After 65 years in hiding, the original PINOCCHIO marionette is unearthed

Disney's Animation Research Library 'wishes upon a star' and gets one of Walt's originals...

In early 1938 when Walt Disney and his team of craftsmen set out to bring life to the animated story of PINOCCHIO, teams of men and women worked painstakingly to design the story's characters and scenes, paying keen attention to design, detail and character motion.

Walt Disney and his animators continually created and utilised technical innovations such as the multi-plane camera to create depth and realism that was then uncommon to animation. In doing so, a proud tradition of pushing the limits of technology and art was established. The tradition is continued today as the studio's feature and television animation teams use the latest in computer-aided design and production.

At the core of Disney's animation efforts, both today and in Walt Disney's day, memorable animated characters are modelled on real-life objects and props. These objects (whether an animal, person or other prop) are continually studied by the creative teams to ensure realism and for continuity of look, colour and texture. In creating PINOCCHIO, Walt's animators were particularly challenged since it required the animation of realistic humans as well as an inanimate object (a puppet) that comes to life.

During the early days of PINOCCHIO's creation, Joe Grant who ran Disney's Story Development Department, saw the need for a three-dimensional reference puppet and puppeteer to demonstrate its movement to help the artists. Walt Disney recruited Bob Jones, a well-known puppeteer with a show at Hollywood's famed Grauman's Chinese Theatre to create and demonstrate a suitable PINOCCHIO puppet. After creating PINOCCHIO, Jones went on to build other reference items for the film including the Montrose Whale and the carriage, which he designed to run on a machine to simulate the film's bumpy road sequences to create PINOCCHIO's life-like jostling movements.

After PINOCCHIO's successful film launch in 1940, the reference items, including the marionette, were proudly displayed in many of the Walt Disney Company's production facilities. The PINOCCHIO puppet finally found a home in the 'Ink and Paint' department. As time passed and the offices were renovated however, the puppet model was boxed and stored in one of the building's deepest recesses - only to be forgotten. Telephone equipment and wires were eventually installed, blocking the cabinet that housed the puppet, which thereafter was lost for generations.

In 2003 more renovations were visited upon Walt's original 'Ink and Paint' building, resulting in the removal of the obstructing telephone equipment and the discovery of one of Walt's team's original inspirations - the little PINOCCHIO marionette, in near perfect condition, now more than 65 years old.

Lella Smith, curator of the Walt Disney Studio's Animation Research Library (ARL) which ensures the preservation of the studio's rich animation history, was soon alerted to the discovery. "You can imagine how excited we were," Smith exclaims. "He actually brought tears to our eyes." The PINOCCHIO puppet had been carefully packed in a custom-made box, keeping him in near perfect condition. "It is amazing how well he's lasted," Smith continues while inspecting the treasure with gloved hands. "We always wear gloves to protect the doll from oil on our hands," she exclaims. "We want to make certain that he lasts for future generations."

Smith and her colleagues at the ARL were amazed at the condition of the puppet. "We are able to almost fully articulate him despite all these years. I think being stuck away in that cabinet for decades helped to protect him. We should all be so lucky to look this good at 65," she gleefully exclaims.

With PINOCCHIO now the latest addition to Disney's acclaimed Animation Research Library (ARL), the newly re-discovered star joins more than 60 million pieces of animation art housed in the department. Used extensively by both Disney Feature and Television Animation teams for inspiration and reference, the ARL is also an invaluable tool for the studio's DVD Production team.

Many of the historical documentaries and specials contained on Buena Vista Home Entertainment's DVDs use original drawings, backgrounds and colour references from the Animation Research Library. The ARL is also valuable in ensuring that the colour and feel of each of Walt Disney's original creations (and all the animated titles that have come since) is maintained.

And so, after 65 years, one of Walt's original stars has finally come home to his rightful place at the studio. An icon for generations who "Wish Upon A Star," the puppet that dreamed of becoming a boy has finally come home.

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