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Consider it a sort of “genetic modification” – but rather than splicing genes, Story Artist Ryan Green and Animation Supervisor Mike Greenholt were tasked with shifting pen, ink and pixels to help craft an animal never-before-seen, but one with traits familiar to millions in a 3+ year process working with the Director and Story Team on the design for Gruff, the titular Neverbeast in DisneyToon Studios’ TINKER BELL AND THE LEGEND OF THE NEVERBEAST (out March 3). For this task, what was particularly interesting in creating a fictional new species is that in addition to animation, Green actually holds a degree in Biology.

“We got a lot of inspiration from Dian Fossey [subject of GORILLAS IN THE MIST] who went out to the wilderness to research the Gorillas. So Fawn and Pixie Hollow, she knows every single Animal in Pixie Hollow except for this one guy. And it’s interesting that when we started, we didn’t even really know who he was,” says Green about both designing the character, and about Fawn’s curiosity – evident in the clip below featuring KT Tunstall’s “Strange Sight.”

“I enjoyed the ‘Strange Sight’ sequence,” added Green about Fawn’s explorative observation scene. “Fawn’s basically bonding with the Neverbeast and trying to figure him out at first, and by the end of the song, she’s basically figured out that he’s trying to build these towers. She’s helping out a little bit, and he’s tolerating it, so it’s the first little moment that they’re actually bonding.”

Careful consideration was given to Gruff’s complete makeup, starting with skeletal drawings that Green completed to see “what might be under that fur.” In the end, there’s strong elements that point to the Neverbeast’s diet as a herbivore – utilizing the hump of a bison, and creating a center of gravity (and walking pattern) akin to a hippo or rhinoceros. Combine a tail that functions much like a possum, and emotions and quirks similar to that of a puppy, and you have a very unique beast with some huge surprises in-store.

“We had a lot of great design and reference from story before we went into animation. The big challenge for us was to make him seem believable. Even though he’s a fantasy creature, he had to feel like he was a living and breathing animal,” said Greenholt about the process of bringing the Neverbeast to life as a fully-realized digital character.

“The first big challenges were just to make him move like an animal. From there, we had to make him emote like an animal. The thing we didn’t want to do was make Gruff look like he was a man in a costume or someone wearing makeup.”

Having seen the film already, I can assure you that Gruff is a believable Neverbeast, indeed.

Disney’s TINKER BELL AND THE LEGEND OF THE NEVERBEAST is available on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere on Tuesday, March 3, 2015.

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Top Photo: Mike Greenholt and Ryan Green | Credit: Kayvon Esmali ©Disney

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