Let’s head back in time to my first time learning about the former Disney Animation Academy.
THEN: Disney’s Animation Academy (Hollywood Studios)
Back in 2015 (or 2016), I accidentally discovered one of my favorite Walt Disney World attractions, which was taken away very soon after. A large group of us traveled for a friend’s birthday for Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival. I was the sole Disney Passholder within the group. Knowing that it would take this large group a long time to get ready for the park in the morning, I decided to wake up early and visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios for a couple of hours on my own before meeting the group at Epcot.
Back then there was no Galaxy’s Edge, Toy Story Land, or Mickey’s Runaway Railway. My goal was mainly to ride Star Tours a few times, watch MuppetVision 3D, and see what else I could get into without wasting too much time. After riding Star Tours two or three times I decided to search for new experiences that I may have missed during prior visits to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Back then, before Star Wars Launch Bay, there was a whole Disney Animation area. I remember watching a short film on animation, starring Mushu (Eddie Murphy) from Mulan. Afterwards I found the Disney Animation Academy, a class where a Disney artist teaches a group how to draw a Disney character. I learned how to draw Stitch that day, and continued to draw Stitch using those same techniques for years.
During my next visit to Hollywood Studios, I was excited to share this new favorite attraction with my group, only to be disappointed. The whole Animation pavilion was gone and being worked into Star Wars Launch Bay (which is also a pretty cool place), full of Star Wars props and memorabilia, and the best place to get your picture taken with Chewy.
NOW: Disney’s The Animation Experience (Animal Kingdom)
I remember asking many Walt Disney World cast members about the former Animation Academy, and getting no information on any plans to reopen or find a new home for it. It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I was describing it to a friend that he mentioned there might be something like that in Animal Kingdom.
From then on, I knew that during my next visit to Animal Kingdom I would definitely find this new Animation Experience, but those plans were halted by the pandemic. In 2020, Disney Parks closed for a couple of months, probably for the first time ever. I finally got to visit in 2021, but not Animal Kingdom.
It wasn’t until July 2022 that I finally made my return to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and I finally found the new Disney Animation Experience.
When comparing the new Disney Animation Experience to the former Disney Animation Academy, there have been a few changes. However, they are overall the same, great experience. Guests are taught how to draw a specific Disney character by a Disney artist.
I’ve always loved animation. I love the artwork, the character design, the stories, the voice talent, and the freedom to do pretty much anything. If I had the patience — and the skills required to be an animator — I would love to work in animation.
The Disney Animation Experience in Animal Kingdom is currently located on Rafiki’s Planet Watch, along with the petting zoo — which gives you something fun to do while you wait for the next class to begin.
Let’s see some of the cute, furry buddies I became friends with while waiting for the next class:
Back when I first attended the Animation Academy, artists had the chance to sit at their own animators table, which made the whole thing feel more authentic. Today, everyone is given an animation board to place on their lap while drawing shoulder-to-shoulder with other artists in training. It’s not as immersive, but I still enjoyed the experience enough to attend two classes in a row.
The sheets today start off with some guidelines, to save time and help out the beginner artists. In the original academy, artists had to draw their own guidelines. This is how I learned that it’s easier to draw a nice circle using your shoulder, rather than your wrist — and some other valuable lessons.
Something smart on their part is giving artists lottery pencils with no eraser. This is done to keep the class running smoothly. Throughout the class the Disney artist mentioned that we would have the opportunity to go back to our art and make changes at home. Here we learned another valuable lesson: start off with light lines and darken them as you go. Can you imagine if everyone was erasing every mistake, asking the Disney artist to hold up, or go back. We’d be there for hours.
Since the Animation Experience is held in Disney’s Animal Kingdom all of the drawings are animal-themed. I’m fine with that. Disney has tons of great animals for me to learn how to draw.
This time I got to draw both Bambi (Bambi) and Pua (Moana). We were taught how to draw the characters by two great Disney artists, Erin and Heather.
There are three more quick notes I must squeeze into this learning that have to do with the Disney Animation Experience.
(1) Last week, I learned that the Disney Animation Academy still exists in Disneyland California. I was informed by the Instagram account of the real Jaime Fox (@jamalfox), when she shared her drawing of Buzz Lightyear. So, hopefully one day I will visit Disneyland in California to draw a non-animal Disney character.
(2) There’s a new show on Disney+, Sketchbook, which is sort of like attending these classes, but also getting to know an iconic Disney artist as they teach you to draw a Disney character. It’s like bringing the Disney Animation Academy/Experience into your home.
(3) Watching the intro video to the Disney Animation Experience, I recognized the voice of everyone’s favorite TV big bro, Will Friedle (aka Eric Matthews from Boy Meets World). I just thought that was cool since I’ve been listening to his podcast with Kim Possible herself, Christy Carlson Romano, all the time — I Hear Voices.
I’m excited to return to Animal Kingdom, so I can learn how to draw even more Disney animals.
What Disney animal or character would you love to learn how to draw? Share in the comments, on Twitter, or wherever you feel like reaching out to me.