"The ballroom sequence makes us fall in love, not just with Belle and the Beast, but also with the seamless integration of hand-drawn animation and computer-animation."
There is often a discrepancy when comparing live action films with animated films in terms of space and camera movements. In live action films, a camera can play a significant role within a specific scene and much can be said about its use in terms of space. This sort of discussion, however, is rare with animated films. The hand-drawn animated films that have now been replaced with computer–animated films are rarely discussed in terms of space, primarily because cel animation consists of flat artworks and minimal camera movements. Beauty and the Beast (1991) is a film that combines both traditional animation with computer animation, blending together computer-generated backgrounds with hand-drawn characters. This hybridization of techniques can be seen during the ballroom sequence of the film, as Belle and the Beast waltz in the Beast’s castle.
Pixar has since ushered in a digital era of computer-animated films and their films are often compared with their live action counterparts. The release of The Little Mermaid (1989), however, ushered in a new era for the Walt Disney Animation Studios, which became known as the Disney Renaissance. This era lasted for a decade and produced films that included The Rescuers Down Under (1990), Aladdin (1992) and The Lion King (1994). This was a period of time when the Walt Disney Animation Studios returned to making critically and commercially successful films based on well-known stories. Beauty and the Beast, released in 1991, reached new levels of success and defined how space could function in animated films. The film received the first Best Picture nomination for an animated film, a feat that was unparalleled until 2010 with Up (2009), when the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences expanded the number of nominees in the Best Picture category to a maximum of ten.
The Little Mermaid and The Rescuers Down Under were both produced using CAPS (Computer Animation Production System), a digital compositing system for animated films; however, Beauty and the Beast made extensive use of the software and effectively integrated 2D with 3D. The film also used CAPS in its stimulation of multiplane effects, which allowed for the existence of separate layers between characters and backgrounds, creating an illusion of focus and depth. The use of computer-animation in this film results in a sophisticated and complex scene that is unique in the legendary history of Disney. The ballroom sequence in Beauty and the Beast is the most romantic scene of the film. This is the moment in the film when Belle and the Beast establish their love for one another. The ballroom sequence makes us fall in love, not just with Belle and the Beast, but also with the seamless integration of hand-drawn animation and computer-animation.
The ballroom was designed as a production set on a computer, becoming the first computer-generated color background that was both animated and fully dimensional. In comparison, previous animated films consisted of one dimensional backgrounds and static cameras. This is made clear in other parts of Beauty and the Beast; notice how the background in the earlier part of the film is flat in comparison with the ballroom sequence. The ballroom was rendered onto a cube (much like cube mapping with video games) and the hand-drawn cel animations were placed on top of this design. This integration consisted of traditional hand-drawn animation cels, such as Belle and the Beast, as well as 3D CGI objects, such as the chandelier that hangs above them during their waltz. In creating a background that was dimensional, the camera could now move around its characters. The camera is constantly moving, soaring, sweeping and circling its characters. These fluid movements resemble tracking shots in an animated film, providing us with an illusion of a dollying film camera. In their entrance into the ballroom, we are presented with an immediate introduction to the moving camera, as we move past the columns and entrance into the grand ballroom.
James Baxter, supervising animator on the film, was in charge of designing both Belle and the Beast for the ballroom sequence because of the fact that the two characters are so “interconnected” during their waltz. In fact, he even studied dancers and participated in waltzing lessons as preparation for the design of the sequence. The characters mirror each other in a number of ways throughout the sequence. The use of color is a clear reflection of this mirroring, and the design also speaks to the use of space in the sequence. The color palette in this sequence consists primarily of gold and blue. Belle’s gold dress compliments the Beast’s gold trim on his attire and gold is also the primary color of the ballroom itself. The Beast wears royal blue, which match his eyes, the evening sky, the curtains that drape the columns in the ballroom, and even the tiles on the floor, which are integrated with gold.
The moving background in this sequence also allows for changes in perspective and a sense of scale. The introduction of live action techniques literally presents a new dimension into the animated world and heightens the emotional qualities of the film. The theatrical lighting and the movement of Belle’s hair, for instance, create an element of realism. The artists for this film constantly altered perspectives as Belle and the Beast danced together. This adds another element of involvement for the audience, because the film steps further away from the limitations of traditional animation. The changes in perspectives are unique to this sequence, but also fit within the context of the film as whole. The diagram provided shows a particular moment in the sequence where the camera drops from the ceiling down to the level of Belle and the Beast. This drastic change in perspective was achieved with a pencil and paper and was layered onto the computer-generated ballroom. The diagram also consists of accurate dimensions that are featured in the film. The ballroom sequence consists of a 72-foot high ceiling and an 86 x 126 foot dome with a mural, which was hand painted and applied as a texture map. There are 28 wall window sections and the distance from door-to-door is 184 feet with a width of 126 feet. These specifics speak to the detail of the scene.
In their dance together, Belle familiarizes the Beast with the waltz and as soon he feels comfortable, he gracefully moves her across the floor. In this instance, Belle and the Beast move toward the camera, as we pan up and into the 3D chandelier. In the next shot, the camera slowly drops from the ceiling as we once again move alongside the 3D chandelier. This adds depth to the scene, as the chandelier is placed at the forefront of the image and Belle and the Beast are in the distance. This shot continues as we move down below and gracefully move around them. The Beast then sways Belle around and near the camera, once again providing us with an illusion that a camera is following these characters around in an actual ballroom. In a wide shot of Belle and the Beast dancing, the camera begins dollying back as Mrs. Potts and Chip appear in the frame. These beautiful compositions and camera movements show us how space functions within an animated feature film.
The merging of hand-drawn animation with computer-animation in Beauty and the Beast was innovative for its time and made way for future animated films, such as the first CGI film, Toy Story (1995). In 1991, however, four years prior, computer-animated was still in its infancy. The filmmakers had a backup plan in case their ideas failed; Belle and the Beast would dance in a spotlight, in pure darkness. The ballroom sequence, fortuitously, was successful and pushed the possibilities of computer-animation. The essence of Beauty and the Beast is the transforming power of love and its effect on us all.