At its most basic level, the word animate means “to bring to life,” and that’s exactly what the makers of Disney Animated have done. They’ve brought the world of Walt Disney Animation Studios to life in a way it has never been before. This new iPad app was produced by Disney Interactive, Touch Press, and Walt Disney Animation Studios, and it spans all 90 years of the animation studio with staggering depth and engagement.
Amongst the incredible app features are: pages upon pages of text that come alive with animation film clips and images, 3D rotations of treasured artifacts that were painstakingly photographed and made possible for you to spin and explore, layered clips that you can actually control as they transition from sketch to final film frame, and a series of workshops that put you in the driver’s seat of animation. As Theo Gray—co-author of the app. and Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Touch Press—explains succinctly (which is challenging to do), “Your fingers are touching the core of what makes Disney possible.”
It seems simple, really, the idea that this app should exist. As its co-author and Walt Disney Animation Studios Creative Director Dave Bossert says, “Animation is motion,” he says. “You want to see things moving.”
The execution of the idea, however, took time and care. When they sat down to figure out what belonged in the app, Disney Interactive Senior Vice President Mark Walker says this: “Going in, we thought that would be the very hardest part. But it was almost self-manifesting in a way that the assets themselves told us which ones would be happy to be in this format.” Dave says it was a matter of “trying to find that balance of including iconic stuff, but also including things that people don’t normally get to see.”
Finding that balance was a tightrope walk of sorts, but the result is a rather unprecedented combination of uncovered assets from Walt Disney Animation Studios’ many classics and a preview of their next feature release Frozen—which comes to theaters this November. The app even includes an interactive element in which you can animate Elsa’s snow from Frozen and get a feel for the animation technique the animators used to make sure it seemed realistic. (Theo has a tip for Insider readers: shake your iPad side-to-side after you’ve outlined your snow’s path and see what happens.)
Another interactive is the rigging workshop, which lets you make your own 3D animations using Vanellope from Wreck-It Ralph. You can even share your creations with your friends via social media or email. Note to those sharing by email: If your friend has the app, they can add to your animations and send them back.
The feature you may find yourself lost in for hours is the one labeled Color Maps, which shows you every scene from every one of the 52 animated feature films. It also plays music from the film you’re seeing while you’re scrolling over it:
In order to do accomplish this, Theo says, “We had to look at each scene, multiple frame units at a time, and figure out what the dominant colors were, and then bring those together into one line in the Color Map.” He added that the Maps are made by an algorithm that looks at the film and does a cluster analysis. In other words, “Any patch of color in the frame will end up as a patch of color in the color map in direct proportion.”
Amongst the artifacts you’ll see from the locked vaults is this Pinocchio maquette, which was uncovered quite recently after being in a closed cabinet for around five decades:
In addition to Pinocchio, you’ll find Hyacinth the Hippo from Fantasia, and Ursula from The Little Mermaid. These and other artifacts are not just pieces from the vault, they are the avenue through which everyone can access this content—in a way not even employees can usually. As Theo says, “Now you get to walk into the vault and mess with the stuff yourself.”
Bringing all of the things we’ve told you about (and so many more) to the iPad was a challenge Theo and his team were ready to tackle. They had to design programs to make animation techniques small enough to scale for an iPad interface and rich enough to mirror the real animation programs they were modeled after. “Everything about the product is designed to get out of your way,” he says. “We designed the interface to tell you exactly what we’re talking about.”
Though the wonders of this app are endless, one of the seemingly simplest features is actually quite apropos: the fact that the app is telling you the story of Disney animation through animation. “We made the book itself into a particle system of animation,” says Theo. Indeed, everything that should move, does. When you read through the book, the text moves around your fingers. The characters lining the pages of the book animate—some play clips, others are visual development art—so you can get a better sense of the animation principles the text is explaining. Some even show you original storyboards from the film that you can zoom to reveal additional detail:
The app itself, and its method of storytelling, represents the unification Disney Interactive, Touch Press, and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Mark says, “Disney never shies away from a challenge and the opportunity to wrest new technologies in service of an art form.” As to those technologies, Theo says, “This hasn’t ever been possible before. We’ve rethought from the ground up how to tell the story of animation and done it right.”
You can see your favorite movies in this whole new way by downloading Disney Animated for your iPad now.