Culture. Eat it

30 September 2015



by Sara Cartelli

Have you ever tried to imagine how Disney’s characters would look like in real life? The graphic designer and illustrator Jirka Väätäinen did it, with a surprising result. Belle, Aurora, Cinderella, Tarzan and Aladdin, as well as many others, have gained human form through the photo-manipulation and digital painting. That’s why I decided to interview him.

Hi Jirka, thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. Tell us a little about yourself. What is your background? How did you get your start as an illustrator and graphic designer?

I’m a 26 year-old guy. Born and raised in Finland. Ever since I was a kid, I have been doing arts related stuff and exercised my creative side on my freetime as much as possible. So it was a rather natural progression for me to turn this natural flair into a career and get a degree in Graphic Design.
I studied abroad in the UK, at Arts University Bournemouth. I have been working as a graphic designer, mostly in advertising (and in Helsinki) since I graduated in 2012.  SInce the the beginning of 2015 I have been based in Melbourne Australia where I am planning to spend the rest of the year freelancing.

How would you describe your approach?

Having worked in advertising and mainly doing design work for clients, I try to approach a new project from a perspective that is appropriate for the brief you have gotten. So there is not one single idea or an approach that I live by. I try to take in a project and find the relevant set of information, inspiration and way of thinking to approach the project at hand. In the end, design is often about problem solving – and creating an impact is what you want to achieve in the end.

I was really impressed by your project “Envisioning Disney Girls/Guys in Real Life”.  How was this project born? 

The idea for doing these characters basically came out of nowhere; one day (back in 2011) I just thought about exploring what the character of Ursula from the Little Mermaid could look like in real life. Having grown up with a lot of these characters, the sense of nostalgia made it such a fascinating and a fun personal project to explore and carry on with. Also, I have always been interested in character design, as well as the way people look and what makes them unique in their appearances. So I was inspired by the idea of recreating these characters that we all know and love, in a way I would imagine them to look like if they were “more real,” while still staying somewhat true to the unrealistic quirksin their original character designs.

What kind of research did you do to create the Real-Life Disney characters?

Since I grew up with a lot of these characters, I usually have a pre-conceived vision of these characters in my head. But of course, a lot of the times I need to watch clips to remind me of the characters personality to be able to convey that in my work. And pictures of the character as well and pay attention to the details in the original character design. I also research and look for real-life people and pictures that somehow remind me of the character that I am doing.

Did you have a favourite character to work on and why? 

I tend to favour working on the characters that I grew up with. Especially The Little Mermaid was one of my favourite films as a kid – and still is, so all the characters from that film that I have done I had a lot of fun with.

How do you set the mood when you work?

I simply try to get excited by the project at hand and be inspired by the different aspects of it. Feeling challenged by what I am doing always gets me in the mood! And a good cup of coffee doesn’t hurt.

Last question. What does the word creativity mean to you?

For me it is about having fun with what you’ve got at hand – it is the thoughts and ideas you have when approaching a problem/blank canvas/brief/etc. You can be creative in so many ways and in different areas in life. I find being creative is a skill that we all have to some extent.


Disney Girls in Real Life - Jirka Väätäinen_6Ursula from the Little Mermaid

Disney Girls in Real Life - Jirka Väätäinen_1
Alice in Wonderland

Disney Girls in Real Life - Jirka Väätäinen_2
Snow White

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Disney Girls in Real Life - Jirka Väätäinen_5
Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty

Disney Guys in Real Life - Jirka Väätäinen_1
Prince Adam / Beast from Beauty and the Beast

Disney Guys in Real Life - Jirka Väätäinen_2
Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid

Disney Guys in Real Life - Jirka Väätäinen_3


Disney Guys in Real Life - Jirka Väätäinen_4


Image courtesy: Jirka Väätäinen
All images © Jirka Väätäinen, all rights reserved


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Sara Cartelli

Cogito Ergo Sum

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Sara Cartelli


Copywriter, content creator and mum with a huge passion for photography. Writing is a therapy that allows her to express her own personality and brings out her true voice. Better than a psychiatrist. Forever trying to find her way, at the time, she prefers to get lost.

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