Still Enchanted - Part Two

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer
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Last week, I talked about some of the characters and the making of Enchanted (2007). This week, here are some more stories about the film, especially about the animation which has always been a fascination for me since animation is what got me interested in Disney in the first place.

Kevin Lima, of course as mentioned in Part One, had a background as a classic animator, as well as an animation director before helming Enchanted.

However, even though Enchanted was a Disney film, the company, just like with the earlier Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), was unable to provide the necessary animation for the film. Disney had dismantled its hand drawn 2-D animation department after the poor showing of animated features like Treasure Planet, Brother Bear and Home on the Range.

At the studio, the thinking was that audiences only wanted animated films using CGI to create a 3-D approach like the Pixar movies and other animated feature films coming from other studios like DreamWorks.

James Baxter started his animation career working on Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) with Richard Williams in London as an inbetweener and finished as an animator.

He worked as an animator at Disney on The Little Mermaid and Rescuers Down Under before becoming the supervising animator on Rafiki in The Lion King, Belle in Beauty and the Beast and Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and then moved to work on animated features at DreamWorks.

At the beginning of 2005, Baxter left DreamWorks Animation to start his own studio – James Baxter Animation.

Baxter said, "I started my own studio not because I just liked doing it better, but I started doing it on my own because no one was doing 2-D at the level I wanted to do it at. 2-D didnt go away; it just went away at a couple of big studios like Disney. The people I hired for my crew hadn't left the industry; they were still working because there was still stuff around."

In October, he heard about Enchanted and phoned Lima directly asking to be considered. Two other studios were also under consideration. Baxter demonstrated to Lima a similar passion for the project as his own.

Lima and his team did the final storyboards and recorded the voices and sent all of that to Baxter whose studio did layout, final design, animation and everything up through final color.

Lima said at the time of the film's release:

"One of the reasons I really wanted to work with James Baxter is his history with the company. He's immersed in what it is to be a Disney animator and he knows what those iconic ideas mean.

"On top of all of that, he's a phenomenal actor with the pencil, making a character come across on the page. And we basically started working on the design process of the characters together. The storyboards were pretty much done by the time he came aboard.

"He had to also work with our costume designer to make sure that whatever he drew could be re-created in fabric. We wanted the costumes to help establish the iconic individuality of each of these characters. We knew that Edward, for instance, had to share the same costume between both worlds. Typically, an animated character never changes his costume, so we used that idea."

Storyboard supervisor/conceptual consultant Troy Quane said to writer Jeremie Noyer, "The biggest problem, I think, was working on the animated opening. One of my biggest concerns was to really nail down that opening because that really gives you the rules of this world. Even when we're going to New York, these are the rules that these characters live by and that translates very directly to New York when they get to be real people."

Baxter stated in a Disney press release, "What appealed to me most about doing Enchanted was the sense of nostalgia, the sense of the classic sort of animation becoming real."

Quane, who came up with the design for chipmunk Pip that was given to Baxter for further development, recalled, "The troll came from one of Harald Siepermann's designs. He did a ton of designs and the troll is one of the characters he had been working on. So we took his character and extrapolated from there. Harald did a lot of animals which James ended up developing from that point. Once James came on, once we hit upon a style idea of going with a kind of Art Nouveau style, James really took the reins as far as the final look of the design on characters and animals."

Lima shared, "Of course, there are references that people still haven't gotten. The troll's loin cloth is made up of the earliest dresses worn by Disney princesses like Snow White, Belle, Aurora and Cinderella. It's like four dresses and his earrings are Ariel's purple shells from her bra. It is sort of the idea that he has eaten all of the princesses or something worse, and now he's after Giselle, so there is a real danger there."

Andreas Deja did much of the animation on the troll and also the Old Hag character. He was also going to do much of the Sarandon Wicked Witch as well, but by the time many of those scenes were ready, he had gone back to Disney, so much of that work was done by Baxter. Baxter also did much of the work on Prince Edward as well.

Baxter, along with Mark Henn and Robert Domingo, were the primary animators on Giselle with a few other people picking up an occasional shot.

Having just started his studio, Baxter needed to build his team so he "borrowed" animators from other studios where he had done some work and had maintained good relationships.

Some studios did not currently have work for some of their top artists, but were still paying them salaries. For a few months, Deja and Mark Henn were borrowed from Disney with Baxter paying their salaries. He also borrowed Robert Domingo and William Salazar from DreamWorks.

In the old movie studio system, it was not unusual for studios to loan out their top stars to other studios that were willing to pay the cost. They still remained under contract to their original studio but that studio got a break in not having to pay the salaries for a short period of time.

The attempt was to create the feeling of the traditional Disney animated features but with some cosmetic enhancements. Clean up drawings were scanned into the computer and all the Ink & Paint was done on computer as it was on the Disney animated features in the 1990s. The backgrounds were painted in Photoshop.

Lima and Baxter worked very, very closely, sending things back and forth digitally because Lima was working in New York and Baxter was in Pasadena, California. Lima would sometimes have to respond by e-mail because of the time difference.

Baxter told writer Jeremie Noyer, "The Prince picking up Nathaniel and dancing with him is a direct homage to Sleeping Beauty when the Prince picks up his father and dances around with him. That what Kevin Lima, the director, said to me when he was handing over that scene. 'I want this to be like that, you know. I want it to be recognizable as that.' So, there were definitely specific sort of Disney moments that we referencing. Not copying, but just referencing.

"They were shooting the live action in New York while we were animating and we would send our tests to New York," Baxter said. "The director would show them to the actors to show them what we were doing and he would select some (live action) shots he thought were really good for us to see and we would look at what they were doing. So, our inspiration as far as how to make these characters new and individual really came from the actors and what they were doing. I took photos myself and met with the actors."

Lima told writer Joe Strike, "I shot live-action reference footage of Amy doing some of the scenes her character would be doing in animation and gave them to the animators so they could understand how Amy was going to translate her character in the real world.


Kevin Lima shot live-action reference footage of Amy Adams doing some of the scenes her character would be doing in animation

"On the other hand, James Baxter did some animation tests which I shared with Amy. It helped her find Giselle's float -- a way of moving that feels like she's not taking firm, deep steps," Lima said. "Before we had anybody in front of a camera as real people, we had already animated maybe a quarter of our scenes. I shared all of that with the actors before filming, and they found that incredibly, incredibly helpful. Its one thing to look at the past and see how the Disney heroes and heroines were animated -- but its a whole other thing to see yourself interpreted as one; that really drove it home for them."

Adams stated, "[Lima] comes from animation, so he has such a wonderful visual sense. He understands what an animated character would do far better than I do, so he was very helpful in assisting me to understand what Giselle is like and how to portray her. Like most little girls, I wanted to be a Disney princess but being a Disney princess is much harder than I ever anticipated."

Baxter told writer Joe Strike, "Kevin told us, 'I need your animation to be not just as good, but in some respects better [than the classic films they were emulating]. I need it to be as good as people remember it being -- better than it really is'.

"The direction we got was to not make them complete caricatures of the performer, but to draw them as Disney characters and the actor they were based on would then be the perfect person to play that character. I took a lot of influences. Nathaniel obviously had to look like Timothy Spall, but there's also some of [Peter Pan's] Mr. Smee and Snoops from The Rescuers in him, along with bits and pieces of other characters too."

Baxter said, "Giselle had to look archetypal, recognizable as a Disney heroine. She's very much in that formula as far as she's a cross between Cinderella and Ariel and all the Disney Princesses. But at the same time, she had to look enough like Amy Adams, for the transition to the real world to be believable."

Adams remembered, "To create the animated Giselle in the first segment of the film, film footage of me as the character in New York was analyzed closely by the artists. They were able to capture some of my quirks, which is a little embarrassing but also sweet. When I smile big, my smile gets very square, so when Giselle smiles, it's this big toothy grin with these black spaces each side."

Lima emphasized:

"Shrek tends to beat up on Disney, but this is just the opposite. The ideas behind the fairy-tale movies might be somewhat antiquated, but put into the real world, they don't have to be cynical. They can still have that same joy.

"Early on in the process, we tried to let the script speak back to all the traditional Disney movies and we peppered in a lot of those iconic ideas. We looked at ways to work in such things as a glass slipper or a poisoned apple, especially that moment when (Giselle) takes a bite out of it and the apple hits the ground and you see the character's arm hit the floor and the apple roll away.

"We ended up calling those the 'princess moments' in the movie and there are a lot of them sort of hidden throughout the movie. Queen Narissa appears reflected in water in everything from glass bottles to a soup pot like the Magic Mirror in Snow White.

"Nathaniel is talking to the Queen in the soup bowl. Originally, he was talking to the Queen in a toilet bowl but we felt that that was going the wrong way and we moved it to the kitchen."

Thomas Schelesny, of the Tippett Studios, ended up supervising 320 shots for the film. CIS Hollywood did 36 shots (primarily wire removals and comps), ReelFX did four shots of pop up book page-turn transitions at the end of the movie and Weta also did two at the beginning of the film.

The Tippet team was in charge of animating cockroaches, pigeons and rats during the house cleaning scene where Giselle sings "Happy Working Song" integrating them with some of their real counterparts, the character of Pip the chipmunk using their proprietary fur tool Furrocious that they had first used on Templeton the rat in Charlotte's Web (2006), and the the fantasy dragon incarnation of Queen Narissa.

That also included the scene of scaling the outside of the Woolworth Building (chosen because it referenced an urban castle with its gargoyles) with the rain and lightning effects that had been inspired by Disney's short The Old Mill and the scene of the escaping Old Hag from Snow White. The rain storm was digital as was most of the Woolworth Building and the other New York buildings in the background.

Lead animator for all of this work was James Brown, and the animator supervisor was Tom Gibbon and they along with the rest of the team went back and studied classic Disney animation and the concepts of squash and stretch, anticipation, appeal and more. They actually did an intensive Disney animation training program that they developed.

Schelesny emphasized, "No individual artist at Tippett created all the visual effects. They were part of a team. We're aware of that. Anyone can go out to any computer store and purchase the very same computers that we use here. You can go out and purchase the same software that we use here. It's our people that make the difference."

Schelesny told writer Jeremie Noyer, "We wrote a back story for each of the CG characters, for Pip and the Narissa beast. A back story is a description as to what Pip was like before the movie occurred. What was Queen Narissa's back story before the movie started? Things like that which we wrote here internally. What that allowed us to do was have a greater understanding for the characters and their place in the movie.

"So, we had a better understanding that Pip truly is a fish-out-of-water in New York, and that his greatest strength is his ability to speak. Because when he's in 2-D world, he's the only animal who speaks easily. He speaks very clearly in the 2-D animated world and when he comes to the real world, that's taken away from him. How do you deal with that?"

For the character of Pip, Schelesny had several video conferences with James Baxter who discussed his approach to the character. Tippett Studios was sent rough animation tests, character model sheets, and color models. While the 3-D Pip is photorealistic with his stripes similar to a real chipmunk, Schelesny made adjustments so that the stripes were closer to the layout on the 2-D version. In addition, Schelesny included the little black eyebrows. Real chipmunks don't have eyebrows.

Schelesny told reporters at the premiere:

"There were maybe 100 people back at Tippett all focused on bringing that character to life. We studied film footage of real chipmunks because it is against the law to actually own one. They actually tried to train a real one for use in the film and we got to study that one as well and learned that you can't train a chipmunk.

"Then we stepped outside that live action reference and had to come up with anthropomorphic gestures and pantomime to be able to communicate to the audience the thought processes of a character who couldn't speak to them in words.

"He had to stand on his hind legs. In our first test, Kevin thought he was looking at our live action reference footage rather than the CG work we had done so we knew we had nailed it."

Setting up the scenes in which Pip would perform was challenging, Schelesny told writer Ellen Wolff:

"Every single shot where you see Pip in the real world is all CG. Which creates a problem. We had a number of tricks to help the actors and the cinematographer understand what they were working with.

"I had a small stuffed chipmunk that had a wire armature on the inside that we'd place in the scene during rehearsal. In some cases where we couldn't do that, I'd have a rod with a flag on the end with a small marker to show them where to look. It'd be digitally erased from the plate and we place the CG Pip where that marker had been.

"In other situations, if numerous actors had to watch where Pip was moving through a scene, we'd use a device like a synchro mark. It essentially is a laser pointer that plugs into the camera and runs out of phase with the camera's shutter so its mark isn't seen. I would control where the laser pointer went -- pretending I was Pip. The actors would look where the laser pointer went, so we'd get all their eyes looking in the right direction."

When Queen Narissa transforms into a dragon, the creature was called The Narissa Beast. Schelesny told writer Jeremie Noyer:

"That started out as a drawing that was provided by Crash McCreery, an independent character designer who's worked on many films.

"It was based, loosely, on a Chinese dragon, then we moved into sculpting a clay maquette, a statue, that was sculpted here at Tippett Studios. Kevin didn't want a dragon that looked like a talking dinosaur. He wanted a fantasy creature, roughly 50-feet tall. She moved slowly to show her strength and she had a regal and arrogant demeanor.

"If you study the design of the character, you'll see that all of the elements of the dragon come from Queen Narissa's dress: the color, the pearlescent scales, her crown, turned into the horns on the beast, again, everything serving as a metaphor for something else in the film.

"The eyes themselves, the shape of the eyes, those are the one thing that we took directly from Susan Sarandon. Although the eyes had to fit onto the dragon's head, had to respect the skeleton structure of the dragon, the shape of the eyes and the shape of the eyelids and the eyeball itself were taken directly from her. It was the one element that Kevin wanted to take as a call back to the actress.

"The transformation from the Queen into the beast was handled much in the same way as Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty. We went back to Sleeping Beauty and other Disney films studying their effects animation – how they handled fire and smoke which had a specific, dramatized look to it. Then we redesigned the fire to respect the physics of real fire but have the look of a Disney animated flame."

I have a lot more to share about Enchanted so let me know if you'd like to see another column or two about the film or if these two parts have been more than enough for you. I hope the announced sequel will include some of the richness in the original and the skill of director Kevin Lima who, by the way, is married to Brendan Chapman, who developed and co-directed the Pixar film Brave.

Lima told an interviewer, "I do believe in happily ever after. It's funny to me that people are curious about my personal beliefs when it comes to this subject. I don't think I would have been able to direct Enchanted if I didn't."

 

Comments

  1. By Gone2Disneyland

    Like Part 1, I enjoyed learning more BTS info about Enchanted in Part 2! Learning the details about how the animators and director worked together on character design and costume design and eventually sharing that with the cast was fascinating! Part 3? Yes, please!

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