Tasting Room

An Interview with an Expert Disney Character Artist


We talk all things Mickey Mouse (The True Original) with Disney Director of Character Art Jeff Shelly Jeff Shelly has been drawing Mickey Mouse for over 30 years, and (lucky for us!) created …

We talk all things Mickey Mouse (The True Original) with Disney Director of Character Art Jeff Shelly

Jeff Shelly has been drawing Mickey Mouse for over 30 years, and (lucky for us!) created original illustrations for our Mickey Collector 3pc Candy Bento Box® in 2018. We sat down with Jeff to find out what it’s like to animate Mickey, and get behind-the-scenes look at the iconic designs in our sweetest collaboration yet. All ears for learning why these treats are so special? Read on below! Q: How did you get started as a Disney character artist? Did you always know you wanted to draw Mickey? A: The very first moment I knew I wanted to draw Mickey was in art school – I walked into class one day and saw my teacher, who was a well-known Disney animator, do live sketches of Donald Duck. I remember watching him and thinking how fun that would be. He taught us how to draw the characters in an animated style (versus an illustrated style), with life and energy. Everything is about rhythm for these characters—they need fluidity in order not to appear rigid or stiff when they begin to move in animation. After graduation, I was living in New York City and found an opportunity to do freelance work for The Walt Disney Company. (I’ll never forget how nervous I was to drop off my portfolio at 21 years old, all dressed up in a suit!) I was an in-house freelancer for five years, and eventually brought on staff. When the headquarters moved to Los Angeles, I was one of the first team members who came along, and the rest is history!
Q: What does a day in the life look like for you? A: I oversee a team of artists to train and develop their work, as well as review product created by Disney’s partners around the world. I am often the final sign-off on Mickey designs from all product categories, which includes not only looking at the renderings themselves but also the charm in each drawing that is so key to representing Mickey’s personality. Q: Mickey is known as a “True Original” – why do you think that is? A: Mickey is an every-person’s kind of character – he was a little mischievous in the early days, but as his character developed he became an everyday personality, a trustworthy and wholesome role model. Mickey represented who you wanted to be. Q: How does Mickey inspire originality? A: From the beginning in the animated short films to fans knowing him from the theme parks, Mickey has always been a character fans respond to with positive emotion. Sometimes when I have done live drawings for an audience on a big illustration pad, people have teared up seeing Mickey take shape in front of them. It’s pretty amazing.
Q: As an artist, what is your favorite style of Mickey to draw? A: The classics, especially Plane Crazy. There are about 9 different eras of Mickey that I draw regularly and each style has its own look and identity. Once you know the core language of drawing Mickey, the others are like learning a similar dialect. Drawing Mickey is different every day—I get so many requests for different ways to animate him, I could never get tired of it. With each one, I’m always trying to make it better than the last Q: What is the most fun expression or characteristic of Mickey’s to bring to life? What is the most important thing to get right when drawing Mickey? A: His big smile with his mouth open, but his playful look with his tongue sticking out is also fun! Drawing Mickey starts with a perfect circle, everything hinges around that. Beyond that, the energy of a character drawing is the eyes; it’s the first thing I look at when reviewing a rendering of Mickey. If the eyes are off, it affects the entire piece.
Q: You created original illustrations for our 3pc Candy Bento Box® that make it a truly unique collector’s item. What are the five looks shown inside the pop-up diorama, and what inspired you to choose them? A: These are some of my favorite Mickey styles to draw: starting with Steamboat Willie in the background, followed by Brave Little Tailor, then Fantasia, a classic design based off of the 1950s-1960s Mickey comic strips, and finally, contemporary Mickey.
Q: Like so many around the world, Mickey reminds us at Sugarfina that imagination is sweet. Do you have any advice you can share about using imagination, in art or in life? A: Look for inspiration everywhere! I always carry a sketchbook with me to create impromptu drawings, whether it’s people at a coffee shop or just things in my head.
Q: What is your favorite sweet treat in the Disney Mickey Mouse x Sugarfina candy collection? A: I’m partial to the Mickey Ears, but I love the Chocolate Bars because of the Mickey-shaped sprinkles on top! A big thank you to Jeff for answering our questions, and teaching us more about the True Original! This candy collection is no longer available, but shop other classic and inventive candies at sugarfina.com and at Sugarfina locations.