Bringing The Characters From Disney’s PLANES To Life


By the time we sit in a theater to watch a Disney cartoon (or any movie really) all of the hard work has been done, and the movie comes together in perfect symphony. It is as if it leapt right from the drawing table and onto the screen. Easy peasy.

In reality, we all know it isn’t as easy as a little Pixie Dust and poof you have a fully animated feature film, but beyond that most of us really have no idea what goes into the making of a cartoon. Call me naive, but beyond the fact that animators have graduated from a pencil and paper to a computer screen I didn’t know much more about the process of animation until I had the unique opportunity to sit down with an animator from Disney’s upcoming new release PLANES. (Which by the way is AWESOME, and I will have tons more to tell you about soon.)

The design process to creating an animated film begins with storyboarding (more on that topic to come soon). Once the storyboard is in place, characters are “rigged.” (Which for those of us who don’t know basically means they are drawn from every possible angle and put into a fancy program called Maya, which allows animators to come along and move each individual part of the character.)

This is where animators like Ethan Hurd come in. 

Ethan Hurd Disney Planes Animator

Photo Credit

With the click of his mouse, Ethan and other animators are able to move and “animate” character features down to the tiniest detail. And I mean tiny, I am talking about individual facial expressions — on a plane. 

Ethan made it seem like no big deal, but the 13-second clip of Dusty that he showed us took him about a week to animate. A week. 13 seconds. No big deal, sure.

Just for fun, Ethan gave me a chance to sit at the controls and animate Dusty. In less than five minutes I managed to animate Dusty too.  Of course, my animation was done in much the same way a toddler is able to walk carefully through a room full of stacked blocks without knocking over a single block. (Actually, I think that toddler might have done a better job animating than I did.) Don’t worry Ethan, your career is safe from me.

I was fascinated while talking to Ethan to learn that while his work is now 100% accomplished on the computer, he (like so many making the leap from paper to pixels) started off with a paper and pencil. And as a teacher, he still encourages his students to pick up a pencil to practice the art by hand from time to time. 

When I joked about not being able to make stick figures. He said that it would be possible to animate without being able to draw (thanks to programs like Maya), but that the skill of being able to draw still helps — a lot. 

Next time you watch an animated movie, pay attention to facial expressions and tiny movement details. Each is deliberate in a carefully designed dance that coordinates drawings with sound — pretty amazing stuff. 

See Dusty and all of the characters from Disney’s PLANES take flight August 9, 2013.

Disney Planes Dusty


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