Behind the Scenes of Disney’s ‘Tangled’ at the Gnomon School of Visual Effects

I was invited to the Gnomon School of Visual Effects last Thursday (April 28th) for a special behind-the-scenes look at Tangled. The panel of people who took me on my journey of enlightenment was made up of Clay Kaytis (Animation Supervisor), Mohit Kallianpur (Look and Lighting Director), Dave Goetz (Art Director), Frank Hanner (Character Supervisor) and Michael Kaschalk (EFX Animator). I’d like to warn everyone now that this article is not spoiler free.

How do you get the result you want? Cheat.


The normally bright and cheery tower is turned into an interrogation room via overhead lighting.

Did any of you out there realize that Rapunzel’s tower is only one story tall on the outside, but two stories tall on the inside? There were all kinds of little tricks like this done to realize this artistic vision. Mohit Kallianpur, our comedian for the night, told us how they tried to go with natural lighting in the forest, but because of all of the green light bouncing around, Rapunzel looked like she had jaundice. He went on to explain that there are many places in the film in which they wanted some light for various reasons. When they didn’t have a real light source, what did they do? Cheat. They cheated to their hearts’ content. Rapunzel just about always has specular lighting in her eyes, and the characters have more light than is natural lighting up their faces to give them a more attractive appearance. If they didn’t do this, there would be all kinds of harsh dark shadows on their faces. If you pay careful attention to the lighting in the film, you might notice that it can change drastically even within a single scene.


Don't ever trust creepy old ladies who rub your hair on their faces.

The lighting in Tangled is used to effectively convey certain emotions and thoughts. Whenever Mother Gothel is around, the lighting is much dimmer; she seems to suck the life out of the scenes she’s in because, well, she’s evil, that’s why. On the other hand, Rapunzel tends to light up areas she’s in. When Flynn Rider is sneaking into Rapunzel’s tower, the tower is darkened to give the scene a kind of “cat burglar” feeling. Also, go back and watch the scene in which Flynn Rider nearly dies in Rapunzel’s arms. The entire screen is almost devoid of color to give visual emphasis to the fact that he’s dying. Mohit also noted here that, although Flynn was dying, Rapunzel wasn’t, and so she had a bit more color to her; after all, they didn’t want them both “looking like cadavers”, Mohit joked to the audience.


The facial animation in Tangled is great.


How can you work knowing that a famous animator is watching you?

Aside from lighting, we also got to see how Walt Disney Animation Studios created their 3D characters. Rapunzel herself went through 50 variations, and the process was ongoing as they were creating the film. This meant that every time they made a new version of her, they had to go back and reanimate her. As if that weren’t bad enough, the animation team had to work with a bald and eyelash-less Rapunzel most of the time. The character modelers had a tough time finalizing Rapunzel’s look, and more stress was added by them having to work with award-winning animator, Glen Keane, who has worked on Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and other Disney films. Glen would call all of the artists in and draw 2D art over the 3D models while explaining to them how to create the right look – consider it a fireman drill for artists. One of the animators also came up with a clever rigging system that allowed parts of a character’s face to be pulled and result in a natural-looking reaction. With these new tools, the animators could quickly manipulate a character’s face as if it were soft silly putty.


Instead of being black, the background is filled with blue, which is an homage to Cinderella. You're welcome, art nerds.

As for the art of Tangled, the artists’ motto was, “quaint, quirky and colorful”. Normally in a CG movie – perhaps in some of the earlier ones – the architecture tends to be very square and computer-like. To avoid that, the team would purposely offset things to give them a more human-like touch. For example, a door wouldn’t perfectly fit in the door frame, and windows wouldn’t all be perfectly square. The buildings were to have a certain style to them, and they found that they had to over-shoot to get the look that they wanted. It’s probably because I’m not an art student, but I’ve never noticed a repetition of shapes in an animated film. They showed about eight different shapes which were repeatedly used in the environments. One in particular was bow-shaped, and could be seen in a bridge in one scene. It was also mentioned that they requested the help of a female artist to help design the look inside of Rapunzel’s tower, seeing as how most of the artists on Tangled were middle-aged men.


Although not as interesting for the water effects guy, John Lasseter said, "I want the water to be flat like glass"; and when John Lasseter asks, you listen.

Well, that’s it for our Tangled behind-the-scenes extravaganza. We hope that Gnomon School of Visual Effects invites back again sometime, because It was pretty interesting. You can check out our previous coverage on Gnomon here.


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Ryan Southard
Ryan Southard 776 posts

Ryan Southard is a video game enthusiast, dissecting games down to their tiniest details. Whether it's new or it's old, as long as it's awesome, he'll play it. Follow him on Twitter at @Ryan_Southard <a href="">Meet the Nerd Reactor Team</a>