BEAUTY AND THE BEAST 3D
"Beauty and the Beast" in the 21st Century
Walt Disney Pictures' now-classic animated musical feature "Beauty and the
Beast" began its life as lines on paper and
the imaginations of many artists. When released in 1991 to great critical and
popular acclaim, the film was lauded not
only for its brilliant artistry and time-honored tradition of being
hand-drawn, one frame at a time, but also for the innovative
use of the computer as a tool for adding production value and
creating exciting new imagery. Although in its infancy at the
time, Disney's Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) department
was on the cutting edge of new technology and the artists and
technicians found ways to enhance the look of the film while
breaking new ground at the same time.
Use of the computer is evident in several parts of the film,
most notably in the creation of a three-dimensional ballroom
background for the "Beauty and the Beast" song sequence. The
computer allowed dramatic camera moves on the hand-drawn characters as they
danced and fell in love.
According to CGI artistic supervisor Jim Hillin, "The ballroom sequence featured
the first computer-generated color
background to be both animated and fully dimensional. What this means is that
the background is literally moving.
This gives the impression of sweeping camera moves and perspectives as well as
theatrical lighting that would
otherwise be impossible. It introduces live action techniques into the animated
world. Here the camera plays a very
important role in establishing the mood and helps us to experience what the
characters themselves are feeling."
The ballroom sequence is the bonding moment of the film when the two main
characters finally get together. "For
us as filmmakers the computer offered a way to get heightened emotions on the
screen and more dramatic effects
that we could not have gotten conventionally," says producer Don Hahn. "It
allowed us to move the camera around
and take a look at the room instead of just looking at a flat piece of artwork.
Technology as a whole is an extension
of our fingers, hands and minds. Computer graphics lets us go beyond what we can
achieve with pencil and paper
or paint and a brush."
Specially trained artists, animators and software experts working in concert
with the layout, art direction and
background teams created the ballroom itself in the computer. From the rough
sketches provided, the room was
constructed a section at a time. The dimensions of the room are enormous with
72-foot ceilings, a length of 184 feet
from door to door, and a width of 126 feet. There are 28 wall window sections
around the room and a dome that is
86 feet by 61 feet. The mural in the dome was hand painted and then
texture-mapped into the background with the
help of a computer.
The computer graphics team also played a key role in the "Be Our Guest" sequence
where an extraordinary
candelabra with can-canning forks was created using this new technology. Also
animated this way were hundreds
of dancing plates, goblets and bubbles. These elements were then blended with
traditional hand-drawn character
animation and effects animation resulting in an elaborate and fun-filled
sequence unlike any other. In other parts of
the film a hay wagon, carts, an 18th-century classic-Baroque grand piano and
pages in a book were animated using
a similar process.
Flash forward to the 21st century. What was highly innovative technology
in the late 1980s we now see as an artistic stepping stone to the remarkable
achievements in today's use of computer generated animation. In the
final decades of the past century, turning "Beauty and the Beast" into a
3D film would have required that the artists separately redraw what the
characters would look like from the left eye and the right eye.
However, through the magic of Disney and the leaps in modern computer
animation technology developed at the Walt Disney Animation Studios,
a team of artists, under the guidance of stereographer Robert Neuman,
found a way to breathe more dimensional life into "Beauty and the Beast"
by turning it into a 3D experience.
Neuman, whose background is in the cinematography area of animation and who also
has a technical grounding as
an electrical engineer, was the ideal candidate to take "Beauty and the Beast"
to an elevated level of 3D. "When
the challenge of 3D came to me, in terms of visual storytelling, I thought it
would be great to be able to tell a more
immersive story for the audience," Neuman says of his interest in working on
Nevertheless, numerous and dramatic challenges awaited Neuman and his team. In
discussing the complications of
making "Beauty and the Beast" into a 3D film, Neuman emphasizes that because
there was no dimensional reality
in which to put a second camera, he and his team had to invent a brand new set
of computer tools that would allow
the filmmakers to sculpt depth into the existing images and thereby create a
second eye in order for the 3D to be
"In making a live-action film a director could simply add a second camera to get
the second eye view," Neuman says
of the task that he and his team faced. He explains that the 3D conversion
technique they came up with - pixel
displacement - enables the artists to take each image and create a "depth map"
that corresponds to that image.
"The depth map is simply a grayscale image that allows our artists to sculpt out
a relief map - the depth map - of
the image. We're then able to take that, apply it to the original image and
displace the pixels to create a second eye
view," he says.
Producer Don Hahn adds, "I think we were the beneficiaries of having
the original movie made on the CAPS system, which was the Computer
Animation Production System that Disney created to produce animated
movies back in the late '80s. We were able to store the movie on individual
levels. In other words, if we had a scene of Belle and the Beast together
at a table in the castle, we would have the characters on one level, and
the table on another level, and the background on still another level. So
we had a nice separation when we brought the scenes back online."
The computer gives the filmmakers total control over that illusion.
Objects that are close up, such as Belle and the Beast dancing, can create a
very intimate environment, as though
the audience is sitting right there in the scene. Or if a spectacular shot is
required, perhaps of the countryside with
Maurice going off to sell his inventions, that epic shot is given a more gentle
treatment of 3D. Many factors are at
play and the story is enhanced by that 3D decision-making. Stereographers like
Robert are crucial to the process.
Take for example the famous ballroom sequence. Although spectacular in its
original form, Neuman and his team of
artists were able to enhance what was already one of animation's most memorable
scenes. "We use 3D to support
the storytelling narrative," Neuman says. "Like any other aspect of film, such
as the music score, 3D is used to
enhance big emotional moments and to help build up to the emotional climax. For
those big moments we expand
the 3D. We put more of the three-dimensional effects into it. For the ballroom
scene it was vital to have the right
sense of scale. We had to show the grandeur, the majesty of this ballroom. The
key to it was to enforce the sense
of perception of scale."
Neuman further explains that the "Be Our Guest" number was
especially suited to 3D. "Although it was a bigger challenge
than the ballroom sequence because there were shots that
had hundreds of
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