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REVIEW: 3D “Lion King” and 3D “Beauty and the Beast”

Two years ago, at the big Hall H Disney presentation at the San Diego Comic Con – the year Miyazaki was there – John Lasseter presented a clip from the forthcoming Beauty and The Beast 3D conversion. I hadn’t heard about this project, but was strangely intrigued with the idea of 3D conversion of previously flat 2D cartoons. I always loved Disney’s Melody, and Paramount’s Boo Moon and Popeye The Ace of Space are two great examples of what a 3D cartoon can look like if done properly (I am not as impressed with Lantz’ Hypnotic Hick and Warners’ Lumberjack Rabbit). I even enjoyed the 3D aspects of the otherwise awful Starchaser: The Legend of Orin.

I was particularly enthused when Lasseter introduced the clip – but became less so as he discussed the process. Here’s how I recall his introduction, and what I was thinking during it…

Lasseter: “There were 3D cartoons done in the 1950s…”

My Thoughts: “Yes there were. And they looked great – like old Viewmaster slides come to life!”

Lasseter (in a negative way): “…but they were old fashioned and looked like Viewmaster slides…”

My Thoughts: “But… but… that was COOL!”

Lasseter: “Luckily, we figured out a new way to create 3D out of hand drawn cartoons…”

My thoughts: “But… but… it doesn’t need a “new way”. MELODY looked incredible…”

Lasseter: “Instead of flat art, we’ve figured out a way to round the edges…”

My thoughts: “That doesn’t sound good…”

Lasseter: “This isn’t your father’s 3D cartoon…”

My thoughts while watching the clip: “Oh. My. God.”

I don’t have problems watching 3D movies. I don’t get headaches, my eyes don’t tear… but watching this clip gave me a headache and hurt my eyes. Needless to say I was not surprised when the film didn’t open theatrically as originally planned.

Cut to 2011 – and this past week the 3D Beauty and The Beast opened at the El Capitan Theatre sans almost any publicity. I simply had to go see it over the weekend. I was also invited to a screening of the 3D Lion King at the Disney Studio yesterday. Here’s my assessment of how both fare in 3D form.

Beauty and The Beast – I’m not going to review the film itself, but suffice to say it was a pleasure to see it again on the big screen. The screenplay, direction, and vocal performances are even better than I remembered them. The animation was/is, of course, top notch. But there was something wrong here… the drawings of the characters, particularly in the first third of the film, looked awful. What did they do? Re-trace the animation to get the 3-D effect? There was a funky, scratchy-tracing “look” to the characters, particularly their outlines. It seemed to get better once we are in the enchanted castle – either that or I got used to it. The 3-D effect itself was pretty good. It was NOT the “rounded edge” version that Lasseter touted at Comic Con. In fact, unlike every live action or CG animated 3D film I’ve seen the past few years, the 3D “effect” didn’t wear off after the first ten minutes. It was quite a 3D Viewmaster version all throughout. Would I recommend seeing it on the big screen? No. The character designs of the townspeople and the overall “traced” look hurts the visuals. Somehow the 3D highlights these flaws… I went home a re-watched several scenes on the “Diamond Edition” DVD and the film looks much better on TV. Maybe the 3D home version plays better too. Final assessment: Disney was right not to release this nationwide – but the 3D is a lot better than I thought it would be. It doesn’t hurt the film, but doesn’t help it either.
The Lion King – The folks at Disney sent me this slideshow (below) that attempts to explain the 3D conversion process. I admit I still don’t completely understand it.

I’ve now seen The Lion King in 3D and again, it was great to revisit this film after so many years. The finished artwork and visuals are superior to preceding films of the era and clearly more care was taken to convert this film to 3D. I only noticed the “scratchy tracing” look in the earliest part of the film. The 3D effect was “felt” throughout, though used best when Zasu is flying through a scene, or the characters are in front of a huge vista. A few scenes, where the camera p.o.v. is going through a cave, forest or valley the 3D technicians did a good job of creating a classic multiplane effect.

Again, “is this trip really necessary”? No. 3-D adds nothing new to the greatness of Disney’s Lion King. But anything that returns hand drawn animation to the big screen, and to the attention of the public, is a good thing. At various times during both screenings I kept thinking how fantastic a new drawn film, designed and shot for 3-D, would be. I hope the public, and the animation community, will one day have a chance to find out.

(The Lion King in 3-D opens nationwide on September 16th and on blu-ray on October 4th. Check it out and let us know what you think.)

  • If a scene in a 3D app is rendered out with a “depth map”, the map image resembles the greyscales shown in the slideshow above. It appears this a a depth map created in post.

    I was under the impression that some portion of Lion King – specifically the stampede sequence – was modeled and rendered in 3D already, although the final look was cel-shaded. Those sequences should exist as 3D files that would allow the second eye to be rendered. Would that be impractical? Didn’t PIXAR do that with its 3D re-renders?

    • Arturo

      Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that those original “3D files” are not compatible with the new equipment that Disney Studios (probably) uses.

      The same thing happened when Pixar started working on Toy Story 3… they tried to “import” the models of Woody, Buzz (et. al), but those old files where not compatible with the new hardware that Pixar uses. At the end, Pixar had to re-make all the models of the characters from scratch.

      I guess, trying to “re-make” the stampede sequence from the Lion King is unpractical (and dangerous, as you can be sure that some purist that posts on Cartoon Brew would light their torches and burn Disney Studios at Burbank in a second ;-) )

      • Kyle Maloney

        The Toy Story models themselves were technically compatible, it was just the animation rigs that didn’t transfer over if I understand it right. That’s how they were able to get Bo peep’s cameo but didn’t have enough time to rig her for animation. They didn’t truly start from scratch, that’s a bit exaggerated I think. They used the original models (just the character “shells” really) as a starting point.

        Anyway what I’m saying is while I don’t think they could use the original stampede’s 3d animation in new software, I do think could have used the same process that was done to render the Toy Story’s in 3D. All it takes is adding a second camera using the original software. If all he files have been archived properly.

        But maybe I’m missing something.

    • andy

      I haven’t seen the film in a few years, but from what I recall, only a handful of scenes utilized non-hand drawn animation, namely the wildebeest stampede.

  • I visited a company in San Diego that does 3D conversion and colorization among other things, and I was amazed how primitive the software was that they use. It reminded me of 90s versions of Microsoft Paint. It’s incredibly primitive pixellated rotoscoping that they do frame by frame in these outdated programs – they claim that the Indian workers wouldn’t know how to or be able to use better, more modern and labor-saving equipment. It was just, trace, trace, trace, with big clunky nasty pixels. I assume this is then cleaned up afterward by better special effect technicians who can fill in the missing areas, but who the hell knows. It was confusing and horrifying, and would certainly result in the scratchy look you describe.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      As usual, we never learn!

  • I saw a pre-screening of the new 3D “Lion King” at the D23 Expo a couple of weeks ago — on a screen that was way, WAY too small for the stadium they were showing it it, but that’s another matter. To my eye, what I saw looked great. The print was perfect and the colors were lush and beautiful, even more than how I remember them from “back in the day”. And, I’ll admit it — when Scar leaps at Simba (i.e., at the camera) he’s completely in frame — which means he literally leaps out of the screen coming right at your face. For just a split second I was like EEK! And so was a lot of the rest of the crowd. I’ll agree with Jerry: Is this necessary? No. But my friends and I all agree: Any excuse to get The Lion King back up on the big screen is a good one.

  • Remember IIrwin Kostal redoing the soundtrack to Fantasia and correcting that sound lag of 2 frames Walt had mistakenly put in ? :)

  • Justin Delbert

    We’re going to see Lion King, but only because we love this movie and it will add to the enjoyment seeing it in a movie theater (forget the fact that it’s in 3D). It’s got great Elton John songs, great characters, and a great story.

  • sarah

    actually talking about animated film done for 3D the National Film Board of Canada has done a few shorts that use 3d last year it was pretty neat. they experimented a lot lately with it.

  • magnus

    I think Titeuf, a recent French hand drawn animated feature, has been made for 3D, but I’m not sure.. http://www.titeuf-lefilm.com/

  • Peter H

    That slide show is confusing! The depths indicated by Robert Neuman on the Scar close-up indicate his nose should be the same level as the claw on the finger touching his upper lip – but the B&W “depth map” seems to have flattened the depth out somewhat, so instead of the paw shading strongly from light to nose grey (when it should almost appear to merge with the muzzle) we’re shown three distinct planes of tone, with only a tiny amount of internal shading. This makes it look closer to the ViewMaster effect than real 3D!

    • Peter H

      Silly me! That’s what Lasseter was saying in the interview – it’s Viewmaster with a little curving off of the planes!

      You can’t do a real stereoscopic cartoon without recreating each drawing for the second eye – hiding and revealing parts that overlap when the original is fractionally rotated.

      Or a stereo live action film.

      It is just layering flat images in depth – like a victorian toy theatre. All you can do on the computer
      is curve the paper cutout a little!

      (Although I do remember a Viewmaster Reel of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty where they HAD adjusted the drawings, so that some real depth appeared in the closeup characters – very nice too!)

  • Oliver

    I’ll be sure to watch ‘The Lion King’ in 3-D… right after I’ve lined up for the colorized version of Harold Lloyd’s ‘Safety Last!’, in CinemaScope and with a Beyonce soundtrack.

    Hey, it makes the movie more “contemporary” and brings the characters “closer to us”, amirite?

  • I’d go to any of these, scratchy nor not, if Melody were remastered for digital 3D and shown before them.

  • huston

    The short clip I saw Beauty and Beast I saw at Comic Con a few years back looked quite impressive. That said, I also saw the FULL film of Nightmare Before Christmas 3D, and not only did it look forced and unimpressive, it gave me a headache. How about they release the films that were actually FILMED IN 3D first: House of Wax, Dial M for Murder, Melody, It Came from Outer Space, Kiss Me Kate etc, then go screwing up the perspectives of those that weren’t…

  • I just got back from watching Lion King in 3D tonight. While I thought it was okay, I too think the 3D aspect really doesn’t add to the atmosphere of the motion picture–it just takes away from the experience.

    In fact, didn’t Roger Ebert write an article in Time Magazine on why he hates 3D?