The short answer to this question is yes. Our discussion of what Disney Animation looks like under Lee’s leadership following the departure of John Lasseter led to a discussion from Del Vecho, who is now WDA’s senior vice president of production, about the possibility of a hand-drawn animation return to the studio, and what they would need to make that happen.
Jennifer, what kind of changes have you made to Walt Disney Animation since you took over after John Lasseter left?
Lee: For us, we’re very focused on the films that are in production right away. It was Ralph [Breaks the Internet] and Frozen [II] and Raya [and the Last Dragon], and the feeling of similarity to maintain the confidence of our history in progress and in operation. One of the things that excites me is that we really want to develop new talent internally and attract new talent. Making our rooms truly reflect the world we live in.
I’m excited to announce a few new directors in the fall – I won’t be the only director, which is exciting for me. Really, the most important thing is to create new opportunities for young talent. Not all departments have access to history. Create that access, create new short programs for people to try pushing technology in ways we haven’t done and new styles we haven’t tried, and use the short form to do it. I think that’s about all I’ve had time for so far. (laughs) And there’s a lot more to do, but I think those are the most important things I can mention.
You mentioned new styles, and they said during the presentation earlier that it was the tenth anniversary of The frog princess [which Peter Del Vecho produced]. Hand-drawn animation on the table for Walt Disney Animation moving forward?
Del Vecho: It’s such a big part of our heritage, and I loved it Princess and the frog. I would say there’s still a lot of hand-drawn influence in our CG movies.
Lee: In our movies.
Del Vecho: I think we’re one of the only studios in the world that can do both, and how that changes over time and how we experiment with different styles. But at the end of the day, it depends on the filmmakers and how they want to tell that particular story.
Lee: Yeah, and some of our new shorts, you’re going to see, as they come out, new styles. Watercolor styles, even things we’ve never done, but using technology to help us do it in exciting ways too.
Buck: And there is something else. People are not even aware of it. The hand drawn animators have helped our CG animators a lot. I think there’s an appeal that hand-drawn animators that’s innate in them, and they taught CG animators –
Lee: The silhouettes and the swirls, that language.
Buck: – put that in their work. So when you watch some of our movies now, even though it’s CG on screen, underneath is the hand drawn chord.
But it looks like you might be open to it if a filmmaker came to you.
Lee: Of course. And it really is, the style is determined by the filmmakers and there is certainly a lot of enthusiasm to try out different styles as we have developed new talent.
You’ve heard it, Disney filmmakers: all you have to do is showcase the leadership of a film in which hand-drawn animation is an integral part of the story you’re trying to tell! Easy, right? But seriously, while traditional hand-drawn animation hasn’t appeared in a Walt Disney animated feature in ten years, I’m really delighted to hear that the prospect is not yet completely dead and buried. We just need the right filmmaker with the right story to resurrect it.
Frozen II released in theaters on November 22, 2019.