The Secret Live-Action Movies Behind Disney's Animated Musicals

A still from Hercules, which is 19 years old this week. Image: Disney
A still from Hercules, which is 19 years old this week. Image: Disney

When you sit through an animated film, everything flies by so fast. You barely get a chance to think about how much work goes into it. Animation has no second takes—everything has to be perfect and ready before animation begins. That means directors take drastic measures to get things right from the start.

Oh My Disney just released a really fascinating example of this preparation. This week marks the 19th anniversary of the Disney animated film Hercules. It’s not one of their best, or their most revered films, but it’s good and has plenty of fans. But more importantly this video shows the absolutely insane amount of work that went into one of the film’s most famous sequences. Watch:

Forget about the script. The music. The lyrics. The storyboards. All of the things that happened before the above. Those things go without saying. No, Hercules directors Ron Clements and John Musker basically made an entire live-action movie simply for animation reference. They hired actors, made costumes, choreographed dances, composed shots, then had it all edited. Basically Hercules was a hybrid live-action and still-life feature film before it got animated. Pretty impressive.


Clements said the following about the footage:

It was the most elaborate video shoot we’ve ever done and I think has ever been done for animation. We do shoot live-action reference, that’s not all that uncommon on all the films we’ve done. But this went beyond. This is something that goes back to Snow White, where they shot live-action reference with Marge Champion a great dancer in the ‘30s. They actually shot her dancing to some of the songs and then the animators looked at that for inspiration. So this goes back to that tradition but on a much crazier scale.

Even if it’s not on that scale, a version of this happens for almost all animated movies. Everything has to be completed, shot by shot, beat by beat, well before full-fledged animation even begins. Each finished frame takes so long to do, and is so expensive, no movie could afford to waste time working on something that won’t make it in the movie—so most animated films are complete, in some fashion, years before they hit theaters. Sure tweaks are made, and some changes can occur, but until that story is done and the movie is laid out, very little finished work occurs.

Hercules, which is celebrating its anniversary this week, is available on Blu-ray.


[Oh My Disney, via HuffPo]


Entertainment Reporter for io9/Gizmodo

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I think the one thing that stood out for me upon rewatching Hercules as an adult is how short it feels. I mean, it’s your standard length for a film, but it races through what happens... it’s interesting, and visually appealing, but it’s definitely more satisfying when you’re young.

Still, I’ve got a soft spot for it. Besides Hades and Meg, I think it’s probably the soundtrack that really makes this film. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea but ‘Zero to Hero’ is still a kickass song in my book.