Disney’s Past Holds the Key to Unlock Its Future
The Walt Disney Company reported a profit of US$ 2.9 billion dollars in the first fiscal quarter of 2016. We are so familiar with seeing the company responsible for Mickey Mouse deliver billionaire profits, which it is often difficult to conceive it once was the mere dream of a man who was audacious enough to pursue it. Founded in 1928, Walt Disney Studios revolutionized film animation throughout the decades. Now, 88 years later, the company that carries the legacy of its founder can follow his steps by leading another revolution, but this time, in the field of Virtual Reality (VR). To justify this claim, we must first regard the past so that we may foresee the future.
The reasons why Disney became a success are plenty, but in this article, we shall focus on one. A cartoon does not need to mimic reality, but concerning the way characters move, a level of realism is required. The main issue with animations prior the 30s was how characters acted in a scene. Their movements were awkward to look at because they did not seem to obey to basic principles of physics. For this reason, productions from that era displayed actions that were not pleasant to the eye and fell into the cartooned version of the uncanny valley. Despite the flaws, this standard was accepted in the 30s, but nothing is perfect; therefore, there is always room for improvement.
With this mentality, Disney animators noticed how unnatural characters from that time acted and in this problem, they saw an opportunity to improve their work and gain an advantage over other companies. In the 1930s, the studio’s artists began to develop techniques to strengthen their productions, by making the way characters move more visually appealing and less unsettling. Their efforts gave birth to what animators know today as The Twelve Basic Principles of Animation, a set of rules crafted to make the movements of the characters seem more realistic, by giving to the audience the illusion that they are adhering to the laws of physics.
These findings are detailed in the 1981 book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation, which is regarded as “the bible of animators”. As previously stated herein, many are the reasons as to why Disney became what it is today, but the drive above to reach perfection portraits the most important of them. While other studios were following the old set of techniques from the early days of animation, Disney was swimming against the tide, by creating its own, and developing its craft to the limit of the technology available at the time. This perfection-oriented mindset was one of the keys to unlock its success and sparked a revolution as other studios decided to follow the same approach.
Nowadays, another transformation is in the works, but with Virtual Reality and Disney has already noticed the importance this technology holds to the future of entertainment. In 2015, the company announced an investment of $ 66 million to study and develop VR and on May 16, 2016, the first project completed within this endeavor was released, Disney Movies VR. The application, available on Steam, allows the enthusiasts to use VR to immerse themselves in the universes of Disney’s most popular franchises. This production is a real embodiment of the current state of this medium. Due to its novelty, current VR products amaze its audience, but we shall not fool ourselves. There still is a long development curve ahead. This is how Disney’s future and its past overlap.
As Disney ventures itself in the field of Virtual Reality, we ought to tell it not to forget about its past. In VR, unlike other mediums, there is no existing literature on how to develop a compelling experience therein. Disney now has the possibility of catalyzing another revolution. As long as it applies the same perfection-oriented philosophy it used in the 30s, to think outside the box, it will create stunning content that will shine among its competition, as it happened in the early days of animation. Perhaps in a couple of decades, we may be discussing the Twelve Basic Rules of Virtual Reality. The future is bright, for Disney and VR. As the old saying goes, “history repeats itself”.