Mark Henn, the 2D animation supervisor behind ‘Wreck-It Ralph,’ pretty much made your childhood

The subtitle of the much anticipated Wreck-It Ralph sequel, Ralph Breaks the Internet, proved to be an accurate prediction when it was revealed earlier this year that the movie features a scene with all of the Disney Princesses, finally united.

“It was a unique opportunity to get to revisit them, to have all of them, 14 princesses together, for the first time,” says Disney animator Mark Henn, who had worked on several animated classics, among them The Little Mermaid and Mulan. Recalling the initial reveal, he adds, “The fans were beside themselves.”

In Ralph Breaks the Internet, for which Henn serves as the 2D animation supervisor, fans also get to revisit video game characters Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope von Schweetz six years after the original movie came out. “The trick (of sequels) is always finding that story,” he says. “What’s going to be equally compelling? What’s going to take these characters in a new direction?”

In Ralph Breaks the Internet, the animation team imagined the internet much like the big city.

Since its predecessor was set in the retro-gaming world of arcade machines and 8-bit graphics, the producers wanted to explore how video games have evolved and how technology has been advancing. “It was kind of a no-brainer, really, to go into the next bigger world for Ralph,” Henn explains, “which would be the internet.”

 

For decades, Henn has been a keen and influential vision who helped bring fantastic stories to life — and subsequently made our childhoods.

 

In imagining the internet as a habitable, physical place, the idea was to liken it to going to the big city. “So you think of Vanellope and Ralph as kind of coming from the country, small-town,” Henn says. When the owner of their arcade decides to get an internet connection, they find a new portal that leads them somewhere they never could have dreamed. “Which is just, ‘Whoa!’ It’s really eye-opening for them. That’s how we’re envisioning it. It’s kind of like this amazing city of things to see and do that people don’t often get to see.”

For decades, Henn has been a keen and influential vision who helped bring fantastic stories to life — and subsequently made our childhoods. From Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and Aladdin, he moved on to computer-generated animation with Meet the Robinsons, and also worked on The Princess and the Frog and 2011’s Winnie the Pooh. The latter two ended up being the final hand-drawn features from Walt Disney Animation Studios before the decision to focus on CG fare.

“My role at the studio kind of started evolving to where I was asked to come on and be kind of a resource and mentor to the new generation of animators, starting with Frozen,” Henn says.

 

“It’s just the challenge, I think, as an artist. There’s a natural tendency to just want to be better at whatever it is you’re doing.”

 

According to him, the transition from traditional to computer animation had its difficulties. It has, however, kept him on his toes and allowed him to keep things fresh and interesting. “I think being around a lot of younger people, for somebody like myself, is very exciting,” he adds. “That certainly keeps things fresh and interesting. And it’s just the challenge, I think, as an artist. There’s a natural tendency to just want to be better at whatever it is you’re doing.”

Mark Henn worked on traditional computer-generated animation before mentoring the new generation of animators.

Even when he’s supervising, he shares, “I have the ability to do what we call drawovers.” When certain scenes are pulled up, instead of merely suggesting, Henn can opt to do the drawings himself. “Actually I’ve gone back to using this little pad of paper and I make notes, scribble down doodles and things, and I can give that to the artists and say, ‘Here’s an idea,’ or ‘Here’s an expression.’ So I still do that. It’s a new role for me at this point in my career, and I do enjoy it quite a bit.”

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