Thirty-three minutes of triple-necked guitars, independently moving drum sticks, ball bearings hitting drums and circular xylophones, and a drum machine operated by an intricate set of gears. Not only can I live with that, but it’s one of the greatest sets of computer animation to show itself anywhere. This is a world where the new Fantasias are. I love the original Fantasia and it’s one of my favorite films ever, but this is where the new one is. Disney’s method of putting ready-made music to skillfully drawn animation is quite a creative venture, but this is outstanding work.
In the first one alone, entitled “Future Retro”, you can hear the amplifiers buzzing loudly before the music starts. Now THIS is going to be a concert! All the little lights indicating working amps and instruments come up, five or six green lights lighting up on the triple-necked guitar. Yes, triple-necked. And robotic fingers pressing down on the strings, moving up and down along the necks. Plus, there’s a laser helping out with some of the music too, a laser that makes sounds as opposed to the lasers that we have that take care of vision problems. The pipe organ flutes embedded in the triple-neck guitar can’t be forgotten either, as they contribute a lot to the music that bursts out from all instruments, including the circle of drums and cymbals.
The creativity doesn’t stop there. In every single shot, there’s always a different instrument to marvel at, and also how they operate, sometimes without the assistance of any gears or attachment to any part of the instrument. For example, one of my dear favorites is “Aqua Harp”. The music is so beautiful, so contemplative, and sad in some way. The harp for this piece has a single string on each side, accompanied by a violin bow, and on the bottom are chimes where, at the right moment, mallets lift up, head down and begin hitting them. The most impressive thing about this harp is the oversized sunflower-seed like picks that fly from here to there, plucking the strings. On top, of that, there’s organ pipes that blow out their notes wherever the strings are plucked.
“Pipe Dream” is heralded as the most popular sequence on this DVD and with good reason. Ball bearings fly out of pipes, hitting strings and bongos before heading back into adjacent holes, without missing their mark. Dents in the walls and floor suggest previous misfires, but the entire operation runs smoothly during this round. Plus, for all those who want it, there’s plenty of COWBELL!!! However, the cowbell is merely one part of a rotating circle of instruments, including two wood blocks and a cymbal. The circular xylophone, where ball bearings fly out from the middle hole and hit the keys makes this piece exciting, along with the wood block conveyor belt, which releases wood blocks according to the notes at hand. Some are smaller, some are longer, but it’s remarkable.
If you find yourself needing more cowbell, the sequence before “Pipe Dream” entitled “Drum Machine” has plenty of it. Representing a factory-like setting with lots of gears, sticks bang out the beat on snare drums, cymbals, timpani and the ever-famous cowbell. “Harmonic Voltage”, the last sequence on the DVD, is arresting. The lasers used in “Future Retro” and “Stick Figures”, look like they contain more than 10,000 volts and could knock you clear out to the great beyond if a hair on your head even comes in contact with it. They seem to reach out to nowhere, but provide music that sounds like it’s amplified so all corners of the universe can hear it. Behind it is rising purple smoke that provides the chorus of the piece, along with self-playing drum sticks that work their magic like it’s been done for the past 28 minutes.
It gets even better because no one’s left high and dry when it comes to learning how all this came together. A highly technical audio commentary by director Wayne Lytle reveals how all of this comes together and it may frustrate many who aren’t involved in this kind of computer animated work, or even music. The biggest surprise comes from learning that all the music you hear were original MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) files. Those files, in turn, are used to drive the graphical instruments. Lytle proves his experience with this program because he’s been working with music animation since 1989. He talks at length about the rendering process and like any creator, takes time to point out what his favorite shots are. His best description comes during “Harmonic Voltage”, where he talks about the plasma-filled bass emitters, but then thinks that it might not even be plasma they’re filled with, but rather radioactive grape juice. I can only imagine that type of drink being marketed on shelves. “Radioactive Grape Juice: You won’t only glow from enjoyment!” Lytle also makes sure to give props to David Crognale, by highlighting the collaborative process that the two shared on this project. It’s enlightening stuff and adds depth to an incredible visual and audial journey.
That’s not all. As early morning infomercials enthusiastically announce, “There’s more!” There’s “Solo-Cams” for each piece, allowing a fixed focus on a single instrument. In “Future Retro”, you can watch the drum set hammer out the beats or see the laser machine fire out its melody, without it cutting to another instrument. The instrument is not shown with its surroundings, but is put against a black background to give that certain one specific attention.
Stills wrap up the DVD, showing you the process of creating these sequences and the building of the instruments into their final form. It’s funny to see the triple neck guitar from “Future Retro” look like a Nickelodeon splotch.
“Animusic” is an incredible venture that should see a long life, gain many fans, and find a home on a bigger screen. While this DVD is incredibly valuable, this should be in IMAX. Plain and simple, the corporation known for making racecars and space stations look bigger than your house should consider absorbing “Animusic” into its line up of IMAX films to be shown. If this DVD can wow many people on TV screen at home, think of what this can do over there! Prices for IMAX tickets may be expensive, but it would be worth a lot.