Fantasia/2000: Blending Art
and Technology

by David Bossert

The sorcerer's apprentice, i.e. Mickey Mouse, makes the transition from 1940 to 2000 with ease. © Disney Enterprises Inc.

In the late 1930s, during the golden age of animation, there was an enormous amount of innovation and invention of animation techniques; many of which are still in use today. The Disney Studio's animators experimented with different animation techniques and the technology of the day on many of the short animated films that were being produced. Shorts such as Through the Looking Glass and The Old Mill became laboratories for the effects department.

It was during this time period that much advancement was made including the development of the multi-plane camera, ripple glass, as well as sophisticated matte and optical techniques. Some of these techniques were used for the first time in Fantasia, which was released in November of 1941.

Fantasia stretched the boundaries of animation art and technology in 1940; it blended sights and sounds to a degree never before seen. This theme of blending art and technology is continued with Fantasia/2000.

In this newest version of Fantasia, a team of Disney artists and technicians have again pushed the envelope; this time with art and "digital" technology. Each new segment presented the team with different challenges that required inventive solutions. "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" segment uses some cutting edge dynamic software for the hair and skirt movements of the ballerina, one of the main characters. In the "Pines of Rome" segment, a color modeling tool was developed to help the art director define the color of the ocean water surface. Morphing software was used to create a stormy ocean surface in "Pomp and Circumstance, " a new Donald Duck piece. Houdini, an off-the-shelf software package, was used to create the defining elements of one of the main characters, the sprite, in the film's finale, "The Firebird."

New technology and creative thinking bring a ballerina and soldier to life.
© Disney Enterprises Inc.

A Nimble Ballerina
In the "Tin Soldier" segment, physics-based methods were used to create the animation of the ballerina's skirt and hair. This hair dynamics frame work and skirt dynamics was the brainchild of Umakanth (or Uma) Thumrugoti.

A single NURBS (Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines) patch defined the cloth geometry of the skirt and a skeleton structure was created to approximate and map this geometry. The animation applied on the skeleton deforms the skirt geometry through a cluster mechanism. The shape of the skeleton structure almost resembles that of a tapered cylinder, with the exception that the upper half of the structure has some puffiness built in.

A spring/particle mesh represents the skeleton structure, with a particle at each joint and a spring at each bone of the mesh. There are also diagonal springs connecting the particles for a greater scope of movement.

The ballerina was animated first without the skirt. Then the topmost joints of the skeleton structure (spring/particle mesh) inherited the animation from the ballerina. Physics-based methods, coupled with behavior-based functions controlled the motion of the skeleton structure and consequently the skirt. Also built were some post-animation controls for refining the skirt animation after the physical simulation was done. The animation for the ballerina's hair was done in a similar fashion using dynamics; the same idea as the skirt, only in a more simplified version.

Over 140 feet of skirt animation was required for this segment, with the ballerina performing a complex range of movements. Using dynamics the team was able to get 80 to 90 percent of the animation completed. Peter Palombi did the rest with post-simulation tweaking, along with the hair collision. Dave Tonnesen assisted in this process.

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