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How Disney's two-dimensional "Beast" became a 3D "Beauty"

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How Disney's two-dimensional "Beast" became a 3D "Beauty"

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New and a bit alarming
Who 'd have ever thought that this could be?

Well, "Beauty and the Beast" co-director Kirk Wise doesn't seem all that surprised that this Academy Award-winning film (which was the first animated feature to ever be nominated for Best Picture) got selected for the Disney Digital 3D treatment.

"I can remember when we were previewing this picture and the camera would then begin its big sweeping move through the ballroom while Angela was singing 'Beauty and the Beast' and the Beast & Belle were dancing. And there'd be this audible gasp from the audience because they'd never ever seen a camera move like that before in an animated feature. One that gave you a real sense of the dimensionality of the area that this scene was taking place in," Wise explained. "And given that this sort of dimensional innovation is part of 'Beauty and the Beast' 's heritage ... Well, it seemed almost inevitable that this movie would eventually receive the 3D treatment."

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Inevitable? Perhaps. Which isn't to say that Walt Disney Animation Studios didn't put an awful lot of thought & care into "Beast" 's 3D translation. To preserve what made this 1991 Walt Disney Pictures release great, WDAS management asked Kirk to personally ride herd on this project.

"This is actually the third time that I've worked on 'Beauty' ," Wise recalled in a July 2009 interview with JHM. "The first time was, obviously, this film's original theatrical release. Then there was the IMAX version of 'Beast' that Disney did in the early 2000s. And now the Disney Digital 3D version. So here's hoping that the third time's the charm."

And charm - to be specific, preserving the charm of this hand-drawn animation feature - became one of the real goals of the "Beauty and the Beast" 3D conversion project. Which officially got underway in November of 2008.

Kirk Wise talks up the Disney Digital 3D version of "Beauty and the
Beast" at the 2009 Comic-Con International.
Photo by Nancy Stadler

"We didn't want to load this film up with 3D sequence just for thrills sake. We made an effort to carefully select the right moments. Pick those parts of 'Beauty and the Beast' where adding dimensionality would really enhance our story, heighten the emotion of what was going on up there on the big screen,"s Kirk continued.

Which isn't to say that there aren't moments in this motion picture where things will come popping off the screen at you.

"Wait 'til you see what we did with the 'Be Our Guest' number in this movie. When the camera moves in all of those spoons as they then go diving off the edge of that tureen and into the soup ... When you watch this movie in Disney Digital 3D, it really does look as though they're diving through the air right in front of you," Wise said.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"But how can Disney take a two-dimensional hand-drawn animated feature and then turn that into a 3D movie?," you ask. Well, it took more than just that nifty proprietary technology which WDAS' R & D department invented a few years back which then allowed the Studio to add a sense of volume & space to its 2D films. What really helped here was that "Beauty and the Beast" was Walt Disney Animation Studios' second film produced using CAPS. Which was the Computer Animation Production System that Pixar developed for Disney in the late 1980s.

"You have to understand that all of the animation, all of the backgrounds that were used to produce the original version of "Beauty and the Beast" still exist in the digital realm. So we were able to access those files and then - by going through this film scene by scene - reposition these elements within the computer. Creating a real sense of volume and space between the characters, the props and the settings," Kirk stated.  "And then, by creating a left eye and a right view of each of these scenes, we were then able to turn 'Beast' into a real 3D movie."

And the finished product is now being showcased at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. The Disney Digital 3D version of "Beauty and the Beast" is playing at this famed movie palace now through September 15th. Where it will then be followed by the Disney Digital 3D version of "The Lion King." Which will be holding court at the El Cap from September 16th through October 6th.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

What's that you say? You won't be able to make it out to LA in time to catch either of these hand-drawn hits up there on the big screen? Not to worry.  Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment will be releasing the Disney Digital 3D versions of "Beauty and the Beast" & "The Lion King" on October 4th. Which means that - provided that you have the necessary equipment at home, of course - that you'll soon be able to see a three-dimensional "Beast" and "Lion King" in your very own living room.

Getting back to JHM's interview with Kirk Wise now ... Given what Wise learned while working on this particular project, would he then be willing to tackle the 3D conversion of any of the other films that he co-directed for Walt Disney Animation Studios?

"Well, if they ever asked me, I'd love to try and do this same thing with 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame.' That's a movie where - given its setting and all of the climbing & swinging that Quasi does around the Cathedral --  I think it would really benefit from a 3D conversion," Kirk claimed.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But beyond that ... Given that this is the third time that he's worked on "Beast" in the past 20 years, Wise isn't entirely convinced that he's now finally done with this animated feature.

"Who knows. Maybe in 10 years, Disney will come up with a way to do the hologram version of 'Beauty and the Beast' or figure out how to project this movie on the surface of the moon - so that everyone on the planet will then have to pay in order to see this motion picture," Kirk laughed. "Either way, I'd be happy to keep coming back and watch the Beast spin Belle around that ballroom. It's been an honor to be part of this project. And I'm just so happy with the way that the 3D version of this movie came out."

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  • Why a wide relase for Lion King and not Beauty and the Beast 3D?

  • There really should be a wide release of Beauty and the Beast in 3D.  Hardly anyone has bought a 3D TV and, from everything I've read, very few plan on buying one.  Too bad that this version will go largely sight unseen.

  • There's actually a fairly large segment of the population that don't have stereoscopic vision (or whatever the correct term is...) and for whom 3D just doesn't work.  Last trip to WDW I spent watch 3D attractions with one eye closed!  LOL!  I'd never go to see any movie in 3D, nor would I buy it on DVD that way, but it's really cool for those who CAN watch it...I just hope they remember there's some of us who can't.

  • Definitely agree with the comments posted so far: why no wide theatrical release for B&B in 3D?  I, for one, don't have a 3D TV at home and do not know when, or if, I'll ever have one.  If not a separate release, couldn't it have been done as a double feature with The Lion King, like they did with the 1st two Toy Story features?

  • RE: Why no wide theatrical release for the 3D version of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast."

    To be honest, I've heard a number of stories about why the Studio never went forward with the long-in-the-planning theatrical wide release of the Disney Digital 3D version of "Beauty and the Beast" (which had been announced for February 12, 2010. With the idea here seeming to be that the 3D version of this hand-drawn feature would be the perfect "date movie" for the Valentines Day weekend).

    One version of this story has it that when Dick Cook was removed as Chairman of Walt Disney Studios ... Well, he was the real champion / supporter of the Disney Digital 3D version of "Beauty and the Beast." And as often happens in Hollywood when a new regime comes to power at a studio, the previous management team's pet project then get short shrift.

    Other folks have told me that -- in the wake of the Disney Digital 3D versions of "Toy Story" & "Toy Story 2" only making $30 million over the course of their domestic release in November 2009 -- that studio heads then lost their enthusiasm for putting a 3D version of "Beauty and the Beast" out in theaters. Supposedly out of concern that -- should this hand-drawn animated feature under-perform at the box office as well -- that might then tarnish "Beast" 's solid-gold reputation.

    My understanding is -- to test if there was actually audience interest out there in a Disney Digital 3D version of "Beauty and the Beast" -- this Kirk Wise / Gary Trousdale film was released theatrically in New Zealand in August of 2010. But I never heard anything conclusive from friends at the Studio about how those box office results were interpreted.

    I have to admit that I share your frustration in regards to the Disney Digital 3D version  "Beauty and the Beast" only being shown publicly at the El Capitan for two weeks. Based on the footage that Kirk Wise & John Lasseter shared at the Walt Disney Animation Studios showcase at the 2009 edition  of Comic-Con International, this film looked very promising (They ran the entire introductory number from the movie, "Belle," as well as selected clips from "Beast" that had already been converted to 3D. And the rounding technology that Disney was using to give characters like Belle, Gaston, La Fou and the Beast addition dimension really seemed to work).

    Anyway ... I wish that I had more info here to share here. But sometimes in a case like this, the real story is that no one at the Studio wants to talk about what actually happened. They'd prefer to move on quickly to the next project and not look in the rear view mirror.

    This is kind of what happened with the IMAX version of "Aladdin." Which Disney put millions into repurposing and reanimating (I'm told that some of the crowd scenes -- when shown in large format -- were just unwatchable. Which is they then had to reanimated). Only to then abandon the Studio's previously-announced plans to release the IMAX version of "Aladdin" on January 1, 2004 when the box office returns for the large format version of "Fantasia 2000," "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King" weren't quite what the Company expected.

    These days, when you ask about the IMAX version of "Aladdin," the Company's standard answer is "What IMAX version of 'Aladdin' ?."

  • It seems clear to me that old animated movies don't hold up to the higher resolution standards of today. And it is likely that the high resolution 3D pictures of today won't be able to hold up to the technology of tomorrow. That's the way things work. Nonetheless, despite the problems of conversion, I just don't see how today's audiences will want to revisit an old movie. I can care less about watching "Beauty and Beast" one more time. The success of Disney's marketing is also its greatest weakness. Each time it reissues a movie, another generation has seen it. If they are fans, they are likely to see them many many times. I'm not even convinced a 3D version matters. The 3D effect feels very much like a gimmick. It doesn't add to the experience. I do think the 3D conversion is probably the right step in the distant future. Only when 3D is ubiquitous is when Disney will have it handy for its next promotion. Who knows if in 10 years they will offer a box set of all classic Disney movies in 3D. Look at George Lucas as the model of beating a dead horse with his Star Wars franchise.

  • I'm rereleasing Bambi with Plywood cutouts on sticks.

  • Can you say gimmick?  I knew you could!

  • The 3D version of the movie was released last year in mexican cinemas. And it truly looks great (in my opinion, even better than the Lion King 3D)

  • I wish you wouldn't add your own writing style ("Given that... Well, they just didn't..." and so forth) to quotes from interviews. It really makes it difficult to take your stories seriously & occasionally makes me wonder if you're changing quotes significantly. Neat story, though, and I'm looking forward to seeing The Lion King in 3-D for sure!

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