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Dave Bossert, Tad Gielow and Tina Price

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away in a corner of Walt Disney Feature Animation at 1420 Flower Street in Glendale California were the modest beginnings of what went on to be Disney’s 3D Animation department. During preproduction on Oliver and Company Tina Price and Dave Bossert shown above are gathered around Tad Gielow in front of what was the first SGI computer, appropriately named “Mickey”, running 3D software developed by Wavefront Technologies. Behind us is the state of the art 4′ x 5′ digitizing tablet. (What were we thinking?)

These acquisitions by Feature Animation were directly related to the success of the work done by Digital Supervisor Tad Gielow and Animator Phil Nibbelink who in 1983, using a dinosaur IMI computer and a manual sheet feed large format plotter somewhere in the bowels of the studio created the first 3D animation of any significance in a Disney animated feature film. The beautifully done, wonderfully integrated gear sequence inside the clockworks of Big Ben for the film “The Great Mouse Detective”.
(Previous to that some early 3D work was done on the Black Cauldron for Eilonwy’s bauble and a row boat.)

Phil Nibbelink and Tad Gielow

All the 3D models for Oliver and Company were modeled by Tad Gielow and Tina Price from orthographic drawings input point by point via this modest 4′ x 5′ digitizing tablet. (Except the yellow cab that was coded x/y/z numbers by Tad.) Fagin’s Trike, Sykes Limo, the cement truck, the piano, Georgette’s staircase, Jenny’s Limo, Jenny’s camera shot, the subway tunnel, subway trains, the Brooklyn Bridge and New York City (a database purchased from architecture firm Skidmore Owings and Merrill) to name a few were created as hi rez polygonal based models for the big screen. They were so data heavy that Tad wrote special code to trim these models down to a workable size for animation but playback timing on the computer was still unreliable. Animation was done by Tina Price and Mike Cedeno.

So in our infinite wisdom motion tests were shot using the standard black and white pencil test down shooter video camera that we pointed at the monitor and we’d hit the space bar on the keyboard with one hand to advance the animation forward frame by frame with an alternate click of a foot pedal to advance the camera. Space, click, space, click, space, click….and on and on. Here are some later animation tests shot in color with a pencil test that shows the integration of 2D animation.

(Animation by Michael Cedeno, Tina Price, Glen Keane)

Visual integration of the two mediums (2D and 3D) was imperative at that time and to that end Tad developed the ground breaking hiddenline removal and plotter code allowing us to print every frame of 3D animation onto paper and then we would use whiteout to remove any artifacts so each frame could be xeroxed onto cell and hand painted just like the rest of the film.

If memory serves me right I believe this is an early digital composite test shot off the monitor with a polaroid camera. Even though all the 3D elements of Oliver and Company were run through hiddenline removal and plotted on paper, xeroxed on cell and hand painted we knew digital composition was the way of the future. This is an early test we did of the Brooklyn Bridge that was partly from the database of Skidmore Owings and Merrill and partly modeled by Tina Price comped over a hand painted skyline of New York City done by, I believe Fred Cline.

At that time anything with a plug on it was property of WDI’s Information Systems department and computer animation didn’t even become officially managed by Feature Animation for another 2 years. What we did was outside of any sort of normal department rules that may be in place today. There were challenges, arguments, laughter and mistakes. And most of all alot of long hours during this amazing time when nothing like this had ever been done before.

Over 2000 ft of film was created in 3D using the above mentioned equiptment, techniques and talent for Oliver and Company.

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Labels: 1988 Oliver and Company

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