Animation maker

Disney Maquettes Treasure Comes to Market with Heritage

Limited edition model of Aladdin Jafar and Iago (Heritage Auctions)

Animation fans and Disneyana obsessives can experience the studio’s artistry in 3D at Heritage Auctions’ upcoming Animation Art Signature sale (February 4-7). From Donald Duck to Buzz Lightyear, the largest collection of rare vintage Disney character model kits ever released is one of the catalog’s flagship sections, filled with familiar faces.

Mockups are sculpted models that allow animators to see a character from all angles. These rare works of art were never meant to be anything more than three-dimensional tools used by Disney’s animation department, each stamped “Return to the Character Model Department.” Intended to be shelved after the end of each film, the mockups have instead become coveted pieces of cinematic art. Animators sometimes brought them home or received them as gifts after films that achieved significant success – or, Walt Disney himself sometimes gave them to important guests and friends.

In their 1981 book Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life, longtime animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, who worked for Disney from the 1930s through the 1970s, also noted how highly coveted the mockups were at the time. Some “became permanent decorations in the offices of senior staff,” they wrote. “The rest had a way of fading away, especially as we neared the end of a frame.”

Model of Pinocchio (Heritage Auction)

Model of Pinocchio (Heritage Auction)

These numbers are not only key elements in the process of making a film; they are also each a work of art in their own right, often sculpted by one or more of the studio’s gifted artists.

“Disney’s character model department was established in 1937 and added a third dimension to the traditional animation process,” said Christin Muller, Heritage Auctions Animation Art Cataloguer. “The department only lasted until 1941, when World War II financial constraints forced it to close, making the mockups some of the rarest studio artifacts of the Disney animation process. Some of those offered in this sale have been restored by legendary studio model painter Helen Nerbovig McIntosh, who was head of the model painting team in Disney’s ink and paint department, as well as program manager for Disney’s Courvoisier Art Their history makes their importance and significance difficult to overestimate.

Once a mere reference tool, models are now a staple among serious Disney collectors. A treasure trove of 53 are featured in the upcoming Animation Art Signature event. This selection spans over 80 years of treasured Disney characters and includes some of the rarest artifacts from the studio’s animation process.

Renowned figures offered as figurines include Pluto, Pinocchio and Pinocchioit’s Jiminy Cricket, Peter Panof the first Captain Hook, the Lady and the TrampThe Siamese cat of early development, Dumbo‘s Timothy Q. Mouse with Dumbo and, of course, Mickey Mouse as The brave little tailor.

Finding Nemo Dory reference model signed by Ellen DeGeneres (Heritage Auctions)

Finding Nemo Dory reference model signed by Ellen DeGeneres (Heritage Auctions)

The most recent selection prices include, but are not limited to The beauty and the Beastof Lumiere and Gaston, Aladdinit’s Jafar with Iago, The Lion King’s Ed the Hyena and The world of Nemo‘s Dory, signed by Ellen DeGeneres who lent her voice to the character.

“With traditional films, fans can collect costumes or props,” said Jim Lentz, vice president of Heritage Auctions and artistic director of animation and anime. “That’s not possible, of course, with animated films. But Disney films are loved in part because of the realism with which the characters are drawn, which would have been impossible without mockups like these. It’s a rare opportunity to gain an important part of the creative process behind some of the most popular films ever made.

See more of the February Animation Art Signature sale at