Animators bring ‘World of Color show to life at Disney California Adventure

Animators bring ‘World of Color show to life at Disney California Adventure

The challenge for Disney and Pixar animators in creating the new “World of Color” water show at Disney California Adventure was making well-known characters and signature scenes seem fresh yet familiar.

In using 26 films (21 from Disney, five from Pixar) and more than 130,000 digital images, the animators drew from a deep catalog that stretched from 1937 (an animation short called “The Old Mill”) to 2009 (”Up” and “The Princess and the Frog”). The latter two films weren’t even in theaters when work began on “World of Color,” which will make its debut Friday.

Complete ‘World of Color’ coverage
Show review | Show overview | Special effects | Animation | Concept art | Scene-by-scene preview | Video gallery | Hype | Crowds

While many of the moments in the 25-minute show will seem familiar to fans, most of the scenes were created entirely from scratch with all-new animation.

During the six-year creative process, animators under the direction of Disney Imagineer Steve Davison had to learn the weaknesses of an entirely new medium and exploit the strengths of their enormous new canvas.

“We never wanted it to feel like you were watching a movie on water,” said Roger Gould, Pixar’s creative director for theme parks.

With the galactic ballet scene featuring Wall-E and Eve, Gould and his team started with a sequence that included many cuts from the original theatrical edit.

“We walked the camera back to re-create the moment in a wide shot,” Gould said. “We wanted one single, continuous moment that was uninterrupted.”

The “Toy Story” sequence featured the moment when Buzz Lightyear and Woody the cowboy meet for the first time in Andy’s bedroom. But the scene wasn’t dynamic enough when it played on the water screen, Gould said.

The solution: Jump into the imagination of Buzz and wage an epic laser battle with his arch enemy, Emperor Zurg, that took advantage of the unique qualities of the watery stage.

When Gould’s team tackled the “Finding Nemo” scene featuring Crush the surfer-dude turtle, they realized one of their favorite characters was missing something: his son Squirt. So they went back to the storyboards and emphasized the father-son bond.

“We realized it was about their relationship and not just a single character,” Gould said.

Creative director Dave Bossert played the same role on the Disney animation side of the ledger.

When Bossert’s team went back to the dramatic “Night on Bald Mountain” scene in “Fantasia,” they realized the demonic Chernabog was missing the tips of his wings, which were added digitally to take advantage of the massive, 380-foot-long “World of Color” water screen.

Similarly, the “Pocahontas” scene called for the title character to remain mute during her “World of Color” scene.

The problem: Pocahontas was singing in the original animation. The fix: Digitally mask out her moving lips with a stationary mouth.

The “Little Mermaid” was one of the last Disney movies made with hand-drawn cel animation. That meant the artists had only a one-dimensional print of the film to work with rather than the multiple layers in newer digital movies.

Disney reached out to paper sculptor Megan Brain to create cutout characters for the amphibious band in the “Under the Sea” scene.

Brain crafted a dozen fish using construction paper shapes that emphasized color and dimension to bring the personality of each band member to life.

After each character was built, Brain broke the paper pieces down into layers that were photographed and then animated using computer software.

Not all of Brain’s “Little Mermaid” characters made it into the final version of the “World of Color” show, though. The paper cutout version of the Sebastian character didn’t look enough like the orchestra leader crab and was replaced with new digital animation.

“Steven is really bold,” Brain said, crediting Davison, the chief Imagineer in charge of parades and spectaculars. “He’s not afraid to try things. He’s fine with taking chances.”

Brain also composed a four-foot-long paper palace for the “Aladdin” scene that was far more complicated than the 6-inch-tall sea creatures in “Little Mermaid.”

A few of Brain’s creations that were in the initial “World of Color” mix were ultimately held out of the show – including the “Alice in Wonderland” and “Hercules” scenes. They may show up in future encores planned for the water show after the initial crush of summer crowds fades.

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Animators bring ‘World of Color show to life at Disney California AdventureFind the latest amusement and theme park news at the Los Angeles Times Funland blog: Follow Funland on Twitter and Facebook.

– Brady MacDonald, Los Angeles Times staff writer

Photo: A “Little Mermaid” scene in the “World of Color” water show at Disney California Adventure. Credit: Disney

By LA Times

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