‘Disney Sketchbook’ Takes An Inside Look At The Animators Who Poured Their Hearts Into Creating Several Legendary Characters

Trying to be perfect can ruin everything, says Jason Sterman.

Sterman is the executive producer and director of Sketchbook, an intimate instructional documentary series that takes viewers onto the desks and into the lives of talented artists and animators as they teach the audience how to draw an iconic character from a Walt Disney
Animation Studios film.

Each episode focuses on a single artist illustrating a character that they either helped create or inspired them to want to be an artist at the Studio. As they give the steps to drawing these characters, each animator also divulges their unique story, chronicling how they found their way to Disney and their chosen character.

This experience gives viewers a new understanding of how these beloved characters come to life on-screen while introducing them to a new cast of real-life characters along the way.

The featured animators include South Korean born Hyun-Min Lee who is the Supervising Animator in Frozen 2 and who helped design Olaf; Jin Kim, known for his drawing on Moana, Big Hero 6, and Tangled; 40 year veteran animator Mark Henn, who has served as the Supervising Animator of Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, and young Simba, among others; and Eric Goldberg, considered one of the greatest animators in history, known for his creation of Genie for the 1992 film Aladdin.

Explaining his statement about perfection, Sherman believes that unfortunately many people fall victim to the thought process of, “well, if it’s not going to be perfect, then it’s not worth doing.”

But, in this case, Sherman wants to remind people that, “for the most part, everyone has drawn at some point in their life. It’s one of the earliest things that [we do].”

He points to the practice of being given crayons and paper as a child.

As time passes though, Sherman says, “a lot of people stop drawing. I don’t know when that point was for me, I don’t have a memory of it, but I know that [this is what happens.]”

In creating Sketchbook, Sherman says that nailing the structure of the hybrid series was key. “It was very important to find the right pacing and balance between instructional versus the personal storyline of the animator, because if you deviate too far into one versus the other, you have the potential of someone disengaging.”

In order to confirm that the instructional portion can work for any viewer, regardless of drawing ability, Sterman knew what he had to do, but admits it wasn’t easy. “I’m ultimately the most afraid of picking up a pencil and having to follow along.”

Describing himself as ‘at best a stick figure artist,’ Sterman felt strongly that, “if, I can’t do it, then we failed as a series.”

He was surprised to find that he could, in fact, produce a character drawing from the on-screen instruction, and in celebration of this, he keeps the picture on his desk to remind him of his success.

For those concerned that watching a behind-the-scenes series like this might spoil their enjoyment of the original property, Sterman says, “this doesn’t divulge anything that you don’t already know about that character. It’s really more an exploration of relationship between the artist and their direct relationship to that character.”

What understanding the relationship between artist and character does, according to Sterman, is make watching, or rewatching, those films in a new context while understanding that although there are no humans in these movies, the human touch is all over them.

It’s important to remember that two-dimension animation is still at the core of what Disney studios does and that every one of the movies start with a pen and pencil, explains Sterman.

This thought is echoed by legendary animator Eric Goldberg in the episode in which he explains how he created one of the most storied characters — The Genie in Aladdin.

As Goldberg delves into his methods, he makes a simple, yet wise, statement, saying that, ‘if you’re afraid of doing something, the first step is you just have to start.’

Sterman agrees adding that when someone does this while watching the series, “You come away from it being surprised at yourself. You follow along in your drawing and then you stop at the end kind of go like, ‘Oh, my God. I thought I couldn’t draw for anything and now this [picture] exists.’”

He believes that in doing this, “you kind of let go. You start to become more aware of what your own capabilities are.”

This will ultimately lead people to be curious about what else they can accomplish in their lives, says Sterman.

In fact, Sterman admits that the process of putting the series together changed his personal perspective, revealing, as he holds up the picture he drew, “I think that this is the thing that will continue to allow me to not be afraid to try new things; to challenge myself.”

One pertinent element about the series that Sterman wants viewers to think about is that, “the cost of entry to do this is as low as possible. You don’t need to have the drawing table, you do not need to have fancy paper — [just] a very simple pencil and the back of a piece of paper.”

While happiness does permeate the series, there are lows for the animators. But, even those moments serve as inspiration, says Sterman, explaining, “I hope that by looking at what someone else has struggled and overcome, you can translate that in your own life to push forward.”

Above all, Sterman just hopes that, “[watching these episodes] leaves people wanting more.”

All episodes of ‘Sketchbook’ are available for streaming on Disney+.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/anneeaston/2022/04/29/disney-sketchbook-takes-an-inside-look-at-the-animators-who-poured-their-hearts-into-creating-several-legendary-characters/