Peek Inside Disney’s Animation Research Library #LittleMermaidEvent


When I found out that part of my trip to Disney Studios was going to include a tour of the Disney Animation Research Library I geeked. I geeked hard. The only thing I love more than drawing and designing is seeing the work done by the masters. I couldn’t believe I would actually see the original artwork from classics such as Bambi, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid and more.

The ARL (Animation Research Library) is top secret. That’s not an exaggeration; even the exact location is kept hush hush. So, while I can’t tell you everything, and personal photos were not allowed, I can share with you some of the official images from our tour and tell you a few things about the treasures found inside.


The lobby was filled with Disney memorabilia, large murals (just like Alice in the photo below) and photos of Walt Disney himself. We were in tour group “Flounder”. I’m hard to miss – just look for the bright pink hair!

team flounder

What IS the Animation Research Library?

The ARL is a collection of over 64 million pieces of animation, cells, drawing models and more from all of Disney’s animated feature films. That’s the largest single collection in the world and it spans back to the original work done in the 1920s. The collection has become a valuable tool for Disney animators, writers and directors. Disney creators, looking for inspiration or a way to create a scene perfectly, can view past work at the ARL, watch it in motion and study the techniques to improve modern films being created now.

Disney is also in the middle of a very long and detailed process of creating digitally rendered copies of the animations. Through specialized cameras and computer software, hand drawn illustration and animation cells are preserved in a format that can be sent to different branches of Disney creative – even in other parts of the world.


The ARL is also home to the Disney design team. These are the creative minds behind all of the wonderful Disney scenery you see at the parks, studio, offices, events etc. Everything from entire buildings to ride entrances to showcase cabinets – all with that hallmark feel that lets you know ‘This has got to be Disney’. Their studio was no different, full of fun colors, characters and pieces from previous Disney exhibits. I can only imagine how much fun it is to work in an environment like that.


Along the way we couldn’t help but stop and stare at the original animation work that covered the walls of hallways and lobbies. It’s hard to explain how it feels standing a few inches from hand drawn sketches from Cinderella. One might say it was bibbidy-bobbidy-beautiful!


But, the hanging work was no match for our trip into the Vault. This is where all of the original work is kept indexed and safe.


We were given the rare pleasure of seeing original animation cells from Sleeping Beauty and Bambi. There were also animation models (used to pose and gather insight for shadows and movement) for films such as Hercules and The Nightmare Before Christmas. One of the most amazing items was the original Pinocchio marionette; the very puppet that Walt Disney took his inspiration from.

The Vault is kept very secure and very safe. There are 11 vaults total, full of metal cases that are counter weighted so that they will not topple over during an earthquake. There is also has an emergency fire system installed which pulls the oxygen out of the air if a fire is detected; causing the flames to die out before vast damage is done. A few extinguishers on the wall definitely won’t cut it when you’re talking about decades of movie history.

Our final stop was an up close experience with illustration and concept drawings from The Little Mermaid along with some special insider info.



Did you Know?

  • Some early concept artwork for The Little Mermaid has Ariel as a blonde.
  • There are over 2 million bubbles in The Little Mermaid…and they are ALL drawn by hand with no duplicates.
  • Ursula’s character (my absolute favorite!) was based on performer Divine, and you can definitely see why:

divine ursula
It was an absolutely amazing experience. My only regret is that I can’t share MORE with you. While it’s cool to know that I have seen some things few others have, the absolute joy I felt from all of the treasures we were shown is something that is really hard to keep in!

If you could visit the Animation Research Library, what movie animation would YOU want to see?


Images are © Disney and may not be used or reposted without permission.

Written by Kenda Smith, attending on behalf of – read more from Kenda at

2 thoughts on “Peek Inside Disney’s Animation Research Library #LittleMermaidEvent”

    • Hey, Emily. You’re like my “blog mirror opposite” aren’t you? (Mommy’s Busy and Busy Mommy!) 🙂

      It sure looked like Kenda had a fabulous time. Wish I could’ve gone but I think she did a stellar job as my stand-in!


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