The transition and evolution in film making and, in particular, animated movies, is a genre in which has seen the most radical change for the greater good over the past 100 years for both movie makers as well as us, the audience.
Disney, or Walt Disney Productions as it was called when the 1937 classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released, is often heralded as the ‘king’ of animated, child/family friendly entertainment for its captivating movies that also includes greats such as Bambi (1942), Peter Pan (1951), Beauty and the Beast (1991) and, more recently, Frozen (2013).
All of these stellar films have proved impervious to the ravages of time and have been watched hundreds if not thousands of times by mixed ages. The aforementioned movies, in particular those in the 20th century, used two-dimensional cels in their production. These movies were essentially flip-books that were then projected onto a screen. Animators would draw each scene/frame by hand and was then transferred to animation cels, and then compiled. This process would take time, a lot of time, and very costly.
However, in the mid 1990’s, a new player in the animation movie world, which had been biding its time honing and developing its skills was ready to make its presence felt. Introducing…Pixar. The fledgling Pixar animation studios, which initially started out as a division of Lucasfilm until being acquired by Steve Jobs in 1986, released the movie Toy Story in 1996, which would become one of the most significant and well-loved series of our generation. It would prove a commercial success too with the modest budget of $30 million dollars, the first instalment would gross over $361 million dollars worldwide.
However the real beauty and art behind this creation was the technology used and the mastermind and genius himself John Lasseter. An animator by trade, Lasseter realised early in his career that animation could be taking to a whole new level if it was combined and developed with the aid of computers. The immediate link with Steve Jobs is not a bad partner to have on your side when exploring this route!
Toy Story’s initial success has had a huge knock on effect on the subsequent films in this field. It signalled the end of cell animation, which degraded in value and of importance following the film’s release. So much so, that Disney’s Animation studios have moved away from the process entirely.
It also enhanced how imagery would impact the language and feel of film, showing it to be a tool that was capable of much more than the pure focus of characters but to add beauty and colour. Other Pixar works such as the incredible and touching movie Up! had such vivid colours, scenes and exquisite fastest-like locations, only made possible thanks to the power of modern day computers. This technique used has also aided and contributed to the visual factor of movies such as The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies as well as the recent Planet of the Apes films.
Aside from Toy Story’s impeccable visuals, the storytelling and plot cannot be undermined and ignored, this is equally as significant. It is a simple yet effective story that appealed to all ages with dialogue that was full of fun, charm and had enough to keep both children and adults entertained. It would achieve a Guinness World Records title for the First Feature-Length Computer-Animated Movie and earn Lasseter the ‘Special Achievement Academy Award’ for his "inspired leadership” of the film.
Due to the success of the maiden film, two further films would be released with the second instalment three years later in 1999 and a mammoth 11 year wait for the third in 2010. The latter of which was also momentous in its own right, not just for being filmed in 3D, moving with the times and current trend in cinematic entertainment, it would also become a record breaker. It had the Most Successful Opening Weekend for a 3D Animation Film and raked in which $110,307,189 (£71, 692,765) from its opening weekend on 18 June 2010 and also went on to become the First Animated Film to Make $1 billion at the worldwide box office, taking a total of $1,063,171,911 (£679,163,325) around the world during the six months following its initial theatrical release in June 2010. Who knows what records the fourth instalment will be break when it’s released in 2017? We’re all eager to find out.
The most ironic tale of Lasseter’s career and the eventual impact he would have on the animation genre of movie making, is that he was initially an employee of Disney in the 1980’s but, after exploring computer animation after Disney’s films hit a stutter, he was fired. In 2006, due to his success with Pixar and the releases of films such as Toy Story and Bugs Life, Disney decided to buy out Pixar, for the small price of $7.4m (ouch).
It is fair to say that Lasseter and the supporting work of his team and those at Pixar and now at Disney, have transformed the animation film industry over the past twenty years, more so than what proceeded in the 50-70 years prior. Though classics such as Aladdin, Lion King and others will live on in our memories forever and will be watched by many more generations, the rise of computer animation should be celebrated. It has proven the medium to be as valid a form of storytelling as any other.