Up until the release of Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” in 1959, the Disney characters were normally drawn first for a film and then the background was drawn later to complement the characters. But this process was reversed in 1951 – causing some hard feelings – when Walt Disney Studios hired the new background painter, Eyvind Earle.
Walt Disney wanted the setting to have a very Renaissance Germanic look and Earle’s style fit the bill. The problem was that, when Earle joined the studio, the characters for “Sleeping Beauty” had already been drawn. Soft and round in the Disney tradition, the characters clashed with Earle’s stylized angular backgrounds. Though it was unusual to take style direction from a background painter, that’s what the character artists were forced to do. They had to go back to the drawing board and reconceive all the characters in a style that suited Earle’s design.
Although Sleeping Beauty would have blonde hair in the film, character stylist Tom Oreb based the princess’ original design on the physical geometry of brunette Audrey Hepburn.
“The qualities of that actress’ slender, willowy physicality lend themselves beautifully to the design environment of the film,” said Disney historian Jeff Kurtti.
Originally,” said Disney animator Ron Dias, “Sleeping Beauty looked a lot like Audrey Hepburn; she was softer, rounder, more like the ‘designy’ Disney girl. Back at the drawing board, Marc Davis redesigned her. She became very angular, moving with more fluidity and elegance, but her design had a harder line. The edges of her dress became squarer, pointed even, and the back of her head came almost to a point rather than round and cuddly like the other Disney girls. It had to be done to complement the background.”
Click below to see Helene Stanley perform in the Disney Studio as the live action model for Sleeping Beauty as Disney artists sketch away. This video was part of the premiere of the Disneyland TV show.