Saturday, September 15, 2012

Interview with Artist Steve Thompson

Over the last seven years, Steve Thompson has enjoyed the enviable position of Principle Designer for the creative team at the Disney Store. In this relatively short period of time, he's amassed a substantial portfolio of Disney-themed designs, including a good number involving Snow White. Once the products hit the stores, his merchandise tends to sell out quickly. Probably his most successful line to date has been the Disney Princess Designer Collection of 2011. Not long ago, Steve graciously took a little time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his work, with a particular emphasis on his Snow White creations.

FILMIC LIGHT: Tell us a little about your background and how you came to be a Principle Designer for the Disney Store?
STEVE THOMPSON: Sure. I started with the Walt Disney Company in 1994 as a senior character artist for Disney Consumer Products (DCP) working on Pocahontas. After a year with DCP, I went over to Disney Feature Animation and started on my first film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I worked in the animation department as an assistant animator until 2003. From there, I went on to Disney Toon Studios as a key assistant animator and character designer on a few films. I also started freelancing again for DCP doing Disney Princess artwork. These opportunities lead to my current position with Disney Store, where I've been since 2005.

Steve at his animation desk, 2011.

FM: You've personally worked on a wide array of artistic designs, many involving characters from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. What is it you find most appealing about the original animation art from this film?
ST: I am still in awe of the animation from Snow White. The animators on the film were the first ever to work on a full length animated feature, something that had never been done before. The artistic achievement was way ahead of its time. At Disney Store, the original films are always the first source of inspiration for any product we create. Luckily, Disney has created some of the most beautiful animated features of our time, so there is endless inspiration to pull from.

FM: Can you share something about the development process at Disney Store of how an item goes from the idea stage to finished product? And what is your role in this process?
ST: I am involved in every step of production, from initial concept to the final approval process for the product I work on. I still draw everyday at my animation desk. I start off doing research on my projects and approach each film or character as if it's brand new.

For example, I did a Snow White Garden Collection (an assortment of Snow White products for the home and garden) a few years back. I first thought about the era the film was released in, what art styles were popular at the time, the film palette, etc. I settled on an "arts and crafts" style and took inspiration from there. The arts and crafts art style is all about natural and outdoorsy elements: wood and ceramics with a muted palette that so perfectly matched the aesthetic of the film. It was a natural fit for Snow White, and I am still very proud of how that collection turned out. I also work with the sculptors and painters to make sure each piece looks just the way I first imagined it on paper. The whole process takes about 12-16 months from initial concept to store release.

2008 Snow White Garden Set + 2009 Wishing Well Snowglobe

FM: The 2008 Garden Set is a wonderful example of your Snow White work. Another is the 2009 Wishing Well Snowglobe. Can you share a little more about these or other merchandise you've designed?
ST: Once I knew we were doing a garden-themed collection and settled on an art style, I went about researching the types of things people would want or need for the outdoors. Garden figurines, a bird feeder , bird house, wind chimes, candle holder and ceramic coasters for your table were a few of the items I developed. Some items, like the bird feeder and bird house just seemed like natural items to design. The Dwarfs’ cottage made a perfect bird house, as did the wishing well for the bird feeder. I try to tell a story with the product I design and let each film dictate the type of product we make.

I have also worked on a number of other snowglobes, ornaments, figurines, jewelry boxes and frames. I approach each one differently, but always try to capture a moment from the film or a feeling that guests can relate to.

FM: You are well known for your character re-designs. Your Snow White artwork appeared in The Art of the Disney Princess book (Disney Editions, 2009) and was also used in the Kidada series. Tell us about this design and also about your role in the collaboration with Kidada Jones.
ST: Kidada is a great creative mind and we instantly bonded over our mutual love for all things Disney. She’s done beautiful Disney jewelry for years, and so a collaboration with Disney Store just made sense. Based on initial conversations, we decided to use storybook art for the packaging of her first line of charms, The Charming Collection.  I was happy to revisit designs from The Art of Disney Princess, and add a few new characters like Tiana and Belle in that style.

Art of Disney Princess piece, 2009 + Kidada Jones with Steve, 2011

Read Steve's tumblr article on how this artwork was brought off the shelf to be used not only with The Art of the Disney Princess and the Kidada line but also as a limited edition signed canvas giclee from Acme Archives Direct (currently available).

FM: The 2011 Disney Princess Designer Collection was a huge success and this year's Villains Designer Collection looks to be on the same track. Did the enthusiasm for this series take you by surprise? Or did you kind of have a feeling these would be special?
ST: In the back of my mind I knew the princesses were special, but I never expected the response to be what it was. I think it took everyone by surprise. So far the response to Villains has been amazing.

Princess Designer Collection at Disney Store's Fashion Night Out Event NYC, 2011.

FM: Now be honest, isn't Snow White your favorite of the Designer ladies? OK seriously, do you have a character you like best to work with in your art?
ST: I do love Snow White. But, I really love all the Disney Princesses. I work with many of the classic film characters, but the Princesses hold a special place in my heart because I’ve done projects with the Princesses for so many years now. I know how important the Disney Princesses are to our Disney Store guests, how many great memories their characters hold for so many people. With this constantly in the back of my mind, I never take my job lightly .

FM: Are there any future Snow White items in the works that you can tell us about?
ST: There is a great ornament coming out of Snow White and Dopey that I designed this year. It launches in stores and online in September. You can see a preview of it on Disney Store’s Facbook page. And keep checking back with Disney Store, we are always introducing new and exciting products for our guests. 

See Steve's 2012 Christmas ornaments in the next post. And just in case you missed them, you can view more of his Snow White merch in several other posts including the:

All images copyright Disney Store/Steve Thompson.


  1. What a wonderful interview! It was a joy to read. Thank you for posting :)

  2. Nice interview, it's interesting how he went from working as an animator to designing these great products!

    1. Thanks Major. It is interesting how he got his feet wet in the animations pool before taking on his current assignment.