The Disney Films That Never Were: WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The Disney Films That Never Were: WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE

Let the wild rumpus start!... Or not, as the case was.

Where the Wild Things Are is a 1963 children's picture book by American writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak. The story of Max who, after dressing in his wolf costume, wreaks such havoc through his household that he is sent to bed without his supper, and his journey to an island inhabited by malicious beasts, has sold over 19 million copies worldwide. It's popularity has led to it being adapted into other media several times, the first being a 1973 animated short...

In 1980 Sendak worked with British composer Oliver Knussen on a children's opera version of Where The Wild Things Are which received its first (incomplete) performance in Brussels that year, and then, to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the book's release, Disney planned to bring the children's classic to the big screen for a 1983 full length cinematic adaptation.

At the time of development, Tron was in post-production and work was underway on the computer animation featured in the film (Tron being one of the first films to make extensive use of any form of computer animation). Because the technology to combine CGI and live action did not exist at the time, the computer animated sequences were interspersed with the filmed characters. But computer-generated settings could theoretically be blended with traditionally animated character, and that's the approach Disney's Where The Wild Things Are would've taken.

Animators Glen Keane and John Lasseter (who later moved on to Pixar) completed a test film to see how the animation hybridising would work out...

This was incredibly advanced work at the time, and was undertaken because Disney feared a move to full computer animation would harm the elements of Disney character animation that make it stand out from its competitors would be lost - movement effects like squash and stretch.

An edition of Disney Newsreel from June 1983 includes details on the process of creating computer animation for Where The Wild Things Are...
The Wild Things test is done by encoding characters’ and background perspectives and the changing position of the camera into the computer. MAGI Synthavision Inc. (Mathematical Applications Group Inc.) artists and technicians create simple groups of geometric shapes that represent the basic forms of the characters and put them in a computer-generated model of the set. This is all done according to the position of the camera as it follows the action in the film, and these resulting images are photographed. Drawings are electronically encoded back into the computer which places them in the correct positions within the set in each frame. The computer will also color the animated drawings, adding shadows and highlights according to the animator’s instructions. This entire images is photographed on film by the computer for the final product. 
There is also a brief interview with John Lasseter who points out...
“In five years these tests will seem so primitive, they’ll look like Steamboat Willie does today.”
A 1984 Disney Channel special on computer animation explained the painstaking vector animation process...

The project proceeded no further than this test, partly because Disney could not expedite the film’s production down to there limited ability to create computer-generated images (for the computer animation sequences of Tron Disney had turned to the four leading computer graphics firms of the day: Information International, Inc. of Culver City, California; MAGI of Elmsford, New York; Robert Abel and Associates of California; and Digital Effects of New York City - it took a year between them to produce the 15 minutes of animation included in the final film!). It would, simply, take too long to produce.

But the in-house work performed for Where The Wild Things Are wasn't for nothing, as Lasseter explained...
“Basically, Wild Things was a test piece... but we would like to use this technique for The Brave Little Toaster, which in its final form could become a 70-minute full-length feature film.”
Using the Where The Wild Things Are test sequence as evidence of how the computer animation could revolutise Disney's output, whilst retaining their quality, Lasseter pitched a full length adaptation of The Brave Little Toaster. Unfortunately he ran ran fowl of two high-level Disney executives, animation administrator Ed Hansen, and Disney president Ron W. Miller. Miller asked about the cost after the pitch and when Lasseter replied that it would cost no more than a traditionally animated movie, Miller rejected the pitch, saying that the only reason to use computers would be if it was "faster or cheaper". A few minutes after the meeting, Lasseter received a phone call from Hansen and was instructed to come down to his office, where Lasseter was informed that he was dismissed.

What happened to him afterwards? You've heard of Pixar, right?

As for Where The Wild Things Are, well Disney's option passed and Universal Studios acquired the rights to the book's adaptation. In 2001 they initially attempted to develop a computer-animated adaptation with Disney animator Eric Goldberg, but in 2003 the CGI concept was replaced with a live-action one, and Goldberg was replaced with Spike Jonze.

Twenty six years after Disney's planned cinematic adaptation, Where the Wild Things Are finally arrived on the big screen.

The 1930s & 40s Live Action Alice In Wonderland 
The 1943 Sequel To Bambi

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