Friday, May 2, 2014

Baroque in Beauty and the Beast: Bel Composto and The Emotional Experience of Baroque

Disney’s 1991 animated feature, Beauty and the Beast, combines hand-drawn animation with computer generated models in an unprecedented way. Though computer generated imagery was only used in the iconic ballroom scene nearing the conclusion of the movie, the effect looks as good by today’s standards as it did over 20 years ago. This simply does not happen often. Just as a point of reference, here is a link to the trailer for the Rocketeer, a live action film that, like Beauty and the Beast, came out in 1991 (The Rocketeer trailer:, and here is a link to 2013’s Iron Man 3 (Iron Man 3 trailer: Both are movies essentially about a masked-man in a jetpack-suit, but some of the effects in the Rocketeer pale in comparison to today’s standards. Though it is not the first movie to combine 2d animation and 3d animation, Beauty and the Beast is the first to incorporate a moving camera shot. You may have noticed that hand-drawn animated movies and television series are largely composed of static shots. This is due to the fact that static shots are easier to composite, since the perspective and background remain constant, only the movement of the characters (if there is any movement) needs to be accounted for. Things become much more challenging to manage when the camera is moving in addition to the character. If the animation is even slightly out of sync with the camera movement, it will appear that the characters are floating and detached from their environment. In Beauty and the Beast’s ballroom scene, two characters are dancing while the camera swoops around the room in 3d space: no easy task to animate. If nothing else, this scene should be considered a bel composto of animation due to the seamlessness between the 2d and 3d elements, technical skill with which the scene was rendered, and for how remarkably well it has held up to the scrutiny of time.

Now, please take a moment to watch the ballroom scene from Beauty and the Beast:

Now, as I just mentioned many 2d animation shots tend to try to avoid camera movement through space because these shots take more time and effort to generate. Notice how many of the shots leading up to the ballroom scene are, in fact, static shots. Then, as Belle and the beast begin to dance, the camera slowly lifts off the ground and begins to fly around the room. True to the Baroque movement that inspired the film’s visuals, this sudden freedom of camera movement, contrasted by the static shots preceding it, is intended to elicit an emotional response. As the camera flies around the chandelier and levitates to get a closer look at the putti on fresco above the chandelier, we are meant to experience the carefree weightlessness and freedom of love.

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