'Even Disney parks don't have all the princesses together'
...says Mark Henn, the Disney animator who has brought his famous creations to this week's release, Ralph Breaks the Internet
Mark Henn is what you would call a living legend. Having studied under Disney veteran, Jack Hannah, (his classmate was John Lasseter, the man who made Pixar a household name with Toy Story), he joined the company in 1980. He would then go on to animate some of the most iconic female characters in the Disney Universe, popularly known as the Disney princesses.
The animator behind Ariel (The Little Mermaid), Belle (Beauty and the Beast), Jasmine (Alladin), and Fa Mulan (Mulan) was called to work on Ralph Breaks The Internet, the sequel to 2012's Wreck It Ralph. Henn was happy to work on a sequel, something he hasn't done before. "Sequels present really unique opportunities. It was an obvious choice to have Ralph and Penelope leave the world of video games and explore the world of the Internet. And I personally loved taking them on a fun and exciting adventure."
Ralph Breaks The internet brings all the Disney princesses together on film for the first time. It gave Mark Henn the chance to revisit some of his creations. "It is an opportunity that we, as animators, don't always get. But it was a lot of fun getting to go back and revisit some of these princesses I had animated, and work alongside a new generation of animators who had the opportunity to animate them for the first time."
It also proved quite challenging. "The first challenge was to take the characters that were hand drawn in traditional animation and slightly redesign them to become CG characters to fit into this computer world. Other challenges included making sure each girl remained true to her unique personality, and working all of them together seamlessly into the story, because this is the first time they have all been together. I don't think even the Disney parks have all of them, let alone all off them together," he says, adding, "All these princesses, even older ones, are still extremely popular, and site after site has devoted pages upon pages, not just to Disney, but also these girls. So we had to fold all those pop culture elements in and make them be part of sequences organically. But the hardest was to whittle down what we wanted to use versus what we could use, because if we had to use all that we wanted to, we would've had a five hour film."
The easiest was the female lead, Penelope, because "she was already established in the first film, so it was just a matter of bringing her back. She didn't really change, the costume and everything is pretty much the same." But he says it was gratifying to create animations for characters he had never worked on.
Little do people know that the man who created the Disney princesses was also behind one of the most iconic characters, Simba. "Just like actors, animators also get pigeonholed. So it was exciting to step away from the princesses to do a young Simba. And nearly two decades later, Ralph Breaks The Internet has provided me with a similar challenge which I relished."
Henn credits his success to his personal drive to be better. "As an artist, I am always looking to improve and create better animation for myself and for the needs of the film. Hopefully, in working with a new generation of animators, both they and I take what we have learnt and apply it to our next projects."
So what is left for someone who has been in the industry for so long? "I had a great time directing my short film, John Henry (2000), and would like to direct a feature if it comes my way. And as an animator, one always wants to break out of the box one tends to be placed in. So I would absolutely love it if I am asked to do the villain." He is not particular about which villain he would want to work on, though he does have his favourite. "Any new villain would be amazing, but if it were to be an old classic retelling/reanimating, my favourite has always been Captain Hook."