At San Diego Comic Con 2022, I came across an oil painting that featured Sora, Riku, Donald, Goofy, Mickey, and an unfinished Kairi. Determined to know more I spoke with Alexander Edwards who is the husband of the artist, Heather Edwards and we set up an interview at D23 Expo 2022 along with the CEO of Disney Fine Arts, Michael Young.
Here is a transcription of the interview of Heather and Michael!
– How did the inspiration for this piece come to you?
Heather: Well, the inspiration came from multiple angles actually. I know what I’m passionate about. I know other people are really passionate about what they love. My husband and his daughter are really passionate about Kingdom Hearts and I’ve watched them play and I’ve seen that passion in the midst of it and well… okay to be honest and funny at the same time when I play video games, I’m one those people that would end up on a youtube video because they’re making fun of me cause my character is going in circles and running into walls. Like my thumbs turn into lumps. So gaming is not my forte, this is more of my forte. But I’ve watched them and I’ve enjoyed watching that camaraderie that happens both with them playing and what is happening on the screen.
What I love about Kingdom Hearts was that what inspired me from the Kingdom Hearts is watching this friendship, this fight for light and good and one another and that to me resonates.That type of thing is what I stand for, what I love and what I put into my art.
And so as I’m watching the gameplay go through, I’m like “I get that. I can do that thing.” So as I watch them being passionate about what they love I’m like I can take that and do something they love and create something meaningful to me as well and hopefully other people who else enjoy the game and the same concept.
– What would you name this piece?
Heather: This piece is titled “Introduction of a Hero” which has reasons for that too. You can see each one of all these characters and as you play the game you realize there’s more than one hero, it’s not just a single player. It’s all of these other characters that come in and so you have Donald over here who ya know “Yeah I’m the hero.” You have Riku who’s looking at him going “Uh huh, sure. Maybe it’s me.” You have Mickey over here, “I have something to bring to this group. I have value, I can help you be that hero. I can be that hero too.” Goofy of course is like “I dunno, who’s the hero?”. Sora here, he’s just like “Dude, I’m here. I’m here for you. I’ll be that hero. I’ll let you be that hero. Of course Kairi is back here, I think she’s a little understated in the game, who knows maybe she is the hero and looking forward to the new game coming out. Maybe she’ll have that opportunity.
Sora if you look at him, he’s actually looking at the viewer inviting us as a viewer to be a hero who is actually that hero. They’re not announcing which one of them is but we all can be a hero to somebody and that to me is like what I love to share. We all have the capacity to be a hero.
– When and where will this art be displayed?
Heather: After today, of course it’ll be here at D23. It will eventually follow me, I’ll be taking it to FanX in Salt Lake City in a couple of weeks. From there you can find it online. We'll have it on our social media and any of the shows I attend until at least somebody snags it, and then we’ll have products that will be available anywhere where you can find Disney stuff. Perhaps eventually in the parks, if they approve of the product will be there they can find it at the parks as well.
Michael: Certainly on your site than our site.
Heather: Absolutely, like either one of our websites it’ll be available as well.
– How did you get into Kingdom Hearts?
Heather: That was entirely my husband. He would share it all the time. In fact, when we started dating, he would play the music in the car and he was- like all the time. I had no context for it. I’m like “I don’t know what this is”. So I don’t know why it’s so meaningful, albeit being beautiful music, so then when I started watching the intro and it has the music at the beginning and I’m like “Ohhh, now I get it.” Now I get the reason why there’s so much excitement about it and so much passion towards the game and the music. That was my introduction to Kingdom Hearts because prior to that I hadn't heard it. I never heard of it before. Except for maybe off Alexander but that was really watching them and watching them enjoy it.
– Would you say that’s your favorite experience with Kingdom Hearts since you don’t really play games just watching them?
Heather: Absolutely and that applies to pretty much anything that I know I’m not particularly good at is watching other people excel at things and be passionate about I enjoy watching other people be passionate about cause I know what it feels like to be passionate about something so watching other be passionate is exciting for me although I delved a little into it and gotten to play some of it and be a part of that game a little bit but yes like I said, my thumbs turn into lumps and run into walls. So playing is less the passion than watching people really truly enjoy it and do it right.
– As for the painting, are there any easter eggs you might have put into it?
Heather: Yes actually, there’s things hidden from the game itself. So I took all five of the trinity hearts and I snuck them in the painting. I can point them out or can keep them secret cause that would be like a spoiler. I can point one out. And they’re hidden around the painting.
– Maybe you’ll give fans a chance to try to find them all.
Heather: You’ll have to sneak out all the rest. We have a couple things from what’s meaningful to me; my husband and I came together to create a business called “The Dog and Dragon”. And so as a part of that I’m like “Maybe I can sneak something in there” which is both meaningful to the game and the game community as well as meaningful to myself which is a dog and a dragon. So I snuck in a pongo right there. Over here everyone asks “What is Kairi looking at?” as she’s walking towards cause she’s looking like she sees something and if you follow her line of sight, there is Maleficent as the dragon over here. So there’s the dog and the dragon, that balance each other and it’s part of the storyline and the game and it all fits together like a puzzle.
– I was going to say how did you come up with the name “The Dog and the Dragon?”
Heather: That’s exactly it. It’s interesting, if we're talking about the zodiac signs, I’m a dragon and he’s a dog so that’s how it partly came all together.
– Are you on social media so people can find you?
Heather: We are. Everything The Dog and Dragon. So thedoganddragon.com is our website, we have thedoganddragon_ig is our instagram, and The Dog and Dragon on Facebook. All of those are linked together. We also have a Collector's Edition on Disney Fine Art.
Michael: DisneyFineArt.com is our site, look we’re excited, this is a little outside of our character realm that we’ve done in the past but not Heather’s and it fits beautifully with her portfolio. This is about bringing Kingdom Hearts to life and I don’t think anyone else can do this piece but Heather. I’ll tell you, Disney approvals are tough, and her work is the most unique I’ve ever seen and the studio and the folks who approve it absolutely love her work. I don’t think we’ve ever seen more than a few tweaks and it’s incredibly different the style in how she brings characters to life. It is purely her soul and if I ever think of someone that’s tied into their artwork that is the same, Heather. It is absolutely the most identifiable, grasping, captivating art purely from the heart and I’m super happy to be part of this franchise, people talk about it, and I’m like “Kingdom Hearts” and I’m an old Disney guy and I’ve never partake in it. We got a few projects that've been incredibly successful, this is going to be really cool, really hot. We’re gonna have about 4 different additions so probably in the next month or two we’ll have some cool stuff.
– How did you get in touch with Heather?
Michael: I met Heather at a D23 show in like 2011, something like that. She was doing her fine art and her interpolation of Disney Princesses. We have met and linked since then. I call her one of my kids. I love it, I can’t wait, she’s got a lot of passion in her fantasy, in her art and Disney art, we just wait for the next project. They are incredibly detailed oil paintings, they take time, they’re not digital. It’s all by hand, so it’s original are few far between which is why it’s so special for us. Her art team is embrace less, couldn’t wait to bring this here today. Thank you for bringing it, this is a super big joy for us.
–Thank you guys. When I saw this at [San Diego] Comic Con I was like “This is amazing. I got to know more.” Thank you so much!
Heather: Well, thank you.
Michael: Can’t wait to bring it to all of your homes.
– Alright, thank you!