from origins to digitalization

What was Disney's CAPS system?

It’s been 100 years since Walt Disney founded on October 16, 1923 the company’s famous animation studios: Walt Disney Animation Studios. However, the little mouse company still continues to evolve thanks to technological advances in the creation of his films. In this article, we will review his history.

Origins of Disney cartoons

As you can imagine, the process for creating Disney animated films, in their origins, was much slower and, of course, analog. Currently the techniques used to create his films are very different from what they were. Thanks to technology and digitalization that have come to what they are today.

It all started with handmade drawings that the illustrators created individually for each frame to later achieve the effect of movement. Alice in Wonderland (1923) was a short film that used animated images accompanied by texts to tell the story.

In 1928, the famous short appeared Streamboat Willie in which Mickey Mouse makes his star appearance for the first time and where sound effects and music are introduced. A technique known as Cinephon Monaural.

Streamboat Willie - First scene Mickey Mouse

It would be later with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) -Disney’s first feature film- when a production of great realism and much more natural movements was born. This was thanks to the Multiplane Camerawith which they managed to generate depth in 2D drawings using glass plates that had different layers of landscape.

Later, came the Multichannel Stereowhich was used in the famous production of Fancy (1940). Years later, the Xerography, a technique that did not provide realism, but rather gave rise to a “pencil drawing effect.” A very characteristic effect of the film 101 Dalmatians (1961).

The digitization of Disney cartoons

But to reach digitalization, one of the key moments was the birth of Microsoft in 1975, which led to the expansion of the use of computers. It took years more for the Disney company itself to begin to integrate computers into its productions. Specifically, the CAPS system.

Analog techniques began to be left behind thanks to the first systems that allowed digitalization. CAPS, acronym for Computer Animation Production Systemwas a technique that served to colorize frames automatically.

Disney’s CAPS system

In Spanish it is known as Computer Animation Production System. It was a painting system with which lines and closed areas could be colored with the computer, using an infinite color palette. Thanks to it, the process of transferring drawings to cels (transparent sheets) using India ink or xerography was moved.

It would be in one of the final scenes of the movie. The little Mermaid (1989) when it was used as a prototype in one of the final scenes. This, which took more than a year to make, was finally included in the original production. Due to this, the film was considered the first farewell to traditional techniques, systems that had been used since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfsmore than 50 years earlier.

The Little Mermaid Disney - CAPS

It was in the movie Beauty and the Beast (1991) when CAPS was used to make the entire feature film. A technique that they continued to use in other successive productions such as Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Pocahontas (1995) or The Hunchback of Notre Dame (nineteen ninety six).

This technique greatly reduced the labor costs used in the painting processes of the feature films produced by the company. In addition, it introduced a large set of digital tools and managed to achieve a high level of quality for the time.

At first, this system was not talked about to the public because it was feared that people would lose their enthusiasm and that Disney would lose “its magic” upon learning that computers were also involved in the creation process.

However, thanks to this technique, specific technologies began to be developed for each type of film that was wanted to be produced. We talk about techniques like Morphingto create transformations in the characters, used in Hercules (1997); Attilato create large crowds like the army of Mulan (1998) and Deep Canvaswhich was used to create a 3D feel in the background of the film, such as in the jungle backgrounds in Tarzan (1999).

The digital stage of Disney films

It was in 2005 when these systems were put aside to, with Chicken Little (2005), create the first Disney film to use full digital animation.

In this sense, it is worth highlighting a small parenthesis: the first animated film that was created entirely by computer was toy story (1995), a feature film that became a true phenomenon. Was produced by Pixar, but at that time it did not belong to Disney. Was in January 2006 when Disney announced its purchase.

Since then the evolution has not stopped, in 2010 a software called XGen to design hair and was used in the movie Tangled (2010).

Another important milestone was with Matterhorn, a technology created to design snow and ice in all its forms. Indeed used for Frozen (2013), one of Disney’s current greatest hits.

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