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"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 this project.

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 achieved.

"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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