Take A Trip To The Disney Vault: Walt Disney’s Animation Research Library

In an unassuming building in Glendale, California lies the actual “Disney Vault.” Here sits a treasure trove of animation dating all the way back to the 1920’s. Story sketches from Pinocchio, animation cells of Stromboli dancing and an early maquette of a much more “cricket”-looking Jiminy Cricket are lovingly preserved in a humidity-free 60-68 degree environment. Every drawing, when it must be moved, is handled with white gloves and a specially-made spatula. The Disney Vault is the Walt Disney Animation Research Library (ARL). Continue reading for more photos and stories from inside the Disney Vault, and enter to WIN a Signature Edition of Disney’s PINOCCHIO Blu-ray available in stores now.

Disney Vault

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Walt Disney was an artist at heart, and thankfully understood the importance of preserving art of any kind. That is largely why the ARL exists. Every story sketch, conceptual design artwork, background, layout, cel and maquette from the 1920’s to today are preserved in a total of 11 Disney Vaults. Disney Vault 3 is nicknamed “Walt’s Vault” because it contains the (mostly) complete animation from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on up to The Jungle Book. Stepping into this Walt Disney Vault induces the best form of goosebumps as so much history lies within these sacred shelves.

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This is only 1 of 11 Vaults! Other Vaults contain character maquettes, puppets used in stop-motion animation such as The Nightmare Before Christmas and artwork all the way up to Moana. Walt Disney Archivists, including Fox Carney (shown below), are hard at work preserving and converting these 65 million drawings into digital media.

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But why take the time to do this? Imagine you are a digital animator and you must make Rapunzel dance, but it’s just not working. Everything you try seems false. If only you could see the separate frames where Snow White danced with the Dwarfs. Thanks to the ARL, you can! Disney computer animators are able to access and learn from the traditional hand-drawn animation frame-by-frame. Disney animators are infusing the new technology with the past.

Not only can the animators take a trip to the Disney Vault to learn, they can access much of the library right from their computers with the click of a mouse. The Digital Imaging Department at ARL is constantly working at converting those 56 million pieces of art into a gargantuan digital library. Two high-tech, giant cameras have the HUGE task of photographing about 1000 pieces of art per day – well over a million pieces of art in the last 7 years. These cameras are able to capture the art at an incredible resolution. One photograph can be almost a third of a GB! The resolution is so good, it will often capture unintended items such as dead spiders and cigarette stains. Imagine some leftover cigar ashes on a story sketch of Monstro the Whale!

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The Making Of Pinocchio

How do the archivists choose what to archive first? Well, they pick and choose. Pinocchio is arriving on Walt Disney Signature Collection Blu-ray, so archivists dove back into Disney Vault 3 to discover new stories revolving around the animation process for Pinocchio. It took 5 people 11 months to digitally archive all the art attached to Pinocchio. Miraculously, Fox Carney and his team found some amazing special features for this new Signature Edition Blu-ray release on January 31, 2017.

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It turns out Pleasure Island had several different concepts before the final design made it to the big screen. In the Blu-ray Special Feature “Walt’s Story Meetings: Pleasure Island” you will see original conceptual art revealing a much brighter Pleasure Island. There’s a version similar to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s main room in which you’re able to eat all you see. For the other concepts, well, you’ll have to dive into the Blu-ray.

If you want an even more in-depth look at the making of Pinocchio, the book Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic is just the ticket. Author J.B. Kaufman is a film historian who has done his research at, you guessed it, the Walt Disney Animation Research Library.

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Kaufman will tell you that it was Walt himself who thought Pleasure Island should be darker than originally conceived. Because of its place anchoring the latter part of Pinocchio, Pleasure Island should hold more weight for our characters and offer a bigger climax. Walt got his wish, and the donkey-making, nightmare-inducing Pleasure Island tests Pinocchio right before he gets the biggest test of all: Monstro the Whale.


Pinocchio: The Walt Disney Signature Collection Blu-ray arrives in stores January 31, 2017. Pick it up before the film gets locked away in the Disney Vault once again, and enter to win your own copy here.

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About Richard & Sarah Woloski

Richard and Sarah Woloski are the co-hosts and creators of the Disney / Star Wars Podcast Skywalking Through Neverland. The husband and wife team strives to create a polished, positive and fun weekly show celebrating fandom. They also love writing for Adventures By Daddy. Find them @SkywalkingPod