Building Beauty’s Beast
Glen Keane, one of Disney’s current Nine Old Men and a master animator, spoke with the press on Tuesday, the day Beauty and the Beast made its debut on Blu-ray. Walt Disney Home Entertainment provided ComicMix a transcript of the discussion, moderated by Mindy Johnson, and below are excerpts from that discussion.
Mindy Johnson: Ttoday we’re going to get a rare opportunity to take a look at the building of Beauty’s Beast, one of the most iconic characters today. And here we are with Glen Keane, who is just freshly back from Paris, and you spent several weeks there, Glen, preparing for an upcoming show. Is that correct?
Glen Keane: Yes. Yes. I’m actually having a – my first art show, where I’ll be showing a little bit of a retrospective of my animation drawings, my rough drawings, some from Beauty and the Beast, as well as the rest of my career. And then, that’s a third of the show. The other two-thirds are actually drawings from my sketchbook, speaker drawings, things that I’m going to actually be selling.
But the idea is to give an insight into what goes on in the life of an artist who is an animator and where do you get your inspiration. And actually, those are a lot of the things that we’ll be talking about today specifically about the character of the Beast.
But this show is at the (Arloudic) Gallery on the Ile Sainte Marie in Paris on November ninth, yes, so I’m excited about it. If you’re there, you’re welcome to come to the (Vernusage) and it will be there for, I don’t know, a good month.
Mindy Johnson: Well, as Glen mentioned, it’s a great opportunity to see even some of the pieces from Beauty and the Beast.
This is one of the most ancient stories, going back certainly to Cupid
and Psyche and Oedipus, has elements and aspects of Beauty and the
Beast. And what makes this unique, I think – and Glen, you probably
would agree that every culture can relate to this because every culture
has some version of this fairy tale. Correct?
Glen Keane: Yes. Well, it’s a story that really touches the
heart of everybody who sees it. Though when we were doing research on
this, it’s difficult to find the key that’s going to unlock the fairy
tale for a Disney animated movie. It’s one thing to have a fairy tale
that you can read to a child before they go to bed, but it’s another to
have a story that’s going to carry for an hour and a half and will have
all of the emotional, dramatic impact.
And in this story, the struggle we had was it really takes place at a
dinner table, and every night Beast says – asks Belle if she will marry
him, and that’s just not quite thick enough for an animated movie.
Mindy Johnson: Well, with that, Walt Disney did do some early explorations on the story, correct?
Glen Keane: Yes, and that was – I think what I just said was one
of the reasons why he put it down, that there were other fairy tales
that were much more accessible and that you could build the story out of
it in an easier way. Some of the stories that were – are the later
fairy tales are the harder nuts to crack of these big, iconic, classic
fairy tales that the world knows.
Joe Grant, who was head of story on Snow White, he was still alive at
the studio at the time as – and he had done some work on our new Beauty
and the Beast, but he had also done some work on the old version, the
original one that he and Walt were trying to crack. And he just said,
“Oh, it was just frustrating. We just couldn’t do it.” We – you know,
we just – and we did. We put a lot of things on the shelf and figured
that, well, someday the time is going to come, and we’ll pick it up
Mindy Johnson: And with that, we put together – a pretty extraordinary team of animators was put together for this film.
Glen Keane: Yes. Over on the left of that image is Andreas Deja,
who did Gaston, and then Dave Pruiksma, sitting beneath him, did Mrs.
Potts, and over on the right is Will Finn that animated Cogsworth. And
above him is Nick Ranieri that animated Lumiere. They were both just
like Cogsworth and Lumiere throughout the whole movie, at each other’s
And then, there’s me and a big beast, or a buffalo head, that I – I
found this buffalo head at a taxidermy shop not too far from where our
studio was in Glendale, and so I bought it and brought it into my office
and just had it on the wall as a reminder of just how big this
character is, a huge animal like that.
There is a tendency to just take the head of a wild animal and stick it
on a man’s body, like – well, up on the one with Walter Crane, you can
see it’s basically a man’s body, but at the very bottom he’s still got
his hooves of a wild boar, but the head is just like a regular wild
boar. The same one with, let’s see, Edmund Dulac and Warwick Goble.
The wild boar is a pretty interesting version of the character. Arthur
Rackham’s version is an interesting one because he kind of looks sort of
alien, in a way. And so, I was looking at all of these characters and
trying to find something that was going to serve for inspiration for
And the problem that I kept coming up with was that – well, there’s two
things. One is the – you take it very seriously when you’re going to
design a character for a Disney animated movie. You know that that
character is going to become the definitive version of that character
for all time.
So you don’t just jump in and just draw something that pops out of your
head. There has to be a sense of rightness, of like, yes, almost like
you discovered what was already existing before you even started to draw
it. I’ve always had this feeling that, on any character that I’ve
animated, that the character existed before I started to draw it, and it
was – it’s a little bit like Michelangelo sculpting in stone and
freeing the figure that’s within.
You have that same sense of drawing on a piece of paper that’s blank and
empty, but there is a character in there. And it has to touch and
connect with you and the audience. And to me, it was important that
this character not feel like he was an alien, like he was invented for
Star Wars or something. This one of Arthur Rackham feels a little bit
like that to me. He’s a weird creature.
And the thing is that he has to be appealing. See, that appeal was the
thing that I kept hearing all the time from the masters at Disney that
taught me, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Eric Larson would say, “Your
animation has to have sincerity and appeal.”
Mindy Johnson: Let’s go back a bit and talk about the castle. I
know as you were through – traveling through in Europe, you guys had
taken a few trips and did some exploration on the designs of the
castle. Is that correct?
Glen Keane: Yes. Yes. Well, the – for me, if you’re going
to work on a Disney movie, it’s not just about doing drawings of
interesting characters or – it really takes place. There’s a truth to
the environment. And I’d never been to Europe before. I felt like I
personally really needed to go visit the place where this fairy tale was
written, so we – as well as each of the artists that were there.
So we went over to the Loire Valley in France where the River Loire runs
along. And as you probably all know, the different chateaus are built
within a day’s ride for the king to go from one chateau to the next to
the next. And so, we would drive and hit several of those in a day
because we didn’t have to go by horse – we had cars – and we would visit
And there was one chateau that just stood out as stunning. It was the
one of Chambord, built by Francois Pombriant. And he designed this
castle that just had this imposing power and strength to it.
Mindy Johnson: So after the trip to the Loire Valley and going
through the castle, it was time to go back and begin, as we saw in the
clip, to kind of restart the film again.
Glen Keane: Yes. Yes. We – that first visit to that castle,
which on the DVD when Beauty and the Beast comes out, you’ll be able to
see that, actually driving up and seeing the castle there and the impact
that it had on us.
And the truth of that place adds credibility to your drawing in a funny
kind of a way. I guess, you know, just to explain to you a little bit
about how I think, and when I was a kid, I didn’t do drawings to do a
drawing of something. I did a drawing so I could enter into an
imaginary world. My paper was like a magic mirror that I could do a
drawing, and you just step right through it and suddenly you’re living
in the time of the dinosaurs, or you’re living somewhere to – you’re –
and you’re experiencing it.
And that with that castle, that was really important as a place where I
could step into it. And then, it was equally important that the
credibility of this character be based on true – you know, to me, true
animals. There were various different designs.
Like here, these are some of Chris Andrews’ designs, and they’re very
whimsical. This is some of Andreas’s designs, which I thought were
pretty cool and interesting, but some – nothing was really jumping out
and speaking to me. We had a – quite a variety, actually.
There was one – at the zoo, there was a mandrill named Boris that I
would pass by and I would do drawings. This is one of the drawings I
did there in London at the time, thinking of the Beast as a
mandrill-like character. Remember this English lady standing next to me
as I was drawing him. The mandrill turned towards me and showed its
rear end, and she said, “He’s got a rainbow bum, he has!” So the Beast
actually has a rainbow bum, but you don’t ever get to see it that way.
There’s different kinds of feet and, you know, claws, exploration of a
wide variety of characters that we explored. As we’re clipping through
these, you can see the inspiration for, like, a mandrill character. But
ultimately, the Beast came down to a variety of real animals for me.
One of the really fun aspects of the Beast was this – the wild animal
side next to this girl. And basically, though, we had to break that
down into what does that mean in human nature. What is a wild animal
like in us in human nature? Well, it’s selfish. It’s very immature.
And so, it was fun watching Belle just wrestle a beast in his nature,
just wrestling that down. And so, these images of – from the film show
this wild animal side and her standing there next to him.
But the biggest challenge we had was, you know, in my mind, how is the
audience ever going to believe that Belle could fall in love, to earn
this moment where they dance together? Because at one point in the
film, after Belle heals his hand, and we went pretty quickly to this
moment here. And that was after the Beast saves here, and we felt like
that should be enough.
But something was missing. You didn’t really feel like you earned this
dance. And at that point, Howard Ashman, who had really created the
tent poles for our story, realized that we were missing an extremely
important tent pole, and he wrote a song called something – “There’s
Something There,” this moment where Beast gives Belle the library.
And it was so subtle and gentle of a thing that it had escaped us, that
true love isn’t just like Beast going and battling the wolves seemed
like, “OK, well that’s the dramatic indication of his love for her.”
But it was him noticing how this girl loved to read and that he presents
her with the library. And it was the little things that just – like a
flower growing, that’s what that song was about.
And as soon as that was written, we knew the movie was going to work.
Until that point, it just – and that happened pretty – very late, that
last year, actually, in production. So we didn’t know that it was going
to work until that point.
And then it earned the right to have this wonderful sequence with the
Beast dancing with Belle. These are actually drawings from James Baxter
of the Beast with Belle. James and I actually got out there, and we
danced together. We had a dance coach helping us learn the steps, and
when it came down to it, he did the animation on this. I drew over top
Mindy Johnson: How closely did you work with the other character animators and designers in the film?
Glen Keane: Well, we work as a team. We’re all very close next
to each other, and we would get together as animators constantly and
show each other our work. We wanted the film to have a cohesiveness, so
there’s a broad spectrum from something very realistic, like the Beast,
but he’s still caricatured enough, and Andreas’s approach on Gaston,
they defined more of the very sculpted, realistic side. Then you’ve got
LeFou, way, way, really broad, a bouncy, cartoony, stretchy, squashy
The music, I think, is the glue that holds our character designs
together in a funny way. It’s like a – it’s like you’re making a great
dinner, and you’ve got all of these different elements together, that
you’ve got this great salmon there with some rice, then there’s some
vegetables and all that. But then you drizzle some balsamic vinegar
over the top, and it just unifies the whole meal. And that’s kind of
what Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s music did to me.
Mindy Johnson: Was there anything from the original story that you wish would have made it to the final film?
Glen Keane: You know, I guess I wonder about that – the
repetitive nature of a fairy tale, the question that’s asked, “Will you
marry me.” In that story, it was – it’s the glue that holds that story
together, it – almost like poetry, the rhythm of that question all the
We couldn’t keep – we couldn’t do that because it – watching actually a
movie, if a character is saying that, it’s like putting a guilt trip on
somebody, and it just didn’t work. I wish that there was that kind of
repetition, a meter that you could find, in a way. You know, I would
have loved to have found a way to have that in this story. That, you
know, probably would have messed it up in some way, but I don’t know.
It’s a good – interesting question.
Boy, Disney is really going all-out with the PR campaign for the re-release.
Personally, i was really irritated with the traditional-Disney approach of taking the title and one or two minor points from the original story and throwing out what makes it a great story in the first place.
The way that Disney turns the story inside out would be as if Welles began the movie by explaining fully what “Rosebud” is … or Hitchcock revealed the secret of Norman’s mother first; the whole point of the original tale as old as time is that the person reading or hearing it knows no more of the Beast than does Beauty.
Cocteau’s 1947 film is so much better than the Disney in its presentation of the story (and in its true evocation of the “sense of wonder”) that there is really no comparison. (In my op[inion, i hasten to add.)
Boy, Disney is really going all-out with the PR campaign for the re-release.Personally, i was really irritated with the traditional-Disney approach of taking the title and one or two minor points from the original story and throwing out what makes it a great story in the first place.The way that Disney turns the story inside out would be as if Welles began the movie by explaining fully what "Rosebud" is … or Hitchcock revealed the secret of Norman's mother first; the whole point of the original tale as old as time is that the person reading or hearing it knows no more of the Beast than does Beauty. Cocteau's 1947 film is so much better than the Disney in its presentation of the story (and in its true evocation of the "sense of wonder") that there is really no comparison. (In my op[inion, i hasten to add.)