I came across a really useful page with a basic timeline showing the progression of Disney techniques for producing their feature films and what films were the first users of the techniques HERE.
So to start, looking solely at the feature films Disney has produced, is Snow White. Snow White was produced using the traditional technique of cel animation, where an animators sketches out the animation, tests it is working and then these rough sketches of the animation are moved to the inking department, where the inkers trace over the rough sketches on acetate to leave a clean single line for a character, after the lines of the characters have been finished, they are given to the paint department who then colour the characters by painting on the back of the acetate sheets.
Features were produced in this fashion from 1937 with Snow White up until 1961 when 101 Dalmatians came out. 101 Dalmatians was produced using the Xerox technique, a technique of photo copying the animators cleaned up versions of the sketchy animation drawings straight on the acetate, this being done so it quickened the process of the making the animations by missing out the inking process altogether. from using this technique it gave a ‘happy accident’ of seeing the animators lines and the texture of the animators pencil on paper transferred into the final animation, rather than being lost through the inking stage. Personally, I feel that this technique has given to best look to the Disney feature films, as it shows to original drawings of the artist and the movement of the line better.
In the mid to late 80s, with the progression of computer, Disney began to look at CGI to help their production. the first feature to use this technique was The Great Mouse Detective. in this technique it began by producing parts of the animations backgrounds with computers and then have the animators draw the character over the CGI environments, because it allowed them to move cameras around the environment to have better cinematic shots with the ease of moving a camera rather than an animator/background artist figuring out each perspective.
From these experiments with CGI Disney began working with a new company called Pixar, and from working with Pixar came CAPS, computer animation production system. CAPS was first tested on small parts in The Little Mermaid and was successful enough that then used the system to produce a full feature, which was, The Rescuers Down Under. CAPS allowed for more expansive shots and removed the need for painters to colour the animation as it can all be done within the computer system with the scanned character drawings.
The progression from here was that Disney slowly became more and more digitally produced to the point that when Treasure Planet and Brother Bear didn’t get the success Disney thought they would, and saw how popular Shrek and Finding Nemo were doing that they shut down all hand drawn animation and began to concentrate on CGI films, such as, Chicken Little and Bolt, which also weren’t as successful as they hoped.
when Disney and Pixar merged, it was John Lasseter and Ed Catmull who wanted to produce a hand-drawn Disney feature, this being Princess and the Frog. Lasseter is quoted to of said “I’ve never understood why the studios were saying people don’t want to see hand-drawn animation,” and “What people don’t want to watch is a bad movie.” in response to Disney’s decision to move from hand-drawn animation and into full CGI. The Princess and the Frog, although was a hand-drawn animation it still felt like a CGI film, with the use of software like ToonBoom, and it doesn’t have any essence of the hand-drawn animation from the era of the Xerox technique. The Princess and the Frog, didn’t do as successful as planned either, and Disney went back into CGI producing Tangled.
John Kahrs, a supervising animator at Disney, mainly working on Tangled, wanted to get back to an aesthetic more like the Xerox technique, with a short he pitched and got accepted to Disney called Paperman. the idea of Paperman was to combine the use of 2D hand-drawn animation and CGI because…
“working so much with Glen on Tangled. Seeing all that drawing, being at Disney, being surrounded by that legacy. How exciting, and how much punch there is in the drawn line, how expressive it can be. And how hard the CG guys have to work to try to match that charm. I thought, Why do we have to leave these drawings behind?”
Seeing a breakdown of Paperman HERE. I feel that it is a good step back into what made Disney’s Xerox process so aesthetically interesting, but having the drawings done digitally with a three-dimensional tween feature seems to lose the whole feel to having the animator’s drawing that you got with the Xerox Process and the movement of the line, which is lost having a tween feature, you can see this in the breakdown as well because in one section one of the animators has basically ignored the tween feature and hand-drawn onto each frame to try to give more life and movement into the line rather than the rigid movement of the lines you get with a tween.