat undutyful nature of a typical teenage girl. 

Little Mermaid concept art 1985
Little Mermaid concept art 1985

 

 

Apparently, the development of the physical aspect of Ariel was also inpired by the mermaid characters created by Fred Moore  for "Peter Pan" in 1953.  Not only the face, with big, less realistic shaped eyes, but also Ariel´s signature seashellscould already been found in Moore´s mermaids before.

Fred Moore Mermaids 1953
Fred Moore Mermaids 1953

 

 

But while Moore´s mermaids were alluring and touchy, the little mermaid was considered to be innocent and endearing.

Little Mermaid character drawing Keane, 1988
Little Mermaid character drawing Keane, 1988

 

Ariel´s character got a more childlike curiousness which reflects in her facial features. Nevertheless, Keane obviously didn´t want Ariel to look like a child and gave her a curvy womanly body.

 

little mermaid concept art 1985-1988
little mermaid concept art 1985-1988

 

 

By coloring Ariel´s hair in firy-red, the animators made her stand out of the rest of the merfolk. This could already been seen in the "King Neptune" short.  Moreover, this coloration also builds a contrast to the blueish sea world she feels not to belong to.

clean up Ariel memo 1988
clean up Ariel memo 1988

 

During the development process the character proportions got improved and the details as well as facial expressions were finalized.

 

Sherri Lynn Stoner and Jodi Benson
Sherri Lynn Stoner and Jodi Benson

 

Even though Ariel´s aspect may be less realistic than earlier animated female characters (e.g. Cinderella and Aurora), to create a realism in movement and mimics, most of the scenes were filmed with live actors. This technique was laso used in the earlier princess movies. Ariel was performed by Sherri Lynn Stoner and Jodi Benson.

 

 

Little Mermaid production drawing 1989
Little Mermaid production drawing 1989

 

The Little Mermaid was the last Disney feature film to use the traditional handdrawn and handpainted cel method requirering a multiplane camera.

After that, Disney studios used the "Computer Animation Production System" developed by Pixar until now.

 

"Little Mermaid" production cel 1989
"Little Mermaid" production cel 1989

 

 

Ariel´s film is the last full-length animation picture drawn and colored manually, and maybe this is one of the reasons, why "The Little Mermaid" still spreads Walt Disney´s magic equally to the earlier masterpieces.

Write a comment

Comments: 4
  • #1

    jessica (Tuesday, 21 January 2014 04:25)

    it is very interesting

  • #2

    jessica (Sunday, 26 October 2014 21:26)

    Really fascinating and I love the way the animators took ideas from different parts of work to be made into something spectacular

  • #3

    FLYNN (Saturday, 24 January 2015 02:41)

    This is the most unforgettable masterpiece that Disney could ever have. This movie open many doors to the future worjs of disney. Beautiful and such wonderful. It never gets old even CGI is the newest trend now.

  • #4

    Christian (Saturday, 11 July 2015 11:33)

    I never realized the connection with the Silly Symphony short King Neptune. Thank you for sharing this animation anecdote

Contact me: lulemee@gmx.de

 

Please check out this amazing site I am proud to be part of: the repaint society (click on photo to be forwarded to the site).

The greatest doll artists in the world are collaborating on diverse doll projects and more. Our current Project was the ABC TV Show "Once Upon A Time".

 

Like me on Facebook:

Find me:

 

Vote for our site!

On Top Doll Sites

Find me on DA:

Find me on Instagramm

Instagram


I am in no way related to the Mattel- or any other Doll-Company. I am just using the dolls as a canvas for my artistic expression. I am also not related to the Walt Disney Company, I am just inspired by the art of animation. This site is a non commercial non profit site displaying my repainting skills. I don´t claim ownership of any of the characters, that are displayed. All Disney characters belong to the Disney company. I am buying dolls and enhancing them through paint paying tribute to the art of animation, I don´t copy any preexistent dolls. I don´t sell dolls, this website is a virtual Gallery of my art.

This website uses cookies.