Live actors in costume served as models for the animators. The role of Prince Phillip was modeled by Ed Kemmer, who had played Commander Buzz Corry on television's Space Patrol five years before Sleeping Beauty was released. For the final battle sequence Kemmer was photographed on a wooden buck. All the live actors' performances were later screened for the animators' reference.
For the first time on a Disney animated feature, one man, Eyvind Earle, was in charge of the color styling, background design, and the overall look of the film, even painting the great majority of the production backgrounds for this film. Earle's modernistic approach to design and painting resulted provided this film a bold, unique art style, even though his colleagues did not care for his production methods and art style while the film was in production. The elaborate background paintings usually took seven to ten days to paint. By contrast, a typical animation background takes one workday to complete.
Shot on a 35mm Technirama double-frame negative (which is as big as two regular Academy frames joined together) running horizontally through the animation camera, with each frame photographed three times (once with a red filter, once with a blue filter, and once with a green filter). This negative was then printed on both CinemaScope-compatible anamorphic film and Super Technirama 70mm film, the first film released in Super Technirama 70.
Much of the musical score is based on Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's ballet "Sleeping Beauty". The musical score throughout the film was recorded by the Berlin Symphony Orchestra. The ominous piece of music to which Maleficent hypnotizes Aurora into pricking her finger is called "Puss-in-Boots and the White Cat." In Tchaikovsky's ballet, it is used for a comic number in which two cats snarl at and try to scratch each other. Various movements from The Sleeping Beauty ballet underwent some reworking for the Disney film. The opening song (Hail to the Princess Aurora) is actually the ballet's second movement, after the overture. Also, the theme playing when the three fairies clean the cottage is based on "The Silver Fairy" movement, which, in its original form, is barely a minute long.
This was the last Disney feature to have cels inked by hand. From 101 Dalmatians onward, the cleaned-up pencil drawings were xeroxed onto the cels. However, some of the scenes in this movie did use the xerography process.
In active production from 1951 until the end of 1958, setting a record (for which it is tied with another 70mm Disney film, The Black Cauldron) for being the Disney animated film with the longest production schedule.
Second only to Dumbo (who didn't speak at all), this Disney title character has only about 18 lines of actual dialogue throughout the entire film in which she only appears in the film for 18 minutes and which is actually about the three fairies who protect her, not about the Sleeping Beauty herself. Rose/Aurora is only featured in the film in very few scenes and hardly says anything. Her first line is spoken 19 minutes into the film, and her last is delivered after she learns of her betrothal 39 minutes into the film. However, she does sing two songs during this time frame.
The Disneyland castle was named for this film, even though the park opened four years prior to the film's release. Among the actresses who performed in reference footage for this film included Spring Byington and Frances Bavier. Madge Blake and Spring Byington were among the actresses who did some live action doubling as the fairy godmothers for the help of the animators. The voice artistes were not chosen because they weren't pudgy enough.
Several story points for this film came from discarded ideas from Walt Disney's previous fairy tale involving another sleeping heroine: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. They include Maleficent's capture of the Prince and the Prince's daring escape from her castle. Disney discarded these ideas from Snow White because he believed that his artists were not able to draw a human male believably enough.
Walt Disney suggested that all three fairies should look alike, but veteran animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston disagreed with this idea, saying that having them be alike wouldn't be exciting. Also, the idea originally included seven fairies instead of three.
In the traditional Italian version of this fairy tale, the Sleeping Beauty is named Princess Aurora. In the German version, she is named Briar Rose. The film incorporates both names by having Princess Aurora use the name Briar Rose while undercover.
Famed Warner Bros. animation director Chuck Jones worked on the film briefly when Termite Terrace closed temporarily during the late 1950s. He found the atmosphere at Walt Disney Productions oppressive because everything anyone did there had to be approved by Walt Disney before, during, and after the process of production. He was more than happy when Warner's animation department reopened, where he stayed until it closed again in 1964.
Eleanor Audley - one of Walt Disney's favorite voice artistes, most memorably as the Wicked Stepmother in Cinderella - initially turned the part of Maleficent down, much to Disney's surprise. As it later transpired, Audley was in the midst of battling a bout of tuberculosis and didn't want to tax her voice too much. Fortunately, she changed her mind.
George Bruns initially started scoring the film in Los Angeles in 4-track stereo, until he got wind of a new studio in Berlin that used 6-track stereo, so he decamped for Germany. Bruns' efforts were rewarded with an Oscar nomination..
Such was the attention to detail brought about by the widescreen process was that some of the character animators were only capable of producing one drawing of their characters a day. 24 drawn images are needed to make up one second of movement on film.
This was in production at the Disney Studios for nearly a decade. Story work began in 1951, voices were recorded in 1952, the actual animation took place between 1953 and 1958 and the stereophonic score was recorded in 1957.
The restoration process involved four painstaking steps. The first step was to scan the original negative into a computer and subject the entire print to a deflickering procedure, evening out all the worn images and creating a cohesive canvas upon which the restoration artists could work. This was then followed by roto-scoping to extract the principal characters, dust-busting to remove all traces of dust and scuffing, and then re-inserting the characters into their cleaned-up backgrounds. Then all 180,000 frames would be completely repainted by up to 40 people in a process that clocked up nearly 48,000 hours. Once complete, the final product is then scanned onto a new negative.
One of the film's iconic scenes - when Briar Rose meets Prince Phillip for the first time to the tune of "Once Upon a Dream" - was called Sequence 8 when it was being produced. It was a particularly hard sequence to get right (Walt Disney rejected it several times) and ultimately had to be done 4 times, almost bankrupting the studio in the process.
There was a scene storyboarded in which one of the fairies were attempting to make the cake without using the wand but jump out went right through the roof. But Walt Disney decided not to use it, to make the movie short.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The little-known second half of the original Sleeping Beauty fable involves the Prince's attempts to protect Sleeping Beauty and their children from his mother who is an ogress. In the end, of course, she is thwarted and jumps into a pot of live serpents to avoid being killed by her own son.