Fantasia 2000

An Inside Look at Fantasia 2000
by Joe Tracy

In 1940 Walt Disney released a daring new animated feature titled Fantasia. Dubbed a "concert film," Fantasia suffered at the Box Office from many negative reviews and the public's attention to World War II. The disappointing results were enough to kill Walt Disney's plans for the future of Fantasia that he spoke about in 1941:

"It is our intention to make a new version of Fantasia every year," said Walt Disney just after Fantasia's original release. "Its pattern is very flexible and fun to work with – not really a concert, not a vaudeville or a revue, but a grand mixture of comedy, fantasy, ballet, drama, impressionism, color, sound and epic fury."

Finally, 60-years later, Walt Disney's dream of Fantasia having a sequel has come true. Fantasia 2000 was nine years in the making. The Executive Producer for Fantasia 2000 is Walt Disney's nephew, Roy Edward Disney (son of Walt's brother, Roy O. Disney), who wanted to see Walt's dream continue. Fantasia was Roy Disney's favorite film ever since he first saw it at the age of 12.

"One of the things I've always felt Fantasia accomplished was to move animation into a realm where it was accepted as an art form in a way that probably never could have happened without it," says Roy E. Disney. "And I think every animator that's ever lived since then has in some way been influenced by it, sometimes in rebellious ways. It's a great idea when you think about it. Putting this really beautiful visual experience along with a really beautiful musical experience. It goes beyond either thing to become something unique."

In 1940 Fantasia became the first film released in stereophonic sound, a process dubbed Fantasound. On January 1, 2000, Fantasia 2000 became the first film released in the new millennium and the first feature length film ever made for the huge IMAX screens. It is a unique journey through an animated world.

"When you buy a ticket to Fantasia 2000, you're buying a ticket for a journey into a whole range of animation – character animation, experimental animation, fantasy animation, realistic animation," says Thomas Schumacher, the president of Walt Disney Feature Animation. "It's a spiritual journey that captures the personal vision of some amazingly talented animators. It's also an opportunity to be reminded that animation is pure artistry. Audiences can come in and see the art of animation explored in a wide range. It's truly extraordinary."

When Fantasia 2000 first started, it was called Fantasia Continued and included half of the original work from Fantasia. After numerous meetings, it was determined that the formula for the Fantasia sequel had to be reworked. The reworking took place in the form of "Gong Show" meetings where animators could present their ideas. This led to the formulation of final ideas for the production.

Disney formed a team to help realize Fantasia 2000. Don Ernst was brought on to produce Fantasia 2000. Donald Ernst was tapped to direct the host sequences. James Levine was brought on to direct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

"James had very strong feelings about the integrity of the music and made that the first of the building blocks," says Roy Disney. "He was well aware of what our stories were going to be but he had a tremendous belief that if he did the music right, we not only could, but would, be able to animated to it."

Levine was considered a critical element to the success of Fantasia 2000. Disney Studio president Peter Schneider sums up the importance of Levine to the film:

"Clearly Stokowski was so important to Walt and their collaboration was so important to the film," says Schneider. "We knew we had to find someone of equal stature, who was also collaborative and flexible about the use of classical music in the film format. And there's only one man in America who fit that bill – James Levine. He has demonstrated with his work in opera and in classical music that he is a man with great vision, great flexibility, and great passion. That's what we were looking for when we picked James."

Fantasia 2000 is made up of eight different animated segments. Only "The Sorcerers Apprentice" is carried over from the original Fantasia.

Symphony No. 5
The first segment in Fantasia 2000 is "Symphony No. 5." It is directed by Pixote Hunt, who also served as the art director for the segment. Why was "Symphony No. 5" so important to open the film?

"We picked Beethoven's Fifth Symphony to be our first number because we wanted the audience to have a sense of instant familiarity," says Roy Disney. "The opening notes are probably the most famous four notes in music and I think everybody in the Western World knows them. We also liked the fact that it was a deep piece of music that lent itself to the abstract, handmade looking short piece we wanted to open the film with. We were searching for a rhythm of color and motion to tell our story of good versus evil. The music is really very emotional and stirring.

Hunt spent two years assembling the "Symphony No. 5" story and imagery. The selection lasts for three minutes.

"When I listened to the music, it sounded like a great controversy was going on between good and evil," says Hunt. "There was a little bit of melody and a lot of power. I came up with these triangular shapes to represent the two sides. The good shapes would move like butterflies; the bad ones would move more like bats. I didn't want to be too literal. It's more fun to let that reveal itself. The music and tempo are so fast, you don't really have a lot of time to study things. You get hit with all this passion and when it's over you take a breath. The good shapes are multicolored and attracted to the light. The bad shapes, represented in dark colors, want to attack them and stop them from reaching the light."

It's fitting that Hunt was selected to direct a sequence in Fantasia 2000 because growing up, his favorite animated film had been Fantasia. His favorite segment in Fantasia was the abstract one – "Toccata and Fugue."

For the segment, Roy Disney wanted to see a moving pastel, which Hunt says isn't seen very often in animation.

"It's basically dried pigment sitting on the surface of the paper," says Hunt. "If you touch it, sneeze on it, lay anything on top of it, it's gone. We knew that once each background was shot, it would basically be destroyed because of the glass plate that goes down to hold it in place. If there was a retake, you had to start all over. We found a way to put some paint down first and then put the pastel down on top of that. By mixing the media we were able to get more saturation of color and make things very bright and vibrant. We worked closely with Ann Tucker in our CAPS department to get it to work."

Pines of Rome
The second segment of Fantasia 2000 is "Pines of Rome," which is directed by Hendel Butoy. The art directors for "Pines of Rome" are Dean Gordon and William Perkins. The segment is a 3D computer animation that brings a herd of whales to life. The whales take flight in the segment after the explosion of a supernova.

To help with this segment, whale experts lectured the production team to talk about whale locomotion and anatomy. While the underwater effects were done by hand, the rest of the piece was accomplished with computer imagery.

"The challenge was trying to blend the traditional animation effects with computer generated whales that were realistic looking," says David Bossert, the visual effects supervisor for Fantasia 2000. "We really had to bring the two together in order to make it believable for the audience. We resurrected some old techniques that were used on the 1940 Fantasia and were able to recreate them using new tools on the computer."

Dean Gordon, one of the two Art Directors picks it up from here… "We went for a very bright saturated palette. We didn't want the piece to be photorealistic. Even in a dark underwater setting, we had the liberty to light it any way we wanted to. We took our artistic cues from the music. In this case, it starts off very bright and sparkling so we do the same thing with our palette. But then there are some real mood changes with the piece. So we took the saturated color and dropped it to dark and neutral. The light and the saturation build back up as the music does. It's like visual poetry. There's a thread that runs through it and leaves the audience to interpret things on their own."

Rhapsody in Blue
The third segment in Fantasia 2000 is "Rhapsody in Blue," which is directed by Eric Goldberg. The art director for the segment is Susan McKinsey Goldberg. Eric Goldberg was inspired by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld in the creation of the "Rhapsody in Blue" sequence.  The piece takes place in the Jazz Age, at Manhattan as several characters lives are followed through their daily routines.

"…We came up with four main characters," says Eric Goldberg. "There's Duke, a construction worker who dreams of being a jazz musician. There's John, who was modeled after journalist John Culhane who dreams of having fun in life and not being stuffy like his wife Margaret. Then we have Joe, who is perpetually out of work and desperately in search of a job. And finally there's Rachel, who is patterned a bit after my own daughter. She's a little girl who basically gets dragged from lesson to lesson by an overzealous nanny. She's not good at any of the lessons and really just wants to spend time with her mom and dad who are too busy with their daily routines to be with her. All four of them have problems that need resolution."

Eric Goldberg began working on the segment in 1998 after directing the "Carnival of the Animals" segment. As luck had it, an unexpected production schedule change at Disney Feature Animation freed a number of talented animators to help finish the "Rhapsody in Blue" segment. The 12-minute segment was completed in nine months.

Susan McKinsey Goldberg is the wife of Eric and served as the segment's art director.

"My main job as art director was to achieve really harmonious color and use it to direct the story," says Susan McKinsey Goldberg. "Color has an emotional value and you can create a lot more emotion in a scene by adding or eliminating certain colors. I can create an atmosphere or a state of mind by using a particular palette. For 'Rhapsody,' we used a limited color palette from the 30s and 40s. Almost everything in the piece is a variation of blue ranging from monochromatic to rich shades of green, purple, turquoise, and lavender. Skin tones are purple rather than flesh. Nothing is literal. Occasionally, a warm red or yellow is used to accent a particular color or mood."

After the segment was completed, Eric and Susan Goldberg, Roy E. Disney, and Don Ernst flew to New York to privately show the segment to Hirschfiled.

"I thin they've done a remarkable job," says Hirschfeld. "It's incredible, the communication of the line through animation and what those animators have done under the direction of Mr. Goldberg. It's fantastic really and the animation is a creative thing in itself."

Piano Concerto #2, Allegro, Opus 102
The fourth segment of Fantasia 2000 is "Piano Concerto #2, Allegro, Opus 102," directed by Hendel Butoy. The art director is Michael Humphries.

"As I was listening to the music, I was looking at a newly published book of Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairy tale, 'The Steadfast Tin Soldier,' which featured archival illustrations from the 1940s by a Disney artist," says Butoy. "I started flipping through the book as the music played and thinking, 'that works, that works, boy this is going to end just right.' It was almost as if the music was composed for the scenes themselves instead of the other way around. I mentioned my discovery to Roy and Tom (Schumacher). From there we went to the studio's Animation Research Library to pull the original sketches. We photographed the images of film and set it to the music. It worked so well. It was one of those in a lifetime things where something just seems to click right from the start. The music and the story went together so well. Everyone was amazed."

For this segment, CGI was used for the three main characters. However the look supported a richer and more traditional artistic vision of the piece.

"One of our aims was not to make the animation look computer generated but still give it a 3D quality," says Butoy. "Among the big breakthroughs that Steve Goldbe4rg and the technical team came up with was a 'follow-through' program. For example, the animator would create the performance for the ballerina and the computer would help to move the dress and hair in response to the character's actions."

Carnival of the Animals
The fifth segment of Fantasia 2000 is "Carnival of the Animals." Like with "Rhapsody in Blue," the director was Eric Goldberg and the art director was his wife, Susan McKinsey Goldberg. This segment involves a pink flamingo, skilled with yo-yos, and a group of flamingos that disapprove of his yo-yo playing.

"The whole process from start to finish took about nine months," says Eric Goldberg. "I started with a story reel and worked out all the timing to the music. Kent Holaday, a clean-up artist and music breakdown specialist, helped to explain the structure of the music to me. On the exposure sheet, he would give me the beats so that I could see where the notes would fall with regard to each frame of film. From there, I could see where the music repeated and I began to get ideas for the animation from that."

Eric Goldberg turned to Pocahontas co-director Mike Gabriel to study the art of yo-yoing.

"Mike has a vast catalogue of tricks and we shot live-action footage of him doing his thing," says Eric Goldberg. "With a little alteration, we were able to turn his right hand into a flamingo's foot. We wanted to avoid the cliché of using the wings so we used the foot to actually fling the yo-yo and make it act like a wrist. It felt like a very fun and natural thing to do and gave it even an odder quality than it would have otherwise."

The Sorcerer's Apprentice
The sixth segment of Fantasia 2000 is "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," directed by James Algar. The art directors for the segment were Tom Codrick, Charles Philippi, and Zack Schwartz. "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment originally appeared in the 1940 version of Fantasia. It is the only piece from Fantasia to make it into the sequel. It is also the main segment that features Mickey Mouse.

"I personally thing that 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' is one of the most amazing examples of animation in its highest form that I've sever seen," says Roy E. Disney. "We kept it in Fantasia 2000 to show how good they were sixty years ago and to challenge ourselves to prove what we could do today."

Roy E. Disney also states that many artists who worked on the sequence imagined the sorcerer to be Walt Disney. "In fact they gave him the name Yensid, which is Disney spelled backwards," says Roy E. Disney. "If you look at the very last frame of film where the sorcerer swipes Mickey with the broom, he cocks his one eyebrow way up, which was a very Walt kind of gesture. Walt was a magician, but he was also Mickey. Not only did he do Mickey's voice but the character was very much an extension of Walt's personality. A kind of a timid little guy who wants to do his best. That's really who he was. There was an awful lot of Walt invested in the sorcerer's apprentice and his dream to conduct the universe.

Back in the mid 30's, work on "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment was started. An animator named Fred Moore was given the job of animating Mickey Mouse. Legendary animator Vladimir "Bill" Tytla was given the job of animating the Sorcerer. Tytla was also responsible for the Chernobog from the "Night on Bald Mountain" Fantasia sequence.

For Fantasia 2000, the segment had to be restored. Kodak's Cinesite was put in charge of upgrading the visual content. Digital technology was implemented for both visual and sound. Sony took the soundtrack through its proprietary system which broke the track into 256 slices. Technicians then went through each slice to remove noise by averaging the music before and after the damaged areas.

Pomp and Circumstance – Marches 1, 2, 3, and 4
The seventh segment is "Pomp and Circumstance – Marches 1, 2, 3, and 4." It was directed by Francis Glebas. The art director was Daniel Cooper. This segment casts Donald Duck into the spotlight. Since there has always been a strong rivalry between Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, the producers felt that the duck needed equal time. In the segment, Donald Duck plays the assistance to Noah in a "Noah's Ark" type adventure. At the advise of Roy E. Disney, Daisy Duck was also added to the sequence.

"The real challenge with this piece has been to tell the story to the beat of the music," says Glebas. "We've rearranged it slightly but you still have to basically go with the flow of it. The other thing is that its like making a silent movie without subtitles, in a sense. You have to figure out how to say something on the screen without any words. And I think our animators have achieved that brilliantly. Donald's personality comes across very clearly even without his characteristic quacking. He doesn't say a word and yet you still know its Donald."

"When we were recording this piece, I kept trying to find ways to keep the sound animated because it's not as inherent here as in some of the film's other musical selections," says Levine. "'Pomp and Circumstance' is kind of a progression. As we talked about the animation and story for the piece, it affected the vitality of the performance a great deal. I think the performance of that particular piece is absolutely unique for this purpose."

Roy E. Disney was a strong believer in bringing Donald into Fantasia 2000.

"I love the idea of giving Donald equal time," says Disney. "He's always had that position of second banana but he actually grew to be more popular than Mickey. It was great to really be able to animate Donald in the way that we remember him. The design of the piece is really the classic Donald that everyone remembers. And without dialogue, you don't have to worry about being able to understand what he's saying and you can still see him getting angry."

Firebird Suite
The final segment of Fantasia 2000 is the "Firebird Suite," directed by Gaetan and Paul Brizzi. Carl Jones serves as the art director. An "ultimate finale" was the goal for Fantasia 2000. Since the "Firebird Suite" has a powerful conclusion, it was given the green light and fit with a story about death and rebirth.

Three symbolic representations of nature were created for the central characters in "Firebird Suite." There is The Sprite (representing Spring), a noble elk (symbolic partner to the Sprite), and the mighty Firebird, portrayed as a fiery lava bird creature capable of destroying anything and everything in its path.

"The idea of death and rebirth came from listening to the music," says Gaetan. "It seemed to us that Stravinsky himself must have thought of this theme because the music has lots of different accents with some very strong beats and some very slow passages. It suggested the mystery of life. We interpreted that by showing the ecological direction following a disastrous eruption and the return of the wildlife. We took a poetic approach to the subject and tried to give it the same strong emotional feeling that the music evoked."

This segment also mixed traditional animation with computer generated imagery. The segment ended up being the most challenging for Fantasia 2000 simply from the standpoint of the effects, according to Dave Bosseter who oversaw the effects.

"The Sprite is basically a 2D character animated by Tony DeRosa, but in order to have her fully blend in with the background, we incorporated a lot of computer generated 3D elements. She is basically made up of 50% effects. Mike Kaschalk was the CG animator for the final scene of the piece, which has over a million particles to give it the feel of a moving impressionistic painting."

The IMAX Experience
On January 1, 2000, Fantasia 2000 was released into 72 IMAX theaters throughout the world for a four-month engagement. Since Disney couldn't reach agreement with the only North Hollywood IMAX theater to show the film, the company decided to build its own temporary IMAX theater just off the 405 freeway.

Roy E. Disney considers animation as an art of the mind as he sums up his feelings:

"Animation has always been about drawing a frame a time and exposing those frames to the camera," says Disney. "It's gotten more sophisticated because we can now let the computer fiddle with those things. But the beauty of animation for me, and the thing that makes this all very universal and brings it all together, is that it's still the mind and the hand and the paper and the vision. And it's art. No matter how you define it and what the technological process is you're going through, that's what separates it from every other medium I know."


Joe Tracy is publisher of Animation Artist Magazine and author of the new book Web Marketing Applied. He can be reached via [email protected].


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