Live-Action Reference in Animated Movies

Do you have any idea how much preparation goes in to making animated films?  If you’re not already an animator, then it’s hard to realize that for every second of screen time, hours of work have to be completed.  There are no “second takes” in animation.  Directors have to make sure everything is in place and ready before any animation begins.  It’s got to be right from the start.

One fascinating example of this is a film released by Oh My Disney.  One of Disney’s films, Hercules, recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.  It might not be their best film, or even highly celebrated.  It’s still a good film, though, and plenty of people like it.  The video below shows the ridiculous amount of preparation that went into a key scene.


Of course the script had to be written before the above.  The music had to be composed, the lyrics set down, the storyboards drawn.  It wasn’t a spontaneous song-and-dance.  Rather, the point I’m making is that the directors of Hercules, Ron Clements and John Musker, basically made TWO movies.  Sure, they’re credited for Hercules the animated feature, but before that they made an entire live-action movie simply for animation reference.

They had to hire actors, make costumes, choreograph the dances, compose the shots — and then they had to edit it all.  So Hercules existed as a live-action movie before anyone sat down to animate it.

Pretty cool, huh?

It goes without saying that this was a really elaborate video shoot.  The use of live-action reference isn’t terribly uncommon, but this went beyond.  It’s similar to what Disney did with the original Snow White.  In the 1930s, they shot Marge Champion dancing to some of the songs.  The animators (who were then hand-drawing each frame) looked at that for inspiration and reference.

The Hercules movie is like that, only on a grander scale.

Of course, this sort of thing goes on a lot in many animated movies, even if it isn’t on the same scale.  Since it takes so long for each frame of final movie to render, no one can waste time working on things that aren’t going to make it in.  So most animated films are in some sense completed long before they reach theaters.  Of course minor changes happen, things are tweaked, but not a lot of final work happens until the movie is laid out.
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