We previewed Cirque du Soleil's Disney tribute, 'Drawn to Life'

March 3, 2020, 12:27 PM · After standing dark for more than two years, the Cirque du Soleil theater in Disney Springs at the Walt Disney World Resort came alive again today for a media preview of its new production, "Drawn to Life."

Honoring the creativity of Disney Animation, Cirque du Soleil's begins previews later this month for an official opening on April 17. Disney and Cirque previewed two scenes from the new show before I had the opportunity to talk with Cirque du Soleil CEO Daniel Lamarre and Show Director and Writer Michel Laprise about the production, including why Cirque chose the process of creating animation as a theme for this production and why the show chose to focus on traditional, hand-drawn animation.

[Please note that Laprise's comments include some plot spoilers for the show.]

The two scenes we saw this morning were "Inner World of Animation," featuring rhythmic gymnasts from Japan to illustrate the process of bringing multiple drawings to life in flipbook. We were not allowed to record, but Disney provided us with video highlights of each scene.

"We did a lot of research at the beginning and we saw something I didn't know before," Laprise said. "Animators use the mirror a lot - and today they use video cameras - and they will explore their faces and their whole body, the physicality of the character, because if you don't feel it, you cannot draw it. And we're really immediately excited by that.

"So this is why you have this act of the decomposition of a movement. You saw Katia, one of our animators. There is supposed to be a mirror there, but not for today. So Katia is in front of the mirror, finds the character and then the [acrobats] compose the movement. Then you see the final result with the animation in silhouette. So we wanted to start the show by establishing this thing that animation like silk. It's visceral. It's physical."

Then we saw "Aerial Pencil," an aerialist's tribute to the pencil test that provides the foundation for so much character animation.

"We wanted to pay homage to the Nine Old Men. So you can see a photograph of them in a lobby. Walt with those nine individuals created, really, character animation," Laprise said.

"We wanted to create a tableau which is like diamonds of animation, but at the raw stage when it starts - just a pencil and the paper. So we went to the Disney Animation Studios' archive library. And we said, 'is it possible to have just like little snippets?' And they said, 'This is funny. We have a new project, it's not called the diamonds it's called the gems.'

"Walt was crazy about archiving everything, so when the animator starts the process, he has, or she has, just a pencil and paper, and he does what you call the pencil test. That's what you saw. Now no one has access to that, [but] it's where the character's life is born. After that, it gets cleaned up by an assistant, then ink and colored, but that [process] is never seen by the audience.

"So what Disney's archive library is doing is they are taking those pieces, those seeds of animation, and they taking HD photos of each of them, and by bringing them together and they bring them back to life, so we said can we have that. It's amazing, all the hours that these guys spent to bring back to life those gems, and we really honored to be able to present that to the audience."

In each scene, the Cirque cast's physical performance on stage is echoed by media of rough sketch animation, showing the artistry of movement in two, compatible media. It's an engaging premise, and I can't wait to see it executed fully in the complete show.

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