Seeing With New Eyes
by Andy Siditsky
Personally, I like these quotes because they represent a view to creative excellence and are especially relevant to the creative process in the world of entertainment. Walt Disney demonstrated creative excellence by “seeing with new eyes” and “making something out of” an existing idea, as James Lowell and Marcel Proust have written.
Recently, while working on the DVD for the classic Disney movie Mary Poppins, actor Dick Van Dyke shared a story with me about Walt Disney’s creative vision. He and Julie Andrews were rehearsing the scene known as the “Jolly Holiday” sequence, where they were in a café with waiters, in what then was kind of a musical dream sequence. Walt had come by the sound stage to watch, and observed to the director that the waiters, clad in tuxedos, look “kind of like penguins.”
During the break Walt called them over and said, “I’ve got it, we need to do this scene with PENGUINS as waiters.” Of course, no one wanted to say no to Walt Disney, but the director had to let him know it would be impossible to get real penguins to choreograph this big musical scene. “No, not real penguins,” Walt explained, “ANIMATED penguins. Don’t you see? We will combine the live action with animation!”
Well, the rest is history, as you know, and that scene has become a signature moment in Disney’s history and remains today a technical marvel.
Packaging is key
I’ve had the privilege of overseeing Disney’s finest creative assets for nearly 22 years. Whether it’s developing creative materials for animation, live action, TV shows, or even archival materials—it’s always been about discovery…“seeing with new eyes.” Ultimately it’s expressing that focal point within our creative.
Key to this is the packaging of our products. From the time the home entertainment world was in its infancy (you still remember VHS & Beta, right?) to the current DVD and PSP/UMD formats, packaging effectiveness has always played a significant role in breaking through clutter, communicating key messaging and adding value to our products. But at no time has it been as important as it is in today’s crowded environment.
Hollywood has hit the retail shelves with a bang, and the noise is louder than a classic Bruckheimer explosion! Just walk into any home entertainment department at retail, and you’ll see the hundreds of movies available. With scores of products released each month, the perpetual challenge is to create a unique identity. This unmistakable realization of the significance of product distinction and performance is a worldwide reality that spreads far and wide across the globe. The plain fact of the matter is: in order to achieve creative excellence, it is critical to keep “seeing with new eyes” from the inside out of our products.
Create a consistent identity
I’m a real believer in Disney magic—it takes many forms across our great company and is especially defined within our classic movies, like Cinderella, which was recently released for the first time on DVD. I still remember seeing the classic film for the first time when I was about eight years old. To this day, the story, music and characters still make me believe in achieving great things. What a thrill and privilege it was for me to bring a new awareness and importance to the film—to see it with “new eyes” for its first-ever release on DVD.
As the quintessential fairy tale, it was important to reflect Cinderella’s magical tone and to communicate the most memorable moments on its packaging. Our choice for this package’s design centered on the distinction of the film within our great library. The universal tale, from which we derive the common saying “Cinderella story”, ultimately reflects a core value—dreams really do come true.
And our star, for which the film is named, is perhaps the most recognized Disney princess. So Cinderella—in her beautifully and magically transformed state, happily ever after with the handsome Prince—became our focal image. But the destination, and the journey to her transformation, was unique, and so the magical coach (formerly a pumpkin) and the beautifully lit castle play a prominent role in our image. Balancing out the fairy tale story are co-stars Gus and Jaq, Cinderella’s small heroes who give the film its sense of adventure that appeals to kids, especially boys.
The title treatment was also carefully constructed for image identity both with the key art and on all supporting consumer products and promotional product tie-ins. Nothing more distinguishes the story than the glass slipper, and this was incorporated as part of the title emblem (with a magical twist).
We also gave our audience “new eyes” with which to see the classic story by utilizing a strong and bold color palette. This worked very effectively in pulling together all of the imagery and creating consistency across our print advertising and retail environments. It also translated well to our consumer products group, who created a variety of Cinderella-themed merchandise.
The net result: one of the strongest retail and product presentations for a classic Disney film ever, and one of the best selling DVDs of the year.
Define the right packaging
A few years ago I had the privilege of being asked to develop and create packaging for a new line of product, Walt Disney Treasures. The product centers around wonderful, historical and archival materials from our Disney library assembled in a comprehensive format. The content is developed in partnership with and hosted by Leonard Maltin, who brings incredible insight and perspective to the rich material we have in our Disney ‘vault’.
In the earliest stages of development, we knew the packaging would need to be unique, and collectible. For that reason, I chose to pursue a special tin package, which both invokes images of the metal containers in which film materials are archived and also provides the collector a keepsake to add to their collections.
But this approach presented some significant challenges. At the time, no one had ever produced a tin DVD package, so it was necessary to break new ground within both retail and operational environments. I’m proud to say that these challenges were met with solutions reflected in our product, and the result has been successful waves of releases that have been well received by our target audience. It’s always fun to pioneer something new and exclusive, and this is an example of how “seeing with new eyes” means defining the right packaging.
Extend the experience
On the National Treasure DVD, we developed a breakthrough way of extending the experience of the film, or giving “new eyes” to our product. Because the movie involves the discovery and de-coding of ancient mysteries, we created that same excitement in our DVD through interactive menu design and bonus features. Multiple levels within the disc’s bonus features allow the viewer to unlock a complete menu of additional material by solving riddles. To help our audience enjoy and participate in this treasure hunt, we also included a themed, printed guide in each package (including the solution ‘spoiler’ for those who want quick answers!).
Our TV campaign amplified this new experience—where we featured this breakthrough way of extending the experience of the film inside our commercials. And in the print advertising, we used our strong key art image across all our retail displays and print advertising. This fully integrated approach is always a goal in our creative development and materials. The unique content of National Treasure, also allowed us to extend the experience far past the film and “make something out of” the experience for our audience.
One of the biggest growth areas in our industry has been TV on DVD products. We at Disney have been enjoying great success with some of TV’s top rated shows from our ABC division. One of our most successful consecutive, complete season box sets on DVD has been ALIAS. This thrilling show, which launched the career of Jennifer Garner and showcased the writing and directing talents of JJ Abrams, has provided us great opportunities for product expression. Since these box sets are centered on complete seasons, our goal in the packaging design is to focus on the main storyline that the audience has connected with. We developed a clear sleeve that, when slipped off, creates a “special” reveal to the show’s story lines and relationships. The consistent use of this packaging device, and differentiating color themes, has provided retail with a strong shelf read, and our loyal ALIAS fan base with collectable product. In this case—seeing with “new eyes” is what you see behind the slip sleeve!
On The Incredibles DVD our packaging sleeve employed a special foil effect that enhanced the value to a very broad demographic, as seeing with new eyes also means reaching all audiences. In addition the red color palette reinforced a strong presence at retail and assured that The Incredibles would have a consistent creative theme, regardless of the various retail environments.
With saturation levels of standard definition DVD reaching capacity and next-generation DVD on the horizon —offering consumers even more of a selection—it is imperative that we give our product a creative edge over that of our competitors.
I would like to leave you with this: the creative process, the journey—or, the real “voyage of discovery” as Marcel Proust has coined it, can be measured by the ability to see with new eyes in EVERY area of our creative endeavors. And like James Lowell has said, the ability to “make something out of (the idea) once it is found” ultimately will lead us to success and creative excellence from the inside out. BP
The author, Andy Siditsky, is Senior Vice President of Worldwide DVD Production and Creative Services for Walt Disney’s Buena Vista Home Entertainment. He oversees the creative development and execution of DVD production, TV and print advertising, trailering, packaging, music video production and retail display design for videos and DVDs including the Disney, Touchstone and Miramax home entertainment releases.