Walt Disney Animation Studios Serves Up Hand-drawn Animation in The Princess and the Frog
December 10, 2009

Walt Disney Animation Studios Serves Up Hand-drawn Animation in The Princess and the Frog

Burbank, Calif. - Walt Disney Animation Studios serves up a joyous gumbo of adventurous storytelling, captivating characters, offbeat comedy and memorable music in the all-new feature The Princess and the Frog, an animated comedy set in the great city of New Orleans. From the creators of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin comes a modern twist on a classic tale, featuring a beautiful girl named Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), a frog prince who desperately wants to be human again, and a fateful kiss that leads them both on a hilarious adventure through the mystical bayous of Louisiana. The Princess and the Frog marks the return to hand-drawn animation from the revered team of John Musker and Ron Clements, with music by Oscar-winning composer Randy Newman. In the January 2010 issue of Computer Graphics World, we take you behind the scenes for an in-depth look at how CG techniques and technologies were applied to create this new movie. Until then, we are offering you a look at the production notes of how this movie was crafted.
The Princess and the Frog is a return to the timeless world of hand-drawn animation at Disney. It’s an ageless fairy tale, but with a fresh twist that combines everything we look for in great stories: comedy, adventure, music—and most of all, the kind of heart that always sets Disney animation apart.”
~ John Lasseter, Executive Producer and Chief Creative Officer, Walt Disney Animation Studios

Everyone knows the story in which a princess finds true love by kissing a frog that magically turns into her handsome prince. In this telling of the story, the girl still kisses a frog, but the result is quite different; it’s only one of dozens of surprises in this mix of wacky humor, thrills, melody and emotion. Love eventually finds a way—between a prince and a princess…between frogs, perhaps…or maybe between a firefly and the object of his affection. But it’s clear that the most important details lie well beneath the skin. The film features Disney’s newest princess, its next great fairy tale and the Studio’s return to the Disney musical, reminiscent of classics like Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Aladdin.

The Princess and the Frog
is executive produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios’ chief creative officer John Lasseter (director of Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, and Cars). Disney veteran Peter Del Vecho is the film’s producer. The Princess and the Frog is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker from an original story by Clements & Musker and Greg Erb & Jason Oremland; the directors teamed up with writer Rob Edwards to create the screenplay. Don Hall is story supervisor.

The Princess and the Frog marks Walt Disney Animation Studios’ return to hand-drawn animation, a return to the classic fairy tale and a return to the musical. “If there was a single lesson we could take from Walt himself to take Walt Disney Animation Studios into the future,” says executive producer John Lasseter, “it is to leverage the richness of its past: its beloved storytelling forms, its successful characters, its musical
opulence—all of these are an essential part of our newest hand-drawn project.”

The filmmakers saw the hand-drawn medium was as vibrant and appealing as ever, and ventured into recapturing and reinventing the art form with reverence, purpose and a renewed sensibility. “At every turn,” director Ron Clements says, “we realized that we could reach out and touch the legacy of the animated Disney fairy tale, and yet move in surprising and interesting new ways, rather than slavishly imitating or reproducing what had been done before.” Once upon a time, not so many years ago, the traditional hand-drawn Disney animation gave way to new technology, leaving behind the single art form most closely identified with Walt Disney himself.

In 2006, when John Lasseter and Ed Catmull took the reins of Walt Disney Animation Studios, they understood that traditional handcraft of Disney animation certainly had not lost its value as either art or entertainment. And although his greatest fame has come from pioneering in the field of computer animation, Lasseter’s love was not exclusive to his own specific form. He grew up with and began his career in the traditional animation that Disney invented, nurtured and developed over decades into an art form all its own. New animated features were being considered in whatever animation technique was deemed most suitable. “We were invited to pitch ideas for new hand-drawn Disney features,” director John Musker recalls. “We were all particularly inspired by the Brothers Grimm tale of ‘The Frog Prince.’”

Producer Peter Del Vecho has taken great personal pleasure in being part of the rekindling of a great art form. “There’s something really rewarding about watching the animator put down pencil to paper, and then when you’re watching the film, you forget all about the individual pencil lines and those characters are really coming off the screen. You kind of take them home with you in your mind—each of the characters is rich and has a life of his own.”

Memorable Characters
Tiana (voice of Anika Noni Rose) is certainly not the typical fairy-tale princess. Her daydreams are not of faraway kingdoms or castles in the clouds, but of personal success and a thriving business. “She has dreams of opening the finest restaurant in all of New Orleans,” says screenwriter Rob Edwards. “It’s a dream that’s been instilled in her from her father.” Tiana is an attractive and independent African-American woman, hardworking and strongwilled, but still a loving and loyal friend and a compassionate soul. She treasures her mother and holds her father near and dear to her heart, and although she knows the way won’t be easy, believes that she can achieve her ambitions if she works hard enough. In her sensible pursuit of her life’s goals, however, Tiana doesn’t really appreciate what is happening on her way to them. She can never simply slow down and enjoy herself. She has no time for romance, and is certainly not about to waste her time mooning over men—let alone kissing any frogs.

Supervising animator Mark Henn, who is behind Disney heroines Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine, found Tiana particularly appealing. “I think you can more easily identify with her, or want to cheer her on. Our animated leading ladies have evolved over the decades, from just being ‘princesses in peril’ like Snow White— characters to whom events happen, rather than figures of action motivating their own story. It was an easy character to fall in love with and get in her corner. Tiana has her own motivating desire, and decisions that drive her and make her interesting and sympathetic.”

The alluring qualities of New Orleans drew Prince Naveen (voice of Bruno Campos) from his far-off kingdom of Maldonia. Although spoiled and irresponsible, Naveen has an irresistible charm and joie de vivre that captivate those around him, and a passion for the Dixieland jazz being popularized by Paul Whiteman, Jimmie Noone, Earl Hines, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong. Naveen’s supervising animator Randy Haycock has animated classic Disney characters, including Simba and Powhatan. “Disney has a long tradition of princes, but we’ve never had a prince that really influenced a heroine,” says Haycock. “It was always love at first sight. For once we have a girl that meets a guy and it follows a romantic-comedy idea where the couple meet and they really don’t like each other.”

Like anyone, Naveen’s flaws are actually part of his virtues. The heroine has a flaw, too—she doesn’t know how to appreciate life. She doesn’t know how to enjoy herself. “And that’s what Naveen teaches her,” Haycock says. “He teaches her to settle down once in a while and simply appreciate what’s going on. Have some fun, enjoy, be happy with what you have around you.”

Dr. Facilier (voice of Keith David) is a devious scoundrel, the shadowy figure of threat who causes no shortage of predicament and menace to Prince Naveen and Tiana. He’s a smooth operator who works his magical spells and uses his connection to “friends on the other side” to get what he wants by way of his mysterious, menacing and dangerous charm. “He’s musical, he’s threatening, he’s tall, he’s lean, he’s thin. He can be very sweet. He’s handsome. He’s graceful. And I think all that stuff is, in very contemporary animation anyway, rare to see that type of villain,” says Bruce Smith, supervising animator of Dr. Facilier. “It’s always great as an animator to get the villain, and the villain is always that character that holds up the film and keeps everything interesting and on edge. Luckily, in this case, I’ve really got a very unique villain—a great villain.”

A New Twist on an Old Tale
The Princess and the Frog is the sixth collaboration by the veteran team of Ron Clements and John Musker. The animation duo was drawn to the project because of its compelling story and comic promise. “John Lasseter loved the idea,” Musker recalls, “and the idea of New Orleans as a setting, with all the cultural, historical, visual and magical ideas that great city offered us. We decided that the Jazz Age added an element of both nostalgia and musicality, and we really wanted to play up the fairy tale archetypes.”

The Princess and the Frog is, of course, inspired by the fairy tale “The Frog Prince” from the Brothers Grimm. But the filmmakers had to put their own spin on the story. Screenwriter Rob Edwards says the writing process is an extremely collaborative one. “Most of my writing is done while walking through the halls and talking to the storyboard artists and the animators and some of the voice talent and the directors,” he says. “The easy part is going back to my office and just writing it.” On the bend of the Big River, New Orleans sparkles with opulence, adventure, romance, music and magic. Here in the “once upon a time” of the Jazz Age 1920s, among the wroughtiron balconies and beckoning alleyways of the French Quarter and environs, a most unusual tale unfolds.

Tiana is an attractive, independent, hardworking young woman. She has no time for romance and the dalliance of dreams, she has a love of cooking, and plans to be a successful restaurateur, fulfilling the love of food that is her father’s legacy. But in spite of her hard work and diligence, obstacles keep Tiana’s goals out of reach. Down on the Mississippi riverfront, a handsome and gregarious jazz fanatic has arrived in the Crescent City: the royal outcast Prince Naveen from far-off Maldonia. A little spoiled, irresponsible and indolent, perhaps, Naveen has made his way through life on his good looks and undeniable charm. His position attracts the evil Dr. Facilier, a practitioner of dark magic, whose effort to steal Naveen’s royal privilege results in the handsome prince’s transformation into a frog.

Naveen’s attempt to use the old fairy-tale standby of a kiss to return him to human form only results in Tiana being transformed, too, and the amphibious twosome find themselves cast adrift in the Louisiana bayou, pursued by frog hunters and seeking the good magic of a mysterious 197-year-old priestess named Mama Odie. Helping them along in their precarious, awkward, but truly laughable journey are a lovesick Cajun firefly named Ray and a Jazz-playing alligator named Louis; and although their way is fraught with peril, the contrary pair bring out each other’s better selves, overcome their differences and their obstacles, and discover that dreams do come true—but never in the way one might expect.

In the end, love wins out, and the differences that seemed so very important before seem to fade away into the bayou. Edwards says his goal was simple: “I want to tell an honest story about two wonderful people who meet and fall in love. I want to tell it to my friends and my friends’ sons and daughters, and that’s it.”

But does The Princess and the Frog have the makings of a classic? “What makes a classic?” asks Edwards. “Compelling characters, strong points of view, humor that’s both sophisticated for parents and fun for kids, great music. You want to make a kind of rollercoaster ride with great highs and lows. You should laugh, you should cry. You should be touched, and I think if it touches people, then everything else falls into place.”

Classic Character Animation and Inspired Voice Talent
The Princess and the Frog marks the 49th time that an animation “casting call” has gone out from Disney to the stars and stalwarts of Hollywood, but unlike their live-action counterparts, Disney animated features use two primary performers for each individual onscreen role: the hand of the artist and the voice of an actor. For the voice of the film’s leading lady, Tiana, the filmmakers called on Tony Award winner Anika Noni Rose, who fulfills a lifelong ambition with the role.

“I can honestly say that this is a dream come true for me. Since I was a little kid I wanted to work for Disney—and I didn’t need to be the princess. I would have been a tick or a flea! “I’m glad that I was able to be here at the right time for this to happen,” the actress continues. “It’s a blessing, an honor and a

Supervising animator Mark Henn is the other half of Tiana’s persona, and his opinions and ideas about Disney princesses are not just academic, they are personally informed. He is variously kidded as “The Actor’s Studio Animator,” and Disney’s greatest leading lady—having animated (among other characters) Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas and Mulan. “I find myself an actor trying to put myself in all of my characters’ shoes, whether it’s a female, or a lion cub, or a mouse, or whatever,” Henn says. “There’s a level of the integrity of how the characters move and are genuine. I think particularly with the leading ladies it’s important.”

The prince in The Princess and the Frog takes center stage like never before. This prince is on a journey of discovery all his own and Bruno Campos was tapped to give Naveen his voice. “He’s got some issues,” says Campos of his character. “He’s got a lot of sass. He’s got some wit. He can be a little feisty, but he grows throughout the movie.” Thanks to Campos and Randy Haycock, supervising animator for Prince Naveen and Frog Naveen, the prince comes to the big screen with enough charisma to wow audiences worldwide. “I had a roommate in college who liked the ladies, you know,” says Haycock. “I used to watch him, because he was really good with the girls and I wasn’t, and I noticed that he was a leaner. He was always leaning in, he always got really close. If girls were sitting on a chair, he’d sit next to them and he’d lean in. If they were standing, he’d find something to lean on. I always have Naveen leaning on his hand or leaning on something because that’s that confidence, you know, he’s not stiff at all. He’s very loose, because he’s very cool and confident about who he is.

“The funny thing is,” continues Haycock, “whereas he looks very charming and kind of seductive as a human, it’s almost comical to make him a frog. It adds a layer of humor to his character—the fact that this goofy-looking frog thinks of himself as a ladies’ man.” In Disney animation, the villain is usually the great motivation in the story—escaping from, vanquishing or humiliating the villain is the heroic task. Supervising animator Bruce Smith tried not to be intimidated by the importance of the Dr. Facilier role. “I try to let that sit in the back of my head, because I don’t want to put that type of pressure on myself. But at the same time, that’s why I’m here. To feel that type of pressure, and to be able to have a position where you want to rise to that occasion. I always knew I had it in me personally. You know, I totally can do a villain, and give it a different take that maybe our audiences have not really experienced or seen before.” His performance was certainly supported and elevated by the vocal vibrancy of the prolific and talented actor Keith David, who was drawn to the character…as if by magic. “One of the characters I’ve always wanted to play is High John the Conqueror (a folk hero) who was a conjurer. Dr. Facilier is like that. He’s a conjurer, and a sorcerer of sorts.”

The whole art form is a kind of sorcery to the veteran actor, too. “And that’s a fascinating point about it, since I think of the process of animation as always magical, putting all those elements together—it’s a fascinating process.”

Eric Goldberg, supervising animator for Louis, says the jazz-loving gator was a bit of a challenge at first. “He doesn’t actually have anything on him that you would normally use to make your animation fluid,” says Goldberg. “He doesn’t have feathers, he doesn’t have hair, he doesn’t have clothing. All he has is his body—his muscle, his bone, his fat—we have to utilize those elements to make him feel as alive as possible.” Goldberg says he had to seriously consider scale when it came to Louis. “If you put Ray into the mix, it’s an even bigger concern; he’s tiny compared to the two frogs, and the frogs are tiny compared to Louis. But scale helps give Louis presence. He is a formidable alligator, which actually adds to the humor and warmth of the character.”

The Greatest Talents in Disney Animation Reunite
“I think there’s something about hand-drawn animation—where the animator’s really expressing himself almost directly through his hand, through the pencil onto the paper—nothing else matches that. It’s fun for a lot of these animators to be returning to their roots.”
~Peter Del Vecho, Producer

The filmmakers began the long journey of creating The Princess and the Frog by considering what artistic talent would be required to make a new Disney animated feature. “It really is a great crossroads in the medium, and an opportunity for everyone here to do something that nobody else in the world is doing, and something that, to a certain extent, no one else can do,” producer Peter Del Vecho says. “Everyone on this project deeply cares about it.”

The filmmakers discovered that favorite animators who were doing well in digital animation were willing and eager to return to hand-drawn animation. There was also a whole new generation of artists who had grown up watching the classic Disney films, and those films that directors John Musker, Ron Clements, and their colleagues had made. Many of the new recruits for The Princess and the Frog had seen films such as The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast as children, and were equally as excited and enthusiastic to join in the production.

“We’re trying to reinvent everything,” says art director Ian Gooding. “It’s so hard to just pick up this animation style again—it’s not like it was in the freezer and you just thawed it out. There are lots of challenges—there’s a lot of training and…trying to figure out where to buy paper from again.” “It has been a very interesting process,” Del Vecho says. “Fortunately, we have a lot of collective memory here, so we know how we wanted to do it, but since we are starting from scratch, we also had to think about how we want to do it going into the future. So we talked about doing paperless hand-drawn. But, since technology hasn’t quite caught up to that ability yet, the best thing to do for now was to animate on paper. I’m really glad we made that decision. “It is a process that is akin to laying the track as the train is going down the line,” Del Vecho continues. “It’s not easy, and it causes a fair amount of anxiety, but we’re trying to only pay attention to the things that matter. We’re putting our efforts into what gets up on the screen.

To us, it’s all about what the audience ultimately sees. “We brought back to the Studio the best of the best,” continues Del Vecho. “If you think about the animators we have on the team—it’s almost like we’re bringing back our modernday version of the Nine Old Men; they all get to collaborate on one movie together, they’re at the top of their form.” “I think this film benefits highly from the skill level of all the artists,” says supervising animator Bruce Smith. “I can’t recall a film outside of ones the Nine Old Men did where there was such a concentrated group of talent in the animators’ positions, and it really shows up on the screen. It’s sort of a baseball cliché of everybody leaving it on the field, but it’s like that. I think everybody’s really pouring their guts out on the screen. You’re really getting some great performances.”

“One of the things that John Lasseter brought in is this idea that our communication could be more open,” explains supervising animator Randy Haycock (“The Lion King,” “Hercules,” “Tarzan”). “We can be passionate about it. We don’t have to be afraid of somebody getting freaked out because somebody’s passionate about an idea. It’s passion and it comes from the same place that everybody else’s passion comes from—a desire to make this movie great.”

The Filmmakers Do a Little Hard Work to Make a Big Easy
“One of the unique things about The Princess and the Frog’— it’s not just a fairy tale, it’s actually set in a real time, in a real city. That’s been really fun, it allowed us to actually go to this place and research, and a lot of environments in the movie are places you can actually visit.”
~John Musker, Director

As a setting for the fantastic, the enchanted, the musical, and even the villainous, nowhere on earth seemed quite so right for The Princess and the Frog as New Orleans.

Researching the Big Easy
“We really feel that the city is a major character in the movie,” says director Ron Clements. “We wanted to be true to this city and what’s special about it.” To capture the authenticity of the film’s setting, the filmmakers made multiple trips to New Orleans to research the food, music, architecture, surrounding bayous and the people. They took more than 50,000 photos of local iconic images to use as reference and inspiration.

“We visited these great mansions in the Garden District, since part of our story takes place there,” says Clements. “Our story also takes place near the ninth ward. We worked on a Habitat for Humanity project while we were down there.” The filmmakers also explored the bayou, meeting a few of the swamp’s animal residents; a trip to the New Orleans Audubon Zoo showcased additional creatures, including indigenous alligators, which inspired the film’s trumpet-playing alligator, and spoon-billed birds, which influenced the birds in Mama Odie’s gospel song “Dig a Little Deeper.”

The filmmakers soaked up as much of the city as possible, experiencing the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival—in the rain—as well as taking the Nanchez Riverboat tour to properly capture the riverboat scenes, and touring the streetcar system. Sound designer Oden Benitez even went to Jackson Square to record the sounds of the church bell and streetcar. Directors Musker and Clements, as well as producer Peter Del Vecho, were invited to participate in Mardi Gras aboard a float. “The climax of our film takes place in Mardi Gras,” says director John Musker. “So we were trying to get some of the vibe in terms of the float design and the ambiance.

“We got to experience the power of the beads,” Musker continues. “For those few moments when you’re on that float holding those beads—it’s like you’re holding a fortune; everybody wants those beads.” Adds Clements, “We got to experience being rock stars for 15 seconds at a time. The moment the float passed the people, they’d turn their attention to the next thing. Fame was so fleeting.”

The research proved valuable as Disney artisans strived to capture the city’s almost inexplicable magic. “New Orleans is a shockingly different place. It’s just so different from anywhere else in America,” says art director Ian Gooding. “If you blindfolded someone and put them on a plane that landed in New Orleans, and they’d never been there, you could tell them they were in another country—and they’d probably believe you.”

The sense of otherworldliness within a distinctly American setting was a component of the filmmakers’ approach to developing their New Orleans fairy tale. Within the geography and history of the region were all of the elements they required, and the real places themselves inspired the storytelling.

“This movie is challenging in that it has such different environments. You
have the French Quarter, and the wild, colorful Mardi Gras, and the polished sophistication of the Garden District—and then you have the Bayou.”
~Maria Gonzales, Color Supervisor

The Garden District
As the residential setting for the ostensible “royal family” in this American fairy tale, the filmmakers found a locale that evoked the ideas of luxury, solidity and tradition of a majestic castle. The Garden District was the first suburban neighborhood of New Orleans. Developed from 1832 to about 1900, the Garden District evokes the stately homes and mansions of the wealthy newcomers who built opulent homes to reflect their prosperity—and that of New Orleans during the era.

The filmmakers faced the challenge of taking a very ordered, architectural, real-world inspiration and making it into a lush and nostalgic fairy-tale realm. Additionally, the human environs had to seamlessly co-exist with the extreme naturalism of an uncultivated bayou that also plays such an important role.

Art director Ian Gooding added an element of caricature to the design, in order to relieve the innate rigidity of the horizontal/vertical statements of real architecture. Ornamentation, turnings, scrollwork and posts were exaggerated, but without compromising the solid look of the buildings.

The French Quarter
North of Canal Street is the picturesque French Quarter (Vieux Carré) of the old city, now one of the best-loved attractions in the American South.
Many of the multi-storied French Quarter buildings feature ornate balconies and elaborate cast-iron work. Most buildings are built with brick or plastered brick, painted in bright colors, and feature window and door shutters for protection against tropical storms. At night, the glow of gas lamps and lanterns light the cobbled alleys and courtyards, casting shadows that stimulate the romantic, the imaginative—and the apprehensive. This undercurrent of darkness and magic lurking behind the graceful wrought-iron balconies helped define the key element of enchantment in the story. While sinister, this element is not unattractive—especially to the youthful and spirited prince. In designing these more ominous settings of the city, the artists developed a visual vocabulary that would reinforce both the mood of the spaces and the characters that inhabit them. Tall, narrow spaces and doorways reveal artifacts, masks and objects. Strong contrast and unsettling light-and-shadow patterns add disquiet. In all, elements of fantasy and terror are more pronounced and stylized; the environment evokes the attractive malevolence of the villainous Dr. Facilier.

The Bayou
In the Delta region of Louisiana and Mississippi, sluggish offshoots of the “Big River” meander through marshes of the lowlands, creating great swampy regions known as bayous. Alligators slip through the brackish waters beneath palmetto leaves, and fireflies create a glow among the branches of gnarled live oaks and scrub pine, all draped in shrouds of Spanish moss. It’s the perfect setting for the mysterious, the magical and the romantic.

“I grew up in Florida,” says production designer James Aaron Finch, “so I had a sense of this Southern environment, the great oaks, the swampy areas. The indigenous plants that people don’t see much in California, palmettos and things, and how to put them in there. I bring a little bit of that language of the South, and what’s authentic to the Bayou.”

Bringing together such disparate environments was a genuine concern of the production team, but perhaps not in the manner one might assume. Kyle Odermatt explains, “The organics of the Bayou are easy to do, straight to final. The architectural things were actually harder to do. And the real challenge
from an artistic standpoint is going from one to another and having it feel okay.”

Visual development artist Susan Nichols adds, “New Orleans really is emblematic of ‘Americana,’ in that it’s a melting pot of so many varied cultures, and always has been, which gives a flavor to the community and the ethnicity that is integral to the entire environment there. It added a layer of flavor to the visuals that we haven’t tapped into before, and I loved it.”

Classic Disney Design Informs
“This movie was just filled to the rim. I think no other film that we’ve done has got so much going on in terms of location.”
~James Aaron Finch, Production Designer

Creating a world that has credibility while maintaining an aura of fantasy is always a challenge, so the filmmakers examined how the Disney masters of the past had designed their films. “The directors were talking about ‘Lady and the Tramp’ for the architectural stuff, but ‘Bambi’ for the natural stuff, the organic stuff,” Ian Gooding says. “In ‘Bambi’ they took something incredibly complex, a forest environment—leaves and twigs, rocks and bark clumps, everything else that you find in a forest—and they painted only what was important. You still have the feeling of a forest, but not a literal forest. You don’t miss the billions of twigs and leaves and stuff. It completely works the way that they conceived and executed it.” “We knew we were working on a period piece,” says production designer James Aaron Finch, “and we knew that some of the architecture was of that Garden District feel, so we looked at ‘Lady and the Tramp,’ not so much for the application of paint, but definitely the caricature of shapes and the compositional elements.”

Lighting and Color
“In lighting and color, I think our film is actually a little bit more complex than our early films, although we often look to the simplicity of previous titles,” says head of backgrounds Sunny Apinchapong. In color styling, visual development artist Lorelay Bove aimed for balance. “For the color on the bayou, I would look at photographs and research on the Internet, and really look at what’s appealing, or what colors were working together. If the moment was a sad moment, maybe it’s monochromatic and more on the gray side.”

Ian Gooding says the process involves a lot of push and pull. “We started with a background, and I painted it, contextually, too far—too organic, too brushstroked, too painterly, too soft. We put characters on top of it and showed it to the directors and John Lasseter. They said, ‘Parts of this are working, but let’s tighten up these areas,’ and we started pulling back until we found what worked.” Apinchapong adds, “One thing we try to do is that even though we’re using software to paint these days, we don’t want it to look too digital. We try to make sure it feels more traditional, even though we don’t use brush or paint.”

A Frog’s Eye View
The differing species of characters led to another unique design challenge for the filmmakers—creating a relative size scale that would enable the appropriate staging of scenes between characters of differing sizes, and their scale relationships to their settings. “It’s something we always have to be aware of and not just cheat like mad so it doesn’t feel real,” says supervising animator Eric Goldberg. “Yes, there’s some liberties that you can take in order to stage things effectively and make it look like characters are having a conversation, but everything has to be in proper relationship to everything else.” Rasoul Azadani, layout supervisor and lighting designer, recalls how the notion of scale affected a research trip to a real bayou. “When I went to the bayou, some parts had no water, so we could see the buildup of bayou from the ground up, we could see what the ground would look like, and you could see the water marks, how the water would come in. So I was walking with my camera right on the ground, taking snapshots from the point of view of the frogs.”

While we have been wowed by 3D animation for a number of years now, no doubt our appreciation for classic 2D animation will be heightened with this film.

Images © Disney Enterprises Inc.