In 1997, I was working for Disney Interactive. At the time, 3D environments were a relatively new thing. I had the task of showing what we could do with the technology we had. I created these backgrounds using 3DStudio and Photoshop. You might be thinking 3DStudio Max, but this was earlier than that. 3DStudio was created for the DOS platform, and models were built in wireframe. That’s right – if you wanted to see a shaded view of our work you needed to render it. Sometimes you would have problems like inverted polygons (what would look like holes in your model), but you would have no idea until you rendered (and waited) to see your work.
The River Styx: from Hercules.
Palace: from Aladdin.
Another challenge in creating these backgrounds was giving them that feel that painted Disney backgrounds have. Often when artists create two-dimensional works, the goal is to make the scene “read” so the viewer can see what the artist is trying to convey. Often this involves altering the perspective and placing objects at impossible angles. You see this effect throughout Western art before and after the discovery of linear perspective in the Rennaissance. One artist’s work that comes to mind is Edgar Degas.
The Dance Class: Edgar Degas, 1874.
Degas often tilted the floor in his paintings – often at extreme angles. It’s not unique to just paintings, though. The English theatre started sloping their stage floors upwards away from the audience as far back as the middle ages; a “raked stage”.
The two backgrounds shown here were built this way, where the floor is tilted close to thirty degrees, the buildings, columns and towers are tilted back from the viewer at the top and there are few if any straight lines. It wasn’t enough to give the camera a wide angle lens, everything needed to be considered. The only drawback to creating art this way is that the illusion only works from the front view. If you start to move around the scene or look at things from the side-view the illusion falls apart. I remember after having completed these backgrounds the art director saying “These are great! Can we animate a fly through?”