Disney’s THE PIRATE FAIRY – How Do You Turn a Fairy into a Pirate?

Disney’s THE PIRATE FAIRY is the sixth movie in the Disney Fairies Tinker Bell series and introduces a new fairy, Zarina, to the core of the crew (Tinker Bell, Iridessa, Rosetta, Vidia, Silver Mist, and Fawn).  It’s the best of both worlds: pirates and fairies!  In this post (the first of two about the making of the film), I’ll share my experience with THE PIRATE FAIRY’s animation team:  Raymond Shenusay, Head of Story; Ritsuko Notani, Character Designer; and Yuriko Senoo, Animation Supervisor.  Rather than give you the Q&A in dialogue format, I’m going to share the information with you the way I captured it myself.  Follow this link for my spoiler-free review of Disney’s THE PIRATE FAIRY, available now on Blu-ray/DVD.


SPOILER ALERT – Because of the nature of the conversations, there may be spoilers in these posts about the making of THE PIRATE FAIRY.  If you’ve read my spoiler-free review (link above), you’ll know it’s worth buying the DVD and watching right away.  Save these links until after you’ve watched the film, if you don’t want to read any spoilers.  My apologies! THE PIRATE FAIRY meetings took place inside Disneytoon Studios, all decked out like a pirate’s stronghold.  It must be empowering to have your employer acknowledge and laud your accomplishments to the extent of redecorating the office to reflect your success.  Everywhere we looked, we saw THE PIRATE FAIRY.


The dress code is a little different at Disneytoon Studios.  Raymond Shenusay was dressed formally, but Ristuko Notani and Yuriko Senoo were more casually (and incredibly stylishly) dressed (by comparison).

The Pirate Fairy

Yes, Ray Shenusay came to the meeting completely rigged out as a pirate!  Fierce!

The Pirate Fairy

Ray, Head of Story, started the conversation, taking us through the process of story progression, including screening a story line version of the movie for us.  For THE PIRATE FAIRY, they wanted a character who was good enough that we cared about her, but bad enough that she could be a pirate.  There are a lot of similarities between Tinker Bell and Zarina.  Zarina turns to Tinker Bell to share her success with her experiments, because she feels a kinship and knows Tinker Bell will understand just how she’s feeling.  Overall, it was important that Zarina be redeemable.  After becoming a pirate, was there enough of the fairy left in her or was she too much a pirate?


(L-R) IRIDESSA, TINKER BELL, and ZARINA. ©2013 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Ritsuko, as Character Designer, created the iconic elements of the fairy story – pirates, Crocky, James, Zarina, etc.  Zarina had to stand out from the other fairies.  She’s taller (7” to their 6”) and more individualistic.  As I mentioned in the review, hers was the only apron that had been decorated (and monogrammed).  She has a beauty mark (coincidentally in the same place Ritsuko has one).  Zarina has two distinct personas in the film.  As a dustkeeper fairy, her clothing is made of organic materials, but as a pirate, her clothing is made of man-made materials (though they could have been made from organic materials gathered at Skull Rock).


“THE PIRATE FAIRY” (Pictured) ZARINA. ©2014 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


“THE PIRATE FAIRY” (Pictured) ZARINA. ©2013 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


That lucky fairy’s pirate clothing was designed by none other than Christian Siriano, my favorite Project Runway contestant ever!  On learning that Zarina’s long gown (coat?) was made from the cuff of a pirate’s coat, I knew immediately that Christian Siriano must have designed it.  In a scene cut from the movie (and, sadly, not included on the DVD), the pirate, Bonito (voiced by Carlos Ponce), is shown sewing Zarina’s clothes.  As one of the bigger pirates, seeing him hunched over, sewing the tiny clothing, would have been hilarious (and it was in the story board).  Hopefully that scene will make it into the Diamond edition of the DVD.


Ever wonder how a pirate fairy can fight a sword battle?  Victorian-era hat pins were the models for the pin/swords in the movie – and they’re gorgeous (and, apparently, stronger than steel).


(L-R) JAMES and ZARINA. ©2013 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Yuriko’s job as Animation Supervisor means she brings the characters to life.  She took us through the four-step process of creating Zarina from modeling to animation.  In modeling, they needed to create two 3D models of Zarina:  fairy and pirate.  Next, they worked on the face.  In this stage, they have to create the shapes and motions to represent Zarina’s emotional expressions and the movements required when she talks.  Next is rigging (which we showed in Do you want to rig a snowman?) and skinning adds bone structure.  The animators also used the wings to show emotion (similar to animals’ ears), which I had noticed previously in other fairy movies.  Just one more example of the depth of detail that Disney goes into to make their characters and stories true-to-life.  Finally, in the animation stage, they used elements of the story to build the character animation. Making these animated movies is clearly a collaborative effort.  They worked together to get the most out of their characters, creating engaging fairies and pirates (yes, even the pirates are charming, in their way) that make us root for Zarina all the way, even as the Pirate Fairy.

The Pirate Fairy


As we posted previously, Adventures by Daddy was invited to Hollywood for behind-the-scenes access to several Disney films (FROZEN, THE PIRATE FAIRY, and SAVING MR. BANKS).  Our FROZEN posts included the story of FROZEN via the storytellersour rigging experienceour voice-over experience, and a review of the FROZEN Blu-ray.  We also posted a spoiler-free review of DreamWorks Pictures’ NEED FOR SPEED, which we previewed as a bonus on the trip.  Our SAVING MR. BANKS posts included our review of the SAVING MR. BANKS Blu-ray and an overview of our SAVING MR. BANKS tours of the studio and the archives where we learned about the research that went into the making of the movie.  In the next and final post, we’ll be sharing THE PIRATE FAIRY Q&A with Peggy Holmes, the director, and Jennifer Magee-Cook, the producer. For more family movie news, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About George Gensler

George Gensler is a copyrights specialist during the week and a runner on the weekends. She lives in New York City now, but has lived in five countries on three continents. She grew up traveling the world, but her official residence was in Southern California and every visit home included a trip to Disneyland. She has also visited every Disney Park around the world and sailed on board two Disney cruises. She threw in a visit to the Disney Family museum in San Francisco for good measure, and has had the Premier Disney Park Pass since its inception.