As an artist, Claire Keane had the mother of all jobs working at Disney Feature Animation. Over the course of her 10 years at Disney, Keane worked on films including Tangled, Enchanted, and Frozen. It all seemed like destiny, of course, seeing as how Keane is a descendent of cartoon royalty: Her grandfather and uncle, Bil and Jeff Keane, respectively, created the comic strip The Family Circus and her dad, Glen Keane, worked in animation for Disney, bringing characters like Aladdin, Pocahontas, Tarzan, and Beast to life.
Despite the family legacy at the most magical studio on Earth, Keane left Disney in 2013 to work on illustrating children’s books. However, when she got the call that Tangled would be adapted into a Disney TV series, Keane found herself being pulled back in.
“Rapunzel is such a big part of me–I really started taking her on in a very personal way,” Keane says. “It was my experience on Tangled of being able to dive into this character in a way that’s not usually done mostly on movies. And so when [Tangled: The Series executive producer and supervising director Chris Sonnenburg] called me, I was so excited. There were so many other things that we could do with Rapunzel. It’s been fun to get back into her mind.”
For the Tangled film, Keane worked as a visual development artist, meaning she was responsible for fleshing out who Rapunzel was and how she interacted with her world. And for the series, Keane is continuing the work she established in adding dimension to Rapunzel.
“The fact that we didn’t know what she was going to do in her tower all day, that was a big point in making the movie. So I ended up asking myself what are the things that I do in my house when I’m not doing anything in particular?” Keane says. “I started keeping a journal of my life that translated into Rapunzel’s, and suddenly she became this very real character to me just because she was literally in my house with me 24/7–there was just this connection that I made with her.”
That’s exactly the most valuable advice Keane’s father passed along to her while she was building her career at Disney: believing in your characters. It’s a bit of insight into how Disney has become the billion-dollar enterprise it is today. It’s a brand built entirely on its characters who have to resonate with audiences, and to do that, the animators developing them need to establish a strong enough connection.
“There’s a reason why this story needs to be told, and I’m searching for it,” Keane says. “When it feels like we just need a goofy character because we’ve got a whole bunch of kids to entertain, I have to be able to feel that there’s a deeper reason for that character. And so we try to search deeper for that–it exists somewhere and I’m scratching away finding it.”