Disney+’s new documentary series “Sketchbook” (now on Disney+) takes you inside the process of some of Disney’s most talented artists, watching them working and hearing their stories.
In some ways it’s not unlike the experience guests used to get at The Magic of Disney Animation that was a key part of Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) in Florida. The attraction was the guest-facing extension of the Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida outpost, which was responsible for some of the animation in “The Lion King” and “Beauty and the Beast” and all of the animation for “Mulan,” “Lilo & Stitch” and “Brother Bear.”
One of the animators responsible for the success of the Florida studio was Mark Henn, an extremely gifted Disney animator who on “Sketchbook” shows you how to animate Young Simba. After the Florida studio closed up shop in 2004, he returned to Burbank and continued to work on 2D animation projects, guiding the look of the Disney Princesses in “Ralph Breaks the Internet” and mentoring a new group of animators.
TheWrap spoke with Henn at Walt Disney Animation Studios about his co-starring role in “Full House,” what it was like sharing his deeply affecting story on “Sketchbook” and whether or not he’ll return for the “Princess and the Frog” series “Tiana.”
During quarantine I watched “Full House,” so now I have to ask you about your amazing performance.
My Emmy-winning, supporting actor role?
Did you want to kill David Coulier?
No. That was fun. Max Howard was our head of the studio at the time. People have asked, “How’d you get that gig?” And I said, “Max just called me into his office and said they’re going to film here and they wanted to know would you be willing to do it.” I was like, “Sure.” He said, “Here’s the script pages. You need to read for the director so he can see if I can speak English clearly and not get my words all tangled up.” The role actually got smaller though.
It was a bigger role to start with and then it got a little smaller, and that’s pretty typical.
There are no small parts, only small actors.
That was a lot of fun. Almost more people have recognized me from that than from what I do here. They get just as excited, “You were on ‘Full House.’” It’s like, “Yes, I was.” “Oh my gosh!” It’s all so funny.
It’s an important document of the Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida studio. You launched that right?
I was there when they opened, yeah.
What was that like for you?
The opening was the end of a long journey to get there. It was uncharted waters, have this second satellite studio with a Disney name on it. It was exciting to get in on the ground floor like that and see where things were going to evolve to.
Mostly young artists right?
Yeah. Primarily, all young artists. There was just a handful of us that moved down that you could consider veterans. It was largely, 80+ %, all new artists. People coming out of art school, Ringling, Columbus, places all over.
Was it hard for you to talk about yourself in this documentary?
Not really, no. I knew that’s what was going to happen, that they were going to have that aspect of this series was not just how to draw. That, to me, was almost what made it really worthwhile, was getting to know the artists.
I would’ve killed to have something like that with Frank [Thomas] and Ollie [Johnston]. Any of those guys, Milt [Kahl], would have been fabulous. They did a series back in the ’80s, “Disney Family Album,” which was akin to that. They were all mini-documentaries on each of those people. They were half an hour, it used to be on the Disney Channel.
For me, as an audience just watching it, that was … just getting to know these people a little bit, their background, how they came to the studio. All that stuff was really interesting and it was encouraging. As I look back at my career and my journey, the things that I struggled with here as an artist. I saw that they had similar struggles. That was all very affirming and I was like, “I’m okay. The things that I’m struggling with are things that they’ve struggled with.” How they overcame them and those kinds of things. I’ve always found that kind of stuff really interesting.
To sit down, as you are obviously experiencing, I’m a bit of a chatterbox if you wind me up and get me going. I’m happy to share.
Are you ready to start working on your biography?
I don’t know if I’m going to go that far. I’ve had an idea for a book, but I don’t know if anything will come of it, but we’ll see.
People would benefit from it.
The thing is, there’s so many of them out there.
Yeah but there’s no Mark Henn book.
Right. It’s like this, they don’t want it to just be another How To Draw. They want it to be another How To Animate. My idea would be, that would be part of it, but also just as if you were spending time in my office and we were just talking about animation. Eric wrote a great book about how to animate. A lot of people have done that.
How’s the 2D trainee program going?
We’re really excited. It was a long process. I don’t know if Eric give you the numbers, but we had over 2,000 applicants. We only had to whittle through 150 out of that 2,000. They whittled it down for us and said, “Here’s 150 that we think are worth looking at.” Out of that, we picked six.
You watch the Short Circuit shorts and it’s clear that the young animators here already are very into 2D.
Yeah. It’s the foundation to everything. A number of our animators started as a 2D animator, and because the industry is, obviously, shifted largely to CG, they’re at a point in their career they’ve got to do what they have to do to pay the bills and feed their families. They had to make that switch. Jin Kim is a great example. He fell into this character designing niche that he’s fabulous at. He’s our go-to guy. He really has that nice Disney touch, so he takes a lot of that information and pulls it all together and comes up with the designs that are pretty much what you see come off his desk ends up on the screen.
There’s a new “Tiana” show, are you coming back?
We’ll see. I can’t say anything on that.
“Sketchbook” is streaming on Disney+ now.