Secret of the Wings: Kidzworld Visits Disney Toon Studios in Burbank Ca.
By: Lynn Barker
Hey, Tinkerbell has a sister? Who knew? Not her and not Periwinkle, her cute sis from the winter lands. When these two meet, magic happens and an adventure, that will both challenge and unite the fairies in Pixie Hollow with their “colder” counterparts, begins
Disney Toon Studios Lobby.
Kidzworld got to visit the Disney Toon Studios in Burbank, California for an early screening of the 3-D film and to meet with filmmakers who talked about everything from sparkly fairy wing design and the look of all the fairies right down to every detail of their hairstyles. Director/writer Peggy Holmes, a former choreographer on live-action Disney movies, was determined to make up a story that would finally introduce fans to the winter side of Tink’s world.
Come with us where the magic is made….
Director/screenwriter Peggy Holmes and Producer Michael Wiggert
Kidzworld: Peggy how did you switch from choreography to directing animated films? Did it just fall in your lap?
- Peggy: (laughs) It fell in my lap. I had worked with the Music Directors here at Disney in live-action films so they asked me to come into Disney Toon Studios and consult on some of their musical sequences inside of their movies. That’s how it started. It built from there. I really saw that my background in choreography worked. Animation is physical story-telling come to life.
Kidzworld: There are three songs plus an end-credit song in the film. Do you two get involved in the music?
- Michael: For us, one of the most powerful things about animation is the collaboration. We collaborate with the music group. They meet with Peggy and me and understand thematically the story we want to tell. We work together to find performers for the songs. It’s very much a collaboration.
- Michael: Not exactly. We were in Las Vegas and we heard China Anne McClain sing live and thought “Wow, she’s got an amazing voice”. We found out that she is in a group with her sisters.
- Peggy: We fell in love with her and unbeknownst to us, the music department had said they had someone they wanted to pitch us to sing the song and it was them. It was so perfect.
Kidzworld: To be certain, all of the Tinkerbell stories we’ve seen so far, including this one, are before Tink meets Peter Pan, right?
- Peggy: Yes. This is her origin. We might not go up until she meets Peter Pan.
Kidzworld: Why do this one in 3-D? In North America, it’s for home entertainment so how many people have 3-D TVs yet?
- Michael: We do it because it looks great.
- Peggy: And enhances the experience.
- Michael: And it will be shown internationally in theaters in 3-D and folks with 3-D TV at home can take advantage of it. We don’t want to stick things in people’s faces. You see the depth.
- Peggy: It’s like a living diorama now. That’s what I love about it.
Kidzworld: We saw it and it looked beautiful. Do either of you have small female children?
- Michael: I have a nine-year-old. Peggy’s is older. I can definitely bounce ideas off her and she is quick to provide me ideas. She’s very excited to attend the premiere. She’s been a Disney fairies fan from very young.
- Peggy: My daughter is 16 and I sort of put things in front of her to see if it still resonates with the little girl inside of her. I think teenage girls can still like these fairies. If she goes “Awwwww”, then okay, we’ve got it. It’s still cute.
Kidzworld: I admit it. The cute bunnies in the movie got me.
- Peggy: We had a screening for girls and their moms and when those bunnies come on everybody goes “Awwwwww”.
Kidzworld: How did you make sure that Tinkerbell’s sister Periwinkle was similar enough but not exactly like Tink?
- Peggy: Tinkerbell has a certain amount of energy. She’s curious at heart and spunky and rambunctious so we decided that Periwinkle has all those things inside of her too but she’s had a smaller world experience so she’s a character that can get to that energy but doesn’t have the life experience. Through meeting Tink and having Tink make her a Snowmaker, she can experience new things.
Kidzworld: Have you always wanted to go into the winter side of the fairy world in a movie?
- Peggy: That was always an idea. The first four movies, we wanted the backdrop of the seasons because the fairies are so organic to nature so the first one was spring, the second one was fall, the third was summer and the fourth was to be winter. So that’s really the only mandate I had in taking on the movie. I started looking at the other materials and realized we hadn’t seen a lot of winter so I said to John Lasseter (head of Disney/Pixar), “Why is winter separate? Maybe we should do a movie about that and bring winter into the fold”. So that became the jumping off point for the story.
Kidzworld: Why do you think Tink is so special to tween and young teen girls? I even had a Tink doll when I was 11 or 12.
- Peggy: I think it’s because she is spunky. She has a fire in her that you can not put out. She’s very loyal and I think girls respond to that very much. Even when girls were introduced to Tinkerbell with the “Peter Pan” movie, she is so loyal to Peter Pan yet she’s spunky and her own person and curious at heart.
Ritsuko Notani (character designer) and Lorri Broda (Associate Producer)
Ritsuko is the principal designer of all the major and supporting Disney fairies, also creating the current look of Tinkerbell and Periwinkle, the new winter fairy for this film (plus animals etc.)
- Lorri: Ritsuko designed all the fairies plus Tinkerbell for these movies. She’s also a fabulous costume designer with a lot of input from John Lasseter. He is very firm about what his “girls” look like. He’s here all the time. He’s very serious that all the materials for these movies come from these fairies’ world. In Pixie Hollow you have leaves and flowers. In the Winter World, not so much stuff to make costumes out of. We chose a velvety plant called lamb’s ear for Periwinkle’s costume. If it has to be from their world what do we do? Make a snow dress with ice shoes? (laughter).
- Ritsuko: When I had to design a new sister for Tink who has been a Disney icon for over fifty years I said “Oooooh”. It was a big challenge for me but a big, fun project. So I started to think about her personality, face and body shape and what type of hair style I wanted to put on her and what kind of costume. Compared to Tink’s body shape, I made her skinnier, like a twig or icicle, more related to winter.
(Ritsuko shows us designs for Periwinkle as they evolve and change. The wings are inspired by snowflakes. She also found pictures of plants in nature to inspire her.)
- Ritsuko: Tink has been wearing her leaf costume as an icon. I wanted to create something related to it.
- Lorri: We researched twins as well, learning that they would find out (even if they didn’t grow up together) that they both had the same shoes. So Periwinkle having similar things was another way for them to touch.
- Ritsuko: The hardest creation was Periwinkle’s hair. It was so complicated, more than we thought so we brought in a hair stylist to show us what the sides and back would look like.
- Lorri: We used a woman to do the style on and make decisions. We gave it to our modeling team and they made a 3-D model and we decided what needed to be changed. It goes into animation and we make tweaks there. We didn’t want a grandma silver-haired fairy.
(Ritsuko draws a Periwinkle for us. She makes it look easy.)
- Lorri: These characters will be introduced to Disneyland and Disney Park too, this September as walk-around characters. They found perfect girls to play them.
Wings Design: Fred Warter (Art Director) and Nickie Huai (computer lighting and rendering)
- Fred: We created the wing effects in the movie. We had to visually show the connection between the sisters through their wings. We usually start with storyboards (he shows us a scene storyboarded by hand). Then Peggy will sometimes shoot live-action references for the animators to use as a guide. She acted out this scene with Tinkerbell. Then the Art Department generated a series of paintings showing what the wing effect might be.
In our fairy mythology each fairy has a wing pattern individual to that character like a fingerprint. We established Tinkerbell’s wing pattern in the first movie. Our idea was to highlight the pattern within the wings because Tinkerbell and Periwinkle have to have identical wings. We thought by highlighting the detail you would see that they are identical.
We showed this to John Lasseter and he liked the shot but challenged us to go further. He thought we could make the wings more spectacular and magical and something never seen before. My first instinct was to add color (he shows us). Peggy the director thought we could go further and look to nature. Fairies bring the seasons to the world. We looked at insect wings and birds and peacocks and other things in nature like mother of pearl, iridescence, oil on water. We finally settled on abalone shells as the inspiration. It would go from white to a whole explosion of color. We showed the new wings to John and then we had to create this effect and that was Nickie’s challenge.
- Nickie: No pressure (laughs). Trying to translate from Fred’s paintings for 3-D space we tried to mimic the look, pattern and color projected on the wings in computer. But it still wasn’t reacting to light. So we tried a new approach to make the wing react to lighting. So we used the computer to give the wings more three dimensionality. We experimented more. I probably pushed it too far.
- Fred: We wanted to add the vein detail and sparkles.
- Nickie: So we applied the camera move and wow, it’s working! I was like a little girl again. “Oh gosh, it’s so pretty”. So then we fine-tuned.
- Fred: We made the wings work in different light, different colors as the wings popped out of the background more. We didn’t want it to be overdone and look like neon in Las Vegas.
(We are shown the final shot.. It’s gorgeous and magical)
- Fred: Once you add the sound effects it’s magical. There are a lot of effects in this movie. I think it was the most challenging of all the Tinkerbell movies. You only see the wing effect when Tinkerbell and Periwinkle are together.
- Nickie: Challenging for sure. So many trees, frost, snow.
- Fred: The new characters that will walk around Disneyland have LED lights in their wings. It’s just gorgeous. Even in daylight it looks spectacular.
Sound Design – Paul McGrath (Audio Engineer)
Paul records and mixes original dialogue and conducts re-recording sessions. He edits sound.
I got to go into the sound booth where the voice actors for the films record their voices and record a tiny bit of the part of Periwinkle, voiced by “Pretty Little Liars” Lucy Hale in the film. I was told that I sounded exactly like her! Cool.
- Paul: We have different mixes of sound; one for display in theaters and another for hearing on your TV at home. We take into account that it’s a bigger sound in movie theaters.
Kidzworld: Do you record sound effects here?
- Paul: No, we concentrate on the character voices and record them in here. If the voices don’t match the characters on screen, we re-record here. That’s my responsibility. Tom Tune is the sound designer and he creates all those sounds for the movie. The final mixer is on the Walt Disney lot in a huge sound mixing stage.
Every line is probably recorded 50 or 60 times over several recording sessions, over years. It takes a long time. The director and lead editor work together to craft the character. The actors are in the booth in there with tons of people out here to intimidate them.
We do film the actors while they are recording to help with facial expressions, eye rolls, etc. to use in the characters but that doesn’t go anywhere else.
When we were finished with our tour and interviews, we were really impressed with both the film (we will review it later on) and the dedication to detail that makes Disney animated films so special. Even the Toon Studio was a beautiful and amazing place to work. Secret of the Wings has the potential to be one of the best of the Tinkerbell and friends tales.