My mother’s birthday was last week, so I thought I’d honour her in today’s Masterpiece Monday post. My mother absolutely adores the three good faeries from Sleeping Beauty, especially Merryweather, so today’s featured concept art is a set of character design drawings of Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. These drawings were created by animator Marc Davis, though they are not done in his typical style. That is because his designs were heavily scrutinized by the film’s key concept artist, Evyind Earle, who was appointed by Walt Disney to oversee the art style of the entire film. It was especially important for the animators to get the look and personality of the three fairies just right as, despite the title, they are actually the main characters of the film.
As I said last week, Walt Disney was tired of his animated films not truly reflecting the unique concept art that inspired them. For Sleeping Beauty, Walt sought to change this once and for all by giving concept artist Evyind Earle complete creative control of the look of the film. Earle looked towards medieval and renaissance European art for inspiration, in particular he took inspiration from tapestries like the Unicorn Tapestries and illuminated manuscripts like Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. He also took some inspiration from non-European art like Persian miniatures and Japanese prints. The goal was to create a flattened, geometric world for the film, where every bit of the background would be in just as much focused detail as the foreground. Along with his bold geometric shapes, Earle choose to use bright and highly contrasting colors throughout the film, in a manner reminiscent of the avant-garde UPA style of animation that was becoming popular in the ’50s. His style choices applied to the characters as well, which is why this Marc Davis drawing of the fairies depicts them in such a sharp geometric style. The colours in Davis’s drawing are also much more saturated than anything seen in a previous Disney film, with an eye-popping contrast between their dark capes and bright dresses. This drawing comes from a time in the film’s development when Earle was in tight control, and everything had to follow his style exactly. Unfortunately, his designs were incredibly difficult for the animators and background painters to work with, often inhibiting their work and slowing down the film’s production considerably with their complexity. As time went on, both he and the character designs would soften slightly.
As the three fairies’ designs began to be refined the animator’s started seeing them less as fairies and more as maiden aunts. They became more delicate, rounded figures than those shown in these designs and that in turn helped to make them the warmest and most human characters in the film, adding some much needed life into the story. The animators also started to develop individual personalities for each fairy. Initially Walt wanted them all to act the same, but the animators quickly talked him out of the idea. Flora became the natural leader who was always coming up with a plan, Merryweather became the practical one who often questioned Flora’s ideas, and Fauna became the sweet yet vague peace keeper between the two. The fairies’ supervising animators, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, even went around watching the interactions of the little-old-ladies they knew in order further develop the fairies’s personalities, paying attention to how the women walked, talked, and gestured and applying it to the characters. Designing these three main characters took a lot of trial and error, even finding the right signature colour for each fairy took some time. Yet, eventually the animators and designers chose the colours we know the three good fairies by today.
Hope you enjoyed this little look at the process that went into designing my mother’s favourite characters. Happy Birthday mom!