Kirk Wise painted his way to a Disney director's
chair. He even drew caricatures for park-goers at
Universal Studios and Magic Mountain for a few extra
bucks while attending
art school. I interviewed him earlier this year
regarding the re-release of "Beauty & the
Beast" a special edition in IMAX/Large
RA: Tell me about the
sequence that made the biggest impression, even in
1991 -- that wonderful ballroom scene.
KW: Well, [originally] when we were
planning the big elaborate dance sequence that would
include a moving camera craning up to the ceiling on
the characters that would really have more of a live
action feel to them -- there was always this nagging
doubt in our minds that it wasn't going to work at
all (laughs). We had sort of a back-up plan just in
case, if none of this works we'll just turn off all
the lights and Bella and the Beast will be dancing in
a little spotlight in a darkened room like an ice
skating show (laughs). Fortunately, when we got the
first piece of test film back, it was amazingly
breathtaking, made a big sigh of relief because we
knew it was going to work.
RA: Where did the idea to
integrate computer animation and hand-drawn come
KW: It all started with the story boarding.
We had a really talented storyboard crew, Brenda
Chapman and Roger Allers had this idea, "What if we
built a portion of the ballroom in the computer" ...
just the right people in the right positions at the
time, we had an incredibly talented animator, James
Baxter, who just had a knack for moving characters in
3-d space. He had this chip in his head that enabled
him to perfectly match his drawings with a moving
RA: So you created the
KW: We actually designed all the camera
movement first and animated the characters to match
RA: So, first the animators
watched the ballroom spin around and then ...
KW: We created computer generated
stand-ins, the ballroom was sort of a chicken-wire
kind of thing and Bella & the Beast were
represented by these box and egg sort of things.
RA: What have Brenda and
Roger been up to since then?
KW: Brenda directed "Prince of Egypt"
over at DreamWorks and Roger directed "Lion
RA: Isn't that interesting?
Speaking of directing, what exactly does the director
of an animated feature do?
KW: You have to make all the same decisions
that a live action director would have to make.
Everything from where to put the camera to what the
emotional tone of the scene is going to be, in
addition to answering all the questions about costume
design and weather and color and all the numerous
elements that go into making the scene. We're there
every step of the way from the very first crude
character designs and early storyboards to how loud
the footsteps of the Beast should be as he's walking
across the marble floor. We shepherd the process from
beginning to end.
RA: Were you also involved in
KW: Absolutely, we worked with a wonderful
casting director, a guy named Albert Tavares ... he
was the one that brought Robbie Benson to play the
Beast and he was a complete surprise.
RA: Was Robbie's voice
manipulated in anyway to make it a little
KW: In the final mix we combined his voice
with animal sounds, growls and grunts and might have
pushed the bass part just a little bit, a slight
budge in the mix. But 99.7% of it is Robbie with the
exception of the growls.
RA: Why was "Human Again"
originally left out?
KW: Back when it was originally written and
storyboarded it was initially 11 minutes long, which
is a pretty heavy milieu for an animated feature that
already had a lot of songs. Length was one problem
and the structure of the song was also a problem at
the time because it indicated the passage of time,
months of time, leaves falling. That presented a
couple story problems for us because we kept asking,
'Well what? Is Maurice wondering around in the woods
all this time? Is Gaston just sitting around in a
tavern drinking beer after beer growing a long white
beard?' we couldn't quite figure out what to do with
the other characters during this time that Bella's at
the castle and keep the motor of the story running.
Those were the reasons for cutting it at the
It wasn't until we saw the Broadway version where
Alan had made a substantial edit in the music and had
found a slightly different place for the song to sit,
so we realized there was a way to make this work. The
bridge which was all about time passing was
removed... so that issue went away. And Alan did a
couple of additional edits for us when we were
tailoring it for the movie, and now it works. There's
a great little suite of music now that starts with
"Something There," the song that B&B sing while
they're having a little snowball fight, which segues
into "Human Again" which gives the object perspective
on what they hope for when B&B fall in love and
that transitions into "Beauty and the Beast" the
ballad, which is the culmination of their
relationship. So, it's a nice little story within a
RA: When they re-animated
that sequence, where you involved in that?
KW: Oh absolutely, I directed that along
with Gary Trousdale who co-directed [the 1991
version], we had many of the same animators, same
background painters, same artists that worked on the
RA: What kind of adjustments
were needed for the film to be converted to Large
KW: All the elements of the film existed in
the digital realm because we scanned all of the
artwork digitally even though the bulk of the artwork
is all hand drawn. We were able to go back to that
data and re-shoot it onto the stock that they use for
IMAX and the other LF theaters. So you're not seeing
like a blown up 35 mm print. You're seeing a brand
new print struck from the original pictorial
information. So it looks great, the resolution and
the saturation of the color are really really
astoundingly good. The movie looks better than it
ever has been.
RA: Did the larger image
bring rise to any imperfections?
KW: Once we saw the image blown up to that
size ... that presented a few problems that we had to
fix. ... Certain scenes where the original drawing
might have been only four inches ... was suddenly
blown up to the size of a house (laughs) ... the
width of the line started to look as wide as a
telephone pole. So in certain shots we went back in
and adjusted the artwork and made some new drawings
so that the image would hold up on a screen of that
size. We couldn't do it everywhere, we had to be very
selective, we really only took shots where the whole
illusion started to breakdown. There's one in
particular I can think of where the objects are
singing in the foreground and you look passed them in
the window you can see B&B having a little
snowball fight. Well, in the original movie, those
drawings of B&B were so tiny that we didn't even
bother to draw faces on them because when projected
on your local multiplex you could never see that much
detail. But when we blew them up to IMAX size, Oh my
God, it was terrible. So we had to go back in and put
little fingernails and eyeballs on these characters.
Also, some of the background we went back in and made
some digital fixes on... we could literally pull up
some of the background on a computer screen and with
a stylus go back in and adjust some of the painted
areas so that you could no longer see the texture of
the background board that it was painted on.
RA: Have you seen a host of
KW: I remember seeing my first IMAX film
in, oh man, I think it was '77 or '78 back in San
Jose at Great America. I grew in Southern California
and I remember when they opened that Great America,
they had an IMAX theater ... I think a movie called
"To Fly." I remember just being blown away, I'd never
seen anything like it. I think it was the same year
"Star Wars" came out and I remember thinking ...
they've got to show "Star Wars" on this screen
(laughs). What's funny about that, cut ahead 25 years
later, we're looking at "Star Wars: Special Edition"
is out with some added footage and cut scenes worked
into it. And we started to talk of B&B in that
way, ask each other 'Gee, what if we could take some
of these sequences like "Human Again" that we had cut
and drag out the storyboards and animate them and
work them into the movie and do a sort of special
edition of B&B?' And lo and behold it ends up on
an IMAX screen. ... So that's kind of an odd "Star
RA: What's your favorite
KW: That changes on an almost daily basis.
I've always been a big fan of "Jungle Book" it's
entertaining with great songs. "Pinocchio" is the
most like a classic children's book illustration I've
seen, I love "Peter Pan" because it's such a great
boy's adventure movie. So different films I love for
RA: And live action
KW: Oh Man. That's a list that goes on for
day and days. "Star Wars" obviously, that's a pivotal
movie for me. I also love "Wizard of OZ" and "It's a
Wonderful Life" ... boy oh boy, let me look on my
shelf here, "Yellow Submarine," "Citizen Kane,"
RA: So what's your next
KW: Don't have a next project. I'm actually
looking to make the transition from animation into
live action film. In the last five years or so I've
seen the line between live action and animation blur.
Take a film like "Harry
Potter" and "Lord of the
Rings," ten years ago you only could have
thought of those films in terms of traditional
animation. Now all of that changed. I feel like a lot
of these guys are encroaching on what used to be our
turf. On one hand, I think it's really exciting it
opens up the types of stories you can tell in live
action that inspires me, I'd really love a chance to
learn to work with those tools and tell different
types of stories.
RA: So you're not looking to
direct typical live action.
KW: Oh, I've got no desire to make "Taxi