Influential animation visual development and story artist Sue Nichols Maciorowski died on September 1 in East Longmeadow, MA, at just 55 years old. A sparkling creative force behind many Walt Disney Feature Animation classics and contemporary favorites — from Hercules to Moana Nichols Maciorowski had been battling an aggressive form of breast cancer for several years.
In a tribute posted online, Nichols Maciorwoski’s family noted: “Sue may be gone but her legacy remains with us in the credits of many Disney films and publications she contributed to as an accomplished artist. Since she was eight years old, she knew she wanted to be a Disney artist and drew on sidewalks and walls and entered many contests. Her work can be seen in East Longmeadow town books and anniversary memorials. Her latest design was the seal commemorating the 125th anniversary of East Longmeadow.”
Disney Animation remembered the late artists on its Twitter feed, adding a thread of posts detailing Nichols Maciorowski’s work behind the scenes that fed into the onscreen visuals fans around the world have fallen in love with.
We’re deeply saddened by the passing of Sue Nichols Maciorowski, an influential visual development and story artist who helped define the design and narratives of the films of the Disney Renaissance and beyond. pic.twitter.com/eiHb2GwOn4
— Disney Animation (@DisneyAnimation) September 3, 2020
The thread continued:
- On Beauty and the Beast, she contributed to both visual development and story and created early visual development artwork for Aladdin. From there, she provided character design and visual development on The Lion King, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mulan, and Lilo & Stitch.
- On Hercules, she created a style guide that defined Greek design, and supervised the look of the film across layout, animation, effects, color styling and more. The title “Production Stylist” was created for her, as no one had done a similar role before at Disney Animation.
- For The Princess and the Frog, she suggested Harlem Renaissance artists such as Aaron Douglas as inspiration for Tiana’s song “Almost There,” helping storyboard and design the stylized sequence. Most recently, she created early character designs of Maui for Moana.
- From Animator and Director Eric Goldberg: “She will be sadly missed by those of us who had the good fortune to work with her, but her influence on those films will be there forever.”
Nichols Maciorowski has a lifelong passion for drawing, and got her first paid animation gig while a student at CalArts in the latter half of the 1980s. While still working on her BFA, she was hired onto the My Little Pony at Marvel Productions before hopping over to Emmy-winning Muppet Babies. Her entry into the hallowed halls of Disney Feature Animation was concept art and R&D on Aladdin before the movie got the green light. She then joined producer Don Hahn’s teams on Beauty and the Beast, learning the finesse of storyboarding from Annie Award winner Ed Gombert. The rest, as they say, is history.
Over the course of her career, Nichols Maciorwoski took on many diverse creative roles — from director, art director and head of story to children’s book illustrator, toy designer, costume/set designer and lecturer. Outside of Disney and Pixar, she had worked with major kids’ and entertainment companies including Marvel, Hasbro, Turner Feature Animation, LeapFrog and UglyDolls. Before her death, she had been freelancing out of her home in Massachusetts.
We highly recommend visiting Nichols Maciorowski’s website, www.mothernichols.com, and scrolling through her decade-by-decade filmography, where the passionate storyteller shared many anecdotes, career lessons and insights from her time working on these beloved films.
Nichols Maciorowski is survived by her husband, Chester “JR” Maciorowski, her children Stephanie and Jonathan Maciorowski, both parents, three siblings and their spouses, eight nieces and nephews, and many dear friends.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Sue’s name to Baystates Ray of Hope, which supports people with breast cancer in Massachusetts and raises funding support for breast cancer research.
[H/T Tom Sito, InsideTheMagic]