Unless we study the real thing thoroughly, we cannot caricature or animate our characters convincingly.
One of Walt Disney's insightful quotes that makes complete sense. Milt Kahl would add:
"Our characters distinguish themselves from the ones at other studios, because they have real bones and muscles."
I would add: and real weight.
Once you know the inner workings of a human or any given animal, you can then go to town and do whatever you'd like with that knowledge. Look at Samson, Prince Phillip's horse in Sleeping Beauty.
He walks and runs like a real horse, but his design is highly stylized. The width of his lower legs is so thin, almost down to a single line.
And observing the real thing can be a ton of fun. Studying live footage and sketching Siberian Tigers has been absolutely essential for the title character of Mushka in my upcoming film. There is something wonderful and exciting about this pre-production phase. Like Milt said:"You learn so much about your subject that you don't need the live action (rotoscope) reference any more."
Any tiger scenes left to do on Mushka...let's go! All that studying gives you the confidence to tackle any type of action.
I don't know who drew these terrific studies for Bambi, but as you know, this research paid off big time. The animators were able to turn realistic motion into animated poetry.