Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Mousetrappe’s animated “living scenery” is key to unique “Disney Beauty and the Beast” experience at the Hollywood Bowl

by Judith Rubin – exclusive to InPark

On May 25th and 26th (2018) at the iconic Hollywood Bowl amphitheater in Los Angeles, thousands of rapt fans enjoyed a novel twist on the classic Disney animated movie, Beauty and the Beast. This was not a straight-up screening, but a unique, immersive experience with many extras. Live accompaniment was provided by a full orchestra; an all-star cast performed the songs, and the film itself, playing on a huge central screen, was set into a framework of what was billed as “living scenery.” The “living scenery” was some 90 minutes’ worth of original, new animated content, custom-created by Mousetrappe and projection-mapped across the entire proscenium to extend the visual canvas and complement the film, the live performance and the Bowl’s Art Deco architecture.

A family favorite and one of the most beloved animated films in the Disney canon, Beauty and the Beast has earned multiple awards, including two Oscars, and is the only animated film ever to be nominated for a best picture Academy Award. The customized special production, Disney Beauty and the Beast – in Concert Live-to-Film (DBATB) at the Hollywood Bowl packed the 17,500-seat venue for its two-night run over Memorial Day weekend.

The live performers included Zooey Deschanel, Kelsey Grammer, Taye Diggs, Rebel Wilson, Jane Krakowski, and Anthony Evans.

 

Concept, stakeholders, team

As director of DBATB, Richard Kraft, of Kraft-Engel Management, envisioned the concept of augmenting the film with live music and performances, and the extended canvas of new, animated content. To help create this unique spectacular, Kraft brought in Mousetrappe, a Burbank-based creative agency and production studio with many awards to its credit, headed by Daren Ulmer and specializing in creating immersive, cinematic experiences. Mousetrappe has a diverse portfolio including many prestigious theme park and museum projects. The company boasts an international client list including Disney parks, Universal Studios, the National World War II Museum, Kennedy Space Center and Ferrari World. This adds up, as Ulmer points out: “Millions of visitors are experiencing some aspect of Mousetrappe’s work at any given time, around the world.”

“Mousetrappe has done a lot of work with Disney at their various properties so it was a natural fit for them to come on board,” said Eric Herz of Live Nation Los Angeles and Live Nation Andrew Hewitt Bill Silva Presents. Live Nation was the event promoter, and put together the package with Disney Concerts, Columbia Artists, and Kraft-Engel.  “Richard Kraft at Kraft-Engel and Alison Williams at Columbia Artists helped set the stage with Mousetrappe early on,” said Herz. He was openly enthusiastic about the results: “Richard poured his heart and soul out to work with the brilliant team at Mousetrappe to deliver the most creative and stunning projection mappings that the Hollywood Bowl has ever been a part of.”

Prior to DBATB, Kraft directed and produced La La Land in Concert: A Live-to-Film Celebration at the Hollywood Bowl and A Whole New World of Alan Menken, which debuted at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and appeared at the D23 Expo in 2017.

“LN-HS Concerts (Live Nation-Hewitt/Silva) has been working with Columbia Artists and Kraft-Engel Management on live film projects for a number of years,” said Herz. “It started in 2015 with Nightmare before Christmas, and grew to include The Little Mermaid, La La Land, Willy Wonka, and Beauty and the Beast this past spring. LN-HS acts as the promoter and produces the events with the executive producers at Columbia Artists, Kraft-Engel and the studios behind the films (in this case Disney).”

Eight-time Oscar-winning composer Alan Menken, well known for his Disney animated film scores, executive produced the event.

Scenic design, unshackled

“There’s nothing gimmicky here,” said Ulmer. “We’ve covered new ground, and ‘living scenery’ is an apt term. You’re creating scenery – alive and dynamic – that transforms digitally rather than physically, using the illusion to add depth and interest. We picked and chose our moments: when to back off, when to get bigger than life, when to be active and playful. It’s very similar to traditional scenic design. We considered what would extend the environment, convey a sense of place, surprise the audience from time to time – that last led to Easter-Eggish animations, fun little moments that counterpoint the film itself. The difference to traditional scenics is that we unshackle. We can do things that are magical, that move faster; things that can’t be physically accomplished.”

“Richard really wanted to push the envelope and that’s something we as a company could get excited about,” said Eric Hungerford, Mousetrappe’s producer on the project. “We created an environment. The people at the Bowl were in that environment, with animations spilling out of the screen and surrounding them.”

Beauty and the Beast is one of those films where it’s hard to remember a time when it didn’t exist,” said Ryan Kravetz, Art Director for Mousetrappe. “The songs are so influential and it’s a cornerstone of cinematic and animation history. We had a responsibility to utterly respect the legacy of the animated feature and the love the audience has for it, while bringing them a new, special way of experiencing it, and that goal needed to be maintained all the way down to working with the painters and animators and all the people on our team.”

“Mousetrappe was in an excellent position from a technical and artistic standpoint in terms of knowing what works and what doesn’t work with this particular IP holder and these types of IPs,” said Ulmer, who noted that in addition to Disney, the company has produced shows and spectaculars featuring Marvel, Pixar, Harry Potter, and other IPs. “We were also fortunate to be able to draw upon the invaluable knowledge and experience of Disney and in particular Eric Goldberg, to understand the original intent of the filmmaker.” (Supervising animator/director, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Eric Goldberg is an acclaimed animator whose credits include Hercules, Pocahontas and Fantasia 2000.) The approval process was extremely smooth and collaborative.”

A smooth process was essential given the project’s eight-week timeline, which Hungerford described as a “sprint.” The job kicked off in mid-March and was delivered in mid-May. He continued, “Our team’s extensive experience with high-end projection mapping design and content creation, combined with our unique understanding of how to work with IPs, made us especially suited to tackle this project with such an aggressive schedule.”

In addition to Ulmer, Hungerford, and Kravetz, Mousetrappe’s team included Michael Schwalm, Senior Concept Designer; Michaela Karis, Production Coordinator; and Lindsey Sprague, Technical Supervisor. The production team included the following artists: Chloe Booher, Luis Vega, Jacques Dupuy, Mike Gizienski, and Sheena Klimoski; and interns: Lin Huang and Ella Khan. Other creatives on the project included Volt Productions (Harrison Lipman, lighting design), John Kinser (Live Nation, producer), and Vaughn Hannon (D3 programmer/operator). Fred Vogler was the orchestra’s acoustician. “This truly was a team effort by some outstanding and creative minds,” said Herz.

Moving parts

“There were a lot of moving parts in the way the show was sequenced, which took a high level of coordination,” said Hungerford. “There is a very specific style of classic, 2D animation in Beauty and the Beast. We utilized a handful of existing assets but mostly created original matte paintings and painted elements. Eric Goldberg was very helpful.”

Mousetrappe’s team needed intimate knowledge of the projection array to ensure a seamless presentation. This was a rental package tailored to the occasion, consisting of five Christie 30k projectors (four to cover the proscenium, and one to show the film) and a D3 media server.

Testing and reviewing the material called for specific conditions. “We couldn’t review in a bubble,” said Hungerford, who has a rich background in media production and themed entertainment. “We had to watch it with the film and imagine what it would be like in the actual venue. We would not have a lot of time to iterate once the projectors were in. We composited original animations onto a photo of the Hollywood Bowl, synchronized with the film so we were watching two or three things at once, to make sure to cut exactly at the same point to be as seamless as possible. We wrote a few scripts to speed up rendering time, but basically used standard animation tools.”

“You didn’t see the seams between what was happening onstage all the way to the periphery. It filled your view with content and spectacle,” said Kravetz, who brought to the project extensive experience in animation as well as stage and set design. “We were painting with light and color. Animation is a very powerful tool, and the audience is thirsty for it. Execution is at the stage where it is invisible, transparent. The rings of the Hollywood Bowl were fully lit, the animators were able to work off the established palette.”

A big question was how to keep the film and live elements in sync. “A lot of credit goes to the conductor and to how we worked together to break up segments, and get the orchestra and cast to be in the right place at the right time,” said Kravetz. “Our stuff was locked in time, and we used a click track that was the same as the conductor’s. The segments allowed flexibility and time for audience response and applause. We went back and forth during production to set the timing. The lighting team played nicely off what we were doing.”

Eric Herz said, “Volt Productions and Mousetrappe both went above and beyond the call of duty an delivered a completely top-of-the-line show. Harrison Lippman and his team at Volt worked tirelessly to create a unique look where the colors complimented the film and projections that Mousetrappe did. Moreover, the synchronization of the colors/effects were calibrated perfectly throughout the entire event. For his part, Fred Vogler oversaw the live sound and he did an amazing job.”

Takeaways for themed entertainment

Besides the obvious connection with the world’s top theme park operator, the success of DBATB offers lessons for themed entertainment and experience design. Its creation depended on many of the same creative and technical tools as today’s visitor attractions. And as family-oriented, out-of-home entertainment, the goals were similar to those of a visitor attraction or theme park: thrill guests with something they can’t experience at home, in a group setting; provide a new way to interact with an IP; encourage guests to want more.

“As a general takeaway, I like to say that people have a basic human need for certainty, but also for uncertainty,” said Ulmer. “This is a film people have watched 20 times, and when you watch a film 20 times, you don’t remember the individual viewings anymore. But at the Bowl, the guests had a new experience. When you deliver a property like this to its own fan base, and yet enhance it, provide so much more than the original, you deliver a truly new experience. We added something to the IP, and the guests will remember it specifically. That’s also what we do in the theme park business with attractions and shows.”

“Richard charged us to frame the show so that it wasn’t just something you could pop into a player; to present the material in a fresh, unexpected way that made the audience feel part of something, integrated, involved,” said Kravetz

The ability to scale an experience to connect with large audiences is also relevant to themed entertainment. “Being able to take that film and make it fill the entire proscenium, increasing the view, pulled the whole audience into the experience, including those in the second half of the Bowl’s 17,500 seat amphitheater,” said Ulmer.

“You no longer need a 16 x 9 canvas to tell a film story,” said Hungerford. “The ‘living scenery’ was a framing device that came alive, enough to immerse you, even peripherally, into the world of the film. It’s an evolution in projection mapping and a new way to view a film. There will be some very interesting new ways to explore this further, down the line.”

Eric Herz said, “It was without doubt the best live film event the team has ever done. What we spent on production was worth every penny as we gave the fans the best possible experience. It certainly left an indelible impression on them. The bar was raised so high that we need to do our best to make sure our future events are at the same caliber as Beauty and the Beast.”

“It has been my dream to bring the magic of a Disney quality theme park experience to a concert stage to create something that transcends just being a concert, a theatrical experience or a film screening,” said Richard Kraft. “Mousetrappe’s living scenery proved to be that breathtaking link that mesmerized audiences for our Beauty and the Beast show. Their 90 minutes of original animated content brought audible gasps from our audience and played an amazing role in celebrating Disney’s classic animated film. This was particularly important in a vast venue like The Hollywood Bowl. By projecting onto the proscenium every member of the audience was immersed in the show. Collaborating with the enthusiastic and creative minds at Mousetrappe has been a career highlight.”

This fall, the Kraft-Engel and Mousetrappe teams will join forces again to create new projection mapped scenes to accompany the classic Halloween film, The Nightmare Before Christmas, that will also be accompanied by a live orchestra and an all-star cast. The new show is scheduled to open at the Hollywood Bowl in October.

Mousetrappe’s key team on Beauty and Beast (L to R): Left to right:Ryan Kravetz, Lindsey Sprague, Michaela Karis, Daren Ulmer, Michael Schwalm, Eric Hungerford . All photos courtesy Mousetrappe.

Reviews: DBATB

LA Times music reviewer and confirmed Disneyphile Todd Martens attended the show. His review reads in part, “The unsung hero… of all the Bowl’s takes on Disney films remains the newly created animation, projected around the venue’s shell to add a tinge of theme-park immersion to the proceedings.

The newly created scenes… gave viewers a deeper look at Belle’s home, the town tavern adorned with tributes to Gaston and the stonework of Beast’s castle, among others. They also provided some light screwball action during scenes of commotion. Fans of old-school Disney animation would be forgiven for never taking their eyes off the projections.”

In Variety, Chris Willman wrote, “…winning touches included… semi-animated projections onto the entire proscenium that smartly but unobtrusively made the screening feel like more of a widescreen experience.”

In Billboard, Keith Caulfield wrote, “Throughout the entire show, gorgeous scene-enhancing imagery – inspired by and sometimes lifted directly from the film – was projected onto the bowl’s façade. Hopefully future Disney shows at the Bowl — not to mention performances at the venue in general — will employ this kind of digital wizardry.”

 

MORE ON MOUSETRAPPE FROM THE PAGES OF INPARK MAGAZINE:

Michael Daut: Building a bigger Mousetrappe

“Flying Dreams”: Eyes in the skies

 

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