Interview with the Story Artist and Animation Supervisor of Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast!

**I received an all expense paid trip thanks to Disney and ABC studios. All my opinions are my own and not swayed by outside sources.**

Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast is available on Blu Ray, DVD, and Disney Movies Anywhere on March 3, 2014. Mark your calendars!

unnamed-1As I mentioned over the last week, I had the chance to interview the actors, producers, artists, supervisors, and talent behind some of the newest Disney movies including the upcoming Tinker Bell and The Legend of the Neverbeast. It was a privilege to get the chance to interview Mike Greenholt, Animation Supervisor, and Ryan Green, Story Artist, on Tinker Bell and The Legend of the Neverbeast.   

Photo Credit: Disney Pictures

Photo Credit: Disney Pictures

First, Ryan Green explained to us what a story artist is, which I found very interesting. A Story Artist is someone who works with the Director, the Writer, the Head of the Story. They will sit in a room and throw around story ideas, trying to figure out where to take the story. When they  set it for the time, the Story Artists will run back to their computers and draw up a bunch of panels. Once this is accomplished they will bring them back together and cut them in a reel. Then they will go through it to see how everything is and how it looks. If it is not to their liking, they will do it all over again. A lot of them never actually make it to the public eye.

Ryan Green also fascinated us by telling us his original degree was in Biology. He had some knowledge about body parts and where they would be under the fur. When they were originally sketching out Gruff, they didn’t have much in terms of body parts. They didn’t even have a tail on Gruff, or know his back from his front. Ryan used his knowledge of biology to begin making initial sketches of Gruff.

photo credit: Disney Pictures

photo credit: Disney Pictures

“I was able to give a little bit of insight into what might be underneath the fur. At the beginning, I just kind of had some of the legs on a side and sketched where the muscle and body parts might be.  As they were starting to draw, some of the Story Artists were drawing the hump on his back, kind of like a cat might have, with an arched back.” -Ryan Green

Once they decided on a Herbivore animal, they went to the zoo to research animals that have similar body types. They looked at Hippos and Rhinos, where they saw that these animals have a big mass on top and then like a wine glass, their legs are kind of underneath the Center of Gravity, which allows for them to not move around, or not wobble so much when they move around. They drew this inspiration when beginning animation for Gruff. They drew the legs to mimic these animals so it would bring about Gruff in a way they wanted to showcase him to the viewers. They kept the legs underneath rather than all the way out, so he would have less swing when animated.

“But for story reasons again, we needed him to kind of dig into the ground and we thought it might be good to have some toes on there. We did a hybrid and it looked weird so we said let’s just get rid of the fat pad and make him a little bit more agile. We gave him more of like a Hippo leg or a Cat leg so he could actually do some running and he  wouldn’t look silly like he’s just shuffling along.” -Ryan Green

For the tail of Gruff, they got a lot of inspiration from a Porcupine. It was important to get his tail right because this signaled the first emotion when Fawn met him. Through the tail twitching, they wanted to make Gruff a bit menacing when Fawn met him for the first time, a bit scary. As for the teeth, they gave him rows of teeth for his biting. They wanted to make him unusual in this way, with lots of molars to grind his food.

Mike Greenholt then talked about the designs for Gruff. He told us a lot of great design and references from stories were tossed around before they went into animation. They stressed that they wanted to make Gruff believable to all of us watching.

“The big challenge for Animation was to make him seem believable. Even though he’s a Fantasy Creature, he had to feel like he was living and breathing in an Animal. So our first challenge was to just make him move like an Animal. We looked at Rhinos and Buffalo, to look at big heavy Animals to just see how they move. What makes them feel heavy? And so we studied that and just applied it to a walk. And we knew he had this big tail that he sort of held in a curl, so it’s like how do you make that feel natural?” -Mike Greenholt

They wanted to get his move right. Although his legs were heavy, they wanted to have sequences where he is fast and also playful. They told us it was challenging to perfect his stance at different times of the movie, but in the end, they got it just the way they wanted. They wanted to make Gruff seem like a real life animal, rather than a character in a suit. They perfected each of his movements to make it life like. They also played around with Gruff’s facial expressions to make the emotions be seen. A lot of the emotions they used through physical movements was drawn from the inspirations of watching Mike Greenholt’s wife dog. They watched videos to make sure that Gruff was as “animal-like” as they could get. He mentioned to us again at this point that the tail was very important in showing Gruff’s emotion and they went through many drawings to make sure it is exactly what they wanted.

Mike Greenholt told us from start to finish, Tinker Bell and The Legend of the Neverbeast took 3  1/2 years to complete!

Photo Credit: Disney Pictures

Photo Credit: Disney Pictures

“If there’s a sequence they know isn’t going to change, from Storyboards, we’ll start animating it while they work on Storyboards for other sequences. And Animation for the Production is about 9 months but we’ll do some of the walks and the run tests, a few months before, so it’s a little over a year that we’re animating the Characters. And it’s usually by the end that you really get a sense of OK, now I understand Gruff. I know how to animate him, when we’re done.” -Ryan Green

They said Gruff was one of their favorite characters but hardest as well. It is all about animation with Gruff since he does not say one word throughout the film. They also use various animators based on the scenes in Neverbeast. Some scenes were very emotional, while others were very funny. Even they got emotional during various parts of the movie, especially the end.

We then asked them if they drew inspirations from voice actors on their gestures or movements when animating the characters..

“Absolutely the voice is recorded before we animate and they always take video reference of them . We’ll just watch it because when people talk, they have mannerisms, either things they do with their mouth or their face and so it’s great to just see what they do. Also,  just the shapes that their mouth makes is a good reference.” -Mike Greenholt

Photo credit: Disney Pictures

Photo credit: Disney Pictures


It was very interesting to see what went into the making of Tinker Bell and the Legend of the Neverbeast. All their hard worked payed off though, because the movie is outstanding!




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  1. jody says

    Oh my goodness so excited to see this. How fun to talk with one of the creative forces behind the scenes! Thank you for sharing!

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