With audiences currently enjoying Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns” in theatres, there’s already talk about the great animation sequence that pays homage to one of the 1964 original Mary Poppins’ most memorable scenes that combined live-action actors with hand-drawn animation.
In Returns instead of leaping into a sidewalk chalk illustration, Mary Poppins takes Jack and the Banks children to the “simply sensational standing-ovational Royal Doulton Music Hall” a breathtaking musical number inside an exquisitely painted Royal Doulton china bowl that lives in the house on Cherry Tree Lane.
While new technology has enabled motion picture animation to advance markedly over the last 54 years, a team comprised of both seasoned and emerging animators came together to create this stunning two-dimensional world.
Animation Sequence Supervisor Jim Capobianco says, “I think 2-D animation has a magical quality to it. It’s so different from the rest of the movie in the sense that you’re losing a dimension.”
Capobianco saw the opportunity for an approach that would use traditional, hand-drawn animation to deliver something that retained the nostalgia of the 1964 film, but felt fresh and different from what had been done before.
To create a visual language to convey to audiences that they have journeyed to another world, the animation team drew upon the research skills that Pixar and Disney animators are known for. The team studied Royal Doulton china, 1930s-era English music halls and even penguins, as they designed an animated world in which Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda and the young Banks children could move within seamlessly.
The animation team consisted of both veteran animators who had worked on classics such as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King—several of whom came out of retirement for the chance to be part of a brand-new movie featuring Mary Poppins—as well as younger artists who share Capobianco’s commitment to keeping the world of 2-D animation alive. The process began just as it did in 1964, on paper, and continued for Capobianco in a fashion that transported him to an earlier time, as well.
“In the initial stages of developing the animation, I would bring the storyboards down to Disney and I would meet Rob there and pitch the sequence in the Hyperion Bungalow,” Capobianco recalls. Surrounded by Disney history, “We would pin up the drawings and I would go through the sequence in the room to everybody, live,” he continues.
With director Marshall, screenwriter David Magee and composer Marc Shaiman in the bungalow—and a piano on hand, as well—these review sessions would lead to spontaneous collaboration as the artwork inspired rewrites to the music and the script.
“It felt very much as close as we could possibly get to the Sherman brothers working with Walt and Don DaGradi and that whole team. In a way, we went back to the way the original was made, in that sense,” Capobianco shares.
Modern innovations intended to streamline the animation process created unexpected hurdles for the animators, who had to discover new ways to integrate their “analog” style of animation into a digital world.
“We had to work out new pipelines,” says Capobianco, who compared the challenge to using a combustion engine in a world largely populated with electric cars. The animators were able to use digital technology to their advantage, however, to shift characters within a frame, or duplicate parts of the animation when necessary.
“There are a lot of characters and there’s a lot going on, and today’s technology does allow us to fill [the animation] out a little more,” Capobianco explains. “I think everybody was excited to be part of making another film that could stand with the original film,”
If you’ve already seen “Mary Poppins Returns” leave us a comment below sharing what you thought of the big animation sequence.