MiceChat News Team, 2/9/07
Disney Animator Talks about the Art of Restoring Classics, the Future of 2D Animation and What's Going on in the Mexico Pavilion at Epcot
In over twenty years as an animator, Dave Bossert has survived and thrived in the thrilling and turbulent times that shaped the modern Walt Disney Studios.
A graduate of CalArts in May 1983, he first spent nine months at Don Bluth Productions working on the video arcade classics Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace. Disney soon came calling and in 1984 Bossert signed on as an effects animator for the beleaguered Black Cauldron.
“The rest” he says, “is history.”
OK, maybe it wasn’t quite that simple.
Bossert was at Disney through the “greenmail” attack of 1984 that resulted in the return of Roy E. Disney after a seven-year absence, the ouster of then President/CEO Ron Miller and the ascension of Michael Eisner. “A really exciting time, actually” says Bossert. He then found himself at the dawn of Disney’s “second golden age” where he would go on to serve as a specialty and effects animator on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Nightmare Before Christmas and Fantasia 2000, among others.
These days, Bossert wears several different hats at Disney. He’s Artistic Supervisor of the Disney Restoration Team and helped restore many recent Platinum and Special Edition DVD releases including Bambi, Lady and the Tramp, Cinderella and The Little Mermaid. In the live-action arena, he also worked on restoring Disney’s True-Life Adventures for release on DVD last December.
Last year, he directed Winnie the Pooh: Shapes & Sizes, a direct-to-DVD educational release for Disney Learning Adventures that's been nominated for an Annie Award for Best Home Entertainment Production. The Annie Awards will be presented Sunday at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, CA and are considered the highest honor in the animation industry.
I had the opportunity to speak with Dave Bossert about his long career with Disney and the many projects he’s worked on.
disneytim: Dave, you’ve spent most of your career as an effects animator. What exactly does an effects animator do?
Dave Bossert: An effects animator’s job is a supporting role, but in every movie that we’ve worked on there’s always a sequence where the special effects become a dominant feature. It gets a starring role if you will. We animate anything that moves except the characters and the backgrounds. Most of the time they’re natural effects: rain, snow, water, mud splashes, fireworks, fire—anything along those lines.
dt: Is there a particular scene in a Disney animated film that I could look at and say, “OK, that’s a Dave Bossert scene”?
DB: Ted Kierscey and I did the transformation of the Beast back into the Prince at the end of Beauty and the Beast. Glen Keane did the character animation. Ted and I did all of the effects animation.
dt: Is that your favorite scene?
DB: I think it’s hard to say which one’s a favorite because it’s like asking which one of your children is your favorite. You like them all and each picture I worked on holds a lot of special memories. There were different challenges on each one of those movies. A lot of different experiences go into each one of these films, so it’s really hard to place a “favorite” crown on any one of them. Although, I do tell folks when I worked on Roger Rabbit it was really a memorable experience because I had a chance to work with Richard Williams, who’s probably one of the greatest living animators today. And I was able to live and work in London so it was a really terrific experience all around.
dt: Did you just work on the opening animation sequence in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, or did you work on the whole film?
DB: I actually worked throughout the entire film, including the opening cartoon and all of the live action/animation combinations. I pretty much touched a lot of that movie.
dt: What are the challenges of working on a film that combines animation with live action, as opposed to a straight animated film?
DB: I think when you’re doing live action/animation combinations, there are a lot more variables. Typically, we always want to have an animation director or animator on the set when you’re shooting the live action to make sure eye lines are appropriate—the actors are looking where they need to be looking. Because, when you’re filming the live action, there’s no animation there. It may be a tennis ball sitting on a stick as a reference point for the actor and that’s about it. There are a lot of challenges in getting the live action right, so when you get the live action plates you can get the animation to blend and marry into the live action so well that the audiences feel like the characters are right there with the actors. I think we were very successful on Roger Rabbit doing that. You’ve got to remember, that film was done pre-digital technology so they were compositing all of the animation we were creating with the live action on optical printers.
dt: Of course the animation in Roger Rabbit was 2D, as it was for many of the films you’ve worked on. With all the attention CG animation is getting these days, do you think there’s still a future for 2D animation?
DB: I believe animation is an art form. 2D animation is always going to be around. CG animation—now that the technology is here—is always going to be around. I think that what’s going to wind up happening as the newer technology matures is that there’s a freedom for the director—for the creative team—to choose the technique that’s appropriate to tell their story. That’s really what it boils down to.
I think in some sense, over the past five or six years, there were a lot of people who thought audiences didn’t want to see 2D. They only wanted to see CG. But really, the fact of the matter is that audiences want to see great stories with endearing characters. I don’t think it matters what the technique is. Certainly when the CG films started to appear, they were the new kids on the block. It was sort of the shiny new car that everyone wanted to go “oooh” at. I think now there’s such an enormous amount of computer-generated features that people are going to start to say, “Great, now I want to get entertained again. Not just by looking at some eye candy, but I want good stories. I want endearing characters.” That’s what ultimately is going to make any film a classic.
Winnie the Pooh: Shapes & Sizes
dt: Congratulations on your Annie Award nomination for Winnie the Pooh: Shapes & Sizes. When doing an educational program, is the approach to animation any different from how you’d approach a feature film?
DB: Thank you. When you’re doing an animated feature—just a straight entertainment piece—there’s a lot more flexibility. I think with an educational film, you’ve got to make sure the educational aspect of that material is going to get through to the audience. You have to craft the story incorporating the educational facet of it. Instead of making a dry educational story where we’re presenting some concepts with an animated character basically as the teacher, what we’re trying to do is really create a very engaging and entertaining story that allows the viewer—the child, the 3-5 year old—to learn the material with our characters. That’s what was so beautiful about being able to work with Winnie, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore—all these characters. They’re kind of like little kids, so they were learning this material along with their friends.
dt: I see you’re competing against another Disney Toon release, Bambi II.
DB: The producer (of Bambi II) is an old friend and I actually helped him out throughout the process of making this movie. I did some consulting for them and really tried to help them achieve the look and feel of the original movie. They were kind enough to give me a screen credit.
dt: Many Disney direct-to-video animated sequels like Bambi II have sold well, but they've also had their share of critics who feel updating these beloved classic characters borders on sacrilege. How do you answer those critics?
DB: I’ve got be very tactful here. I will say to you that I don’t disagree with some of those criticisms, but at the same time there are endearing characters that the fan base for our company would like to see more of. So certainly, some of them have been more successful than others, but it’s also great to be able to develop new characters and new stories to entertain people.
dt: When you’re animating these classic characters, do you find yourself being more reverential, more cautious towards them than you would towards a new character?
DB: I think you have to try to honor the original as much as possible. I think that with sequels to the contemporary films, if you’re able to get the original filmmakers involved to review scripts and periodically look at what you’re doing, it’s a huge plus.
dt: You’ve done a lot of work with the Disney Restoration Team, The Little Mermaid being one of your more recent efforts. Take us through the restoration process.
DB: The guiding principle for the entire restoration team has always been “What was the artistic intent?” And so, with everything we do, we ask ourselves that question. Wherever possible we are folding in original filmmakers. When we did the Bambi restoration, we were fortunate enough to (consult with) Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas. We also had access to (background artist) Tyrus Wong. So we were able to get those guys involved and show them what we were doing and get their opinions and their feedback. I think that’s really vitally important.
Bambi, fully restored
The other great thing is that we have an enormous amount of the artwork still available to us—the original paintings, original animation cels—from all of those films. So, we’re able to do an enormous amount of research on what was the original intent of how the film was supposed to look from a color standpoint.
We go back and we make a selection of backgrounds from the film that represent the color palette of the movie. (Originally) those backgrounds were painted slightly muted and slightly desaturated because the film stock they were using picked up saturations and contrasts. So, what we would do is take those backgrounds and actually photograph them back on to film stock that was fairly close in chemistry to what they were using—SE film stock, or successive-exposure film stock. And then, once we photographed it on to the film, we used the film as our baseline for color correction, which is really the appropriate way to do it. Years ago, some of the “restorations” they did for VHS didn’t go to that extent so some of the color wasn’t correct. Now, on these DVD’s that are coming out, they are fully restored. We’re starting with the original negative. We’re doing 4k scans. We’re aligning the color records digitally so they have perfect alignment. When you look at Bambi or any of these films, there are crisp ink lines on the characters. And then we’re removing the dust, the dirt, fingerprints, cel shimmer, cel scratches—things that were endemic to the process but were not what the artistic intent was.
dt: So, basically, we’re seeing the movie in a way never seen before.
DB: You’re seeing it the way the artist would’ve intended it to be seen. You’re seeing it the way Walt and some of the Nine Old Men would’ve looked at a clean cel laid against the background under optical lights. You’re looking at it the way they would’ve gotten glimpses of cel setups but were never able to get on film because of the nature of the process.
The basic process (of animation) didn’t change from the 1920’s until 1989 when we did Little Mermaid. They refined the process and got better at it, but you still had dust photographed in because you had a camera operator taking a cel and laying it on a background and putting a piece of glass over it. No matter how good you were at trying to blow things off, you always wound up photographing some kind of dust or dirt into it.
The Little Mermaid
dt: But after Little Mermaid, all of that changed, correct?
DB: When we did 2D films like Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and Lion King, we scanned the drawings and digitally inked and painted them. You completely eliminated all of those elements, all of those anomalies—dirt, dust, cel shadows, Newton rings, cel shimmers, light reflections, scratches—anything like that. You completely removed it because now you were in the sterile digital world.
dt: You’re most recent restoration project was the True-Life Adventures, and they came out beautiful.
DB: We’re all thrilled with how those turned out. I was with Roy Disney recently and we did a screening and a little Q & A here at Feature Animation of some of the True-Life Adventures. We showed some of the “best of” clips and it just looks spectacular up on the big screen.
dt: What are you working on now that you can tell us about?
DB: I can tell you we just finished up an unbelievable restoration of Peter Pan that’s coming out in March. It really looks stunning. I’m also working on a project for our cruise line and a project for Epcot featuring the Three Caballeros for the Mexico pavilion. I’ve got a couple other projects in the hopper that I can’t talk about, but I will say I’m very busy and we’ve got tons of stuff going on, so it’s really fun.
dt: Tell me more about the Mexico pavilion at Epcot. What can we expect to see?
DB: Basically, they’re refurbishing the Mexico pavilion and they asked us to do a new film. You ride on a boat through the Mexico pavilion and there’s a series of, I think, 16 screens. So we’re now telling a little story with Donald, Jose and Panchito. As you go through the ride, Jose and Panchito are looking for Donald. It’s really really fun with some really beautiful animation and it’s nice to be working with some of the classic characters. I think it’s going to open in April or May down in Epcot.
dt: Dave, thank you very much for your time.
DB: My pleasure.
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