Producer Lorri Broda and Character Designer Ritsuko Notani Talk SECRET OF THE WINGS and Creating the New Character Periwinkle

     September 7, 2012

secret of the wings

Lorri Broda serves as associate producer at DisneyToon Studios where she manages the production of feature length movies for DVD and international theatrical release.  Among the titles to which Broda has contributed her executive and creative skills are Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure and Secret of the Wings.

Since the early 1990s, Ritsuko Notani has been a key character designer charged with conceptualizing, designing and executing primary and secondary characters for many of Disney’s most famous direct to video classics such as The Lion King 1-1/2 and Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas.  Before that, she was with Walt Disney Animation Japan where she was in charge of directing animation for such series as The Little Mermaid and AladdinMost recently, she has been the principal designer of all the major and supporting Disney fairies including Tinker Bell.  Notani’s work on the first four Tinker Bell films has given way to countless fairies, animals and creatures of all kinds that populate Pixie Hollow.  She also designed Periwinkle, the new winter fairy in Secret of the Wings.  Read the interview after the jump.

disney-secret-of-the-wings-posterAt the press day for The Walt Disney Studio’s new animated film, Secret of the Wings, I had the opportunity to sit down with Broda and Notani to talk about how they created the look of Periwinkle, the fairy world’s newest character.  They provided me with an overview of the project, revealed the drawing and design process for the character, and then answered questions about their collaboration and how Notani made magic happen through her work on Secret of the Wings.

Lorri Broda:  Because the whole movie is about Periwinkle and because Periwinkle is so special, we found the most fabulous character designer in the entire world.  But not only is Ritsuko fabulous, she is also responsible for our original Tinker Bell, Rosetta, Fawn and Iridessa.  She has designed all of our fairies or had a part [in the creative process] and she’s also a very talented costume designer.  We can talk about that in a few minutes.  Ritsuko?

Ritsuko Notani:  Hi.  I’m Ritsuko Notani and I do the character design for the Fairy series.  Today I’m going to talk about our new winter fairy, Periwinkle.  Periwinkle is Tink’s sister.  When I heard about creating a new sister for Tink, who was born more than 50 years ago and is still one of Disney’s icons, I thought it would be a big challenge for me.  At the same time, I thought it would be a big, fun project as well.  I started to think about her personality, face, body shape, and what type of hair style and costume I would have her wear.  So, I started the research for winter materials.  (She shows us several images.)  These are concept designs and these are the first ideas.  Her hair style was inspired by an icicle.

Broda:  Some of the issues we have in winter are, in the other Tinker Bell movies, they take place in Pixie Hollow and there are all kinds of things.  There are leaves and flowers and there are things you can make fabrics with.  John Lasseter, our Executive Producer, is very, very concerned that everything be real.  Even though it’s Pixie Hollow, it should be real.  It should be explained.  In Pixie Hollow, we have lots of options and things sometimes come in from the real world.  In winter, there are not so many options.  You’ve got snow and ice.  We did find a wonderful flower that you’ve probably seen before.  It’s called Lamb’s Ear.  It’s like a soft velveteen and that’s what her costume is made of.  (She shows us another image.)  Now this is actually called a frost flower and it was the inspiration for Periwinkle’s hair.  This is not fabric or flower.  This is a piece of ice and they come in different shapes.  We had a snow expert come in named Thomas Painter.  He introduced us to the wonders of snow, even though I’m from Canada and I’m well aware of the wonders of snow.  This is a wonderful formation in which frost happens.  It comes in these little balls and we thought “There’s her hair.”

tinkerbell-secret-of-the-wingsNotani:  When I heard of the picture, that was it.  That was her hair.  I was so excited.  And then, after so many sketches, I found the closest idea to our director’s.  (She shows us a sketch of Periwinkle in costume.)  This is the final design.  This hair style is like a closed flower and then there’s Lamb’s Ear leaf (Periwinkle’s dress), and of course, pompoms (on Periwinkle’s slippers).  The reason why I used the leaves for her costume like her tunic is because of Tink’s costume.  Tink has been wearing her leaf costume for such a long time.  It is her icon, so I wanted to create something related to it since she’s Tink’s sister.

Broda:  As you saw in the movie, they keep coming back to one another, so even though they’re these very different, unique girls, they’ve got the pompoms and they both look like this and they both collect things.  A lot of work went into making sure that they constantly connected in their look and in their behavior.

Notani:  After that, to create a 3D model of her, the hardest part of the creation was her hair style.  When I drew the 2D sketches, it looked good and it worked really well.  However, transforming into the 3D model was another story.  It was so much more complicated to make it than we thought.  We decided to bring the hair stylist to show us how the side and back would look.

periwinkle-secret-of-the-wingsBroda:  We really did.  The initial struggle was Ritsuko was doing it all on paper and we were wondering what does this look like.  We brought in Ken Paves, this very famous, wonderful hair stylist, and a beautiful model, and within a few hours we had Periwinkle.  (She shows us an image of Paves designing the model’s hair style.)  We had this beautiful girl and the hair was wonderful.  It was also a real working session because we could see what the problems were.  What are you going to do with this piece of hair?  How does it work in the back?  How does it move?  We then took that model to 3D, which Ritsuko will show you, and then we made further improvements.  We said how do you sustain this through the movie?  How is it going to move?  What’s it going to look like when you see her flying from up top?  And then, a little more tweaking was done until we finally came to this. (She shows us an image of the 3D model.)  This is a 3D model without the simulation of the hair that makes it look more realistic.  There she is.  Would you like to draw our sweet Periwinkle?

Notani:  Of course.  (Notani sketches the character of Periwinkle.)

Broda:  This is where the magic happens.  Do you have any questions?

Question:  When you develop a character like Periwinkle that has to be very close to the original Tinker Bell, but then you create a completely different world, how do you make sure the two are different but at the same time match?

Broda:  They’re literally born from the Tinker Bell model.  All of our characters start from Tinker Bell that are reasonable, other than the voice.  There are two reasons why we do that.  One is to make sure that when you put them all together, they look like they’re from the same world.  We’ve had some very funny mismatches early on where we build this character and it looks fantastic and then you put them next to Tinker Bell and it’s like “Oh.”  They just don’t look like they’re from the same world for some reason.  And then, the other reason is because Tink is 5-1/2 inches tall, everything about her and her friends has to be fit within that world and that’s often a challenge.  Again, John Lasseter is very much into the size of Tink and her world and how she relates to her world and so sometimes that doesn’t work either.  So, when you can get all the characters together, that’s what happens.  Now the idea of having them be similar and different, every single part of the story focused on that.

Secret-of-the-Wings-Winter-fairiesWhenever Peggy (director Peggy Holmes) had a chance to show how they could be similar, or contrast and compare, she did it.  She brought in a twins expert, a woman who talked about what happened when sisters and twins, people who had been separated at birth, came back together and what kind of things happened.  It was really fun.  It was a very conscious idea to give Peri her own life, make her look like her own person, yet understand that these two are so clearly split from one branch.  And then, Peri’s friends mirror a little bit Tink’s friends, so you can pair them up with who they are, but each have their own personality.  Also, the winter world is supposed to be a wonderful place.  It’s not supposed to be “Oooh, you don’t want to go to winter.  It’s horrible.”  Winter has its own world and it’s beautiful and it’s light and there are wonderful fairies there.  A lot of effort was put into how are these two worlds different and how can they finally come together.

How does the character designer collaborate with the other members of the creative team?  How did that iterative back and forth process work within your film?

Broda:  Every single minute of every single day, the director, the art director, the character designer and then the character painter are a very close knit crew.  It all comes from the story and before the crew comes on, the director has been working on this longer, a good year, just coming up with the story.  First, it goes to Ritsuko for her initial designs and talking to the director.  And then, there’s constant back and forth for months and months and months of making it work.  And then, it goes to the modeling stage.  Well, first it goes to the painting stage.  “Okay, now we want to tweak this.”  And then, it goes to the modeling stage and then there’s a little bit of tweaks there.  And then, it goes to the color model stage.   Sometimes we have to take two steps back and it’ll go back to Ritsuko to make a change.  It seems like “make the characters, pass them on,” but she’s in it from the very beginning until you take it out of the director’s cold, dead hands, which never happens. “Let go!  Time to put it on the screen.”

tinker-bell-secret-of-the-wingsOverall, how long did it take to make the film?

Broda:  Almost two and a half, three years from set to on the screen.  That’s pretty much close to our normal schedule.  (Ritsuko continues to sketch the character of Periwinkle.)

It’s fun watching Periwinkle’s character come to life.

Broda:  It’s a challenge in this movie too because we have a lot of Tinker Bell’s coat coming on, coming off, coming on, coming off, and not only is she in winter, but how long can she sustain it without a coat?  But we want to see her and she has to be beautiful and she has to be able to move.  That was a challenge for Ritsuko too.  What does the coat look like when it’s crumpled on its side?

Ritsuko, do you ever get tired of drawing the same character over and over?

Notani:  Actually, no.  I just keep going because it’s today, and tomorrow is different, so every time is different.  Even if it’s the same character, it’s still new to me.

Broda:  And these ones lately, we have a Lynx in the movie.  We have a Keeper who’s a very different man.  We have a Librarian who looks very different.  So there’s a lot more variety now in how much there is to do.  (She watches Notani sketch Periwinkle’s character)  Do you think the hairstyle will catch on?  You’ll need some wire.

It’s interesting to see how Periwinkle’s hairstyle compares to the photo of the model’s hairstyle designed by Ken Paves.

secret-of-the-wingsBroda:  It’s such a moment when you see these characters animated for the first time because you’ve been living with some of them for several years.  And then, to see them come to life when it works and some of the cute little poses that come back, it’s just amazing.  It’s really cute to see them come to life.

Why do you think Tinker Bell is such a powerful and beloved icon?

Broda:  That’s interesting.  We were talking about that the other day.  I think it’s because she’s just like this little spunky character in the film.  You didn’t see her very much, but she was so iconic.  And then, nothing happened.  Every other character got their own movie and there were the Princesses.  And then finally, with the movies and the books, her world was able to expand and you really got the idea of who she was.  But even before that, women adopted her.  Grown women had Tinker Bell and really identified with her and they had the key chains and the shirts.  I don’t know how many key chains I see every day.  I saw one the other day.  The girls have the key chains.  I think it’s a character that’s very accessible for everyone.  She’s just so full of life but she’s not your standard, very sweet Princess.  She’s got some pop to her.  I think that might be why.  And, she’s good looking.  We were saying with the Disney Princesses, each Princess lives in her own world, but they don’t interact because they’re two different stories.  In the fairy world, everybody gets to interact and she can go to the real world.

Secret of the Wings gets released on home video October 23.

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