As I am a very big fan of Disney, it will come as no surprise that I visited the current exhibition at the ArtScience Museum Singapore. “Disney: Magic of Animation” is a trip down memory lane with all our favourite Disney movies. But it is much more than that. As it is hosted by the ArtScience Museum, the focus of the exhibition is on the development and incorporation of technology to bring our favourite Disney characters come to life.
Disney has always been a pioneer in animation. Most of us have grown up watching the Disney classics. They allowed us to escape to a different worlds – to magic kingdoms and into fairytales. Mostly, Disney is associated with his ability to tell stories. Rarely do we think about the technology behind our favourite movies. Frankly, we mostly would not even associate the term “technology” directly with cartoons in the first place. We may think of the most recent movies such as Frozen, Moana or Tangled. But from his start as a filmmaker, Walt Disney has always looked for and developed innovative technologies for his movies. Disney: Magic of Animation is casting a spotlight on what is going on behind the scenes.
Bringing Drawings to Life
Every room starts with a character printed on glass from movie which was a milestone for a certain technology. The first room welcomes visitors with a recreation of Steamboat Willie – this was the first Disney cartoon where the animation on the screen was synchronised with sound. It marks the start of Disney’s journey in the late 1920s and 1930s. The basic concepts of animation – the rapid movement of frames – are explained and there are original sketches and drawings of Disney’s most famous characters: Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Donald and Goofy.
There are also so-called “character model sheets”: as all the Disney characters have a wide range of expressions, it is not possible to cover one character by one artists. Therefore, the character model sheets are developed to offer a standard blue print for all artists who work on the respective character.
The next exhibits focus on the rapid development at Disney: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the world’s first feature-length animated movie based on Technicolor. The latter uses red, blue and green negative strips to achieve colour for the movie. In addition to the Technicolor process itself, further innovations were involved in the production of the movie such as the multiplane camera: multiple animation cels (i.e. transparent sheets) are placed over one another and photographed with a camera which is fixed in an elevated position. This technique allowed to give the animation more depth and a sense of space.
The innovations were then also used for Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942). In Pinocchio, the depth achieved by the camera technique can be seen when we arrive at Pinocchio’s village. For Fantasia, the world’s first ever stereo recording – involving eight different channels and 33 microphones – was used.
Walt Disney himself was very involved in the creation of his movies. For Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney stood in front of his animators and showed them how he imagined the expressions, gestures and even voices of the characters. Bambi is another reflection of Walt Disney’s perfectionism: it was originally planned to release it as the second feature-length film after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. However, Disney was not satisfied with the depiction of the animals and their environment. Hence, he hired an artist specialised in animal drawings to train his animators and hosted to live deers at the studio for the drawing sessions.
Alice in Wonderland (1951) is a milestone not only for its colourful palette but also for the works of concept artist Mary Blair. She also contributed to Lady and the Tramp (1955), which took 15 years to produce. It was the first animated movie filmed with a CinemaScope camera which made it possible to show it on a cinema screen without a special projector. The movie is also known for its unconventional perspective: 50 cm above the ground, the majority of the movie is shown from the dogs’ perspectives.
The Jungle Book (1967) was released a year after Disney’s death and the last movie in which he directly contributed. It was the first time that the voice actors’ personas were involved into the creation of the movie characters. If you have ever wondered about the timeline of the production process: the music and the voices are recorded before the animation process starts to ensure perfect synchronisation of animation and sound.
The 1990s and Beyond
The exhibition then jumps to the 1990s – which form a major technological milestone: The Little Mermaid (1989), The Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Lion King (1994) are examples of how Disney incorporated the latest computer technologies to animate Ariel’s sea, the ballroom dance scene of Belle and the Beast and the stampede killing Mufasa. The stampede scene is about two and a half minutes long and took about one and a half years to create. In Tarzan (1999) a new technique was used to add dimensionality to the jungle background.
The last big topic of the exhibition shows the digital development process of the newest movies such as Tangled, Wrecked Ralph and Frozen. Of course, there is a sneak peak into Frozen II, the newest Disney movie coming out at the end of this year.
I highly recommend to watch the movie at the end of the exhibition: The creators involved in the various processes and movies share their personal motivation to work for Disney.
I personally enjoyed the exhibition very much. My original motivation was my love for Disney movies. I was positively surprised by a different take on Disney and how much detail was offered regarding the production processes and the technologies behind the movies. Sometimes, I would have liked even more information. And it would have been interesting to also see models of the tools or the tools themselves instead of pictures. (I am aware this is probably a big ask from a logistical and budgetary perspective.)
Another very positive point I would like to mention is the focus on the artists. When we think of Disney movies, we think about the big names – most of the time Disney himself. But we know very little about all the other creatives behind our favourite movies. This exhibition casts a spotlight on the many people involved in developing our favourite movies.
I did not join any guided tour. There was a children’s tour while I visited and I had the feeling it was very well made. The guide managed to capture the kids’ attention (they were aged about five to six) not only with the obvious Disney magic but also by explaining the techniques of movie creation in an age appropriate way. In general, I recommend visiting the exhibition with your children. There are several additional “stations” for activities with children. However, the children should be old enough to be able to understand the basics of movies.
Tickets and Opening Times
The museum is open daily (including public holidays) from 10 am until 7 pm (last admission at 6 pm). I recommend to go there early and try to avoid the weekends, as the museum can get crowded quickly.
For this specific exhibition, I recommend to call the museum in advance and enquire about school groups – the exhibition is very popular for school tours and it can get really crowded. The staff at the ticketing counter recommended to come right after the opening or in the afternoon after 2.30 pm on weekdays. Please also note that there are dedicated time slots for the Disney exhibition starting at 90-minute-intervals starting from 10 am. The last admission slot is at 5.30 pm.
Tickets can be purchased online or at the museum counters. The regular ticket for the exhibition is SGD 18 (about USD 13, EUR 12) for adults, an all access pass to the museum which involves the Future World exhibition is SGD 30 (USD 22, EUR 20). Concessions are available for children, students and seniors as well as Singapore residents.
The exhibition is open until 29 March 2020.
How to Get There
The exhibition takes place at the ArtScience Museum which is located at Marina Bay Sands.
I recommend taking public transport to Marina Bay Sands. The nearest MRT stations are Bayfront and Promenade (Circle Line) and Marina Bay Station (North South Line). From there it takes you about 10-15 to walk to the museum. Walk through the mall and follow the signs to the museum. The museum is in the building in front of the Marina Bay Sands – facing the water and resembling a lotus flower.
If you come by car, parking is available at the mall.
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All information as of the date of publishing/updating and based on the personal visit of Elisabeth Steiger and the information provided at the museum and the official website of the ArtScience Museum. We cannot accept responsibility for the correctness or completeness of the data, or for ensuring that it is up to date. All recommendations are based on the personal experience of Elisabeth Steiger, no fees were received by the recommended places above.