Animation: The princesses of <I>Ralph Breaks the Internet</I>
Karen Moltenbrey
Issue: November 1, 2018

Animation: The princesses of Ralph Breaks the Internet

In Ralph Breaks the Internet, Ralph and Vanellope decide to make a viral video to pay for an eBay bid gone awry. And the subject of this video? The Disney princesses in the “Oh My Disney” realm of the Internet.

The idea for the scene was made on the fly during production and presented at a story meeting, not knowing how it would be received. But, Disney and the directors loved it and were very supportive of it. 

The first order of business was to research the characters — 14 of the officially coronated Disney Animation princesses. The animators accessed the Disney Animation Research Library, which houses all the original drawings from the animated films, to study how expressions were drawn and the style of the characters’ movements, and consulted many of the original animation supervisors.

The biggest challenge was converting the 2D characters from their original form to CGI; the textures of their original outfits also had to be made in CG. Even the more recent 3D characters like Moana needed to be re-stylized to fit into the Ralph 2 visual universe while retaining their highly recognizable aesthetic. “When you line up these characters next to each other, they don’t fit in the same world. Some are more cartoony, some are more realistic. And their eye sizes can be drastically different,” says Kira Lehtomaki, head of animation. “Even though there was unification, they had to be authentic to who they are.” 

Hair often became challenging. “The artists [back then] were making choices based off of what angle they were drawing the character from, so while they could move lines in a drawing to accommodate that, in CG, we actually have real strands of hair growing from their head, so the hairdo has to make sense but also maintain the integrity.”

Rebuilding the princesses in the Ralph style required modelers, riggers, the hair simulation team, texturers and lighters all working together with animation in what was informally dubbed the Princess Palooza Lab. The process was collaborative and iterative, not linear — and not just for the hair, but for the movement as well. Lending insight were some of the original animators and the voice actress who were live-action models for their particular princess (who they once again voice in Ralph 2).

“There are little homages to really iconic scenes from the original films that are peppered throughout the background in the sequences, so even if a princess is not the center of focus in a scene, there’s still intricate character movement happening in the background,” says Lehtomaki. 

Is this very unusual Disney sequence iconic enough to go viral? You can be the judge.