At long last, the animated short, Destino, surfaces. Bill Desowitz talks to Roy Disney about his personal quest to finish the artistic collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali.
At long last, Destino, the legendary unfinished animated collaboration between Walt Disney and Salvador Dali two visionaries that struck up a friendship when the flamboyant Spanish painter worked in Hollywood in the '40s has been completed and premiered June 2, 2003 at the opening of this year's Annecy International Animation Film Festival.
Most animation observers assumed Destino, mysteriously abandoned after eight months of storyboarding in 1946, was a lost cause. But the surrealist short, originally envisioned by Disney as a compilation film along the lines of The Three Caballeros, found new life when vice chairman Roy Disney initiated its completion last year, largely at Disney Studio France.
"It is a little different [project] for us," Disney says of Destino's cryptic artistic merits, which features such trademark Dali images as ravaging ants, eyeballs, melting clocks, the Venus sculpture coming to life as a beautiful woman and two gargoyle heads resembling the artist with turtles' bodies. "But I'm enormously proud that we've done this because it is about who we are as artists, how long our history is and how long we respect it."
Serge Bromberg, Annecy's artistic director, adds that the premiere is not only a great coup for the festival but a very fitting one. "It has been a great honor to premiere Destino in Annecy. As a historian of animation, the Destino project has always been the Loch Ness monster, the film of legend never to be seen When Roy Disney [who was honored at Annecy in 2000] called me to say that the film was finished, I could not believe my ears. It was obvious right away that the only place to premiere the film was Annecy, not only because Annecy is the place for discovering new genres, new techniques and new ways of doing animation, and because France was the center of the world for Dali, but also because the new version was produced at the [Paris] studio and by a French director [Dominique Monfery]."
Disney, who served as exec producer, first hit on the idea of completing Destino after doing the Bette Midler interstitial for Fantasia 2000 that makes reference to the Dali work. "Out of using the material, I got into a conversation with attorneys about using Dali artwork to promote Fantasia 2000," Disney explains. "They told me that we possess it but don't own it." It turns out that the contract between Walt and Dali stipulated that the artwork doesn't become Disney property until after the movie is made. So there was a financial and historical impetus to this. Disney believes the project was abandoned because the compilation film was no longer commercially viable by the end of World War II."
Yet Destino is certainly profitable today, what with lithographs, books and inclusion on a future DVD with an accompanying documentary. Disney says the plan is to play other appropriate festivals after Annecy in the hope of garnering an Oscar nomination for best Animated Short subject.
Baker Bloodworth (Dinosaur), who returned to Disney after a brief sabbatical, served as producer. He says then animation president Tom Schumacher chose the French studio because of its unique sensitivity to the material and that Monfery (The Emperor's New Groove and Hercules) seemed the most appropriate animator to helm the five-minute short even though he had never directed before.
"At first Dominique said no," Bloodworth recalls. "'Why would you want to finish a project started by Salvador Dali? Are you insane?' he said in a polite French way. Two months go by and he finally agreed to do it. I told him to start drawing, just start playing with it and see if something sparks you. He started storyboarding and re-storyboarding sequences that Dali and John Hench [background artist on Fantasia and Dumbo and layout artist on Three Caballeros) had done. "
Despite the theft of the portfolio decades ago, about 80 pen-and-ink sketches survive along with and a few paintings a storyboard and a 15-second reel that can be viewed on the Fantasia 2000 DVD set. "Destino was ultimately recut from eight to five minutes because some of it was incomprehensible," Bloodworth continues. "Dali had always said, 'If you understand this, then I've failed.' There's some truth to this but we also wanted it to be watchable. Roy was very conscious of holding an audience We pulled together the love story and compressed. And yet there is a long baseball sequence that no one could make sense of that we only touched on.
"We were true to the look that Dali painted. Several of his [sketches and paintings] make the piece look timeless because you can't tell where it's from. Dali would start with an image, which would become another one, and just when you thought it would hold on that image, it would become something else. The man and woman and swallows were central character designs, but she never looks the same her hair is long, then short. He always looks like he emerges from rock.
"Dominique took the best of the drawings and then went back to the Dali works to find patterns. We used elements from the original story reel, such as the two Dali heads, and chose some CG techniques because it felt right. Nothing is advanced, just available tools. Twenty percent are CG elements, the rest is 2D. Dali is linear, angular, sharp, clear. Very graphic. And characters are true to that. It was Dominique's idea to have strong shadows."
Disney says the CG work is appropriate given the "plastic quality" of Dali's work. "It's highly dimensional so the few things we did construct in 3D fit right in and you could move the virtual camera around these objects the Tower of Babel, the monastery bell tower, the wall where sands of time slip away. We spent a lot of time figuring out the man and woman's faces and bodies. There's relatively little animation [of them] and we wanted her poses to reflect the time she's kind of anti-modern."
Destino is comprised of a seamless blending of computer-generated and traditionally drawn animation. Many elements throughout the film were modeled in Alias|Wavefront's Maya. For instance, the closeup portions of the Babel Tower, is a CG model built in Maya. Also, the four partygoers and eyeballs wearing tuxedos that are featured prominently on various parts of the Babel Tower were modeled in Maya. All of these elements were texture mapped and rendered in Maya as well. In the scene with the two heads coming together, the only surviving piece of film from the 1946 reel, the Matador software package was employed to create intricate mattes. These mattes were used to separate the painted heads from the background. An extensive digital restoration was performed once those elements were separated. All of these elements came together with the traditionally drawn animation in Disney's proprietary Computer Animation Production System (CAPS). The final 2k resolution images were then outputted to digital film recorded and shot on to 35mm Kodak EK film.
The revelation for the Disney vice chairman and the other animators came when they finally understood the continuity of Dali and Hench's work. Sketches were originally assembled into a storyboard and photographed on 2'x3' cards and stacked up. However, they were not numbered. A year-and-a-half ago, Disney and a group of animators laid them all out on an enormous display table at the research library in Burbank and started playing with the troublesome middle section. "We discovered that they didn't read like most storyboards where you go across a given card," Disney explains. "These read all the way across the top of a set of three cards. The next line would then read across the next line. Don Ernst, who co-produced Fantasia 2000, pointed this out and it was a big epiphany."
Bill Desowitz is the editor of VFXWorld.com.