From the veldts of Africa, number thirty three takes us back to the colonization of America, and a true-life history lesson in the Disney style. Pocahontas hit theaters in 1995, after a long, five year production process. It was helmed by Mike Gabriel and animator Eric Goldberg, Glen Keane served as the supervising animator for Pocahontas and John Pomeroy returning to Disney to supervise John Smith (he had left Disney with fellow animators Don Bluth and Gary Goldman fifteen years prior in the kerfuffle surrounding The Fox And The Hound).
Director Gabriel first conceived the film as an animated Romeo and Juliet story, a love story amidst “two clashing worlds” not long after finishing work on The Rescuers Down Under. As production ramped up alongside The Lion King, this was the film the artists wanted to work on, thinking Pocahontas was a more prestigious project and the Lion story was unfocused and uncommercial.
To help create a unique look for Pocahontas, directors Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg enlisted Michael Giaimo, a renowned artist and former Disney animator, to oversee the design and color elements. “We feel that we’ve pushed a lot of boundaries in this film with regard to design and color,” says Giaimo. “For one thing, we set out to make the characters the brightest, punchiest, warmest element on the screen by sublimating the backgrounds. With deeper and darker backgrounds, the character’s performance becomes the main objective and it was my job to showcase that performance in terms of lighting, color and design. This was pretty common with the Disney films of the late 1940’s and through the 1950’s but hadn’t been done much in recent times.”
Several visual elements for the film were suggested by the artistic team’s field trips to Virginia. The tall forests of pine trees suggested a vertical theme that Giaimo incorporated into the character design. The background artists also used color; depth and tone in such a way as to add to the emotion of each scene. Lighting was another important design element that was used to elicit the desired emotional response from the audience. In this film, lighting is both highly controlled and boldly stylized.
Due to the complexity of the color schemes, shapes, and expressions in the animation, the production of Pocahontas lasted five years. As a result, animators who worked on the movie have regarded it as one of the most difficult films the studio has produced. For instance, a total of 55 animators worked on the design of Pocahontas’ character alone.
One final visual element used to best advantage in Pocahontas is effects animation. Waterfalls, a sea storm, swirls of multi-colored leaves, misty environments and blazing fires were all rendered by the effects animation team to add excitement and credibility to the story.
Disney premiered the film in a big way, in front of a crowd of over 100,000 people on June 10, 1995, in New York’s Central Park (though police place the estimate at closer to 70,000).
The film was budgeted at 55 million dollars, and grossed 140 million in the US and almost 350 million worldwide in its initial release.