Disney Producer Scans Animation's Rebirth

Until "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King" roared to success, the animation building at the Disney Studio looked like any other structure on the Burbank lot.

Not anymore. Now a 243,000-square-foot building stands across the street from the studio. This ark-shaped edifice will be home for another seven years to producer Don Hahn, who has just signed a new contract with the studio. Hahn produced the animation for "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" and then produced "Beauty and the Beast," "The Lion King," and now "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" - all movies among the biggest in animation history. "Beauty and The Beast" was the first time an animated movie was nominated for an Oscar as Best Motion Picture.

"This wasn't always the scenario," Hahn says. "In the '70s, animation was in this kind of cartoon ghetto, where people couldn't decide if it was a children's medium, or maybe just something to watch on television. It was an art form that had lost its way."

" 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?' - with its seamless combination of live action and animation - began the renaissance of animation. 'The Little Mermaid' reestablished something Walt Disney always knew: Music and animation were made for each other. Add to that the emergence of computer graphics to make spectacular scenes of hundreds of thousands of objects, like the wildebeest stampede in 'The Lion King' or the crowd of thousands in the cathedral square in 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame,' and you have it coming to full flower."

Hahn got his start in 1976, when he spent a summer away from college in Disney's animation department. Beginning as a runner, he graduated to the drawing board, background painting, music, and finally animation production.

For "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," Hahn sent animators to Paris to sketch the Cathedral of Notre Dame. "For this film, we even established a studio in France and hired 100 animators.... What we get from these French animators was a wonderful European sensibility," Hahn says.

"Quasimodo was a quite different Disney hero," Hahn explains. "Unlike Aladdin, who was encouraged to celebrate who he was, Quasimodo was an outcast from society. We felt that Tom Hulce, who speaks and sings the role, gave a sweetness and inspiration to the character, which defined Quasi as having great worth and nobility of spirit."

"Did we change the ending from the book? Oh, you bet! Guilty as charged. We wanted to end on a triumph. When Quasimodo gets his wish - to live one day out in the sun - we end our movie on that life-affirming theme."

What will be next for Hahn? He's having talk sessions about a sci-fi movie. "We'll have the same group we had on my last two features. We sit around ... and have blue-sky conversations, which begin with 'what if?' That's the great thing about animation: You start out with a blank piece of paper, and with a pencil you can draw anything you can imagine. You can take an audience where it's never been before. I can't think of a better job."

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