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Dopey and Sneezy Dancing
Fred Moore, American (1911–1952)
Story sketch: graphite, ink, and colored pencil on paper
Walt Disney Animation Research Library

Gags were a good way to shift the action, as shown in this scene in which Sneezy's inevitable sneeze ends the dancing sequence and transitions into Snow White's storytelling scene.

The creation of individualized dwarfs reflects one of the film's most dramatic departures from the Grimms' fairy tale. As the story artists developed the dwarfs' characters and realized the important role they would play in Snow White, changes began to be made to the story. Even though Walt Disney had completed a fairly comprehensive adaptation of the story by 1935, much of the early material was discarded as the film developed and Walt's high standards for the final product led to refinements.

Dopey's oversized clothing and lack of facial hair mark him as younger than the other dwarfs. He was so popular and received so much fan mail that there was some speculation that the Studio would make a series of shorts featuring him. However, there is no direct evidence that Walt seriously considered making them. Like Mickey Mouse, each of the dwarfs has three fingers and a thumb on each hand. This was a deliberate choice to make the process of animating them less time-consuming.

Animation is the act of generating motion through sequences of individual images. For every second of animation in Snow White, twelve to twenty-four drawings were required. Animators hand- drew every movement and expression of each character, changing each with successive sheets of animation paper.

The lead animator made "ruffs," rough pencil sketches of the movement's extreme limits, concentrating on the dynamics of motion and acting. Assistants, or "inbetweeners," produced intermediary drawings, bridging the movement between the key drawings. Cleanup artists reworked the rough sketches, turning them into finished drawings.

Snow White Greets a Baby Bird
Disney Studio Artist
Reproduction cel setup; airbrushed post production
background on paper
Courtesy Walt Disney Animation Research Library;
© Disney

Snow White's sweet encounter with the lost baby bird reinforces for the audience that she has a close connection to animals. Her action helps inspire the Huntsman's sudden change of heart.

Several artists were assigned to an "animal unit" was established to focus on creating Snow White's many forest friends.

Snow White appears as an innocent young girl in some story sketches, and as a slightly more mature young woman in others. Both aspects of her personality were retained in the finished film: animator Ham Luske and his unit brought out her wide-eyed innocence, while Grim Natwick and his assistants tended toward a somewhat more mature version of the character.

Some early concept drawings depicted Snow White in a delicate, illustrative manner, similar to characters in children's storybooks. Avoiding the question of Snow White's exact age, Walt Disney instructed his artists to make her appear "old enough to marry."

Disney artists had practiced animating the female form in earlier films, such as The Goddess of Spring, a Silly Symphony cartoon released in 1934. With Walt's vision and encouragement, they developed sophisticated new artistic techniques and leapt light- years ahead while working on Snow White, achieving convincing animated human form and movement for the first time.

Queen drinking her Magic Potion
Disney Studio Artist
Cel: ink and acrylic on cellulose acetate
David Pacheco Collection
© Disney

The bold, saturated, dark colors used to depict the Queen in her castle underscore her strength and provide a contrast with the bright colors and softer surroundings used for images of Snow White. At an early production meeting regarding the use of color in the film, Walt Disney emphasized,

"We are trying to achieve something different here. We have to strive for a certain depth and realism."

This painting reveals how the choice of color throughout the film became integral to character development.

Concept artists experimented with various looks for the vain Queen. Some early sketches were comical, but the final character was tall and aristocratically beautiful. The resulting contrast between her beauty and her wicked heart makes her that much more menacing.

Walt Disney was intent on having each film from the Disney Studio viewed as a unified whole, rather than as a composite of parts made by many individuals. For this reason, artists were asked not to sign their artwork. As a result, much of the artwork in the exhibition is credited to "Disney Studio Artist."

Sneezy in the Mattress
Disney Studio Artist
Story sketch
graphite and colored pencil on paper
Courtesy Walt Disney Animation Research Library;
© Disney

Walt Disney and his team decided that each dwarf should represent a common human personality type and be named accordingly. In developing the characters, even characteristics like facial hair were carefully considered. Six of the final dwarfs have eyebrows fashioned after Walt's own expressive eyebrows, which fascinated everyone who ever sat in story meetings with him. Happy is the only exception: his eyebrows are white and bushy.

The names of Disney's Seven Dwarfs were new; the individual dwarfs had not been named in traditional versions of the tale. During the production, approximately fifty names were considered but not selected, including:

Baldy Dizzy Hotsy Sappy Tearful Blabby Doleful Hungry Scrappy Thrifty Burpy Flabby Hoppy Shifty Tipsy Busy Gabby Jaunty Silly Tubby Cranky Gloomy Jumpy Soulful Weepy Daffy Goopy Lazy Sniffy Wistful Deafy Graceful Neurtsy Snoopy Woeful Dippy Helpful Nifty Stuffy