Posted on Wednesday, October 21st, 2009 by Peter Sciretta
A couple weeks ago I was lucky enough to participate in a round table interview with The Princess and the Frog directors Jon Musker and Ron Clements at Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank. You can read the full interview after the jump, which includes a lot of information on the development of this new project. The biggest revelation to me is was that Pixar was originally developing the project as a computer animated film, set in Chicago in the 1930’s. It was at Pixar that John Lasseter suggested New Orleans as a new setting for the story. Read the full interview after the jump to learn more.
This is the second opportunity for you two to bring traditional animation in at Disney. Can you talk about what’s different with technology for you in this one, allowing you to raise the bar?
Clements: Certainly it was odd because when we were starting up again they kind of had mothballed the CAP system which is what we used -
Musker: Actually, not in ‘Mermaid’ but in ‘Aladdin’.
Clements: ‘Mermaid’ was the last film done with cells, the sort of traditional way. Every movie up to that point, the drawings were Xeroxed onto celluloid and painted on the back and then filmed over painted backgrounds and then ‘Rescuers Down Under’ which was the next film was the first film to use the CAPS system which was digital and can paint. Everything was composite. And that continued until things kind of went away.
Musker: Basically then when 2-D went away here they kind of mothballed CAPS and CAPS had been kind of band-aided and paper-clipped together, the production software system. So we used a system on this film called Harmony which is a product from a Canadian company actually called Toon Boom and we did something on this which we hadn’t done on any of the films previous which is, in effect, and it sounds like a simple thing but it really helped us to get richer sort of colors and more interactive backgrounds and characters, but our characters were painted almost in a neutral light, like, before we picked the color they would be in a scene. That’s not the way that we ever did it before. Before we would literally, with a scene that was okay to go to color we’d have color models who would take a frame of the film and would paint the characters and framer, too, from the scene and they would say, ‘That’s what they’re going to look like over those backgrounds.’ Then it would go off and be painted and come back, whether or not it was by hand or in this case on the computer but artists doing it on the computer; we’d get it and that’s sort of what we lived with rather than dialing it up or down in color timing. Now with this new system the character is painted in these sort of neutral colors and then in our color model area they can take those characters and adjust them for that background there and we can play it back in real time and see, ‘This is the way that character looks in that environment -‘ actually play the scene as you’d see it on the screen. They can do all sorts of things interactively with that with what they use, they call it gradiance where they can make the character brighter or darker -
Clements: Almost like what a painter would do.
Musker: Yeah, very painterly
Clements: It really is an artistic thing where they can kind of take the bare bones and enhance it in just a lot of ways, some subtle, some less subtle. That’s really, really nice. We can see it there.
Musker: We can see it right there on the monitor and if we decided that we didn’t like the color, like the color of your shirt we don’t like and so on, with this new system they don’t have to repaint the entire scene. They would just say, ‘Okay, lets make that shirt red for the whole scene.’ We call it a scene in animation from cut to cut. So they sort of push a button and say, ‘From now on that shirt is red.’ In the old system you would’ve had to take every cell, and even in the computer, every drawing and physically repaint each one and go to the next one, repaint with this. With this with the push of a button we can repaint things.
Clements: I would say the mandate on this film even when we started, and that came from John Lasseter, was to aim high and we really wanted, in every area there was animation, color, layout, backgrounds, FX. It wasn’t so much doing something completely different than what we’d done before but just to do it as well as it could almost possibly be done. I think that everyone really strived in all of their areas to really reach as far as possible.
Musker: In terms of one other production process that we did, there are two things that we did at John Lasseter’s behest. One thing that they did up at Pixar is that they used animatics. We’ve always had sort of story reels which are basically the film storyboard drawings and you play the tracks and that sort of thing and then we’d go into layout which is where you’d decide where the cuts happen. We’re in a close-up of you or we’re in a wide shot you.
Clements: The storyboards at Disney weren’t really about staging. They were just about story and character and not really worrying too much about the actual staging of the movie and layout is where, from a cinematic standpoint you go in and figure out exactly where you’re going to put the camera, from cut to cut how long the shot is going to be.
Musker: On ‘Little Mermaid’ and on ‘Aladdin’, those things, we had what we called Workbooks where they would take and just do little thumbnails and say, ‘Okay. Here’s a pan shot. We’re going to use that there. We’re going to be on a close-up.’
Clements: And it would go to animation and it wouldn’t really be seen on film until the animation was done.
Musker: Right. So what John wanted us to do was in the more interactive thing like they do at Pixar in that they have a reel where they block out the action, timed just the way the scene would be. In other words, even though the characters are not animated, they’re like rolling figures in the Pixar world there’s Woody and Buzz and they’re going to walk from here to here and the scene is actually going to take two seconds and so on. They do these wire frame models that sort of block out that scene. So you get a feeling of the cutting even though there’s no animation there. We hadn’t really done that in our process.
Clements: We had this new innovation which is what we called the Layout Animatics. We actually put it on film and we could watch it like a movie that goes beyond the story reels. There’s still no animation but it really feels much more like a movie because all the cuts are there. All the editing is there. The characters are still drawings but the camera is moving. The lighting is there. It gives you a chance really to see the movie in a much more realized form before the animation is actually done. I would say there were just a lot of benefits that came out of that.
How did that work?
Musker: We actually took the movie sequence by sequence and looked the layout. Our head of layout, Rasul, we’d have a meeting where we’d look at the storyboards and look at them and in kind of a group setting decide, ‘Okay, this is going to be a close-up. This is going to be a pan. This will be that.’ The layout artist would go away and generate the rough layout that would be value studied. It’s just in black and white and then there would be drawings of the characters that would just map out the action basically. Those would be scanned and digitized and shot through our hub which is our sort of command central for production. Basically, they would know that the scene was going to be, in our terms we deal with feet of film; ‘It’s fifteen feet long. We have to get from here to there and then we’re going to go close.’ Anyway, they would generate artwork that would be the rough layouts but would be shot and timed as they would be in the final film, as in the animation. We’d never done that. We could’ve done it but we never head. It was an added step to the process. But it was one that really helped.
Clements: It slowed down the process in the early stages but it was more than worth it and I think it just elevated the filmmaking. For the animators there were less redo’s that for technical reasons you had to do. Animators could look at the animatic and they could see exactly how the shot was going to work and know everything in advance. We could still make changes. There’s nothing about the process that means you can’t change it but it was just a way of seeing it. John did it at Pixar as a part of their process.
Did it save you a lot of time during production?
Musker: It slowed things down but then it made it more effective later when you had this reference point for everyone to look at. Everyone involved in the shot, you’d say, ‘Look at the animatic -‘ and they’d have a common thing to look at. We’d tell them, ‘Don’t worry about painting this part of the background because we pan so quickly that you’re hardly going to see that over there -‘ or whatever it might be; the character blocking this or whatever. You could really tailor it to the shot because you had a blueprint.
Clements: Rasul, the head of layout, there was a little question at the beginning and afterwards you’d never ever want to do it again. It was sort of an invaluable part of the process. It seems in retrospect to be obvious.
Musker: The other thing that John was insistent on, that they do at Pixar, which we hadn’t exactly done is that he did dailies at Pixar where all the animators would be in a room together, looking at everyone’s animation together. It used to be in our system more so that we dealt one on one with the animators. We’d critique their animation, just he and I, look at the stuff and with maybe a supervisor.
Clements: Just to show the history. This is something that John got from his time at ILM actually where he worked before Pixar even began. That’s what they would do at ILM. They’d get everyone in a room together looking at the dailies. This was just all the animators together, critiquing each other’s shots and discussing how to make it better, what worked and what didn’t work.
Musker: So it’s tricky because you’re putting your work out in front of a bunch of other people to be criticized.
Clements: Ideally you put it up before it’s finished in a very rough form where it can be changed. Some animators kind of embraced it. Some were hesitant at first or some didn’t want to show what they were doing until it was all done but that sort of defeats the purpose.
How is that different from the traditional sweat box?
Clements: Well, the traditional sweat box doesn’t involve animators actually. The sweat box at Disney and I think at Pixar, somewhat, is that every step of the way when a shot is done we all meet in editorial with the head of layout, the head of background, the head of FX, all the key people involved and that’s where a shot is okay’d to go to the next step. Sometimes a shot is okay’d, like a rough animation scene would be okay’d to go to clean up and a cleaned up animation scene would be okay’d to go to color and then a lot of times for various reasons a scene doesn’t get the okay and is sent back because it needs changes. But that’s after it’s done.
Musker: This is an additional stop to the process and an earlier step. But it replaces the old process. You would literally have your scene on a drive maybe. You’d come in my room or I’d go to your room and you’d play it and I would see it but the other animators might never see it until it’s been cut in and it’s further down the line. Then they see it after the fact. This way they see it while it’s still kind of malleable and they offer up ideas. They can be inspired.
Clements: They can see what the other animators are doing. If someone does a really great scene everyone can get excited about it and talk about it. If a scene doesn’t work everyone gets involved and starts critiquing why it doesn’t work. Sometimes it can be brutal and we’re sort of the arbitrators. Sometimes scenes would stir up the room. Everyone would have an idea and the animator would be like, ‘What do I do?’ Then you kind of meet with the animator afterwards and say, ‘This is what you should do.’ But overall it was just fun to get everyone together and just really everyone seeing what everyone else is doing and talking about how to make it better.
Can you talk about how you guys came onboard to this movie and the genesis of the project and why New Orleans versus other parts of the country?
Clements: Sure. The history of this project is a little more complicated than some movies, but obviously this is very loosely based on the Grimm fairy tale ‘The Frog Prince’ which is a very short little story. Disney actually has been trying to do something with that story for years and years, going all the way back to the time of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ that I remember. They had versions in the works. More recently, in I think 2003, Disney bought the rights to a children’s book called ‘The Frog Princess’ by an author named E.D. Baker and in that story, it was basically a kind of fairy tale with a twist. In that story the princess kissed the frog and instead of him turning into a prince she turned into a frog and then the two sort of went on an adventure together. It doesn’t really bear a lot of resemblance to our movie except for that basic thing within that. Then Disney explored in the earlier part of this decade, I think, versions of that with some writers and some treatments.
Musker: Parallel to that Pixar had been exploring ‘The Frog Princess’ as a possible CG film and at first it was set in Chicago in the 1930’s and then I think John Lasseter suggested New Orleans to Pixar and their development because he loves New Orleans. It’s his favorite city and I think being frogs and all of that which made him go, ‘Why don’t you set this in New Orleans. It’s a great locale and a cool place.’ So they start developing the idea in New Orleans but the story didn’t really get off the ground.
Clements: It wasn’t really a fairy tale. It was a fairy tale but it did have some elements. It had voodoo in it and a few things. When we got involved, we were gone from Disney for a little, just for about six months, and then John Lasseter and Ed Catmull came to Disney and became in charge of Disney animation they sort of invited us back and we’ve known John for years and years and years.
Musker: I went to school with John Lasseter at Cal Arts. I was in the same class in ’75. It was Brad Bird and John and I and various people.
Clements: Tim Burton was one year down.
Musker: One year after us in school.
Did you guys go to the Disney film archive to look at other films for this?
Musker: We definitely looked at ‘Bambi’ and ‘Lady and the Tramp’. Those were the principle ones that we looked at but we certainly looked -
Clements: On another level we looked at some of the work that had been done for New Orleans Square in Disneyland.
Musker: Yeah, Dorothea Redmond has this great water colors and did a lot of studies of New Orleans square when that was built.
Clements: We also spent a lot of time in New Orleans and did a lot of research there, but just to finish in terms of the history of the project; John and Ed Catmull asked us to take a look at that and in terms of coming up with ideas that was one that we kind of focused on. We looked at all the different versions because there were multiple versions of the story. There are elements and different things that we liked and there were some things from the Pixar version and the several Disney versions. We kind of put our own stuff in there and came up with our own version which was kind of an American fairy tale with an African American Princess taking place in the 1920’s during the Jazz Age as a musical. We pitched it as a musical with Randy Newman doing the music and we pitched it as a hand drawn film.
Musker: That was around March or April 2006. John really liked the pitch, and Ed Catmull. They were the people we were pitching to and so they said, ‘Move forward.’ But then John said, ‘Before you write the script you have to go to New Orleans and soak up the atmosphere.’ So then we went down to New Orleans for a week and went to the Jazz fest and took a lot of pictures and did some drawings and talked to people and took notes. It was a great trip.
Can you talk about how you decided what this animation would look like? Was there a responsibility to do something more classic because this was a return to this type of animation?
Clements: I think that we went for a classic Disney look. We felt that was correct for this story.
Musker: I think John had the note, and we agreed with the note, that in our stylistic choice of making the film that the odd man out these days is dimensionally drawn, round, appealing sort of animation and if you want to look at more stylized, graphic animation there are actually a lot of outlets on that in television. Television has become kind of the province for that, but to do a fully realized sort of things that move in three dimensional space, have squash and stretch and that kind of plasticity and that appeal, that sort of cartoon appeal there aren’t any films being made like that. So what’s old is new again, in a way.
Clements: I mean, very, very early on we kind of zeroed in on ‘Bambi’ and ‘Lady and the Tramp’, elements of both those films that we liked, particularly ‘Lady and The Tramp’ for New Orleans because a lot of the movie takes place in the city of New Orleans and ‘Bambi’ for the bayou. Those are not the same. ‘Bambi’ and ‘Lady and The Tramp’ are definitely not in the same style but they both have, in terms of character design, very kind of dimensional, very appealing style of character design. It’s not stylized but it’s about as sophisticated – I think that John said this, too, that if you follow the classic Disney a certain kind of animation sort of reached it’s peak with ‘Lady and The Tramp’. In a way that’s the most sophisticated version of sort of classic Disney animation.
Musker: Then after that ‘Sleeping Beauty’ was the next feature and that was drawn in a more stylized way and everything after ‘Sleeping Beauty’ to a certain extent had different degrees of that.
Clements: Films after ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Lady and the Tramp’ were flatter which was a stylistic choice to emphasize the sort of graphic nature of the drawing. So we went back to more of the dimensional drawings.
Musker: And the idea of that atmosphere of the bayou and the organic quality of the bayou, we felt that we wanted backgrounds that had atmosphere. That’s why we looked at ‘Bambi’ and things like that because things would get lost in shadow.
Question: Both of those projects you’re mentioning, you’ve got some water color going on in ‘Bambi’ -
Musker: ‘Lady and the Tramp’ isn’t water color but it’s certainly very rich and painterly and more early sort of 19th century painting style. I would say that ‘Lady and The Tramp’, the way it worked out, was more of a strong influence on the New Orleans sections that had all this architecture. On ‘Lady and the Tramp’ they found ways of simplifying architecture that implied more than what was painted in terms of the city and those Victorian houses.
Clements: The same is true with ‘Bambi’ in dealing with the forest where it seems like a very realistic movie but there’s a lot of impressionism and lighting that emphasizes what you’re supposed to look at and sort de-emphasizes what’s not important. So that’s one thing.
Musker: The nature of our film, our art director is Ian Gooding and he did a great job in terms of him really designing the color of the movie and I think our pallet is very rich and some saturated pallet. I think our story ranges from areas in the bayou to areas in the city, but also obviously we’ve got some comedic things, some kind of scary moments in the film. We’ve got a range of romance and comedy and things like that so that gave the color pallet a fairly broad area to work in.
The colors really do pop.
Musker: It’s very saturated, yeah, and New Orleans, in terms of the Mardi Gras aspect of that, we really tried to go for a saturated look.
Clements: There is a little bit of a gumbo, a little bit of a Disney gumbo in that it draws from a lot of different elements. Gumbo right from the get go, it’s certainly a big popular dish in New Orleans but it’s also kind of a metaphor for the city which is, I mean if you’ve been to New Orleans it really is a very unique city. There’s no other city like it anywhere else in the world because so many different cultural elements were all kind of fused together and it’s certainly the most European city in the United States. For a long time it wasn’t a part of this country. There is a lot of French influence and Spanish influences and African American influences -
Musker: African influences.
Clements: Well, yeah, African influences all just kind of mixed together. The music itself which is just kind of a big part of the city is kind of gumbo music that drew from ragtime and African music and different styles that came together with jazz. So that was all kind of conscious I think.
Did you have difficulties in fleshing out the villain in Dr. Facilier and making him different from previous movie villains?
Clements: Certainly, yes. It’s always a challenge.
Musker: It was fun. Most villains are fun. In the villains that we’ve done, I think we’ve had fun with all the villains that we’ve done.
Clements: Certainly our villain has greed which is a strong motivation and he isn’t trying to take over the world which some of our villains have tried to do. We wanted it to be a little more localized and a whole aspect of him having sort of magic at his disposal, that was fun for us. But there are limits to his magic and that gave him some challenges.
Musker: His smoothness and his sort of conman aspects and his showman, his theatricality that he can sing and dance really, really well.
Clements: One thing that I think helped a lot is that we called him The Shadow Man in earlier versions of the script and then Sue Nichols just cuing off of that, reading a treatment with that in there, she did drawings of him with other shadows, his army of shadows in there. That came from her drawings. Before we wrote the script we were like, ‘Wow. That’s a cool idea.’ She had a thing where he did a duet with his own shadow because he was called The Shadow Man. We were like, ‘Yeah. Lets work that into the script.’ So then when we were writing the script we sort of incorporated that idea into it.
You see the shadow pushing the –
Clements: Yeah, and that’s like his sidekick. He can confer with his shadow, that sort of thing.
Musker: I mean, there’s the one shadow that is kind of his sidekick.
Which draws from ‘Peter Pan’.
Clements: It does. There’s a little analogy with ‘Peter Pan’.
Musker: And then there are more shadows in the movie that are shadows from the other side that kind of help him along the way.
Clements: Yeah, he has an army of them.
You mentioned her goal of owning a restaurant and bringing her father in –
Musker: To make it emotional, yeah. Earlier her father wasn’t as much in the picture and it really seemed to ground the story emotionally that it was his longstanding dream. It was a challenge to see if we could make it hers as well in a way that feels as if it grew out of that and then amplify it. That was the challenge as we wrote. That was our goal, to really make it so that you had an emotional investment in her getting this restaurant. It wasn’t just a career goal but there was an emotional part of it, too.
Clements: There’s an aspect of her, too, that we’ve talked about. There’s a woman in New Orleans named Lee Chase who was a waitress and ultimately opened a restaurant with her husband, Dooky Chase. And the name of the restaurant is Dooky Chase but she basically ran it and it became an institution in New Orleans and we met with her and we talked with her and she went to kind of into her story, her philosophy about food which is a big element of the movie.
Musker: Yeah. She talked about how food brings people together and it’s this social lubricant, a way of bringing people together from different walks of life and it was interesting because she was in her eighties and her legs aren’t so great, but we went down to her restaurant and she had a home cooked meal that she and her staff prepared for us. We were there with John Lasseter and she talked about her early days and what it was like. Up on the wall was a picture. She has a lot of art work on the walls of the restaurant that she’s picked up but there’s also a photo up there. It was George Patton. I asked about it. She was like, ‘I admire Patton.’ She’s in her eighties. She was seeing Patton on the newsreels in the ’40’s and everything. She goes, ‘That was a man that I admired.’ It was just a great thing to see this warm and nurturing thing, but she has this flinty side, too, where she can be both. That’s what we tried to get with Tiana, that she’s very warm and vulnerable but she has a passion, spine and a backbone and she’s really trying to get something done and doesn’t give in easily to things.
Can you talk about assembling this animation crew, a mix of veterans and newcomers?
Clements: One of the really great things in terms of this movie was the sort of opportunity to put a dream cast together which couldn’t have been done ten years ago because when hand drawn animation – well it’s maybe more than ten years ago – was at it’s peak everyone was getting spread pretty far around because DreamWorks was doing hand drawn animation and other studios were doing it as well. Disney split up it’s own staff so that multiple productions were going on at the same time. So no one worked on the same movie. You’d get a certain amount of really good animators and the other animators would be off doing another movie and the same with pretty much every role. On this one we were with a few exceptions able to get just about everybody that we wanted to get partly because there were no other big hand drawn features being done anywhere else and even though many of the people were very successful doing this, most people make a transition and were working in digital animation or doing something else, I think that everyone who worked in this kind of art form really wanted to return to it. They missed it. So we got kind of a dream staff in terms of animators. We had just a great crew.
Musker: We had people like Andres Deja whom we’d worked with before, but then we had a great animator like Bruce Smith who we’d never worked with before. He’s a veteran and brought so much to the facility.
Clements: Mark Henn who had relocated to Florida and hadn’t worked on films down here for a while.
He did the Princess.
Musker: Yeah, he did. He was in charge of her and did the principle animation of her, but then as you say we got newcomers, too. We got people like Hyun Min Lee who worked with Art Goldberg who was a student right out of Cal Arts and had been in Jules Engles program, the film graphics program and a wonderful character animator. And Mario Permanche, some of these people in their twenties and it’s great that they were working alongside some of these veterans in their fifties. They really took to it and it was great to see people embrace this who might otherwise have gone a different direction.
Clements: Even being a little bit cynical you almost have a question of someone who’s in their early twenties just starting out and really, really wants to do hand drawn animation. It’s like, ‘Are you sure? Have you thought this through?’ But I think we were really impressed. So many young people really love hand drawn animation, really talented people and they really want to do it. They want to commit to it and want to learn how to do it as well as they can.
Musker: For some of these people they had seen ‘Mermaid’ and ‘Aladdin’ as little kids and now there was a chance to do a full blown Disney feature with really the same ideas as ‘The Nine Old Men’. We were really trying to get believable personalities and acting and thought processes. For some of them they weren’t sure if this would ever return and I think when this opportunity availed itself they were like, ‘This is what I’ve been hoping for and didn’t know if it would ever happen.
Do you guys feel a weight on your shoulders while making a traditional film like this that it needed to be successful?
Clements: You did, yeah. Certainly this was a stressful film for a lot of reasons and certainly it’s the hope of everyone working on the movie that the movie be successful. Making a movie you don’t tend to worry about whether it’s going to be a hit or not going to be a hit. You’re just trying to make a movie, make it as well as you can and hope that it works but in this case I think we all knew that it was important the movie actually be profitable. It’s a business and if the movie is profitable, it doesn’t have to be hugely, wildly profitable, but even if it’s just reasonably profitable I think there will definitely be more films like this done.
I saw the ‘Awaking Sleeping Beauty’ documentary. How is that different from working on ‘Little Mermaid’ where you felt so under the radar then?
Clements: There’s a similarity there I think in that the stakes we felt were high on that movie. I think that we felt the stakes were very high on this movie.
Musker: I would say that ‘Mermaid’ was a little bit different in that it was the first fairy tale in thirty years. I mean, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ in ’59 was the one before that. We wanted to do something that had the quality to stand besides those things. But it was sort of this discovery, too, using songs to tell the story hadn’t really been done in a while. So we were doing these new things. I don’t think that we felt we were rescuing animation.
Clements: There was a similarity in the sense that there was new management at Disney at that time with Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Jeffrey came to embrace animation but early on I think when those guys first came there was a sense of, ‘What is this?’ I know that there were people within the company who definitely felt that the approach with ‘Little Mermaid’ was not the way to go. That is to say that I think dark days had happened, ‘The Black Cauldron’ were kind of dark days for Disney. That film cost a lot of money, took a long time to do and it was not profitable. At the same time ‘Black Cauldron’ came out, and I guess they mentioned this in the documentary, ‘The Care Bears’ movie was done. ‘Black Cauldron’ I think cost around, even at the time, close to $40 million which was a huge amount of money at that time. I think ‘The Care Bears’ movie cost $2 million and made more money than ‘The Black Cauldron’. So there were definitely people that said, ‘This idea of trying to do a rich, high quality, richly animated film -
‘An American Tail’ did well.
Musker: Yeah, and that certainly helped us.
Clements: That helped us and we used that in terms of when we were doing ‘Little Mermaid’ when ‘American Tale’ came out. ‘American Tale’ was successful. That and ‘Roger Rabbit’ were really breakthrough things.
Musker: So when we wanted to get production value on ‘Little Mermaid’ we could point to ‘American Tale’ and say, ‘See, look at that.’
Clements: ‘Mermaid’ was done on a very, very reasonable budget I would say, for the time and it was everyone striving to get everything on the screen that we could for a limited amount of money. There’s some similarity in this movie in the sense that it’s a very reasonably budgeted movie from the standards of what most animated films cost today. But I think it’s a very, very rich animated movie and a lot of that was just everyone really trying to get as much as we possibly could on the screen and be really, really smart about the way we spent out money.
What kind of workflow did Ed Catmull help come up with?
Musker: Well, Ed Catmull certainly wasn’t so much of a day to day guy. He said, ‘We have to do this efficiently -‘ and all that. I think he really embraced it. He liked the idea of doing paperless animation on this in the early going and we explored that and then it became prohibitive and some of the animators resisted that because just of the tactile quality of drawing on paper. I think they haven’t given up on that idea. I think if they can improve the tablets that you draw on so that you can get more of a tactile quality, that will come again I think. But all of our FX work was done on the (sp?) Sintick. I don’t know if people know what those are, the (SP?) Whack’em tablets that are pressure sensitive and you draw on them. All of our storyboards, most of the storyboards were done on that and are FX animation, they scanned the pencil drawings of the characters but all the shadows, all the rain, all the water ripples were done on Sintick’s in this Harmony system and that was actually a timesaver and a very interactive thing that they could use that really helped the FX. The FX look really rich on this film and I think it was partly because they were able to use this really new technology. I think that Ed was pushing for doing as much as we could on a system like that.
Clements: Ed is a very unusual sort of executive, I guess you’d say. Although, I think he’s maybe the smartest guy in the world. He’s incredibly smart.
Musker: I think his basic mantra generally was, ‘Don’t do it the same as you always did just because you always did it that way.’ He sort of was like, ‘Look for new ways to do things.’ I would say that was his overall message.
Clements: Yeah, and to be smart about everything. I think he was right in that. There were challenges in the process of doing things new and having gone through that I think we’re really happy that we were pushed to find new ways to solve some of these problems.
So is the plan to do hand drawn animation every couple of years?
Clements: Every two or three years which I think everyone would be happy with. I think it makes it more special. For a while I think there was a period there where there two a year coming out. For this kind of film it’s really hard to sort of maintain that and it doesn’t really seem necessary and it makes the films more special.
Do you guys have ideas for more?
Musker: We do actually have an idea for another hand drawn film that we want to do after this.
Clements: And there’s stuff going on that we’re not involved with.
Clements: Even from the start, John and Ed, when we talked about bringing 2-D back it was never talked about like, ‘Well, lets try it and see what happens and then go from there.’ They were like, ‘We feel like Disney should be doing this. We want to bring it back and we want to continue to do it.’
Musker: And obviously if this comes out and doesn’t do well, there will be whatever pressures of some order to reconsider that possibly, but I think that John and Ed are very dedicated to it.
Clements: But not instead of digital. I think the plan is that Disney would do both and maybe be the only studio that does both.
You guys want to stick with a musical again for your next feature?
Musker: That’s under discussion. We love musicals but some people are like, ‘I hate musicals!’ We are among the people who like them. But it’s not a sure thing because we’ve got some projects cooking that are non-musicals and some that are.
Clements: But musicals are very fun to do and certainly animation and music seem to go together kind of like they were made for each other. So it’s fun doing a musical.