How Disney’s Animators Found The Genie’s Beloved Look For Aladdin

Every Disney animated film has begun with a piece of paper and pencil, including 1992’s Aladdin, which opened our eyes to “A Whole New World” and had us swept away by Robin Williams’ hilarious performance as Genie. In Disney+’s new docuseries Sketchbook, the lead animator behind Genie, Eric Goldberg, teaches you how to draw the beloved character. 

Sketchbook consists of six episodes, all of which feature another Disney animator taking on a character from the studio. In the third episode, Eric Goldberg goes back to his first gig with Disney, by showing viewers how to draft up your own Genie, along with sharing his own experiences with animation over the years. When CinemaBlend had the honor to speak to Goldberg about Sketchbook, I took him back to the first time he’d ever realized Genie had found his final form. Here’s what he shared: 

As our process works at Disney, we often have several visual development artists, so before my arrival at Disney, they already had various artists doing their versions of the Genie. They had a whole slew of people's first blush takes on what the character might look like. When I got there and started working on designs at first, I had an awful lot of stuff on the Genie, you know, the Genie would have horns or the Genie would have a turbon or he'd have a vest or he'd have a sash or any of those kinds of things. And we found, partially because of my love for the great Al Hirschfeld and his curve and linear drawings, that the simpler we made the Genie, the better he got. So by the time we paired him down to his complete bare essence where it's basically just his body, the sash and the whisk of smoke, that's when we realized, okay, that's the genie we need.

Each animated character we grow to love in a Disney film goes through multiple stages before becoming the one we recognize, and Genie was no different. As Eric Goldberg remembered, at one point Genie had way more to wear, but when he arrived on the project, Goldberg decided to make the character more simple. He harkened back to his love of American caricaturist Albert Hirschfeld for a clean silhouette. 

Genie ushered in a new era for animation in a lot of ways, because he was one of the first major actors to really sell doing voiceover in animation. The late Robin Williams, who, of course, had an incredible career in movies and TV, delivered a magnetic performance as Genie that was complete with impressions and pop culture references. 

Genie in Aladdin

(Image credit: Disney)

Disney fans often hear stories about famous films from its cast, but Sketchbook allows them to get to know the animators behind the characters they know and love. Eric Goldberg also shared this with CinemaBlend: 

I think really the thing about the series and about my episode as well is that I hope everybody goes, 'Hey, I can do that!' I hope everybody looks at it and goes, 'Oh yeah, I can pick up a pencil and do that. Hey, that's kind of cool'. You know, if you can't have fun when you're doing it, then why do it, and to be honest, there aren't too many creatures on the planet who actually want to draw, who wanna make a mark on a piece of paper. And I think humans kind of of have that cornered. So I think it's a very natural thing for people to want to draw. And I hope people derive that from watching the series in the show.

Along with breaking out as the lead animator for Genie in Aladdin, Eric Goldberg was the lead animator for Hercules’ Phil and The Princess and the Frog’s Lewis, and he also co-directed Pocahontas. You can check out how to draw Genie in Sketchbook with a Disney+ subscription. Aladdin and its recent live-action remake are also available to stream there.  Check back here on CinemaBlend for more exclusive interviews about Sketchbook

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.