Did you know there’s a top secret Disney location in California? It’s so secret that the address is hidden from Google Mapquest! Typically available to Disney staff members, the Animation Research Library is a vault with more than 65 million pieces of original Disney artwork! Because the ARL is considered Walt’s “secret weapon” the staff takes great care in preserving every piece of artwork.
Disney is currently celebrating the 65th Anniversary of Peter Pan’s release, so our tour was themed around that film’s artwork. The ARL is not open to the public, so enjoy this special inside look of the facility!
I was invited as media to cover this event. All opinions are my own.
The Top Secret Disney Location: Animation Research Library
I have a small confession. This is actually my second time visiting the ARL. The first was themed around The Little Mermaid releasing on Diamond Edition. By no means was this visit any less special though!
Fun Facts about the ARL
- The vaults were designed with the ultimate defense including a dual fire protection system with a gas called Inergen that brings the oxygen level down to 15 percent, which should help put out the fire.
- Since California is infamous for its earthquakes, they’ve even fitted their artwork carriages with top-notch features to prevent them from falling over.
- The 65 million pieces of original artwork housed here are from the 1920’s all the way to current day.
- The staff wear white gloves to preserve the artwork’s integrity.
- It was formally known as the morgue. It’s a newspaper term meaning where they kept used but still reusable materials, like clippings and photographs and things like that.
As I mentioned above, our tour was themed around Peter Pan artwork. We walked through a security door into a room with a long black table displaying multiple pieces of art from the film. Because Peter Pan released in 1953, the art was preserved in plastic sleeves, labeled and taped down. We were unable to touch any of the artwork (or photograph it) but a Disney personnel snapped photos during our tour, so you can get a feel for what we saw.
The variety of art concepts we saw included the animation process, background paintings, layouts and concept art – all with notes from the original staff that worked on the film.
A fun fact about Peter Pan – Walt was originally working on this film in the late 1930’s, but World War II halted those plans. Some of the pieces dated all the way back to the original artist, David Hall, who did a lot of the original story-sketch-panels before it was shelved. Mary Blair, one of Walt’s favorite artists picked up the project years later and was the visionary behind the look of the film, from the use of colors and simple shapes.
As we moved down the table, our tour guide, Fox Carney, showed us a few reproductions of the story sketches. Additionally, we saw original drawings of Tinkerbell drawn by one of the “nine old men,” Mark Davis who was the supervising animator for Tinkerbell.
At the end of the table were a few members of the collection team hard at work cataloging artwork.
We moved into a hallway where we saw a variety of artwork displayed from all kinds of film titles. We then visited two of the 11 vaults at the ARL, the feature films vault, and the objects vault. The vaults are kept at a cool temperature for preservation purposes. In the feature films vault, I saw a variety of pieces from a forty year period including Snow White to Winnie the Pooh. In the objects vault, I saw an assortment of models and statues from films like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Cars and more.
I was truly honored to visit this top secret Disney location not once, but twice! It was such a cool experience. I hope you enjoyed this inside look into Walt Disney!
Don’t forget Peter Pan is returning to Blu-ray June 5th! Pre-order your Anniversary Edition now!
The Anniversary Edition includes never before seen bonuses like Stories from Walt’s Office, Interview with the original voice cast and more!