“Legendary Disney animator” Mark Henn has been creating amazing characters for Walt Disney Animation Studios since 1980, and the animator of many Disney princesses (including Ariel, Princess Jasmine, Mulan, Pocahontas Belle, and Tiana) just spoke to D23 about his experience!
Henn revealed that he’s always had an “affinity” with women due to his close relationship with his sisters and the inspiration that he gathered from Disney movies like Cinderella (1950). For the Little Mermaid animator, the goal was apparently “creating interesting, strong characters that I think our audiences identify with”.
Henn’s big Walt Disney Animation Studios task when animating Ariel was a pivotal moment in his career — when he began drawing Disney heroines (under the tutelage of mentor Eric Larson, an animator who animated Cinderella). “I always had him in the back of my mind”, Henn said, aiming to recreate the “impactful” effect that Larson had created with Cinderella.
To Henn, the art of animation is actually about “being an actor [and] a performer”. “The beauty of being an animator is I can be whatever I can draw…that’s part of the magic of being a Disney animator,” he said.
When asked to choose his favorite Disney heroine, Walt Disney Animation Studios animator Henn struggled a little to choose. “It’s like trying to pick your favorite child,” he said. “They’re all unique; you spend literally a year or more of your life working on these characters and they do become like family. You’re kind of sad when the movie’s over…like sending your kid to college.” However, he did have a favorite: Mulan.
“Her story was something I really fell in love with…I really could identify with that,” the Mickey Mouse animator said. “I was asked to not only animate Mulan, but I was also asked by the directors to animate her father as well, Fa Zhou,” he added. “because it was that relationship which was the heart and soul of that picture. That was the tension.”
Some Disney fans or Mulan fans might not know that the animated movie was the first time that Disney “felt comfortable enough to give [the Florida studio animators] our first feature film”, but Henn told D23 that that was the case!
As for the other Disney princesses, Henn confirmed that animating “Ariel was fabulous…Belle was great…[and] Pocahontas was a lot of fun”. He praised all of the heroines, but specifically mentioned that “Tiana…is still very much a big part of my life. [There are] a lot of things going on involving her.” This will come as no surprise since the Princess and the Frog star has her own musical series on the way!
Little Mermaid animator Mark Henn also spoke to D23 about some nuanced scenes in The Lion King, and the meeting with Princess Diana that he officially labeled as his “favorite Disney memory”!