Disney Animators Talk About Drawing Simba and Olaf in New ‘Sketchbook’ Series

·4-min read

The new series “Sketchbook” from Disney + takes animation fans and aspiring animators inside the world of creating some of the studio’s most beloved characters. From Olaf to the “Aladdin” Genie, animators share their life experiences and work within the studio as they are captured drawing these characters.

Animators Hyun-min Lee (“Frozen’s” Olaf) and Mark Henn (“The Lion King’s” Simba) share what it was like to be a part of this series.

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Hyun-min Lee draws Olaf - Credit: Disney Plus
Hyun-min Lee draws Olaf - Credit: Disney Plus

Disney Plus

What was it like to both be a part of this series and take us inside your world?

Mark Henn: It’s really neat because it’s such a fresh take on this age-old process of how to draw something. Both of us have done various incarnations of how to draw a character but this particular series really did it well. It’s more than just how to draw, it pulls the curtains back and goes into our personal stories which is what makes it unique.

Hyun-min Lee: It’s nice to get a peek into the soul of the characters within Disney Animation, and what makes us tick.

Can you share a bit about your journey and how you got to where you are?

Lee: It’s a long story, but I just started loving cartoons and I started drawing. I can’t even remember when I started drawing. My mom introduced me to Disney feature films and I fell in love with “Robin Hood,” which was the first one that she let me watch. Ever since, that has just been the standard of Disney Animation for me with loveable characters, great animation and great stories.

Henn: I echo what Hyun-min says. When was a small boy, I grew up in the Midwest and when people would ask, what I wanted to be, I said I wanted to be an animator. It was a boyhood dream. I had my blinders on with that goal in mind. I didn’t quite know how to do it or what, but I kept at it. I ended up at the Disney animation program at Cal Arts here after having applied directly to the studio three different times and being turned down three times.

Hyun-min, can you talk about where your process began in animating Olaf?

Lee: It starts with the eyes because the eyes are a window to a character’s soul. They’re an important part of their expression and emotion. The eye closer to us always be bigger than the one that’s not. When we do that, it helps add a three-dimensional view to the character instead of giving him a flat figure.

Mark Henn draws Simba
Mark Henn draws Simba

What was it like having a cameraman over your should while you were working?

Lee: It’s definitely a bit nerve-wracking because we were all used to being in our cubicles. Even when I’m at my desk, I still get startled by people a lot of times when someone just comes in. So, it was daunting to have a huge crew, but at the same time, it was just magical.

Henn: It’s always a little intimidating, even drawing in front of a live audience. So I’m just happy they let me bring my eraser along because I lean on that quite a bit. For the actual episode I ended up drawing six or seven different Simbas, and through the magic of editing, they put it all together.

What can this series show aspiring animators?

Henn: Hopefully it’ll be an inspiration, and an opportunity to hear a variety of different journeys that all ended up in the same place. There’s no one way to do something.

You see this peek behind the curtain and how animation is put together. We actually get to see the animators drawing and sitting at a desk, and it’s magical. I’m hoping and in a lot of ways this series will have the same kind of influence and inspiration and that it gives this sense of passion of how it has played out in our lives as we share our unique journeys to get to Disney. Hopefully, it will be an inspiration for people to follow their dreams just like we did.

Lee: You do get to see the animators, the story artists, the ink and paint artists all at work. I think if I saw it, I’d copy what they were doing, and maybe it will get me there. In Korea, we have a saying “Imitation is the parent of creation.” I hope that everyone watching sees that aspiration and a sense of joy.

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