Although there’s still some work to be done on Disney’s 50th animated feature film Tangled, Comic-Con attendees got a sneak peek at some of the early character designs and enjoyed a lively panel featuring the film’s artists including character designers Glen Keane and Jin Kim, head of story Mark Kennedy, and the film’s young and talented co-directors Byron Howard (Bolt) and Nathan Greno.
Keane, who has worked on numerous Disney features and designed memorable heroines such as Ariel and Pocahontas, told the audience that he first began thinking about the project in 1996. ‘This is a story about a person with potential and she is held back from what she is meant to be,’ said Keane. ‘When you start off designing a Disney character, whatever you do becomes the definitive version of that character, just look at Beast and Cinderella. Well, this is Disney’s Rapunzel. It’s a big deal.’
Keane also noted that the eyes play a big role in the heroine’s design. ‘She is innocent and native, but she has the ability to learn and has creative expressions. She is actually an artist and she survives by painting the walls of her tower. Rapunzel is a character who gains control of whatever situation she’s in. She has the ability to transform others.’
Inspired by Ariel
Co-directors Howard and Greno then talked about how they were inspired after seeing The Little Mermaid when they were younger. ‘When we saw Ariel, we realized that this character was alive,’ says Howard. ‘You can really relate to her. So we were really excited about what we could do with Rapunzel. She has this amazing length of hair’so we started to think what we could do with that. This list was generated. How cool can we make her. Can she use her hair like Indiana Jones’ whip or a weapon? She can scale walls with it. She can use it like a lasso’it’s endless.’
Of course, every lead actress needs a strong romantic interest that is worthy of her attention. That’s where Flynn Rider (voiced by Zachary Levi) comes in. To have a fresh and inspiring character, they decided to turn the clich’ on is head and make the hero a swash-buckling thief. ‘You don’t want the character to be a sleazebag,’ says Greno. ‘Their relationship is the heart of the movie, and if it doesn’t work, then the movie doesn’t work.’
The directors even asked all the women on the crew to vote on their favorite leading men’s features and took notes of which ones got positive or negative responses from them. As a result, they came up with hundreds of drawings that gave them a charming and handsome hero worthy of Rapunzel’s affections.
Keane also provided a bit of history about the development of the project. ‘When we were first developing it in 2001, I presented it to Michael Eisner, who was the head of the studio at the time. He said, ‘Let’s do that’but I want you to do that in CG!’ I asked him, ‘Do you like the drawings? Well, you can’t do that in CG!’ He said, ‘Well, find a way!” So we started to put the team together and we wanted to bring the feeling of hand-drawn to CG. Then, John Lasseter came on board and he told me, ‘I love this movie, but you have to decide whether you are going to do it in hand-drawn or CG.’ And I said, ‘Why weren’t you here three years ago! I would have given you a different answer three years ago.’ So we assembled this team of people who think that we can create a wonderful and unique film by accomplishing it in CG!’
Keane also noted that the initial designs and storyboards really define the style of the movie. ‘I learned from Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston that what you want are golden poses’images you plant in people’s minds that really stick there.’ He also praised the film’s co-directors. ‘They are both wonderful actors. Both of these guys have great strengths. Byron would have this sharp sense of comedic timing and Nathan would have some sincere emotional point that would bring tears to your eyes.’
Disney’s Tangled opens in theaters on November 24, 2010. For more info, visit http://disney.go.com/disneypictures/tangled/#/video/