SUSPENDED ANIMATION #241
In 1985, CEO Michael Eisner and Disney chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg initiated the first Disney animation Gong Show where people could pitch ideas for animated feature films.
Animation director Ron Clements remembered, “I had recently read The Little Mermaid in a bookstore and got excited, so I wrote a two-page treatment for it. I’d written up a two-page treatment for Treasure Island in Space, as well.”
Katzenberg firmly rejected both ideas but later re-evaluated The Little Mermaid that he had initially felt was too similar to the forthcoming live action film Splash and put it in production.
Clements along with John Musker who he had been recently partnered with pitched the Treasure Planet idea two more times over the years before finally in 1995, during the production of Hercules, Clements and Musker signed a seven-year contract deal with Disney that stipulated following their work on Hercules, the studio would produce Treasure Planet or another project of their choosing.
Basically, there are three different forms of animation in Treasure Planet (2002). The characters for the most part were done using hand drawn animation. Silver’s mechanical items, B.E.N. (voiced by comedian Martin Short and animated by Oskar Urretabizkaia) and some alien creatures were done using CGI. The sets and background utilized Deep Canvas and Virtual Sets.
While most of the characters in Treasure Planet were completely hand-drawn, the character of John Silver was a hybrid of traditional animation and CGI. Musker explained, “It was challenging because the character had to be created twice. It was almost like having two characters.”
Disney Legend Glen Keane would do the 2-D animation for Silver, but Eric Daniels animated the mechanical pegleg, the cyborg arm where a different selection of devices would rotate into place when needed and an eye used as a targeting mechanism and the ability to scan objects.
To test if the concept would work, the animators took some of animator Frank Thomas’ original clean up drawings of Captain Hook from Peter Pan (1953) and re-shot them, digitally erasing the arm and hook. They replaced the arm with a computer generated mechanical one to see if the fusion would work. It did seamlessly.
During an interview when the film was first released, Keane said, “But there are a variety of different people there for my interpretation of Silver. One is the soldier who guards the Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier in Washington who has a head that’s like it is sculpted out of rock. Then there was the guy who did Morph (Mike Show). He had a baby during the making of the film and he had a picture of the baby’s face exploding with joy. I thought that was Silver.
“Then I was studying the face of Robert Shaw in the movie Jaws with the space in his teeth. Then there was my high school football coach. There was a blend of real people.
“I put all these ingredients in the pot, it cooks and stews until it just explodes on the page. It’s a strange thing, I think our characters exist before we start to draw them and your drawing is trying to find that character. In the end you have a very complex face that I would never have designed if I was wanting to make my life easy. But that’s who Silver is and you go along with it.
“There was one actor, Wallace Beery (who played the role of Silver in MGM’s 1934 live action version of Treasure Island) whom I loved because of the way he talked out of the side of his mouth. Silver does that for almost the whole film. Generally I don’t like to look at previous versions of a character because those are the things I’m trying to forget and trying to clear my mind of stereotypes and trying to get to what Stevenson intended at the beginning.
“I also drew inspiration from Brian Murray, the South African-born actor who does the voice for Silver. He has such a warm, musical brogue. It’s totally disarming, which is exactly what Silver needs to be to win Jim’s confidence.”
Jim Hawkins (voiced by Joseph Gordon Levitt whose biggest credit at the time was his role on the television sitcom Third Rock from the Sun) was made a teenager to help attract the demographic that Eisner was targeting in new attractions at Disney theme parks.
Jim’s lead animator was John Ripa who stated: “I looked at films starring James Dean, River Phoenix and Leonardo Di Caprio and Mel Gibson in Braveheart. There are a lot of close-ups on characters in Braveheart who are going through thought processes, just using their eyes.
“With James Dean there was a whole attitude, a posture. You felt the pain and the youthful innocence. I kept coming back to that as I was working on Jim. I had not really known James Dean; he was just a guy on the side of a coffee mug, I had not seen his films. It was John Musker who recommended I watch Rebel Without a Cause and when I did I was blown away.”
At the beginning of the film it is revealed that Jim’s middle name is Pleiades, a cluster of stars that can be found in the constellation Taurus.
Also at the beginning of the film Jim can be seen wearing very dark oversized clothes, and he has a dark streak across his eyes; this is done to represent that he’s a bad boy. As the film progresses Jim changes so his clothes change from charcoal to olive, his clothes fit better, and the dark shadow over his eyes fades and by the end of the film he is in a white uniform, showing he’s turned into a good guy.
“I’ve never done this with anybody where we actually worked at the same desk,” said Keane. “John would draw what Jim was doing and then I would draw what Silver was doing. I could see when Jim would tilt his head so I would know how to counter pose it with Silver. It was like tag team wrestling.”
Officially, the film cost $140 million to make but the actual costs were rumored to be much higher. Marketing costs drove that figure up to $180 million or more. The film ended up grossing only $38.1 million domestically, with an additional $71.4 million internationally for a total worldwide gross of $109.5 million.
Disney determined that the problem was not with the story, characters or marketing approach but that the fact that audiences only wanted to see computer animated films like Ice Age and the Pixar output. So, Disney decided not to make any more handdrawn animated films. It never occurred to them that Treasure Planet featured a lot of computer animation.
Clements and Musker who could not get another feature greenlit after Treasure Planet resigned from Disney in September 2005. When John Lasseter was appointed chief creative officer over Disney Feature Animation in February 2006, he invited them back to direct The Princess and the Frog (2009).