Ellen Woodbury Exhibition in Vail through February 1st January 20 2015, 0 Comments

Name a Disney movie between 1985 and 2005 and chances are Ellen Woodbury worked on it. Here are a few: Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, The Lion King and The Beauty and the Beast. Having been born in the early 1980’s myself; Woodbury spent her career bringing the stories that shaped my childhood to life. As a Directing Animator at the company that brought us The Magic Kingdom, Mickey Mouse and more, Woodbury’s career is marked with highlights and prestige. This weekend, she is meeting collectors while showing a collection of her sculpture at the Art on a Whim gallery in Vail Village.

Woodbury broke down barriers with her work on The Lion King, becoming the first female Supervising Character Animator in the long and storied history of Disney. Her character, Zazu, is the little hornbill (a tropical bird) in the film. Woodbury was known among the animation industry as one of the most disciplined and accomplished individuals in the field. Film producer Don Hahn said he has, “never seen anybody get into a character as much as Woodbury would.” For this, and many other significant   achievements, Woodbury is regarded as one of the 50 Most Influential Disney Animators. Today, she spends her time in Loveland, Colorado creating classic and contemporary stone sculptures from precious stones found throughout the world.

Woodbury turned to stone sculpting in 2005, having resigned from her position at Disney in order to pursue a career as an independent artist. Long before, her path in education took her to the film program at Syracuse University, which she credits for teaching her how to analyze and for opening her mind. In 1982 Woodbury enrolled at The California Institute of the Arts. Here, she became the prized pupil of master animator and artist Jules Engel. With her background in animation well established at this point, Engel simply pushed Woodbury to another level. She says, “He was just so charming. There was something about him right from the start. He showed me the work and it really blew me away! Where my mind was stretched, Jules filled it up with all these different ways of animating, all these different mediums and ideas.”

According to Engel, “A mentor is someone who may be trained in academia, but who is more concerned with the 'big' picture of highly personal, cutting-edge experimentation and individual thinking about the arts.” The combination of Engel’s influence and Disney’s wondrous and innocent characters are ever present in each of Woodbury’s one-of-a-kind sculptures. She is an artist who is not afraid to strike out on her own, drawing upon her extensive training while spending hundreds of hours painstakingly creating each unique sculpture.

On her piece depicting two white-tailed ptarmigans, titled “Squash and Stretch,” Woodbury says; “Squash and stretch is one of the most important ingredients in traditional Disney animation. It is defined as change in shape with no change in volume, as illustrated by the poses of these ptarmigans. The principle of squash and stretch gives character animation life, weight and flexibility and makes Disney animation fun to watch and create.” Soft curves, crisp edges and changes in shape highlight the piece. The sculpture is created from Sivec Marble, which was quarried in Greece. It is the same stone used in ancient Greek temples, plazas and statues. The marble is pristine, with medium sized crystals resembling the snow the famed ptarmigans are so adept at blending into.

Amongst a collection of ten original pieces, Woodbury’s show stopper is titled “Phoenix Rising.” The sculpture is inspired by hope and new beginnings. The piece is made from Yule Marble, which was quarried not from here in Marble, Colorado. From the base to the tip of the Phoenix’ taller wing the piece measures 30” high. Light plays off of the smooth sculpted surface, as the piece is designed by using a combination of curved and faceted lines. Crystals found within the ancient stone sparkle like snowflakes when they catch the light. The piece held up to 623 hours of rigorous sculpting while being formed thanks to the strong bedding plane that the stone Woodbury chose was discovered in. Both tips of the bird’s wings delicately curve outwards, giving the piece the feeling of flight and reaching for the next step in life. Woodbury says, “Every bit of careful effort you put into your sculpting returns to you ten times over in successful forms, pristine color, subtle veining and dazzling snowflake crystal. This bird rises from the embers of one art form (animation) to inspire and inform another.”

Woodbury’s current show at the Art on a Whim gallery represents well over a year’s worth of work. Given her preferred medium of stone, each piece is truly unique and is not created in editions. Woodbury will be wet-sanding a new piece while talking about her extensive background and incredible techniques in the gallery throughout the weekend. A master of animation and a master sculptor, Woodbury’s work is a sight to see.