When Walt Disney Animation Studios quit making 2D animated features in favor of films made with 3D computer graphics, it signaled, for many people, the death of that traditional medium. Ironically, directors Ron Clements and John Musker—who were the first directors at Disney to use 3D computer graphics in a film (for the clockworks climax in The Great Mouse Detective), and the first to use CAPS, a computer-aided production system developed by Pixar and Disney for 2D films (for the next to last shot in The Little Mermaid)—have become the first directors to bring traditional animation back to Disney.
The directing duo’s latest film, The Princess and the Frog, is the first traditionally animated feature created at Disney in five years. It’s entirely hand-drawn. Entirely hand-drawn, that is, with a little help from computer graphics: Toon Boom Animation’s Harmony replaced CAPS, which is in semi-retirement, as the production system; Autodesk’s Maya helped set designers build reference models; Side Effects Software’s Houdini created some particle effects; Adobe’s Photoshop provided tools for background painters; and that company’s After Effects helped enliven those paintings. But all, very subtly.