Next week, Disney+ will be releasing an all new, six-part original series that dives into the lives of artists and animators at Walt Disney Animation Studios as they teach audiences at home how to draw iconic characters from the Studio’s films. In anticipation of the release of Sketchbook next week, Dorkaholics was invited to attend a press conference onsite at the studio (which had been closed off for two years) to meet each of the six artists featured in the series.
Jason Sterman, executive producer and one of the directors for Sketchbook, kicked things off explaining how the show began as an idea.
“There was this idea of doing something around the instructional component of teaching people to draw, not wanting it to be this mystified thing that felt unapproachable. And at the same time as well, one of the things that we love doing is finding human connections in the stories that we tell,” Sterman said. “And the thing that’s always interesting about animation is you never really get to see the humans, obviously, because it’s the world of animation.”
Wanting to draw upon the human elements of the animation world, the showrunners would have to identify individuals to be featured in this series.
“And so how do we go about introducing the human component? That ultimately led to the idea of taking I think things that we love about shows that we do like Chef’s Table and things like that, and how do you bring that elevated nature into this world? So, it was this kind of evolving process that always started with the idea of something that people know and love, which I think is like, as a child, people always draw bringing that forward,” Sterman said. “But at the same time, also, where do you find the human connection? And that was where really the heart and soul came from: finding the individuals who we would feature in this season to kind of be the backbone of that.
The core idea of the series: that drawing is fun for everybody struck a chord with Eric Goldberg, who draws Genie in his episode.
“I often think that it’s fascinating that human beings are the only animals who are compelled to make a mark on a piece of paper,” he said. “There are no other creatures on the planet who do that. It’s natural for everybody.”
For Gabby Capili, she knew she had to draw Kuzco from The Emperor’s New Groove once this opportunity became available to her.
“Disney was a huge thing in [my] family. I never had a princess because I was a very tomboyish kid. I know now that I was a gender nonconforming, queer kid. We didn’t have that language at the time. So, I just didn’t relate until Kuzco,” Capili said. “When they asked me to do Sketchbook immediately, I knew I wanted to do Kuzco.”
And despite some initial pushback due to potential obscurity surrounding the character, Capili persisted and fortunately was allowed to do so.
“It had to be Kuzco,” Capili said. “I’m really glad. He’s very special to me, a very important character to me.”
Hyun-min Lee was one of the designers for Olaf in Frozen and became the supervising animator of Anna in the sequel film. Given her deep connection to the films, she was one of the best people to share why she thought those characters are so endearing to audiences.
“I think the biggest thing about them is their relatability. Because they’re these magical characters in this magical kingdom – Elsa even has magical powers and Olaf is a talking snowman,” Lee said. “That’s definitely not something that you see every day. But I think in their personalities and who they are, they’re such relatable characters.”
Olaf’s relatability comes from seeing life in a more honest and joyful manner that adults often lose sight of once they grow out of childhood.
“And I think it’s just that relatability where, with Olaf, he gives us that permission to say things or see things in the more truthful and more joyful light that we often forget to do after we are no longer children,” Lee said.
When it comes to Anna, Lee found inspiration from Kristen Bell, the voice behind Anna as she and the actress have had personal journeys with depression.
“She’s so outspoken about those things,” Lee said. “And I think Anna goes through that, especially in Frozen 2. Just the way that they can feel so real but they’re also showing that these are hard things that we all go through, but we can also overcome them in various ways. I think seeing that is what really makes people feel close to those characters and root for them and want to know more about them.”
It is executive producer Jason Sterman’s hope that after watching Sketchbook, viewers find their own desire to draw as well as finding the series an escape from the busyness of life.
“I hope that people do become motivated to pick up a pencil and follow along and discover what their capabilities are with an amazing set of guides. But the show was designed in two ways. There is an instructional component of that. And the other side of that really is an entertaining component of that,” Sterman said. “That’s something we discovered while making the show, it was almost therapeutic. All of your stories in the way that you told them allowed us during a period of time while there’s a lot going on in the world, to escape into your world for a moment.”
Catch Sketchbook on Disney+ available April 27.
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