Issue: Volume: 23 Issue: 1 (January 2000)

Fantasia 2000

"It is our intention to make a new version of Fantasia every year. Its pattern is very flexible and fun to work with-not really a concert, not a vaudeville or a revue, but a grand mixture of comedy, fantasy, ballet, drama, impressionism, color, sound and epic fury." -Walt Disney, 1941

Sadly, Disney's goal was not realized. Fantasia's initial release was a financial disaster, and even though later releases of the film turned a profit, and ideas for new segments were developed, the project stalled-for 50 years. Fittingly, the inspiration for a new version of Fantasia came from Walt Disney's nephew, Roy, who learned of his uncle's concept for Fantasia at age 12 and had dreamed of creating new segments for the film he loved ever since. He nearly had to wait until the next millennium.
Soaring to music by Stravinsky, a sprite showers the land with 3D particles that spray from her robe to become trees, grass, and flowers in "The Firebird Suite" segment.

In 1984, Roy Disney, who is now vice chairman of The Walt Disney Company's board of directors, became the driving force behind the newly energized Walt Disney Feature Animation. In 1991, when a home-video release of the original Fantasia proved a huge success, he was able to convince the studio's CEO Michael Eisner to let him "fool around with the thing." That year, he became executive producer for Fantasia 2000.

Like its predecessor, Fantasia 2000 is a fusion of animated images and classical music. In this film, eight musical selections, including works from Respighi, Beethoven, and Gershwin, unleash eight unique artistic flights of the imagination. And like the original, Fantasia 2000 will make film history. The movie's world premiere will be at Carnegie Hall with live accompaniment by the 120-piece London Philharmonic Orchestra, followed by a world tour. Then, on January 1, 2000, it will debut exclusively in Imax theatres, making it the first theatrical feature-length film to be released in this large-format medium.

Why did it take nine years to produce? "I think because we were pioneering things," says Donald W. Ernst, co-producer of Aladdin (1992), who became Fantasia 2000's producer in 1993. "We were learning as we went along." Also, he points out that because images tell the story in Fantasia 2000, the segments had to be seen in final form to receive approvals-unlike most animated films, which can receive early approvals based on narrative or dialog. All told, some 1200 people will be listed in the credits, although a core team of 60 to 70 people created much of the animation, says Dave Bossert, artistic coordinator and visual effects supervisor.
Even though the baby whale in the middle looks like a cartoon, all three family members in "The Pines of Rome" sequence are 3D models. The water is also 3D.

Seven of the eight segments are new; half have 3D computer graphics elements; and all were touched digitally, including the original "Sorcerer's Apprentice," starring Mickey Mouse, which was restored one frame at a time at Cinesite (Los Angeles) to remove dust, dirt, and artifacts.

Throughout Fantasia 2000, there is a blend of old and new, and of 2D and 3D animation. Donald and Daisy Duck board a 3D ark, and hand-drawn pastels become textures for ab stract 3D characters. Even live-action elements from the 1940s, now scanned into digital flipbooks, appear in animations created with 3D computer graphics. The same rain used in Bambi (1942), for example, became a Fantasia 2000 effect after being altered in CAPS, the studio's computer-aided production system de veloped largely by Pixar (Pt. Richmond, CA) for Disney.

At Disney, CAPS is used by scene planners, color modelers, layout artists, and effects artists, and for inking and painting 2D cels, whether the characters, effects, and backgrounds start as scanned pencil drawings and paintings, or as digital sketches. It's also used for compositing 2D and 3D elements and for final output.
The whales were animated with key framing, but the baby's eyes (above) were animated traditionally. At left, digital whales and water were blended with painted backgrounds

3D computer graphics have appeared in Disney animations for nearly 15 years, with the first 3D object in a feature film taking the form of a prop (a boat in The Black Cauldron, 1985). Later, 2D characters were put inside a 3D background (Beauty and the Beast, 1991). Then, 3D became used for creatures in crowd animations (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1996), and more recently, as characters in small, but starring roles such as the Hydra in Hercules (1997). Largely unseen publicly, though, were animated segments for Fantasia 2000 created during this time that used 3D graphics. These segments required the development of breakthrough computer graphics technology and helped prove the merit of computer graphics imagery (CGI) to the studio.

Hendel Butoy, who had just finished directing The Rescuers Down Under, became supervising animation director for Fantasia 2000 in 1991. Roy Disney initially sent him several pieces of music, among them a personal favorite, "Pines of Rome," by Ottorino Respighi. When Butoy selected "Pines," the project grew from there, with Butoy directing this segment personally. "The music gave me an impression of flight," he says, "so I had two artists sketch things having to do with flight." One sketch put a whale in a cloud. As the idea developed, they decided that for the last march-like movement in "Pines," they wanted a pod of whales to lift out of the water into the sky.

"I knew that with CGI we could multiply objects and put them into the sky, and it would be hard to do by hand," Butoy says. "So if that were 3D computer graphics, then the rest would need to be CGI to be consistent." This was the early '90s, and although Disney had incorporated 3D into a few films, the CGI studio had not created anything this complex. "I asked the CGI department if the idea were possible," he says. "They said 'Sure, it's just a matter of time and money.'" He laughs now, remembering. "When they told me they could do it, I thought, 'That's great.' But when we got into it, there were a lot of problems I didn't foresee. Still, the company stuck with it and let us do it."

The story develops around a 3D humpback whale family and supporting pods of some 800 whales. In an especially stunning scene, when a supernova explodes above their iceberg-laden habitat, huge whales lift out of the water and fly into the sky on a 70-foot screen.

Animators used Alias (Toronto) software running on SGI (Mountain View) machines to create the whale family. " 'Pines' was the first piece directly animated in the computer at Disney," says Darrin Butts, an animator who worked on the "Pines" and "Piano Concerto #2" segments. "We used off-the-shelf software, but the tools were still pretty rough." By the time work on the tin soldier and other CG characters in "Piano Concerto #2" began, the studio could use Alias' Power Animator for character animation. For these first 3D characters, though, Disney decided to stick with tradition for the eyes by layering hand-drawn animation on top of the CGI, according to Butts, who notes that because traditional close-up animators did the eye animation by hand for the whale family, every frame of the underlying 3D animation had to be plotted out.
Technically, the most difficult tasks in the "Piano Concerto #2" segment were animating the ballerina's dress and hair. To do this, the Disney crew created simulation programs. For the animators, making the one-legged tin soldier hop in time to music by S

The whale family was animated by hand using keyframe animation. To animate the pods of whales, though, the technical team wrote custom herding software in 1992. "We called it 'podding,'" says M. J. Turner, CG supervisor. This custom software made it possible to animate the large number of whales that 3D software had made it possible to create. But integrating the whales into painted backgrounds and into the 2D process became cumbersome. "For the shots of the whales breaching through the clouds, we had to render the pods in layers and plot them on paper for the [2D] effects animators," she says.

Even though the whales and ocean are CG, the water that drops off the whales as they rise out of the ocean, for example, is traditionally drawn. To help blend the two technologies, the technical team developed a color-picking tool to select colors from hand-painted backgrounds and incorporate them into Pixar's RenderMan shaders. "One of the reasons to use CG was to put a mottled skin texture on the whales that we couldn't do traditionally," says Bossert. "It gives them an almost surreal look." The textures were created with procedural shaders in RenderMan.

To create the ocean, the technical team used a 3D spring mass mesh. Then, for the water surface, they used a shader on top, according to Umakanth Thumrugoti, technical director, who remembers trying to figure out how to create waves as whales broke the surface. "Susan Thayer, lead technical director, came up with a brilliant idea," Thumrugoti says. To implement that idea, Thumrugoti wrote a tool to generate particles that would travel in expanding circles around the profiles of the curves created by the whales-like the circles you see if you were to put a stick in water, she explains. The particles were then used as displacement maps to create high and low areas for the waves.
To give the 3D shapes in "Symphony No. 5" a graphical look, textures were made from scanned pastels. The shapes were flattened onto planes, outlined procedurally, and layered in z-depth.

Even though work on "Pines" began in 1991 and was finished in 1994, the segment is still timely: While many animated feature films blend 2D and 3D, few have attempted to blend 3D characters in leading roles into 2D painted backgrounds.

Serendipity put this music by Dmitri Shostakovich together with the classic fairy tale "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" by Hans Christian Anderson. By chance, Butoy, who personally directed this segment as well, happened to be looking at storyboards for a short animation based on the fairy tale while the Shostakovich music was playing. The two fit.

"I wanted to do the characters in CGI because they are toys, but I had cold feet after 'Pines,'" Butoy says. "These characters would have faces and would have a performance. They'd have to act." Since Pixar was working on Toy Story for Disney at the same time, he talked to them about creating the segment. But Steve Goldberg at Disney convinced Butoy to let Disney's own CGI department create the characters. Goldberg's team did a proof of concept for the facial animation in the summer of 1995, and got approval to create Disney's first 3D characters with acting roles. An excerpt from the final animation, the story of a wicked Jack-in-the-box who watches his beloved ballerina become the object of affection of a one-legged tin soldier, was shown at Siggraph in 1998.

Two of the most technically difficult parts of the animation were creating the ballerina's hair and dress. For this, Thumrugoti created a dynamics framework that worked for both. She'd receive final animations, attach the skirt or hair to the skeleton, start her simulation program, and the simulator would apply values to inverse-kinematics chains, which could later be tweaked by hand. "The simulation had to look like traditional animation," she says. "The animators had to have control." In addition, even though the folds and pleats in the skirt would naturally smooth out with gravitational forces as the skirt moved, because they were part of an approved look and needed to remain intact, she created a series of functions that plugged into Alias to put them back, as a "post-process," after the simulation.

Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and Igor Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite-1919 Version," the opening and closing segments respectively, were created most recently, both with the help of Houdini software. The opening segment, set to one of the most familiar pieces of classical music, is one of the most abstract visually in Fantasia 2000. Directed by Pixote Hunt, multi-colored, triangular shapes tell a classic story of the battle between good and evil. The good shapes, including a few "hero characters," are multi-colored pastels, lit from above, that move like butterflies; the bad shapes are dark, lit from below and move like bats or hawks. During the segment, the dark forces emitted from plant pods in the ground attack the whimsical, multi-colored shapes.

The technical team was given a rough traditional animation to work from, according to Shyh-Chyuan Huang, CGI lead, but the animation was created entirely with 3D computer graphics combined with traditionally created effects and backgrounds. To animate the shapes, slow and fast gliding and flapping animation cycles were tied procedurally to a particle animation in Houdini; each particle would later be replaced with a 3D geometric shape. If the particles moved up, the shapes would flap; if the particles moved down, they'd glide. The team controlled the particles by setting them on a path inside an elliptical volume that contained obstacles the particles would avoid.

Huang also relied on Houdini's particle animation tools to help create the "Firebird" segment. To illustrate this musical segment, directors Gaetan and Paul Brizzi from Disney's Paris studio created a sprite who would personify nature in a story of powerful forces and of a forest's death and rebirth.

The CGI team's task was to give the sprite, who is traditionally animated, symbols of life when she's interacting with her environment. To do this, they created a mesh that they rotoscoped to the animated character's flowing robe. Then, rather than mapping a picture onto the mesh, they mapped a flow of particles onto the geometry. As the sprite glides across the landscape, her robe releases particles that grow into grass, flowers, and trees in her wake; her hair emits bees and butterflies, which are animated sprites instanced to particles. "My personal favorite was the shot when she gives life to a tree as she flies up through the bare branches," says Huang. Because the moving branches were traditionally animated, the technical team created CG versions by rotoscoping each one. That allowed the flower particles that shower down as the sprite moves up through the tree to stick on the branches so that the tree looks like it's blooming.
With 3D flower particles dropping from her robe, the sprite dusts a tree with spring blossoms and continues the annual, life-giving cycle.

In the dramatic finale, the sprite flies through her charred forest and gives it new life. As she sweeps toward the volcano, millions of trees grow up behind her and little flowers pop up from the forest floor. To build the forest, the team used particles to start each tree, and then animated the growing trees procedurally using texture map cycles and 3D morphing.

As she reaches the top of the mountain, millions of particles flow down its sides, turning the volcanic ash into a green landscape. She flies on, up into the sky, and as she touches the sky, it, too, changes. The technical team applied the particles flowing from her robe to the painted background so that her movement influences the sky. "Each particle displaces a pixel in the painting," Huang says. "It gives the sky texture and movement."

"It looks almost like an impressionist painting," says Bossert. "We couldn't have done this traditionally." It ends the film-and starts the new millennium-on an uplifting note.

"All the sequences give you a feeling of hope," says Ernst, "that if we go down our path, things will turn out well in the end." In any case, this has turned out to be true for Fantasia, at last.

Barbara Robertson is Senior Editor, West Coast, for Computer Graphics World.