When graphic designer Jirka Väätäinen from Kuopio, Finland, first started his project on what Disney characters might look like in real life, he didn’t expect anyone to see them.
“One day, back in 2011, I just got this idea to entertain and challenge myself by reimagining Ursula in a more realistic way,” Väätäinen says. “It was fun so I did the same with a few other characters and posted them on the blog that I kept for my university studies.”
The rest is history. Someone stumbled upon his real life Disney characters and shared them, creating an online phenomenon. This year, inundated with requests for more, Väätäinen published a collection of Disney hunks. It has been viewed by literally millions of people.
Childhood nostalgia meets adult ambition
So, why Disney? Väätäinen confesses he’s been a fan ever since he was a child, having grown up with classics from The Little Mermaid to Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.
“It’s the sense of nostalgia that has made this such an inspiring and fun project. I still try to see every Disney film that comes out but I’ve not seen them all, for example Atlantis. That’s why I haven’t created any of its characters,” he says.
As an adult, Väätäinen has always been interested in character design, the way people look and the things that make them unique. ”It was fascinating to take characters we all know and love, and combine real-life looks with some of the unrealistic quirks in their original designs.”
Separated at birth?
Speculation is rife about whether Väätäinen has based his illustrations on actual real people. Though he says he believes there’s certain magic in subtle resemblance to someone people might recognize, he denies ever intentionally attempting this.
“Of course I get inspired by likenesses and borrow people’s features that remind me of the characters. But in the end, my personal vision of them is born from hundreds of image sources drowned in manipulation, blending, mixing and digital painting,” he explains.
From Finland to funland
In January 2015, a working holiday visa brought Väätäinen from Helsinki to Melbourne, Australia, where he claims to be enjoying life to the fullest. “At times,” he says, “the Australian lifestyle seems much more easygoing for me – people seem to be naturally making the most of the joys in their everyday life.”
Who knows whether that’s because of sunnier weather or national characteristics, but it doesn’t stop Väätäinen loving his native Finland. Next year, he might be back in Helsinki again. One thing that’s for sure is that he’s carrying on with his work on real life Disney characters, having promised his fans to add certain characters to the series. And, excitingly enough, he is planning to soon embark on another project, too. As for what it is, he tells us to just stay tuned and see. We certainly will.
Scroll down below for more of Väätäinen’s Disney magic…