Walt Disney rescues hand-drawn animation

Hand-drawn animation, out of fashion in the computer age, experienced a rescue worthy of a fairy tale on Thursday, when Walt Disney animators announced they would bring back the art form to the big screen.

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"We will be bringing back hand-drawn (two-dimensional) films," said Disney's Ed Catmull, the President of Pixar and Disney Feature Animation.

Animators refer to hand-drawn animation as "two dimensional," as opposed to computer-generated animation, referred to as 3D.

Pixar created "Toy Story" and other computer animation hits, but was acquired by Walt Disney Co. last year.

Speculation has swirled since then over whether Catmull and Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter, who took control of the ailing Disney animation facility, would reestablish the art form that made Disney the world's preeminenent animator.

All of Disney's feature animation films in production at the time of the Pixar deal were computer animated.

"Now that's we're a year into it, people want to know how it's going," Catmull told analysts at a Disney conference monitored by Web cast. He said Disney would do both computer animation and hand-drawn animation.

Lasseter spent several years as a Disney animator, but left over creative differences to form Pixar, where he was considered the main creative force. He revered Walt Disney, who with a group of legendary animators known as the "Nine Old Men," made such hand-drawn classics as "Cinderella" and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

When Disney bought Pixar to try to revive its flagging animation program, Catmull and Lasseter took charge of both studios, which are run separately.

At least 300 Disney animation staff were laid off or reassigned in the months following the leadership change.

Catmull and Lasseter gave the first descriptions on Thursday on how they reshaped story lines of Disney films already in production, cancelled others and restructured how the Disney artists work.

"Pixar is still Pixar — nobody left," Catmull said. "At Disney, you have these remarkable artists there … they were not kneaded together in the right way. At the heart of it there has to be a director and the director has to have a vision."

Catmull said there were no plans to merge the studios or to limit them to a certain type of animation.

"We always believed that quality is the best business plan," he said.

He and Lasseter showed clips from upcoming films, including "Ratatouille," "Meet the Robinsons", "Wall-E", "American Dog" and "Toy Story 3."


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