Friday, October 21, 2011


So this weekend I re-watched Tangled with a few of my friends and while we all love the movie, we noticed that the hair lengths of Rapunzel change often depending on what Rapunzel is doing in the scene.

For example, when Rapunzel is running away from the "Snuggly Duckling," she rounds up all of her hair within seconds and runs away carrying it all by herself.

But a few shots later, Flynn Rider has to help Rapunzel gather up her hair, so that they can run away from the rushing water. So unlike the other scene, she now has too much hair to carry all by herself... Not to mention that a few shots earlier, her hair was long enough to run all the way up to the window in the tower with a bit extra to spare.

We wondered whether or not the animators had decided on a set length of her hair? Was it whatever fit the story? Or were they set on the length of a football field, for example? I figured that the animators had set a specific length for the purpose of continuity, but had to change the length so that the story could be better played out. They knew that Rapunzel had extremely lengthy hair but had a difficult time making the length continuous.

Yet, after I did some research, I realized that hair is quite difficult to animate, and the graphic artists might have been concentrating more on the appearance of the hair, rather than the specific length; after all, an audience is more likely to notice hair that is flat or doesn't fall properly, than hair that changes in length by a few feet.

In fact, Byron Howard, a co-director of "Tangled," said "They tell you never to do long hair in CG because it’s one of the most difficult, most complicated things to do... at its core, this movie is about a girl with 70 feet of hair, and if you can’t get that right, then you don’t have a movie."

In the video below, the directors and animators actually go into how difficult it was to animate the hair, but why it was so important from a symbolic and storyline standpoint.

CNN also provides an inside look at the other techniques the animators used to create Rapunzel's hair, but the video is unable to be embedded, so here is the link.

Basically the animators had to experiment in real life with fishing wire in order to see how hair shines and moves, especially at a length of 70 feet. From there they used sketches and computer simulations to actually animate the hair.

The LA Times has a really good article on the challenges the directors faced with animation and provides two videos showing the before and after examples of the animation. 

Overall, I find that Tangled is a really good example of how something that seems so simple, can turn out to be so difficult. Not only are the animators responsible for animating the weight and movement of the hair, but they are responsible for 70 feet of a plot driving force. So while we may have a way to go in making our animation technology a bit more advanced, Tangled is a really good example for how much work is necessary in a professional animation industry.

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