A few peaks into Disney's Animation Research Library, the new morgue
August 23, 2014 2:51 PM   Subscribe

Since at least the late 1950s, Walt Disney Studios had a morgue on site (auto-playing music, with option to pause), but rather than a place to temporarily keep dead bodies, the name is a reference to "morgue files" kept by newspaper reporters, where old materials were kept for reference. In 1989, the archives moved to larger, more modern facilities, renamed the Animation Research Library (ARL), a 12,000 square foot housed in a nondescript structure, which guests are required to not describe or identify by location or even neighborhood, as noted in this Telegraph article, The Jungle Book: the making of Disney's most troubled film. Given the limited access and strict controls over what can be recorded in ARL, Ultimate Disney's 2006 tour write-ups with photos and D23's Armchair Archivist interview with select Disney staff may be the closest you can get to getting inside.

You can still visit the old Morgue today by making your through the Studio Lot, to the north side of the Ink & Paint Building, walking down a long flight of stairs and through a few underground hallways, though some signs may be vandalized.

As mentioned in the D23 clip, one of the D23 magazines focused on 75 years of Disney animated features, including a feature on the Animation Research Library.

And it seems that there tours of ARL are given when there's a new release of a prior film, like the Little Mermaid Event, which was blogged quite a bit: The Link Fairy, The Mommy Files, Days of a Domestic Dad, Simply Being Mommy, Save More Spend Less with Heidi, The Divine Miss Mommy, Not Quite Susie, etc.
posted by filthy light thief (11 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
ARL is also on Facebook, "a place for our fans," and posts interesting glimpses into the archives from time to time, as well as highlighting various anniversaries and nothing the passing of notable individuals.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:53 PM on August 23, 2014

This is neat, I would love to look around this. It must have supported the reuse of some animation sequences in different movies (e.g. 1, 2). I wonder what their cataloguing schema looks like ...
posted by carter at 3:21 PM on August 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

One of the things I do admire about Disney is that they respect their history, not just as genuflection but as something they are willing to spend quite a lot of money to preserve. Some of it is in anticipation of it profiting them in the future, certainly, but even that is a rare thing these days. Many corporations would look at that collection and think how many millions they could add to executive bonuses by selling it off.

And really -- how much money is a random maquette from Fantasia ever going to profit them in the future, compared to how much they could get now by auctioning it off as Sotheby's? A lot of it clearly has to be fueled by love and respect.
posted by tavella at 3:29 PM on August 23, 2014

I've been there about a dozen times and never been asked not to reveal the location. Maybe because I was working on Disney projects?
There's an app.
Interview with archivist Mary Ann Williams.
Lella Smith retired this year.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:38 PM on August 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Newspapers routinely prepare obituaries for celebrities and other famous people who are still alive, so that when they die the pre-written obituary can be published with minimum delay. The archive where these future obituaries are stored is usually called the "morgue" for that reason.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:39 PM on August 23, 2014

Newspaper morgues are where old clipping files, photographic prints and contact sheets are kept--not future obits.
Also, just to be clear--the Disney Archives on the lot are not the same as the Animation Research Library.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:44 PM on August 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Freeze them in anticipation of future technological advances, of course. Do you think it's just old Walt they have on ice?
posted by filthy light thief at 4:15 PM on August 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Why all the secrecy around it? Are they actually worried about people raiding the place?
posted by Canageek at 5:37 PM on August 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've been there, too, and don't recall being asked not to reveal its location. The Ultimate Disney link is a decent summary. The stuff inside is pretty amazing, and a lot of it is literally irreplaceable. I'm sure if they had an on-site exhibition program of some sort it would be insanely popular, but the facility really wasn't made for that. It's there to support exhibitions elsewhere, to aid researchers (historians, archivists, and animators), and of course to keep these materials properly stored.
posted by estherbester at 10:50 PM on August 23, 2014

I can see the secrecy around the location being more about access control than about super secret stuff, though there is also the inherent value in the collection. You don't want a bunch of fans randomly coming to the location when it's intended as a functioning research center and archive, not a tour center.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:32 AM on August 24, 2014

Yup, I'm assuming that they are concerned with avoiding having Disney fans show up at the front door.
posted by carter at 9:57 AM on August 24, 2014

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