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Disney artist Claire Keane's connection to Rapunzel is personal




Claire Keane, the visual development artist for the Disney TV channel cartoon “Tangled, The Series” shows a page from her sketchbook where she imagines what the princess character Rapunzel would look, act and be like. Photo courtesy of Disney.
Claire Keane, the visual development artist for the Disney TV channel cartoon “Tangled, The Series” shows a page from her sketchbook where she imagines what the princess character Rapunzel would look, act and be like. Photo courtesy of Disney.
Photo credit Richard Harbaugh, Photo courtesy of Disney.

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When Claire Keane was six years old, she wanted to paint the walls and ceiling in her bedroom with murals.

She never got to.

But decades later, Keane would find herself in a virtual fairytale tower castle, where her childhood dreams came true.

“Drawing,” Keane said flipping through a colorful sketchbook. “That’s where it’s at for me.”

Claire Keane reviews her latest pastel drawings at her art studio at her home in Venice. She uses pastel sketches to inspire artwork in other mediums.  “I can draw in color, which is kind of fun,” Keane says. “I feel more connected to drawing then I do to painting.” Photo by Erika Aguilar.
Claire Keane reviews her latest pastel drawings at her art studio at her home in Venice. She uses pastel sketches to inspire artwork in other mediums. “I can draw in color, which is kind of fun,” Keane says. “I feel more connected to drawing then I do to painting.” Photo by Erika Aguilar.
Photo by Erika Aguilar for KPCC

Keane is the creative brainchild behind the Disney character Rapunzel from the 2010 animated film “Tangled." The movie is about a lost princess held captive in a tower castle for 18 years by an evil woman pretending to be Rapunzel’s mother so she can reap the youthful, healing powers of the girl's lasso-like blonde hair.

As a visual development artist for the animated film, Keane designed the murals that Rapunzel painted on the walls of her tower. She also inspired the personality and identity of the Disney princess. That's thanks to her father Disney animation legend Glen Keane who was executive producer of “Tangled." 

“I really did get to know her quite intimately,” said Claire Keane. “She was like an alias for my life.”

On March 24, the Disney Channel is launching a new animated show, “Tangled, the Series” based on the 2010 film. After working on the "Tangled" movie, Keane was asked to act as the visual development artist for the series, too.

The show follows the adventures of Rapunzel after she leaves life in the tower castle but before she resumes her official duties as Princess of Corona. Rapunzel has a lot of exploring to do in the world and within herself.

Claire Keane describes Rapunzel as an “irrepressible spirit,” an optimist who is always choosing to see the positive side of things despite having been trapped in isolation, which gives her a bit of a stubborn quality, much like herself, Keane said.

“She has this whole imaginative world going on around her,” said Keane. ”She’s just lives and breathes art."

The father-daughter Keane duo added moments of their life to the story of Rapunzel. For example, during a scene in the Disney Channel TV movie “Tangled, Before Ever After,” which the network aired on March 10 to promote the launch of the series, Rapunzel’s mother gives her a blank sketchbook with a French message that reads, “Plus est en vous.” It translates to “There’s more in you.”

Keane said that scene was inspired by a moment she, her husband and her father shared one New Year’s Day at a French restaurant in Bruges. The restaurant gave the patrons small figurines with that message on it: “Plus est en vous.”

“This is the theme of this movie,” said Glen Keane. “That there’s something inside of [Rapunzel], this irrepressible spirit, that it cannot be contained. I’ve always seen Claire as an irrepressible, uncontainable energy force of creativity.”

The walls of her art studio at her home in Venice, California are loosely decorated with watercolor paintings, pastel drawings of deep blues, plums and magenta colors. They serve as inspiration for her next idea, an animated feature film, perhaps.

She’s got books on books of the greatest illustrators and animators and painters that have inspired her. One of them is “Lovely,” a book that she and a group of women animators and visual artists at Disney published about the personal artwork they’ve created.

“The industry is growing with more and more women. I don’t know what the numbers are but it’s still pretty low,” Keane said. “So, there is some kind of solidarity in meeting other girl artists in animation. I think it’s really special.”

Right now, Keane’s work is first done in pastels. In an elevated glass art room with a single window in the ceiling, Keane drapes an apron over her and pulls on a gas mask.

Claire Keane prefers to sketch first in dry pastels before transferring her artwork and ideas to another medium. “You have to work really big,” Keane said. “You can’t get into details because they’re kind of like clunky.” Photo by Erika Aguilar.
Claire Keane prefers to sketch first in dry pastels before transferring her artwork and ideas to another medium. “You have to work really big,” Keane said. “You can’t get into details because they’re kind of like clunky.” Photo by Erika Aguilar.
Photo by Erika Aguilar for KPCC

“With pastels, you have to work really big,” she said. “I like to work on something and then put more pastel on top and so the pastel goes absolutely everywhere. It’s just like a big cloud of dust and so that’s why I wear this gas mask.”

Everything in the glassy art studio is a deep purple color, like eggplant. Keane said she’s drawn to the color because it’s a dreamy way to illustrate nighttime, sleep, dreams and fantasy, which are a great source of her imagination.

Keane treasures one thing in her studio most: a framed line-drawing sketch of the Disney character Ariel from the movie “The Little Mermaid.” Her father gave it to her on her 12th birthday.

A note on the bottom reads, “To Claire, who sings as beautifully as Ariel. Love, Dad.”

Her father Glen Keane designed Ariel after Claire’s mother. He based the Disney character Tarzan on his son Max who was always skateboarding as a kid, and so much of Rapunzel’s character was drawn from Claire’s personality, he said.

His father, Claire's grandfather, cartoonist Bil Keane created the comic strip “The Family Circus.”And he too took from his family for his art.

“The advice he was giving was draw what you know,” Glen Keane said. “If you’re drawing what you believe and connects to you, it’s going to connect to the audience.”

Claire Keane’s father, Disney animation legend Glen Keane reviews sketches his granddaughter Matisse has done at her home in Venice. The Keane family has an impressive resume of artistic talent from cartoonist Bil Keane of “The Family Circus,” to Glen Keane’s animation work at Disney on “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast,” to now Claire Keane’s work on the Disney animated movie and TV series “Tangled.” Photo by Erika Aguilar.
Claire Keane’s father, Disney animation legend Glen Keane reviews sketches his granddaughter Matisse has done at her home in Venice. The Keane family has an impressive resume of artistic talent from cartoonist Bil Keane of “The Family Circus,” to Glen Keane’s animation work at Disney on “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast,” to now Claire Keane’s work on the Disney animated movie and TV series “Tangled.” Photo by Erika Aguilar.
Photo by Erika Aguilar for KPCC

Claire said she seems to be doing the same thing with her latest book “Little Big Girl,” which is about her daughter becoming a big sister to her baby brother.

“I think that it comes from a desperate need for inspiration, so you’re just grasping at whatever is around you.”

"Tangled: The Series" is on Disney Channel. For more stories like this subscribe to The Frame podcast on iTunes.



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