REVIEW: Ink & Paint Workshop at Epcot Festival of the Arts

When I was a young boy, I relished in the hours spent drawing. I was a kid of contradictions. When I was in an environment surrounded by people I knew, I was hyper and full energy. Always ready to put on a show. However, in new situations, like the first day of school, I was incredibly shy. In those moments, switching to my introvert side, drawing is what comforted me. As a young teenager, my parents got me a book on Imagineering. Mostly because they knew I already had an obsession with Disney theme parks. The book was filled with hundreds of pieces of concept art. Reading this book certainly left a mark inside of me because it combined two things I loved; artwork and the magic of Disney. I would pour over the illustrations observing every little detail of what Imagineers would envision for the next exciting attraction. This, along with my background in theatre, is why Epcot's Festival of the Arts as been one of my favorite events at the park.

In 2018, I attended one of the free Animation Academy workshops during Festival of the Arts at Epcot. I knew that I would enjoy this because of my passion for drawing. Since it is a free workshop, it was also a no-brainer to make time and attend. At that session, I discovered that there was another workshop during the festival focusing on ink & paint cels. The backbone of traditional animation. I took note of the details and made it a point to attend one of these for this year's festival.

On the second day of the Festival of the Arts this year, I made my way to the Festival ShowPlace located at the Odyssey in between Test Track and the Mexico Pavilion to attend the Ink & Paint Workshop for my very first time. I was glad I pre-booked this because to no surprise, it was sold out on the day. But I was a little taken back to see that upon entering a good 30 minutes before the start time, there was already a decent line of people waiting to get an upfront seat to the workshop. As I patiently waited in line, watching Cast Members set up the tables for everyone attending, I found myself filled with excitement. Not only to learn about ink & paint cels, but mostly excited to try something new while visiting the parks. A rare treat for someone like me who visits very regularly.

A few minutes before 1:30pm , we were all escorted to our seats inside the ShowPlace. I took note that the workshop holds about 75 people, and clearly I wasn't the only eager one because every seat was filled well before the workshop began. I snagged a seat next to the middle aisle, about 3 rows back. Close enough to see that the stage was dotted with various framed ink & paint cels. However, far enough back to note that the crowds eating from the nearby Food Studio were a little loud. As soon as I sat, I noticed that each station was setup with a blue folder with some reading material on ink & paint cels. A blank ink & paint cel featuring Mickey Mouse, along with a printout of the same image already colored in. Several containers of paint that were labelled, a glass of water and a few paintbrushes on the side along with a chopstick.

Then promptly at 1:30pm, Lynn Rippberger took the stage and introduced herself as the host of the workshop. Lynn's first feature with Disney animation was as an ink and paint artists on the 1989 feature film, The Little Mermaid. She went on to work on other animated films such as Mulan, Lilo & Stitch and The Princess and the Frog. On this particular day, Lynn was assisted by David Rippberger; her husband and also a Disney artist. David is now retired from the industry but still attends the festival to meet guests and assist his wife at the workshops.

The workshop began with Lynn talking about the three main types of ink and paint cels that you may come across. There are production cels, which as the name suggests are cels actually produced and used in the animation process for a film. Therefore making them one of a kind and the most valuable. (There was a fantastic production cel from the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? framed on the stage on this day too!) Next, there are limited edition and reproduction cels which are created solely for collectors. While these are made in large numbers, there is still a limited print run and they are indeed painted by hand. Finally, there are sericels and serigraphs which are mass produced and printed by machines. No work is done by hand, but the price point for these are much lower. Making them easy purchases for those just starting out collecting.

Lynn next talked about the overall production process of animation. Highlighting that an animator will sketch out the basic motion and features of characters in a scene. Then with ink, an outline of the character is done on a blank cel. In the case of this workshop, the inked outline of Mickey was printed by machine onto the cel. On one side you could feel the raised ink printed on the cel and it was completely smooth on the back. Our job for the workshop was to do the final step in the process of painting in all of the blank space within the inked outline.

Under Lynn and David's guidance, we were taken step by step on painting each color in the appropriate sections of Mickey. We first put on our glove to the hand that would be doing the painting. I learned that the thumb, index and middle finger is cutout so that you could hold your brush without it slipping. To my surprise, we actually painted on the backside of the cel, the smooth side. Instead of painstakingly trying to paint within the raised ink on the front side. This essentially guarantees that you fill in all of the empty space. As we glided our paint slowly in each section I found myself utterly relaxed and in a state of zen. To me this was like therapy. While others around me found the task of not overlapping Mickey's red pants into his yellow buttons too much to bare. I heard one woman state, 'This is so stressful'. The sharpened chopstick laid next to our paintbrush at the beginning of the workshop was there so that once a layer of paint dried, you could go in a scrap off any overlap past the inked outline.

Lynn took us through spontaneously from color to color. Starting with his red pants, then allowing that to dry while we worked on his pale face. Then going back to his yellow shoes and buttons once the red was dry enough. David would come around and answer questions we had and even looked closer at our work to provide some individual tips. In the end, you're left with an interesting collection of pools of paint. Since all the work is done on the backside, black details of the ink like Mickey's pupils and markings on his glove are hidden on the backside. We would have to wait until the entire cel was dry to flip it and see our final product. Lynn suggested that if we were too eager to wait, we could carefully lift the cel into the light and look underneath. However, there is the danger of spilling the wet paint down the cel. A risk I wasn't prepared to take.

In the end the entire session lasted nearly 90 minutes. We cleaned up our brushes and carefully placed the lids back on the containers of paint. We were then told that the blue tote bags hanging from our chairs were ours to keep and carry out with the reading material provided and eventually our ink and paint cel. We were then informed that Cast Members would collect each of our cels, which were labeled with our names. They would be careful stored backstage to dry. Then came the tricky part, we would have to come collect our cels at least a couple of hours later on that day to take it home. We weren't allowed to come back on another day to collect our pieces and the latest we could return to the Odyssey to pick up was at 8pm. For me this was tricky because I intended to circle to the back of World Showcase for the rest of the day an exit out the International Gateway exit to head back to my hotel. I would have to make a detour back to this location, and well before the start time of fireworks.

In the end I made a few adjustments in my itinerary to make it work. And when I returned to the Festival ShowPlace just before 8pm, I informed a Cast Member named Rick that I was there to collect my cel. He quickly stepped backstage as I watched from a far the final Animation Academy session of the day. A part of me was expecting to get my cel and see a scrappy mess of colors around Mickey Mouse. But at least, I had a relaxing 90 minute session of learning something new and possibly discovering a new hobby. Then Rick returned with my folder and the final cel inside. As I opened up the blue folder, I was stunned to see a beautiful portrait of Mickey Mouse. A Cast Member cleaning up the food tables nearby looked over my shoulder and said, 'Wow! Congratulations.' She was as shocked as I was at such a great final result.

Final Ink & Paint Cel

In the end, the Ink & Paint Workshop was a huge success for me. If you're a fan of the visual arts and want to learn more about the traditional ink and paint process, this is a fantastic workshop to attend. The only advice I would give is to allow plenty of time and make sure you can get back to the Odyssey by 8pm. If you're like me and go to the parks and events regularly, this is great if you're looking for something different to do. However, a 90-minute workshop does eat up a lot of valuable time. So this may mean you'll have to skip out on a big attraction or a few less countries in World Showcase. If you're visiting the festival over the course of 2 days, then this is an excellent midday break and you'll have plenty of time to see everything at Epcot. Even if you have no experience using a paintbrush, this is still an easy workshop to do. It's essentially a glorified paint by numbers activity, but you learn so much in the process. I loved it because I paid for a unique experience and still got to take a few souvenirs home, the bag was a great bonus to me.

This workshop is priced at $39 per person and Annual Passholders do get a discount. I highly recommend booking in advance because this is very popular and does sell out. The only downside to the whole experience is that with the t-shirt printing store, the merchandise stand and the Food Studio all housed inside the ShowPlace, it can get a little noisy. I think this festival and these workshops are getting popular enough now that it's time to move them to a quieter space so you can hear the speaker. But the upside to that is that if you're still unsure about paying extra for this, you can watch the entire workshop from the back of the space at no cost. Otherwise, this was one the most interesting activities I've ever participated in at the parks and at a modest price. I am biased because of my love for the arts. However this offering along with the rest of the festival makes this event my absolute favorite at Epcot.

For a full list of details on this and other workshops during the festival, click here.

Make sure you also check out my full playlist of episodes on the 2019 Epcot Festival of the Arts on my YouTube channel!