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Interview with 'The Princess and The Frog' directors Clements and Musker


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  • Interview with 'The Princess and The Frog' directors Clements and Musker

    Bill Desowitz with Animation World Network posted an interview today with 'The Princess and The Frog' directors Ron Clements and John Musker. You may remember them as the directors of The Little Mermaid. It's an interesting interview where they talk about the return to traditional hand drawn animation, new techniques for it, and how the animators felt about going back to doing things in 2D.

    The interview is as follows:

    Bill Desowitz: This is the second opportunity for the two of you to usher in traditional animation at Disney, but technology has allowed you to raise the bar aesthetically. What's it been like this time around?

    John Musker:Ron Clements: Mermaid was the last film done with cels -- the sort of traditional way. Every movie up to that point, the drawings were Xeroxed onto celluloid, 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 ink-and-paint and composited. And that continued until things kind of went away.

    JM: RC: JM:RC: I would say the mandate when we first started -- and that came from John Lasseter -- was to aim high in every area: animation, color, layout, backgrounds, effects to do it as well as could possibly be done. Everyone really strived in all of their areas to reach as far as possible.

    JM: In terms of the production process, I would say two things at John Lasseter's behest. One thing they do at Pixar is use animatics. We use story reels. What John wanted us to do is a more interactive thing like they do at Pixar. They do these wireframe models that block out that scene so you get an idea of the cutting even though there is no animation.

    BD: So, how did this work on your movie?

    RC: So we had this new innovation we called the "layout animatics," where we actually put it on film and could watch it like a movie that goes beyond the story reels. There's still no animation; but all the cutting is there, the characters are still drawings, but the camera's moving and the lighting is there. It gives you a chance to see the movie in a much more realized form before the animation is done. And I would just say there were a lot of benefits that came out of that.

    BD: So your scenes would be shot and timed as animatics?

    JM:RC: It actually slowed down the process in the early stages but it was more than worth it and it just elevated the filmmaking: there were less redos of things because the animators could look at the animatic and 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 doesn't mean you can't plus it but it was a way of seeing it.

    BD: What classic Disney films informed your look?

    RC: Very early on we zeroed in on Bambiand Lady and the Tramp: elements of both those films that we liked. Lady and the Tramp for New Orleans and Bambi for the bayou. Those are not the same style but in terms of character design, they both have a dimensional and very appealing [look]. I think John said that a certain kind of Disney animation reached its peak with Lady and the TrampJM: Then Sleeping BeautyRC: Which was a stylistic choice to emphasize the sort of graphic nature of the drawing. So we went back to the more dimensional drawing.

    JM: And the idea of backgrounds that had atmosphere, which is why we looked at Bambi. And 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.

    RC: The same was true of Bambi dealing with a forest where there was a lot of Impressionism and lighting that emphasizes what you're supposed to look at and de-emphasizes what is not important.

    JM: And our art director is Ian Gooding and he did a great job of designing the color of the movie and I think our palette is very rich and saturated and our story ranges from areas in the bayou to areas in the city, so we've got some comedic things, some scary moments, so it gave the color palette a very broad area to work at. It seemed to fit New Orleans.

    RC: It is a bit of a gumbo -- a bit of a Disney gumbo. And right from the get go, gumbo is a big, popular dish in New Orleans, but it's also a metaphor for this [unique] city with so many different cultural elements fused together.

    BD: What was it like assembling this animation crew, a combination of veterans and newcomers?

    RC:JM: People like Andreas Deja and Eric Goldberg, who we had worked with before. But then we had a great animator like Bruce Smith, who we had never worked with before, but he was a veteran who brought so much to the character of Dr. Facilier [the Voodoo villain].

    RC: And Mark Henn, who had moved to Florida. He worked on Tiana.

    JM: But, as you say, we also had newcomers like Hyun Min Lee, who worked with Eric Goldberg [on Louis, the jazz playing crocodile], a student right out of Cal Arts and did the Jules Engle program and a wonderful animator. And it was great having these guys in their twenties working alongside these veterans in their fifties. They really took to it and it was great to see people embrace this who might otherwise go in a different direction.
    The article plus several pictures from the movie can be found at Clements & Musker Bring 2D Back to Disney -- Again | AWN | Animation World Network
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