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Artist Illustrates Life-Like Disney Characters

His illustrations of human-like characters have gone viral again as Disney continues to roll out live-action remakes of old animated films.
Posted at 9:13 PM, Dec 07, 2018

Do these illustrations look familiar? Since 2011, Jirka Väätäinen has given Disney characters a human face-lift. His artwork has gone viral before and is gaining traction again since Disney has been rolling out realistic remakes of their animated tales like "Beauty and the Beast" and upcoming movie "Aladdin." 

"I'd say that nostalgia has been a big part of this series. That's like one of the main inspirations behind every character," said Väätäinen, a graphic designer.

Väätäinen uses Photoshop to make his ideas come to life. His first illustration was Ursula, the villain in "The Little Mermaid."

"She's my favorite Disney character to begin with, and I think I really captured how I pictured her and the childhood memories I've got of her in the film."

He started creating the illustrations just for fun, moving on to the princesses after Ursula. Once his artwork went viral, Disney commissioned him to work on a series of villains.  When that project ended, the artist moved on to male characters. He continues to create these illustrations for free — and for fun.  

"I literally look at hundreds of people for each one, so it's not heavily based on anyone in particular," Väätäinen said. "It's kind of like Frankenstein in a weird way, if that makes sense."

For example, Väätäinen  says the evil step sisters in "Cinderella" were modeled after the Kardashians, Hadid sisters and other social media mavens. 

"I want to make them more modern and relatable to that crowd that's following all these people that we know in social media and news outlets," Väätäinen said.

With his earlier works, Väätäinen spent about 20 hours working on a character. Now he's putting in more time. His upcoming illustration, King Triton from "The Little Mermaid," has taken him more than a year and it's still not complete.

Over the last few years, perhaps banking on nostalgia, Disney has been turning their animated classics into "live-action" non-animated films. It cost $160 million to make the live-action "Beauty and the Beast" and it grossed more than $1 billion in worldwide box office sales. While Disney brings in revenue from these remakes, Väätäinen gets new ideas for future projects.

"They're casting a new film. I'm like, that gets me thinking about how I would cast that film or how I would see those characters. So, sometimes I do kind of react to that news and create some artwork as well," Väätäinen said.

Disney will release three remakes next year: "Aladdin," "Dumbo," and "The Lion King," which could inspire Väätäinen's upcoming illustrations.