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Disney and Pixar’s Top 5 Most Innovative Animation Technologies, Explained

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Disney and Pixar’s Top 5 Most Innovative Animation Technologies, Explained

Before the Disney name became tied to the monolithic global empire that it is today, it was solely the name of a fledging studio bent on advancing the medium of animation at every opportunity. In 1928, the Mickey Mouse debut Steamboat Willie was the first cartoon short to feature a synchronized soundtrack. Not long after, Flowers and Trees brought a forest of colors to life in the first colorized cartoon. These and other breakthroughs culminated in the world’s first animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. For nearly a century, technological innovations have been the backbone of many of Disney’s enterprises, but well before their advancements in live entertainment and theme park attractions, some of animation’s greatest technical landmarks came from under the Disney name, pioneering the industry at large along the way.

Here is a look at five of the company’s most innovative animation technologies and where they were best used.

RELATED: Disney’s Newest Animated Feature ‘Strange World’ Reveals 2022 Release Date and Concept Art

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The Multiplane Camera

Developed exclusively for use on the studio’s animated features, Disney’s Multiplane camera gave new depth to the traditional cel animation process. In a typical studio cartoon, the action of the characters was photographed one frame at a time against a stationary background painting. With this towering downward camera, individually painted background elements were layered on several sheets of glass and independently moved frame-by-frame in tandem with the painted cels of the characters. By itemizing the placement of separate background pieces, the illusion of spatial depth was given to the studio’s early golden age of feature films.

The multiplane camera was first tested in the Oscar-winning short, The Old Mill, which demonstrated the camera’s ability to explore space and create atmosphere through camera movements. After that, the multiplane camera became a standard for sweeping establishing shots and environmental effects in films like Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi, and all the way up to its final use in 1989’s The Little Mermaid.

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Xerography

Necessity is the mother of invention, they say. Come the 1960’s, with Walt Disney’s attention split between television, theme parks, and live-action films, the studio’s animated films were no longer given the budget or schedule they had become accustomed to as the company’s top priority. Needing to cut costs and speed up production, the studio implemented the use of xerography in the animation pipeline.

Forgoing the need of individually inking animation cels by hand, the xerox process photocopied the animators’ exact drawings directly onto the cel itself, resulting in rougher and darker outlines than what had come before. While the cleanly colored outlines of the early studio films were lost with this advent, the use of the xerox machine gave the Disney films of the ’60s and ’70s a distinctly sketchy aesthetic that translated the draftsmanship of the animators and their pencil work right onto the screen. Films such as 101 Dalmatians, The Jungle Book, and Robin Hood grew a reputation of also using xerography to thriftily recycle animation to balance production costs and save time.

CAPS

After over half a century of traditional cel animation, Disney Animation Studios underwent a digital revolution with CAPS (Computer Animation Production System). At the dawn of the studio’s animation renaissance of the ’90s, technicians from Disney and the newly partnered computer division Pixar developed a post-production program that digitally colored and assembled scanned-in artwork within the realm of the computer.

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First tested in one of the closing shots of The Little Mermaid, CAPS not only streamlined the Disney production cycle, enabling more films to be produced and released annually, but it also revolutionized the look of the films to be cleaner and smoother than what was ever before possible. The entirety of Disney’s new wave of hand-drawn classics, from The Rescuers Down Under to Home on the Range, used CAPS to deliver a new standard of animation clarity and incorporate CGI effects and environments with greater ease, such as Beauty and the Beast’s ballroom scene or The Lion King’s dramatic wildebeest stampede.

Deep Canvas

At the turn of the new millennium, major animation studios had begun to experiment fully blending CGI effects and characters with traditional hand-drawn animation. At Disney, this manifested into the Deep Canvas software. Created during the production of the 1999 feature Tarzan, this software worked concurrently with the CAPS system as a technique to create entirely three-dimensional environments for the hand-drawn characters to inhabit. Rudimentary geometric models created in 3D space were digitally colored with a painter’s stylus and tablet to give the computerized assets a brushy look that blended with the traditionally rendered characters. This was used to construct the arboreal canopies of Tarzan’s jungle home, the steam-punk inspired vehicles of Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and the near totality of the environments and effects in Treasure Planet.

Although its use at Disney was short-lived, spanning only three animated features, the Deep Canvas program was a forerunner to the blending of digital graphics and hand-drawn draftsmanship later seen in Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and The Mitchells vs. the Machines.

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RenderMan

By virtue of being the pioneers of computer animation since its genesis, the advancements made by Pixar Animation are the advancements of the greater computer graphics industry as a whole. Well before even the first Toy Story landed in theaters, Pixar had spent years developing an in-house rendering software designed to bring together all their computerized elements into a cohesive and believable image.

RenderMan collects all the digital assets of a scene or effect into a single-engine and compiles them into an individual frame. Every effect, simulation, model, environment, and every bit of animation is married together on screen through a software that has become an industry favorite. During the rise of CGI effects in Hollywood, RenderMan most famously helped bring to life the liquid-metal menace of Terminator 2’s T-1000 and the reanimated dinosaurs of Jurassic Park.

Demonstrated in as recently as 2021’s Luca, RenderMan has skyrocketed the heightened believability of computer graphics to achieve artistry and realism that is left unmatched in modern computer animation. The engine is the not-so-secret ingredient to Pixar’s technical wizardry as RenderMan has been made commercially accessible for individuals and third-party companies, including Lucasfilm’s ILM and NASA.

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

Hitting the three-quarter-century mark usually means a retirement home, a nursing facility, or if you’re lucky to be blessed with relatively good health and savings to match, living in a gated community in Arizona or Florida.

For Sylvester Stallone, however, it means something else entirely: starring in the first superhero-centered film of his decades-long career in the much-delayed Samaritan. Unfortunately for Stallone and the audience on the other side of the screen, the derivative, turgid, forgettable results won’t get mentioned in a career retrospective, let alone among the ever-expanding list of must-see entries in a genre already well past its peak.

For Stallone, however, it’s better late than never when it involves the superhero genre. Maybe in getting a taste of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) with his walk-on role in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel several years ago, Stallone thought anything Marvel can do, I can do even better (or just as good in the nebulous definition of the word).

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The property Stallone and his team found for him, Samaritan, a little-known graphic novel released by a small, almost negligible, publisher, certainly takes advantage of Stallone’s brute-force physicality and his often underrated talent for near-monosyllabic brooding (e.g., the Rambo series), but too often gives him to little do or say as the lone super-powered survivor, the so-called “Samaritan” of the title, of a lifelong rivalry with his brother, “Nemesis.” Two brothers entered a fire-ravaged building and while both were presumed dead, one brother did survive (Stallone’s Joe Smith, a garbageman by day, an appliance repairman by night).

In the Granite City of screenwriter Bragi F. Schut (Escape Room, Season of the Witch), the United States, and presumably the rest of the world, teeters on economic and political collapse, with a recession spiraling into a depression, steady gigs difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, and the city’s neighborhoods rocked by crime and violence. No one’s safe, not even 13-year-old Sam (Javon Walker), Joe’s neighbor.

When he’s not dodging bullies connected to a gang, he’s falling under the undue influence of Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), a low-rent gang leader with an outsized ego and the conviction that he and only he can take on Nemesis’s mantle and along with that mantle, a hammer “forged in hate,” to orchestrate a Bane-like plan to plunge the city into chaos and become a wealthy power-broker in the process.

Schut’s woefully underwritten script takes a clumsy, haphazard approach to world-building, relying on a two-minute animated sequence to open Samaritan while a naive, worshipful Sam narrates Samaritan and Nemesis’s supposedly tragic, Cain and Abel-inspired backstory. Schut and director Julius Avery (Overlord) clumsily attempt to contrast Sam’s childish belief in messiah-like, superheroic saviors stepping in to save humanity from itself and its own worst excesses, but following that path leads to authoritarianism and fascism (ideas better, more thoroughly explored in Watchmen and The Boys).

While Sam continues to think otherwise, Stallone’s superhero, 25 years past his last, fatal encounter with his presumably deceased brother, obviously believes superheroes are the problem and not the solution (a somewhat reasonable position), but as Samaritan tracks Joe and Sam’s friendship, Sam giving Joe the son he never had, Joe giving Sam the father he lost to street violence well before the film’s opening scene, it gets closer and closer to embracing, if not outright endorsing Sam’s power fantasies, right through a literally and figuratively explosive ending. Might, as always, wins regardless of how righteous or justified the underlying action.

It’s what superhero audiences want, apparently, and what Samaritan uncritically delivers via a woefully under-rendered finale involving not just unconvincing CGI fire effects, but a videogame cut-scene quality Stallone in a late-film flashback sequence that’s meant to be subversively revelatory, but will instead lead to unintentional laughter for anyone who’s managed to sit the entirety of Samaritan’s one-hour and 40-minute running time.

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Samaritan is now streaming worldwide on Prime Video.

Samaritan

Cast
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton
  • Pilou Asbæk

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Matt Shakman Is In Talks To Direct ‘Fantastic Four’

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According to a new report, Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct the upcoming MCU project, Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios has been very hush-hush regarding Fantastic Four to the point where no official announcements have been made other than the film’s release date. No casting news or literally anything other than rumors has been released regarding the project. We know that Fantastic Four is slated for release on November 8th, 2024, and will be a part of Marvel’s Phase 6. There are also rumors that the cast of the new Fantastic Four will be announced at the D23 Expo on September 9th.

Fantastic Four is still over two years from release, and we assume we will hear more news about the project in the coming months. However, the idea of the Fantastic Four has already been introduced into the MCU. John Krasinski played Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The cameo was a huge deal for fans who have been waiting a long time for the Fantastic Four to enter the MCU. When Disney acquired Twenty Century Fox in 2019 we assumed that the Fox Marvel characters would eventually make their way into the MCU. It’s been 3 years and we already have had an X-Men and Fantastic Four cameo – even if they were from another universe.

Deadline is reporting that Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct Fantastic Four. Shakman served as the director for Wandavision and has had an extensive career. He directed two episodes of Game of Thrones and an episode of The Boys, and he had a long stint on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There is nothing official yet, but Deadline’s sources say that Shakman is currently in talks for the job and things are headed in the right direction.

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To be honest, I was a bit more excited when Jon Watts was set to direct. I’m sure Shakman is a good director, but Watts proved he could handle a tentpole superhero film with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Wandavision was good, but Watts’ style would have been perfect for Fantastic Four. The film is probably one of the most anticipated films in Marvel’s upcoming slate films and they need to find the best person they can to direct. Is that Matt Shakman? It could be, but whoever takes the job must realize that Marvel has a lot riding on this movie. The other Fantastic Four films were awful and fans deserve better. Hopefully, Marvel knocks it out of the park as they usually do. You can see for yourself when Fantastic Four hits theaters on November 8th, 2024.

Film Synopsis: One of Marvel’s most iconic families makes it to the big screen: the Fantastic Four.

Source: Deadline

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Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase Star in ‘Zombie Town’ Mystery Teen Romancer (Exclusive)

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Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase have entered Zombie Town, a mystery teen romancer based on author R.L. Stine’s book of the same name.

The indie, now shooting in Ontario, also stars Henry Czerny and co-teen leads Marlon Kazadi and Madi Monroe. The ensemble cast includes Scott Thompson and Bruce McCulloch of the Canadian comedy show Kids in the Hall.

Canadian animator Peter Lepeniotis will direct Zombie Town. Stine’s kid’s book sees a quiet town upended when 12-year-old Mike and his friend, Karen, see a horror movie called Zombie Town and unexpectedly see the title characters leap off the screen and chase them through the theater.

Zombie Town will premiere in U.S. theaters before streaming on Hulu and then ABC Australia in 2023.

“We are delighted to bring the pages of R.L. Stine’s Zombie Town to the screen and equally thrilled to be working with such an exceptional cast and crew on this production. A three-time Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award winner with book sales of over $500 million, R.L. Stine has a phenomenal track record of crafting stories that engage and entertain audiences,” John Gillespie, Trimuse Entertainment founder and executive producer, said in a statement.

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Executive producers are Trimuse Entertainment, Toonz Media Group, Lookout Entertainment, Viva Pictures and Sons of Anarchy actor Kim Coates.  

Paco Alvarez and Mark Holdom of Trimuse negotiated the deal to acquire the rights to Stine’s Zombie Town book.

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