An artist, Nichols studied visual animation at the California Institute of the Arts, and went to work on TV and film, starting with Jim Henson’s Muppet Babies, where she was part of the team that won an Emmy award, and then going to work with a different studio — Disney, hired to work on Beauty and the Beast as a visual development artist. Next was Aladdin, where she contributed story elements in addition to visual development artwork.
Nichols — her married name was Maciorowski, but she used Nichols professionally — was “an influential visual development and story artist who helped define the design and narratives of the films of the Disney Renaissance and beyond,” Disney Animation said in a statement. After Aladdin, “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.” For Hercules, “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,” the Disney statement continued, “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.” On the side, Nichols did freelance work, “creating new ideas for stories and troubleshooting existing story problems for films and children’s books,” working with Marvel, Hasbro, Turner, Universal Studios, Pixar, and others. She even found time to teach, at her alma mater. But in 2015 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Nichols thought she beat it, but it came back — and spread to her spine, skull, and ribs. She died from it on September 1, at 55.