Behind The Scenes of the New Disney Animated App at Walt Disney Animation Studios

The embargo has lifted and I am now free to tell you what I was doing at the Disney Animation Studios (DAS) in Burbank, Ca on Monday, August 5th. I, along with about 30 other reporters, was invited to get a sneak-peek presentation of the new Disney Animated app for iPad.

I was allowed to bring my son, Alex, to join me for this assignment.

Mark Walker, Senior Vice President of DAS, Dave Bossert, Creative Director at DAS, and Theo Gray, Creative Director of Touch Press, are the team behind this ultra-sophisticated app which launched on August 8th, at D23 in Anaheim, CA.

Before the presentation in the private DAS theater, we had breakfast sitting right outside John Lassater’s office. We were not allowed to take any pictures inside the building, so this photo of the exterior of the massive studio lots will have to do.

Alex Valle at Disney Animation Studios

Alex Valle at Disney Animation Studios

After our complimentary meal, we were taken on a comprehensive tour of the Disney animators’ workplace. Inspirational does not adequately describe the amount of hand drawn art visible on every wall of the long and windowless sublevel halls. There are original drawings from many legendary animators who have worked at Disney for decades.

We were allowed to see all the current story boards and character samples for Disney’s upcoming film Frozen. We also saw story boards with photos of the Art Department’s trips to Norway, Jacksonhole, WY, and Montreal to live and play in the snow while capturing all the human movements on film so the animators could then reproduce them for the animated film’s characters!

We also saw the art studio where animators get to see live animals and draw the intricate details of their muscle movements, eyes, and skin. When they were working on The Lion King, lions were brought in; for the Princess Frog, frogs were shipped in … you get the picture, right?

Of course, Disney’s attention to detail is mind-blowing!

Later, over coffee, I sat down with Mark Walker to talk about the new Disney app. Alex also had a chance to ask a few questions and he did very well, I must admit.

After that, I was also asked to talk with Theo Gray, the mastermind behind the revolutionary Color Map you’ll only find on the Disney Animated app.

Before continuing, I hope you understand that I get nervous (and somewhat star struck) when I have to pose questions to these very bright and incredible visionaries. If you could only see my knees shake!

After these one-on-one interviews, I thought Alex and I were finished and we could jump in the car and drive home — back to San Diego.

Not so fast! For some unexplained reason, WE were the only ones to get asked out to lunch with Theo Gray, his son, Catherine Allen, and Diane Longarzo, a Senior Producer at Disney.

To say that I was honored to be the only one invited to lunch with Theo Gray is an understatement. However, since Alex, a senior at Purdue University, went along with me to DAS, he was invited to dine as well.

L to R: Gray Jr. Suzette Valle, Catherine Allen and Theo Gray of Touch Press, and Diana Longarzo, Disney Senior Producer. Photo S. Valle

L to R: Gray Jr. Suzette Valle, Catherine Allen and Theo Gray of Touch Press, and Diana Longarzo, Disney Senior Producer. Photo S. Valle

The Amarano Hotel in Burbank is a lovely boutique hotel — and the food along with the company was great, too!

During our two hour lunch, we found we all had one thing in common we could discuss in depth, and that was Disney. All of us except one person, and that was Gray’s son. He is 14 years old and has never been to Disneyland or Disneyworld!

After we convinced Gray Jr. to go to Disneyland while he was here for D23, we all chipped in with tips to make this first time at Disneyland memorable: Club 33, Fast Pass techniques, and line management to name a few.

Another astonishing tidbit we found out over lunch was to find out that Theo Gray’s parents banned Disney from his home when he was a child. And here he is today collaborating with Disney.  The ironies of life!

Before we parted ways, we were showered with Disney and “non-Disney” swag. Disney gave all of us a custom DodoCase for iPad featuring original concept art by Disney animators.

Theo Gray is the author of several important books. One of his most popular concepts is The Elements book. He gave Alex two singed copies of his work!

Theo Gray and Alex Valle

Theo Gray and Alex Valle

Anyway, before you click over to read all about this very sophisticated app on my posts at The Wrap and Yahoo.TV, here’s the original version of my article which was cut down due to ‘bandwidth’ or so I was told. Also, note the typos on the national sites — they were not mine, but the editor’s! Ugh!

Reach out and touch them. This is what the new Disney Animated app by Disney Interactive, Touch Press, and Walt Disney Animation Studios wants you to do with Snow White, Bambi, Alice, Aladdin or any of the characters of all 53 Disney animated films.

And through the premium Disney Animated app for iPad, Disney wants to inspire the next generation of animators.

The wonder of the new Disney Animated app lies in the ability it gives you to not just see the beloved Disney characters you and your kids have grown up with, but to also touch them and watch them come to life on the iPad while experiencing the process used by Disney animators, artists, and technology to create this magic over the years.

Using the sophisticated features of the Disney Animated app,  you can see Lady (“Lady and the Tramp”) take her first steps on the time-yellowed paper where she was originally conceived. Or learn about the complexity of the hand drawn animation layering process that was used in “Beauty and the Beast’s” opening scene.

Never before has Disney opened its vaults to share decades of prized art and assets with the general public.

Disney Animated is an ambitious application developed specifically for iPad, and will take the user to the next frontier of interactive media. To be clear, this is not a movie-watching application. In fact, this app does not contain full length features.

According to Disney Animation Studios the Disney Animated app consists of four main parts:

·         The Story of Animation showcases how Disney animated films are brought to life with concept art, visual effects, sound, layouts and backgrounds. Illustrations are touchable and interactive.

·         Interactive Workshops has  hands-on interactives that allow fans to experiment with iPad versions of authentic Disney animation technologies and share their creations via email and social media.

·         Disney Animation History in One Place: A comprehensive timeline of all 53 animated feature films from Walt Disney Animation Studios, including animated clips of favorite characters and recently uncovered historic trailers.

·         Unprecedented Access: Disney Animated contains literally thousands of interactive illustrations, more than 750 short animation clips, over 150 high-quality images from Disney’s archives. A unique Color Map that displays a thumbnail frame from every scene from every one of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 52 released feature films in a single iPad image.

Theo Gray, co-author of Disney Animated and Chief Creative Officer of the London-based interactive media company Touch Press, is the creator of the Disney Animated app’s revolutionary Color Map.

With the award-winning technology developed by Touch Press, many protected pieces of Disney art and assets previously consigned to the company’s vaults can now be appreciated in great detail on the iPad by all.

An original Pinocchio marionette, for example, that sat untouched in a display case for about 55 years, will now spin around so you can admire the detailed work of Disney artists and animators with a simple touch.

For the first time, this app will provide fans with unprecedented access to exclusive content from the studio archives department. Much of the content available on the Disney Animated app is “literally in the vaults at the studio under lock and key” said Mark Walker, Senior Vice President of Disney Animation Studios. “Most employees don’t have access to it,” added Walker.

The exciting aspect of this first-of-its-kind app means the user will virtually touch, hold and manipulate much of Disney’s legacy.

“We want to bring our guests very very close to this exclusive content and allow fans to immerse themselves in 90 years of Disney animation film history. They will have access to the art and technology of all 53 animated films,” Walker said during a presentation at  Disney Animation Studios two days before launching the app at the D23 Expo in Anaheim, Ca.

Among the many artifacts uncovered in this app are unique drawings and story boards with original notations on them by the artists. Zooming in on the text will reveal hand writing, stains, and other unique markings.

The app features assets starting with the first Disney feature-length film, Snow White,  and includes a test clip of the upcoming feature film Frozen,  to be released November 27, 2013.

According to Walker, this application was developed with two goals in mind: to bring fans of Disney animation closer to the development process, and to bring families together to explore the rich history and legacy of Disney animation.

Disney Animated is a sophisticated app. not intended for small children to use alone. Parents can use it together with their children, and younger kids will need their parents to read to them and help them learn to manipulate the various chapters of the app. As kids grow, they’ll learn to get more out of the app.

Dave Bossert, Creative Producer at Disney Animation Studios, mentioned that the collaboration of animators, artists and technicians “brought their expertise to this app and created and incredibly immersive and authentic experience representing how we make our films.”

Bossert  noted that, “Animation students can also use this app. as a study devise.”

Holding up a tome as large as the Bible, which he bought at Cal Arts for his animation course,  Bossert explained that Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston’s “Illusion of Life” “is the Bible of animation.” The 12 Steps of Animation in this book were reproduced in the  Animation Chapter of the app with permission from the authors’ families.

To be able to view the incredible steps Disney animators have taken to create the rich environments, ornamented costumes, and voices of the characters we have loved over the years in a single app is simply ground breaking.

The Disney Animated app offers users a different way of experiencing the creative and technical aspects of animation.  Disney guests can interact with characters, hear their voices, and touch them as an alternative to just looking at these much-loved characters trapped in the static pages of colorful books.

From Snow White to Frozen, 1937 to 2013, all 53 Disney films are at your fingertips.

I just wanted to share with you that life has incredible turns, and I can’t for a minute think I will be resting on past laurels after my kids have gone on to college.

Nope. This Empty-Nester -To-Be is just getting started…

Disney Animated is available for $13.99 from the App Store on iPad at For more information on Disney Animated, visit


  1. […] an animation freak in the lot? Then get them the Disney Animated App for iPad. Apple named Disney Animated as the iPad App of the year for […]

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