“You have to give credit to Eyvind Earle for taking charge of creating the designs for every shot in that film [Sleeping Beauty] and tying it all together. I don’t think there
s a frame of that film that I would not want to hang on my wall. It really is just stunningly beautiful.” – Pixar art director Ralph Egglestron
“Walt Disney chose Eyvind Earle, an artist who had come to the Studio in the early 1950s as a Sleeping Beauty, and gave him the freedom to create a bold new look. Eyvind was inspired by pre-Renaissance European art, and, to a lesser degree, Persian miniatures and Japanese prints. He devised a flattened, highly detailed world that bore little resemblance to Snow White and Cinderella.
” ‘I was strongly influenced by [Albrecht] Durer, [Pieter] Breughel [the Elder], [Jan] van Eyck, the Tres Riches Heures de Jean, Duc de Berry and other French manuscripts and tapestries,’ Earle said in an interview in 1979. ‘The backgrounds are rendered in perfect focus, kunlike the ones in previous animated films–or a photograph. I chose to emulate the style of van Eyck, in which an element in the foreground and a tree ten miles in the background are rendered with the same crispness.’
“Although Earle drew on many sources, the key was the illuminated manusccript Tres Riches Heures de Mean, Duc de Berry, a sumptuous book of hours began by Herman and Jean Limboug around 1413 and later completed by other artists. From it, Earle took the key colors for the film: the lapis lazuli blue of the banners,
the yellow-green of Maleficent’s flames,
the shell pink [Solomon, p. 30] and paler blue of aurora’s gown.
“A book of hours is a devotional work that includes psalms, prayers, and a calendar of church feasts. The Limbourgs turned the calendar into an opulent celebration of the cycle of the seasons and the Duc’s many estates: the Chateau of Saumur shown on the September calendar paged inspired King Stefan’s eastle.
“Earle wove these elements into a distinctive style that was instantly recognizable. Aurora and Prince Phillip meet ina a forest of curiously square trees with formal patterns of leaves and twigs that could figure in a Renaissance tapestry or manuscript page. But despite the welter of detail, it’s easy to follow the action.
“Although the color is bold, it’s never garish or harsh. Felix notes, ‘The muted look of the natural world brought to mind the French manuscripts; [Solomon, p. 31]
there’s a brilliance to that kind of color that I saw a lot of in the backgrounds. But he’d modulate the colors to keep the background elements in deep space, separated from the action.’ Solomon, Once Upon A Dream, pgs. 30-31, 42.
“Earle moderated the intensity of the colors to ensure clarity. Animation artist and author Fraser MacLean adds, ‘If you turn the color of and watch the movie as a piece of monochromatic design, you realize how careful it is. In the procession at the beginning, there’s no attempt to evolke daylight or a particular time of day. The vivid colors in the banners and performers and jugglers and horses all work perfectly in tonal values. If you remove the color, you can still read it beautifully.’
” ‘Eyvind Earle had this complete vision of everything fitting together: it’s cohesive and spectacular,’ concludes Toy Story director John Lasseter. ‘Sleeping Beauty had an extremely sophisticated color design throughout the whole film. You don’t think about it as you’re watching the movie–you get swept away with the story. But whenyou stop and take a look at individual frames, you realize how bold and brave they were to push the color for the sake of emotion.’ ” Solomon, Once Upon A Dream, p. 42.
“Not everyone at the Studio loved Earle’s approach. They complained that the designs were too busy, too complicated, and too different from previous Disney features. Animator Ward Kimball called it ‘a style of overdesigning,’ and art director Gordon Legg described the backgrounds as ‘just solid embroidery.’ But Walt dismissed the complaints….
“Thomas and Johnston, who had been among the dissenters, later conceded: ‘The pageantry of the Middle Ages was captured with a magnificence that never will be duplicated again in this form; and when viewed on the wide screen required by the 70-millimeter film used for this one production, it is extremely impressive. . . .We have not made a comparable feature with so much beauty in both appearance and color and such consistent treatment from start to finish–which is just what Walt wanted for the picture.’ ‘