Just look at the Citizen Watch Company website and you’ll find many timepieces with Disney designs on them. That’s because Disney and Citizen have shared a collaboration for many years. Among the most recent collaborations was a watch that shows Mickey Mouse as an astronaut that is now out as part of Citizen’s Disney100 Collection.
We recently connected with Disney artist Jeff Shelly who designed the Mickey Mouse Astronaut watch for Citizen to chat about his graphic design, working with both companies, and what it’s like to design for watches. See our interview below, which was edited slightly for clarity.
DE: What inspired the space design?
JS: It all goes back to celebrating Disney’s 100th Anniversary. The Director of Merchandising and Product Development at Citizen and I were brainstorming about popular events and highlights for Disney’s Mickey Mouse throughout the decades of the last 100 years of Disney. When we talked about the 1970’s and 1980’s, it was a no brainer we had to do a moon landing.
DE: What are the technical nuances of designing a watch face?
JS: That’s a good question. Once we decide on a theme for the watch, we try to find a watch case that’s a good fit as a starting point. Each watch face I work on is different. Some have sub-dials; others have a date window. Another mandatory requirement is that I work around the Citizen brand logo and “Eco-Drive” name, plus the actual Eco-Drive solar cells built into the watch, taking in light from the dial. Eco-Drive is Citizen’s proprietary technology, which sustainably captures any light to power their watches, eliminating the need for a battery and saving millions of batteries from landfills each year. I must know where those tiny areas are in the watch face, that charge the internal power cells, and be sure not to cover them with my art.
With all that technical stuff on the watch face, I now can see the real estate I have to work with. When I start, I usually sit and stare at the blank watch case for a bit and let my creative brain off the leash. This is where I start piecing things together in my head even before I lay down a pencil line. We also need to figure out the watch band that will best depict the overall theme. Sometimes it will change depending on the final dial design.
DE: How long did it take to create the final design?
JS: I’ll walk you through the process I went through for this watch, so you get a better idea of how long it took to get the final design. Once we agree on the theme and watch case, I’ll do a few concepts, usually 3 or 4 ideas. I’ll do the concepts in color using Adobe Photoshop and make it as close to final as I can. This process can take a few hours, up to a few days. For this one, it was about one day of conception and designing. Once I submit the concepts to Citizen, the director of merchandise reviews the design. If she doesn’t agree with the concept, I go back to the drawing board for revisions or new concepts. We always joked about making a book of the watch concepts that were never made, including the ones that were too ahead of its time.
DE: What specific benefits are there for collaborating with Citizen?
JS: I started working with Citizen when I was still at Disney. We had a working relationship then, but nothing like it is now. When I left Disney, they tracked me down to start working directly on some new watch ideas. And the rest is history.
I enjoy working with everyone at Citizen and feel part of their family, like Cousin Oliver on the Brady Bunch. They are all super nice and I especially love working with the merchandising and product development director, Beth Miller.
She is unlike anyone I’ve worked with in the past. She’s not one to just slap a Mickey on a product. She’ll push me to interact with the watch and tell a story. For the most part, she gives me creative freedom, but she’ll definitely let me know if I’m going down a rabbit hole with a design, or just plain doesn’t like it. We work amazingly together and I feel like we raise the bar for Disney fans with each new Citizen timepiece we make together.
Find more behind-the-scenes content from Jeff Shelly on the “making of” the Disney Mickey Mouse Astronaut watch at CitizenWatch.com and on Citizen’s Wonder of Time page. Our special thanks to Jeff Shelly for contributing to this story!