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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Day 3 – Part 1: Destination D: 75 Years of Feature Animation

As great as the Destination D weekend was and as much as I enjoyed sitting up front for all presentations and entertainment, it was the Monday events that prompted me to go for the Diamond level ticket.  Only 100 of these tickets were available and snatched with moments of going on sale.

After the wonderful Alan Menken concert to end the regular Destination D event, it was off to bed to rest up for the very busy next day.  Originally, check-in for Monday’s for Monday’s bus trip from the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim to the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank was scheduled for 7:00 AM with a prompt departure at 7:30.  However, with all that was happening at the Studio, and check-in and departure time was moved up to 6:15 and 7:00 AM.  So, along about 5:30 the ole eyes slammed open, and with a rapt anticipation I jumped out of bed, showered, and dressed and was out the door by a little after 6:00.  No coffee in the room, no news, no email, I wasn’t going to take any chance on missing the bus.  Beside, we’d been promised breakfast items and coffee would be awaiting us downstairs, though I did stop at the coffee shop for my quad shot latte, I did have to make sure I jump started my daily caffeine requirement.  J  First it was a check-in so D23 knew I was present – yeah, like I was going to miss this… and then off to the pastry and coffee table, yup, I needed more caffeine.  Found some seats for my friends, and enjoy a bite to eat and discussion of our mutual anticipation of the day’s activities.

By a little passed 7:00 two buses were on the I-5 heading north to Burbank and the Studio.  When Disneyland was first built, it was about a 2 hour drive from the Studio to the Park, and vice versa.  It is roughly a 40 mile trip, one way.  Fifty seven years later, with all the improvement in roads and vehicles, today it is about a 2 hour drive from the Park to the Studio, longer sometimes depending on how clogged the traffic.  It’s somewhat ironic that as much as things change, they manage to stay the same too.  So, at just about 9:00 we pull into the Studio, not the studio proper but the buildings across Riverside from the main complex, The Roy E. Disney Features Animation building and the ABC TV Headquarters building.  As we disembark the bus, we are each tagged with one of four Disney character stickers, as learned… to signify the tour group we would be assigned.  Again as with the assembly point at the Disneyland Hotel, there was a table with pastries and drinks for us to enjoy.  After about a ½ an hour to eat and use the rest facilities, we were off to begin our touring of the Features Animation building.  First up, we all gathered on the second floor between to Pods, for a quick video welcome and personal greeting from Disney Animator Darrin Butters, then it was time to form up in our groups and head off to explore this amazing place.

First stop down to the basement floor and a visit to one of the animation rigging labs were they build wire frames.  You probably already know this, but, much of today’s animation is done on the computer.  Each of those clever characters we see on the theater screen is a computer program called a wire frame rig.  Artists of the electronic world of bits and bytes take painstaking time and effort to build wire frame structure of these characters so that they can move for us on the screen.  This lab has about 2 dozen computers and we were all directed to take a seat in front of one.  On the computer monitor in front us, and on the screen at the front of the room, was one of these wire frame models of Ralph – the title character from the upcoming new movie ‘Wreck-It Ralph.’  After some basic instructions for the gentleman at the front of the room, we were encouraged to create our own little animated sequence which was really cool.  When I got done, I am sure I violated certain anatomical rules and my sequence had Ralph signaling for a touchdown while doing a rather impossible side kick, but, it looked cool!  J  I’m not sure what software we used and I forgot to ask, so I don’t know if it commercially available, or a proprietary custom application, but it was a lot of fun.  Next it was off to the recording studio where we got to participate in some ADR (or Auto Dialog Replacement), at least that what I thought I heard.  A few people from our group got to go into the recording booth and redo some lines from ‘Wreck-It Ralph.’  Then there was a quick trip down the hall to the art studio.  Nothing really exciting, but, they hold regular art classes at the facility, where artist on site can come to learn or practice new techniques.

There was a visit to a storyboard room in the story department.  In any other company this would be a conference room with a large table and chairs surrounded by tack boards, white boards, and drawing pads around the rooms.  We got to see some of how a story goes through its development with the use of storyboards, and group discussion and brain storming.  We even participated in a short brainstorming session to continue the development of a story that had been planned for this event… more on this in a bit.  It was then back upstairs and through the Frozen Pod to a Feature Animations Building equivalent of the old sweatbox viewing rooms from across the street in Walt Disney original Animation Building.  Like the old sweatboxes, this is where the artists, animators, directors, and producers come together to review and critique the day’s production.  Today, we got to see some to the early animation of Wreck-It Ralph’s Vanellope von Schweetz, and listen to the young animator, her first animation assignment with the Studio, explained her process and efforts to animate her character, along with an animation supervisor and a director explain the critique and review process.  And now to the pods… 

The center of the second floor of the Roy E. Disney Features Animation building is divided into what our tour guide described as two pods.  I never thought to ask if pod was an acronym, but, I’ll have to remember to ask if I ever get another chance.   Each of the Pods houses the productions and direction staff for one of the two Animated Features currently in production.  Each pod is design and decorated by the staff to reflect the story and feeling of the film being produced.  In the Frozen pod there are renderings and art on the walls that reflects some of the research done by the staff on locals, characters, concepts for the story.  In the middle of the pod is a central meeting area were producers, directors, artists, and animators can come together to discuss the project.  The décor again is representative of that feature’s concept and story.  In the Frozen pod, the walls are in muted colors of winter.  Across the hallway is the Wreck-It Ralph pod, where their central meeting area is designed to look like a video arcade, big surprise there…  As we exit the Wreck-It Ralph pod we are directed to a room at the end of an open meeting area.  There we meeting and attractive young artist with a distinctly Latin accent who explains how the Wreck-It Ralph team researched and developed the color palette some of the building features for the film.  Turns out, like we learned in the Frozen pod, artists and designer are sent on trips to locals that represent the film to draw inspiration.  In the case of Wreck-It Ralph trips to Spain (hence the accent of the young artist giving this talk) to sketch the building that would represent one of the worlds in the movie, and many trips to candy stores to draw insight into the world of Vanellope von Schweetz.  As l look around and notice the room is round, I look up to see that the ceiling ends at a conical point.  We’re in the HAT!!!  If you’ve ever driven by or seen any of the many picture of the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, you’ll know this, but…  When the Feature Animation building was originally constructed, it included a large Sorcerer Mickey’s hat.  Inside the building this was Roy E. Disney’s ceremonial office, while still maintaining a working office in the old Animation building across the street, where he would meet with important dignitaries or special guests.  There will be more on the Hat when I get back to my history posts in the near future.

After a couple of wonderful hours exploring the Roy E. Disney Feature Animation Building, we were, all the tour groups, ushered into the theater.  In each seat was a bag of goodies for us to commemorate our visit, along with a copy of the group photo we’d taken earlier in front of the building.  With Darrin Butter, our MC at the beginning of the tour, leading the way, we talked about what we had seen, and had a nice little question and answer session.  The gentleman who led our story brainstorming session came up and told a raw concept story based on all of the tour groups’ input.  I know I won’t be able to do it justice, but…  It’s the story of a time-traveling young lady who stole a teddy bear from a young man, who with his dog, chased her down the slope of an active volcano flowing with lava, in his fire proof boots.  I don’t expect to see this at a theater near me any time soon, if ever.  J  But, it was a great example of brainstorming.  The schedule had originally called for a shopping opportunity in the Feature Animation Building company store, which didn’t happen.  I believe smarter heads prevailed, when it was realized that funneling 100 people through their store would add hours to an already very busy schedule.  I didn’t see the store in this building, but, I’ve been in the company store – Mickey’s of Glendale – at the Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) facility, so I’d assume they are similar in size, and the store at WDI is not that big.  Yes, it would have been nice to get some of the more specialized merchandise, but, the gift bags were a nice compromise.  

It’s now time to leave this wonderful building and head back to the buses for trip across the street to the main studio lot, and lunch.  But…  I think I’ll make that a part 2 entry, as there was quite a lot that happened there which may take up several more pages.


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