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It Takes More Than Three Circles to Craft a Classic Version of Mickey Mouse

06/09/2015 10:04 am ET | Updated Jun 09, 2016

You know what Mickey Mouse looks like, right? Little guy, big ears?

Truth be told, Disney's corporate symbol has a lot of different looks. If Mickey's interacting with Guests at Disneyland Park (especially this summer, when the Happiest Place on Earth is celebrating its 60th anniversary), he looks & dresses like this.

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Or when he's appearing in one of those Emmy Award-winning shorts that Disney Television Animation has produced (EX: "Bronco Busted," which debuts on the Disney Channel tonight at 8 p.m. ET / PT), Mickey is drawn in a such a way that he looks hip, cool, edgy & retro all at the same time.

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Looking ahead to 2017 now, when Disney Junior rolls out "Mickey and the Roadster Racers," this brand-new animated series will feature a sportier version of Disney's corporate symbol. One that Mouse House managers hope will persuade preschool boys to more fully embrace this now 86 year-old character.

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That's what most people don't realize about the Mouse. The Walt Disney Company deliberately tailors Mickey's look, even his style of movement, depending on what sort of project / production he's appearing in.

Take -- for example -- Disney California Adventure Park's "World of Color: Celebrate!" Because Disney's main mouse would be co-hosting this new nighttime lagoon show with ace emcee Neil Patrick Harris, Eric Goldberg really had to step up Mickey's game. Which is why this master animator created several minutes of all-new Mouse animation which then showed that Mickey was just as skilled a showman as Neil was.

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Better yet, let's take a look at what the folks at Avalanche Studios just went through as they attempted to create a Classic version of Mickey & Minnie. One that would then allow this popular pair to become part of Disney Infinity 3.0.

"I won't lie to you. We were under a lot of pressure to get the look of this particular version of Mickey -- he's called Red Pants Mickey around here -- just right," said Jeff Bunker, the VP of Art Development at Avalanche Studios, during a recent phone interview. "When we brought Sorcerer Mickey into Disney Infinity 2.0 back in January of 2014, that one was relatively easy because ... Well, everyone knows what Mickey Mouse looked like when he appeared in Fantasia."

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"But this time around, we were being asked to design THE Mickey & Minnie," Bunker continued. "And given that these Classic Disney characters have been around in various different forms for the better part of the last century ... Well, which look was the right look?"

Which is why Jeff and his team at Avalanche Studios began watching hours & hours of Mickey Mouse shorts. As they tried to get a handle on which look would work best for these characters in Disney Infinity 3.0.

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"And we went all the way back to the very start of Mickey's career. We began with Steamboat Willie and then watched all of those black & white Mickey shorts that Walt made back in the late 1920s & early 1930s. From there, we transitioned to his Technicolor shorts. Which is when Mickey went from being this pie-eyed, really feisty character to more of a well-behaved leading man," Bunker recalled. "We then finished out our Mouse marathon by watching all of those new Mickey shorts that Paul Rudish & his team have been creating for Disney Television Animation. Those cartoons really recapture a lot of the spirit and wild slapstick fun that Mickey's early, black & white shorts had."

But given that the specific assignment that Avalanche Studios had been handed was to create the most appealing looking, likeable version of Mickey Mouse possible ... In the end, Jeff and his team wound up borrowing bits & pieces from a lot of different versions of the world's most famous mouse. So that Classic Mickey would then look & move in a way that best fit the sort of gameplay which people would soon be able to experience with Disney Infinity 3.0.

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"That -- in a lot of ways -- was actually the toughest part of the Classic Mickey design project. You have to remember that one of the key creative conceits of Disney Infinity is that all the characters which appear in this game are toys," Bunker stated. "Okay. So they're beautifully detailed, highly stylized toy versions of beloved Disney, Pixar, Marvel & Lucasfilm characters. But they're still supposed to be toys. So our Classic versions of Mickey & Minnie have the same sort of thickness & sturdiness to them that toys have. So that they'll then be able to fit right in with all of the rest of the characters that Avalanche Studios had previously designed for Disney Infinity."

And then there was the matter of coming up with just the right pose for Classic Mickey & Minnie. Which -- to hear Jeff tell the story -- involved input from a lot of Disney upper management.

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"Everyone within the Company seemed to have an opinion about how Mickey & Minnie should be posed. More to the point, if you Google Mickey, you then discover that there are literally thousands of poses out there for these two. Though -- truth be told -- a lot of those kind of play off the way Mickey poses when he's being Disney's corporate symbol," Bunker said. "But what I was most concerned about was that Mickey's pose had to work with Minnie's pose. Because we were bringing the Classic versions of these characters up into Disney Infinity 3.0 at the exact same time. And we wanted to make sure -- especially for those fans who like to put their Disney Infinity figures on display -- that Mickey's pose would then complement Minnie.

Which is why Jeff & the crew at Avalanche Studios decided -- when it came to Classic Mickey & Minnie's pose -- that they should go all the way back to the beginning. Which is why these two Disney icons are sculpted in such a way that it almost seems as though you're witnessing the very first time Mickey set eyes on Minnie.

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"And what was really great about that was -- as soon as we began showing people within the Company this pose -- everyone at Disney quickly got on board with the idea. I mean, the Classic Mickey that we sculpted for Disney Infinity 3.0 is clearly a very playful, spunky character. But at the same time, he's obviously got eyes for Minnie," Bunker concluded. "So in the end, we were able to come up with Classic versions of these characters that will work well within the creative confines of Disney Infinity 3.0 but at the same time please those Disney fans who just collect these figures because they like the way the Disney Infinity characters look."

So now that this particular design project is over, does Jeff regret that Mouse House upper management was so hands-on when it came to making sure that the Classic versions of Mickey & Minnie were specifically tailored to fit the look & style of gameplay found in Disney Infinity 3.0?

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"To be blunt, we go through this every time we add a new character to the game. The folks at Lucasfilm were just as hands-on when we were designing the versions of Darth Vader & Yoda that will soon be appearing in Disney Infinity 3.0," Bunker laughed. "So in the end, if the character's creators AND the fans are happy, then I'm happy."