Hercules: About The Production

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Brimming with humor, heroics and plenty of heart, Walt Disney Pictures' 35th full-length animated feature, "Hercules," takes moviegoers on an incredible odyssey of fun, fantasy and adventure that is rooted in Greek mythology and lifts the art of animation to Olympian heights. Taking an extremely irreverent and hilarious approach to the amazing adventures of the legendary superhero, this latest animated offering from Disney follows Hercules on his exciting journey from "zero to hero" as he discovers what it means to be a true hero and seeks to regain his rightful place among the gods of Mount Olympus. Along the way, he matches wits with one of Disney's most cunning and comical villains, a hot head named Hades who will stop at nothing to take control of the Universe. Helping to make this animated film one of Disney's all-time best is a spectacular action-filled story, a colorful cast of characters and vocal talents, the world's finest animators, extraordinary art direction and style, great music and some exciting new technological innovations.

Overseeing the production of "Hercules" is the distinctive and dynamic filmmaking team of John Musker and Ron Clements, who served as directors, producers and writers on the film. Following their directing debut in 1986 with "The Great Mouse Detective," the team continued to play a major role in the revitalization of Disney feature animation by directing, producing and writing "The Little Mermaid," (1989) and "Aladdin" (1992). With their trademark brand of wacky humor, broad caricatures and stylish art direction, Musker & Clements have once again come up with an animated film that breaks the mold and delivers great entertainment in the process. Producer Alice Dewey worked with the directors as production manager on "Aladdin." In addition to an extensive background in theater, she also served as associate producer of Disney's 1994 animated blockbuster, "The Lion King." Kendra Haaland was the associate producer.

Musker & Clements began working on "Hercules" in the fall of 1993 and devoted the next nine months to writing an outline, several treatments and a first draft of the screenplay. During that time, art director Andy Gaskill ("The Lion King") joined the team and began overseeing visual development on the film. Barry Johnson also came on board at an early stage as head of story. This group was later joined by screenwriters Bob Shaw & Donald McEnery and Irene Mecchi, who brought additional humor and definition to the script.

For this project, the directors are reunited with eight-time Academy Award®-winning composer Alan Menken, who had previously worked with the team on "The Little Mermaid" and "Aladdin." Providing lyrics to Menken's melodies this time around is Tony Award-winner David Zippel ("City of Angels"). The songwriters used a pastiche of styles with a gospel influence to bring a wonderful sense of fun and entertainment to the film. In all, they created six new tunes for the film and Menken once again composed the entertaining and evocative underscore which accents the story's various moods and emotions.

Helping to make the film as visually exciting as the story itself is the inspired production design of renowned British artist Gerald Scarfe (The London Sunday Times, "Pink Floyd--The Wall"), who was initially brought on to assist with the character design. His bold, expressive linear style gave the filmmakers a fresh and unified look for the project and his role expanded from conceptual artist to that of an ongoing artistic advisor to the animators. Scarfe also worked closely with art director Andy Gaskill and production stylist Sue Nichols to incorporate "Scarfisms" into almost every aspect of the production from backgrounds to effects and layout, and also provided a bridge from Greek vase paintings to Disney animation. The result is one of the most striking and unusual looking of Disney's animated films, with a style all its own that perfectly complements the filmmakers' comedic approach to the subject.

Rounding out the creative team for the film, Musker & Clements hand-picked many of the Studio's top talents to head up specific areas of the production. The artistic supervisors were Rasoul Azadani (Layout), Thomas Cardone (Backgrounds), Mauro Maressa (Visual Effects), Roger Gould (Computer Graphics Imagery) and Nancy Kniep (Cleanup). Peter Del Vecho was the production manager with Dan Hansen serving as artistic coordinator and Ann Tucker taking on the role of technical coordinator. Tom Finan ("The Lion King") was the film's editor.

Disney's version of "Hercules" begins with a blessed event on Mount Olympus, the celestial home of the Greek gods, as Zeus and his wife Hera throw a palatial party to celebrate the arrival of their newborn son, Hercules. To mark the occasion, the proud papa presents his powerful progeny with a special birthday gift -- a winged horse named Pegasus. Everyone is in a jolly mood except for Hades, a disgruntled god who hates his job as Lord of the Underworld and has been secretly plotting a hostile takeover of Mount Olympus.

Back in the Underworld, the Fates warn Hades that in 18 years the planets will align and the time will be right to unleash the Titans, a horde of brutish giants imprisoned long ago by Zeus, and mount his attack on Mount Olympus. They add: A word of caution to this tale; should Hercules fight, you will fail. Not wanting to tempt the Fates, he dispatches Pain and Panic -- his two dim-witted and demonic, shape-changing sidekicks -- to abduct Baby Hercules, give him a potion to render him mortal and then dispose of him. But after bringing the infant to Earth, they bungle their mission leaving Hercules with god-like strength but human mortality. Figuring that Hades will be none the wiser, Pain and Panic take off and the boy is found by a mortal couple, Amphitryon and Alcmene, who raise him as their own.

Unaware of his origins, Hercules grows into a gawky teen but increasingly feels that he doesn't quite fit in. Determined to "go the distance" and find his place in the world, he goes to the Temple of Zeus to seek some answers. There, a statue of the mighty god springs to life and father and son are reunited. Zeus explains that only gods can live on Mount Olympus and the only way he can return home is to prove himself a "true hero" on Earth. Hercules is reunited with Pegasus and told to seek out a legendary trainer of heroes named Philoctetes ("Phil" for short) to help him in his mission.

Herc locates Phil, a cynical satyr who's been disappointed one too many times in his attempts to train the "greatest hero ever." With a little "persuasion," he reluctantly agrees to take the lad on as his "one last hope" to coach a champion. After an intense training period, the duo head to Thebes ("The Big Olive"), a hapless metropolis desperately in need of a hero.

En route, Hercules is sidetracked by a Grecian beauty named Megara (or "Meg") who appears to be at the mercy of a self-centered Centaur. After a shaky start, the fledgling hero conquers the beast only to discover that Meg wasn't in danger after all. She is tough, resourceful, witty and unlike any woman he has ever met. When Hercules departs, Meg is joined by her "boss" Hades, who has a cosmic meltdown at the realization that his nemesis is still alive.

In no time flat, Herc convinces the skeptical townsfolk that he really is a hero. Hades sends a 30-headed Hydra and a slew of monsters of every shape and size (wild boars, sea serpents, a Minotaur) to challenge him, but he emerges a winner every time. Each new victory adds to Hercules' fame as he catapults from "zero to hero" and instantly becomes a household name, a merchandising sensation and a heartthrob. Still, it isn't enough to bring him home to Mount Olympus. Zeus explains that being famous isn't the same as being a true hero and tells him to look inside his heart for the answers.

With time running out, Hades becomes increasingly desperate and uses Meg to help double cross Hercules and uncover his weakness. As she realizes just how much she cares for Hercules, Hades realizes that Meg is his weakness. Using her safety and freedom as a bargaining tool, Hades gets Hercules to give up his strength for 24 hours. As a parting shot, Hades tells Hercules that Meg has been part of his team all along and that her affection for him was part of the charade. In addition to feeling weak, he now feels betrayed too.

As the planets align, Hades frees the massive Titans -- a fearsome foursome made of rock, wind, lava and ice -- from a giant pit. As they head towards Mount Olympus to topple Zeus, Hades sends a giant Cyclops to Thebes to finish off the weakened and dispirited hero.

There's plenty of excitement, surprises and dramatic action in the film's climax as Hercules struggles to rekindle his belief in himself. Against overwhelming odds, he bravely fights back and ultimately discovers that a true hero is not measured by the size of his strength but by the strength of his heart.

In order to bring the extraordinary story of Hercules to the big screen, the filmmakers turned to an extraordinary ensemble of versatile vocalists. Adding muscle to the voice of adult Hercules is Tate Donovan, a talented actor ("Memphis Belle," "Partners") who gives the character a perfect blend of innocence and charm. Joshua Keaton speaks for the awkward adolescent Herc, while Roger Bart "goes the distance" as that character's singing voice. Hitting all the right notes as the speaking and singing voice for Meg, Herc's complex and comical love interest, is Susan Egan, the Tony-nominated "Belle" of Broadway in "Disney's Beauty and the Beast." Acclaimed actor James Woods (a recent Oscar® nominee for "Ghosts of Mississippi") puts some real fire into his vocal performance as the fast-talking, quick-scheming, underhanded Hades. The incomparable Danny DeVito sings and speaks for a hero-training satyr named Phil, who's down to "one last hope" of training a champion.

Rip Torn delivers a ripping good vocal performance as Zeus, the mighty ruler of Mount Olympus and proud papa of Hercules. Samantha Eggar is the voice of Herc's caring mom, Hera. Providing voices for the boy's down-to-Earth adoptive parents, Amphitryon and Alcmene, are veteran actors Hal Holbrook and Barbara Barrie. Bobcat Goldthwait and Matt Frewer generate pain, panic and lots of laughs with their frantic antics as the voices of Hades' misguided minions, Pain and Panic. Paul Shaffer lends his hip and nutty delivery to the winged messenger god, Hermes. The Muses get great vocal backing from five gifted ladies with a talent to a-muse: Lillias White (Calliope), Vaneese Thomas (Clio), Cheryl Freeman (Melpomene), LaChanze (Terpsichore) and Roz Ryan (Thalia). And a trio of all-seeing, all-knowing prognosticators called the Fates are voiced by Amanda Plummer (Clotho), Carole Shelley (Lachesis) and Paddi Edwards (Atropos).

And, in the opening of the film, the legendary Charlton Heston lends a delightfully dignified tone to the narration.

To help them prepare for the artistic challenges that the production presented, producer Alice Dewey and the directors led a group of their key supervisors on a tour of Greece and Turkey in spring, 1995. There, they soaked up the ancient sites and scenery and heard expert accounts of classic Greek mythology. They filled notepads with sketches and took extensive photos and video to further inspire them.

Animation on "Hercules" began in late 1995 with a grand and unprecedented total of 906 artists, animators and technicians ultimately contributing their talents and labors to the production. That figure includes a staff of more than 100 based at Disney's excellent animation facility in Paris, where nearly 10 minutes of the film was created. Dominique Monfrey supervised the animation of the Titans and, in particular, the Cyclops character at the Paris Studio, where the "armageddon" film finale and Hercules' daring descent into the Underworld were created.

Back in Burbank, 41 background artists created 1,601 hand painted backgrounds for the film. A team of 108 visual effects animators was responsible for putting the glow into the gods and the fire into Hades' hair, as well as creating the whirlwind of elements surrounding the various Titans, Zeus' lightning bolts, rain, wind, flames and, of course, the trails of pixie dust left by Hermes.

The legend of Hercules remains one of mythology's most often told tales and has been a popular source of material for filmmakers and television producers for more than four decades. Film versions have starred such famous muscle men as Steve Reeves, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno with titles ranging from the sublime ("Hercules Unchained") to the ridiculous ("The Three Stooges Meet Hercules," "Hercules in New York" and "Hercules Against the Sons of the Sun"). The fascination with this Greek superhero continues today with the ongoing success of the syndicated TV series "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys," filmed in New Zealand and starring Kevin Sorbo.

Alice Dewey observes, "There's something about Greek mythology and the story of Hercules, in particular, that has appealed to people for many centuries. It's timeless, universal and the stories are filled with lots of passion. Hercules himself is a very popular and accessible hero who was literally on every plate, jug and vase back in the glory days of ancient Greece. As storytellers, we really embraced this strong yet vulnerable character and the sense of the journey that he embarks on to become a true hero."

Roy Disney, vice chairman of The Walt Disney Company and chairman of Walt Disney Feature Animation, adds, "Hercules is a character that I think everyone can relate to. We've all said at one time or another in our lives, 'What am I doing here?' 'Who am I anyway?' 'What is my mission in life?' The film itself is perfect for animation because it's about characters that never really existed except in our imaginations. And what animation does best is to tell you stories about things you couldn't see any other way. The look and style of the film and the way the characters are drawn is in keeping with mythology and gives it that bigger than life feel."

For Tom Schumacher, executive vice president of Walt Disney Feature Animation and Walt Disney Theatrical Productions, "Hercules" represents a significant milestone for Disney animation. He says, "Fundamentally, this film is about some very important things. It's about the idea of strength, of who you are and what character is. It also deals with the notion of what celebrity is, what pop culture is, what it means to be popular. The most extraordinary thing about 'Hercules' is that it is a departure from the recent films that we've done. The look, the design, the color, the excitement and the enthusiasm makes this a truly unique film. At the same time, the emotional core is there too in Hercules' relationship with Meg and Phil, that will really get audiences involved with the characters."

As president of Walt Disney Feature Animation and Walt Disney Theatrical Productions, Peter Schneider has spent the last dozen years overseeing one of the Studio's most exciting and prolific periods of creativity. Reflecting on this latest accomplishment, he says, "It has been such a pleasure to see John and Ron mature and grow as filmmakers over the past 12 years. Their sophistication in storytelling, use of camera and music has gotten better and better. They are also able to bring humor, emotion and heart to all their projects and create a depth of character in their writing and directing that is second to none. Another wonderful thing about 'Hercules' is that it is finally bringing some major recognition in this country for Gerald Scarfe, whose style and design are amazing and have added a new dimension to this picture that is unlike anything the Studio has ever done before."

Schneider adds, "It's also very exciting to see the tremendous work that our animators have done on this picture. Andreas Deja has been one of our superstars for some time, but has focused mainly on villains. He has done a spectacular job with our leading man Hercules and given it tremendous panache. Nik Ranieri has done the best work of his career on Hades and has shown enormous growth as an artist. And Ken Duncan, who is supervising a major character for the first time, has impressed us all with his animation on Meg. I can't say enough about all of the great artists and animators who contributed to this film. I am very proud of all that they have done to make this one of Disney's best efforts."


After completing work on "Aladdin" in 1992, Musker & Clements began exploring numerous possibilities for their next project. They looked at about 30 ideas being developed by the story department before settling on the classic tale of the popular Greek hero. The idea for a Disney film about "Hercules" had originally been suggested by animator Joe Haidar at one of the department's "gong show" presentations, where anyone from Feature Animation is able to pitch potential projects.

According to Ron Clements, "Mythology appealed to us because it hadn't really been tapped into before for an animated feature. The Pastoral sequence in 'Fantasia' touched on it somewhat but not to any great extent. The idea of Hercules being half-man, half-god presented lots of interesting and humorous possibilities."

John Musker adds, "The story of Hercules seemed like it would be great for animation because of its fantasy elements and the fact that you're dealing with characters that are larger than life. The opportunity to do a superhero action-adventure story was too good to pass up. There have been many 'cheesy' versions of the Hercules story done before but there hasn't really been an 'A' version."

In their role as screenwriters, they spent the next nine months reading lots of books on mythology, revisiting several of the "cheesy" film versions from the past, and writing an outline, several treatments and eventually their own first draft of a script. During this same period, they also worked on some preliminary visual development for the film as well.

"We discovered that there wasn't just one definitive version of the Hercules legend, but many, many different stories," says Clements. "He became such an incredibly popular hero that, in fact, a lot of other stories about other heroes got turned into Hercules stories. He was so popular that they took the earlier myths and reinvented them."

Musker observes, "Another thing that we really liked about Hercules was that he was the common man's hero. Whereas a lot of the gods seem beyond something you could aspire to, people related to Hercules because he was more of a regular guy. That's why he became the most common subject on vases and objects of the period."

As the script took shape, so did the humor. Musker and Clements decided to portray Greek society as a kind of parallel of modern day society. The bustling town of Thebes took on the nickname of "the Big Olive" and drew inspiration from modern-day Manhattan and Los Angeles. Another major creative direction they chose was to inject elements of classic '30s and '40s screwball comedy into the mix.

Clements comments, "We wanted to do this sort of Frank Capra/Preston Sturges take on the subject with a worldly, snappy-talking femme-fatale and an innocent leading man. We envisioned Meg as Barbara Stanwyck and Hercules as Jimmy Stewart or Henry Fonda in the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger. This seemed like a great opportunity to do that sort of relationship and give it an edge. We wanted to turn the whole story on its head a bit."

Loosely borrowing from the original myths, Musker & Clements found great material and characters to work with. "Pain and Panic were actually attendants to Ares, the god of war," notes Musker. "He had four minions -- Pain, Panic, Famine and Oblivion. It sounds like a terrible law firm. We decided to use Pain and Panic because they seemed like the perfect names for Hades' sidekicks."

Once Musker & Clements completed their first draft of the screenplay and began to concentrate on other aspects of the production, the screenwriting team of Bob Shaw & Donald McEnery came on board to provide additional humor and definition to the script. Shaw & McEnery had written an Emmy-nominated episode of "Seinfeld" and they had each had extensive experience as stand-up comics. Also collaborating on the final screenplay was Irene Mecchi, a witty and talented writer whose previous credits include the Disney features, "The Lion King" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame."


The Greeks had a word for him -- Heracles, to be exact. Although Disney's animated account of the mythological superhero takes the liberty of calling him by his more common Roman name of Hercules, Musker & Clements and the story team were inspired by the always fascinating and often outrageous tales of the legendary Greek hero.

With its loose and comedic approach to the subject matter, Disney's "Hercules" is not exactly an accurate account of Greek mythology. And yet, the written accounts of Hercules became an important springboard for the film. Ovid was the first to write about this great hero in the year 1000 BC and, several thousand years later, the 5th century poet Euripides added to his legacy with perhaps the most famous version of the story. Even among experts, there are many varying versions of the classic mythological tales. Hercules, being one of the most popular heroes of the day, was also one of the most chronicled and each region had its own version of his adventures.

By all accounts, Hercules was Ancient Greece's consummate hero -- part superman, part everyman. To commemorate his superhuman acts of heroism, he became an icon and his likeness appeared on a staggering number of Grecian vases, plates and other artifacts. He was courageous, indomitable and alone in his fight against the tyrannies of the world.

In classic mythology, Hercules is indeed the son of Zeus but his mother is a mortal named Alcmene. Practical and egotistical Zeus took it upon himself to sire this demi-god in response to a prophesy that the only way to save the world from the Titans -- 50 gigantic beasts with the legs of serpents -- was with the help of the greatest and strongest of mortal men. When Hera discovered what Zeus had done, she sent two serpents to kill the child but young Hercules strangled the creatures with his bare hands.

Aware now of her son's destiny, Alcmene had Hercules trained in all the arts required of a warrior hero: charioteering, fencing, wrestling and music. Too strong for his own good, Hercules was sent into the mountains as a shepherd, where at age 18 he killed a great lion. He used the skin as a cloak with the head forming a kind of hood and this is the famous costume depicted in most artwork.

Hercules' first marriage to Princess Megara produced three sons but came to a tragic end when a vengeful Hera caused him to go mad. Hera added misery to his grief by conspiring to have him become the slave of his cowardly cousin King Eurystheus for a period of one year, during which time he was subject to every demand and labor the evil little relative could dream up. With Hera working behind the scenes to suggest increasingly impossible and perilous tasks, the "Twelve Labors of Hercules" began to take shape and would lead to the hero's further glory. The labors included fighting the Nemean Lion, killing the nine-headed Hydra (which grew two heads to replace each severed one), capturing the murderous boar of Mt. Erymanthus, cleaning the stables of King Augeas, driving away the Stymphalian birds, catching the fire-breathing bull of Crete, bringing back the golden girdle of the Amazon Queen Hippolyta, picking three golden apples guarded by a fire-breathing dragon and bringing back Hades' three-headed guard dog, Cerberus.

His labors completed, Hercules returned to civilization to resume his life and chose a Caledonian princess named Deianira to be his second wife. On the way home from the marriage, Hercules killed the Centaur Nessus for making ungentlemanly passes at his bride but not before the crafty creature convinced Deianira to take a few drops of his blood to prevent Hercules from desiring other women.

Adventure and trouble continued to find Hercules. Another incident had him indebted to Queen Omphale of Lydia, who forced him to dress as a serving woman for three years and to spin and sew with his big hands.

When Hercules' wife became jealous of another woman, she decided to use Nessus' "love charm," not knowing that it would seal his fate. Finding himself in unbearable pain, Hercules begged to be placed on a funeral pyre. Accompanied by a loud thunderclap, he was borne up to Mount Olympus where he was at last reunited with his godly kin and thus making good on that prophesied battle with the Titans. Begging Hercules' forgiveness for all her treachery, Hera gave him her own daughter Hebe (goddess of eternal youth) as his bride.

Hercules may not have been a real person but "The Pillars of Hercules," two giant crags which separate Europe from Africa and which were said to have been placed there by him on the way to a labor, are still in place today.


As filmmakers, the names of John Musker & Ron Clements may not be as widely known to the public as such industry luminaries as Spielberg, Lucas or Scorsese, but their films have achieved a level of worldwide popularity and respect that ranks them among the most successful in their field. Together they have helped to change the face of animation and usher in a whole new era of excitement and experimentation for the medium. Starting in 1986 with the release of "The Great Mouse Detective," they became the first of a new generation of Disney directors to bring their style, sensibilities and humor to animation. Having trained and worked directly with several of Walt Disney's "nine old men," they also became the torchbearers for the art form that the Studio helped to invent and define.

The duo's passion for character animation, experience as animators, superb storytelling skills and enormous senses of humor have established them as two of today's animation superstars.

Musker attributes his successful partnership with Clements to the fact that "we're both relatively agreeable Midwestern types and we each have slightly different strengths and approaches. Ron is more structure-oriented and makes sure that the overall story doesn't disintegrate during the course of too many rewrites. I tend to be more concerned with specific details and gags. We constantly go over each other's scenes and drafts and add new ideas and suggestions in the process."

Detailing their approach to screenwriting, Clements explains, "We have a certain process when we write a script. We start out talking a lot about it. Then John goes off and does almost a stream-of-consciousness kind of approach where he just fills pages and pages with lines of dialogue and ideas for the film."

Musker adds, "In the beginning, I'm not too concerned with how everything is going to fit together. It's more like improvisation on paper. When I'm through, Ron starts writing the script a bit more methodically and puts in a lot of his own stuff and changes other things. He ends up with a rough draft of the script. Then I do notes and re-write over what he's written. It goes back and forth sort of like a tennis game."

As directors they jointly oversee the storyboard sessions, working with the head of story and the story team to stage the scenes and create a workbook outline of the entire film. They also work as a team to develop the characters, record all the voice actors and in the editing room with the editor to shape the film and perfect its timing.

In terms of dividing up specific scenes, Musker tends to handle the action oriented ones (like the Hydra battle) while Clements often takes on those that are more character driven (e.g. Herc's arrival in Thebes). Song sequences are divided up evenly and both contribute equally to the film's overall comedic tone.

After working as closely as they have for all these years, the filmmakers admit they tend to think along the same wavelength and share similar tastes and ideas. There is even a tendency to finish each other's sentences without being aware they're doing it. Yet, they also have their individual strengths and weaknesses which help to make their films as good as they are.

Says Clements, "We argue occasionally and John will either talk me into something or I will talk him around to my point of view. We always feel that we're trying to make the same movie. If we do disagree, it's more about how we're going to do something, as opposed to what we're doing."

With four features to their credit, one thing is certain; you can't argue with their tremendous talent and their unique ability to tell a story in animation with heart and humor.


When you think of a film set in Greece and focusing on the legendary gods of Mount Olympus, you might expect the music to feature bouzoukis, lyres and other Greek instrumentation. But like just about everything else in "Hercules," Musker & Clements opted for the road less traveled and came up with some inventive and offbeat ideas for the film's music as well. To help them in their efforts, they turned to eight-time Oscar®-winning composer Alan Menken, with whom they had worked so successfully in the past on "The Little Mermaid" and "Aladdin."

For this project, Menken joined creative forces with Tony Award-winning lyricist David Zippel, who provided wit, irreverence and emotion with his clever words for the songs. Menken and Zippel have been friends for over 16 years and even wrote a few songs together in the early '80s. They had been wanting to collaborate on a musical for some time and this film gave them the perfect opportunity.

The basic idea to infuse the songs in "Hercules" with gospel style overtones came from John Musker. He explains, "Gospel is a storytelling kind of music which is often associated with hope, idealism and larger-than-life events. It can be exhilarating, especially when it gets everybody on their feet. From the beginning, we were looking for a contemporary equivalent for the Greek references that would add an aspect of fun to the film and this style of music seemed to be entertaining and a real departure at the same time.

"As we were researching the story and learning about all the gods and goddesses, we came across the Muses, who were the goddesses of the arts," continues Musker. "When you're doing a musical about Greece, it seemed like the Muses should be in there. We thought they would be a great storytelling device -- our own version of a Greek chorus. And gospel music with some rhythm and blues and pop influences seemed to be the perfect kind of music for our Muses because their traditional role is to tell of the god's heroic accounts."

Clements says, "We really wanted to work with Alan again. There is something about his music and melodies that we really gravitated toward. He always brings lots of enthusiasm to these projects and is great to work with. Alan has an innate gift for writing melodies that really catch your ear. You hear them once or twice and they stay with you. And that's something many composers can't do."

Musker adds, "We wanted a lyricist who could be funny and sharp and smart and David Zippel fit that bill in every way. We had just seen 'City of Angels' and we felt he brought a real sense of '40s sassiness and hipness to it which were the same sensibilities we wanted for 'Hercules.'"

As he's done so successfully in the past, Menken's work blends together a variety of musical styles to create a melodically impressive and unique pastiche.

The film opens with a rousing and energetic gospel style song called appropriately enough "The Gospel Truth," which is spiritedly sung by the Muses. Menken says, "One of the first rules of a musical is that you have to open with a song that sets the tone and establishes that this is a musical. The Muses are just pure fun and they work effortlessly in the film. For this song we wanted something a la 'Dream Girls,' kind of Motown and a bit sexy. The song explodes into the chorus and it is very entertaining."

Zippel adds, "'The Gospel Truth' is our introduction to Zeus, Hercules and history. It sets the tone for the film because it introduces the Muses as well. This song immediately gives the audience a sense of the film's humor and style and our approach to telling the story."

The song, "Go the Distance," is sung by teenage Hercules (singing voice of Roger Bart) as he musically expresses his heartfelt desire and determination to find his place in life. More than any of the other songs, this one emerges as an anthem for the film and captures the emotion and motivation for Hercules' quest. The song is heard again over the film's end credits where it is soulfully sung by Grammy-winning recording artist Michael Bolton.

"'Go the Distance' is an extremely important theme for the film, both musically and lyrically," explains Menken. "It began as a heroic fanfare I was writing for the main title and I suggested that we construct a song out of it. It was a hard song to write because it was a real balancing act to bring together the grandness of this melody and still make it kind of intimate. We wanted it to be very accessible and hold you as it builds up to this big release about wanting to 'go the distance.' It is really very exhilarating and filled with emotion. David and I are particularly proud of this effort."

Demonstrating their versatility and talent, the songwriters switched from gospel and R&B to a bouncy Vaudeville style for the tune "One Last Hope," delightfully delivered by a skeptical satyr named Phil (Danny DeVito). In this song, a "satyr-but-wiser" Phil tells of his previous disappointments and guarded optimism about his latest hero-in-training.

"This song gave us a chance to get into another style completely," says Menken. "We were looking for our big comedic production number -- a real Broadway-style tune in the tradition of 'You've Gotta Have Heart' or the kind of songs that Frank Loesser used to write. Danny is not an experienced musical theater performer but he ended up giving a real musical theater performance. He really got it. At first, he was singing it too much, so I told him to think of Jimmy Durante -- the way he would half speak his songs -- and then it came out sounding like Danny DeVito singing. It was great. This song also served an important story point because it shows Hercules mature from an awkward kid into a disciplined and muscular adult."

The Muses return to sing Hercules' praises in the gospel-tinged tune, "Zero to Hero." Accompanied by some inventive and quick-paced cutting, this witty ditty offers some insightful comments about becoming an instant celebrity.

"'Zero to Hero' was the first song we wrote," recalls Menken. "It's as close to rock and roll as I've gotten at Disney. It's a big production number and one of the best I've ever been involved with. It's just sensational the way the Muses are trading off lead vocals and then singing background. Working with Lillias (White) and the other vocalists has been one of the most pleasing assignments that I've had on any of my film projects. They put lots of work into honing their vocals and really making this something very special."

The beautiful Meg takes the musical spotlight on a song called "I Won't Say," in which she finally begins to realize that she's falling for Herc but isn't ready to admit it to herself. Complete with musical backings by the Muses, this song captures Meg's mixed emotions as she attempts to come to grips with what she is feeling. For this song, Menken incorporated a late '50s, early '60s girl group sound (think Leslie Gore, Carole King) which gave it a distinctive flavor all its own.

"It's a love song with a sense of humor," says Zippel. "It's the classic love song of 'I'm not in love' and we know she really is. Susan Egan is an extraordinary actress who really understands her character. She has an edge and yet she's likable at the same time. Susan really delivered the goods."

Rounding out the musical bill is a knock-out gospel flavored finale, "A Star is Born," which is sung in high style by the Muses as they testify to Herc's status as a true hero. Menken notes, "It's an explosion of joy which is very much in the gospel response song tradition. It's unusual to introduce a new song at the very end of the film, but this one really works well and is a celebration of the fact that anyone can be a true hero if they make the effort."

Zippel sums up his experience on "Hercules" in this way: "I think animated musicals are as close as movies get to Broadway shows. You want to create characters that sing and speak in the same voice. It's very much about story and keeping the drama going through the songs. Broadway was a great training ground for working on animated features. And collaborating with Alan, John & Ron has been an absolute pleasure."


Just as Hercules had to "go the distance" to find himself, the animators working on "Hercules" had to embark on a personal journey of their own to create the style and personalities of the film's extraordinary cast of characters. Gerald Scarfe's extreme designs offered additional challenges to the usual process of creating a performance and forced them to explore new and rewarding ways to animate the characters.

For Andreas Deja, one of his generation's superstar animators and a 17-year Disney veteran who has supervised such memorable villains as Gaston, Jafar and Scar, the assignment of overseeing the heroic lead was a welcome and challenging departure.

"For me, it's more difficult to animate a hero than a villain because they're more subtle," observes Deja. "Villains usually have broad mannerisms and their expressions are juicier. Animating Hercules presented a totally different set of challenges. He starts out very innocent and naive but at the end of the film he emerges very confident as a result of all he's been through. These attitudes are reflected in the way he walks and in other body language. Although physically he has some similarities to Gaston, their personalities are entirely different and my experience on 'Beauty' allowed me to do a better job animating Hercules.

"Hercules is probably the most difficult character that I've ever had to draw because his muscles and much of his anatomy are visible. Usually a character has a shirt or a coat to hide these things but with Hercules you couldn't cheat. You had to know how the knee works and what the muscles in the arm look like when they turn. Live action reference was helpful up to a point but because the character is so stylized, you end up closing your eyes and trying to figure out how does a Greek god do this. A lot of inspiration comes from the voice and, for this character, Tate Donovan was a terrific springboard. He had a very positive, bouncy quality to his performance and he provided a nice honest charm without being too cute or saccharine."

According to Deja, "To be a good animator, you have to be a good performer. That is really more important than the drawing. If you just draw well and you know how to draw Disney characters, it doesn't make you a good animator. You have to give these things a soul, which is easy to say and very difficult to do. Moving things around and knowing animation rules isn't enough. The thing you have to do is really dig very deeply into the character and analyze him or her. And also be clever about it at the same time."

As for the film's unique style, Deja says, "When I first came on the movie, Gerald had done a few drawings and I thought, 'my God, this stuff is wonderful and wild but how am I going to animate it?' 'Where are the joints and how can you make this stuff move in a believable way?' But you just roll up your sleeves and try it. Then you find a middle ground where you have your Disney experience and you take on this new look and it becomes a fun mix. Gerald was a joy to work with because he loved what we did. He had also done some animation in the past so he knew the problems that we were up against."

For Nik Ranieri, a nine-year Disney veteran whose credits include supervising Lumiere and Meeko, the assignment to animate Hades was a dream come true.

"We've never really had a villain like Hades before," observes Ranieri, "which is what really appealed to me about the character. Unlike some of our other villains who are brooding or mysterious, Hades is very charismatic and outgoing; sort of in your face. On the one hand, he's trying to be your best friend and schmooze you because he knows you can catch more flies with honey. But he also has an ulterior motive that he's not showing. We envisioned him as a fast-talking Hollywood dealmaker or a used car salesman, dangling a carrot on a stick to get people to do certain things. That sort of false face is fascinating but it also is the worst kind of evil because you don't recognize it until the end."

Ranieri drew inspiration from Scarfe's many concept drawings and worked with the production designer and the directors to give the character a look all his own. But it wasn't until James Woods was cast to do the voice that the character's personality truly emerged.

"James Woods was amazing to work with and really helped to make Hades a unique villain," says Ranieri. "At the recording sessions, he was so lively and he gave us so much to work with. He'd be dancing around and wanting to try each line lots of different ways. He also ad-libbed a lot and many of those lines ended up in the film. He really made the character come alive and gave us ideas we never would have thought to use with a villain. It's an animator's dream to get a great performance on the voice track and with James I could actually hear the expressions on the tape. As I would watch him perform, I couldn't wait to get back to my drawing board and try to bring some of his expressions and features to the character. I would push the lips a little bit and make the face a little more gaunt. The pupils got a little bigger and the eyes rounder. Before you knew it, it started to look like him. When he saw the drawings I had done at the next session, he really got jazzed."

Adding to Hades' unique look and personality is his flaming hair which runs the gamut from cool gas-jet blue to fiery red depending on his mood. The actual animation of the hair was handled by the talented team in effects animation with detailed input from Ranieri as to how it should move.

Ken Duncan, the supervising animator in charge of Meg, enjoyed creating the performance and personality for this dynamic and energetic female lead.

"What's nice about Meg is that she's a very strong character with a mind of her own," says Duncan. "She's quick-witted, independent and has a dramatic arc in the film which takes her from being untrusting and hard-edged to being a softer, more open person by the end of the film. Susan Egan was fantastic to work with and her take on the character gave me great ideas as to attitudes, poses and gestures. As an animator, the big payoff is when the audience gets involved with your character and feels the emotions that she is feeling. If they can relate to her, she'll live forever."

In the comic relief department, "Hercules" offers some of Disney's all-time funniest characters. Overseeing the animation of Phil was the incredibly talented Eric Goldberg, who had previously created the Genie character for "Aladdin" and went on to co-direct Disney's "Pocahontas." Between directing gigs, Goldberg welcomed the chance to put pencil to paper once again to create one of Disney's unforgettable characters.

Goldberg notes, "Phil is short, bald, overweight and has a beard, so it's really a stretch for me. I started out drawing Danny DeVito and everybody kept saying, 'Hey, it looks like you.' So there's probably a little bit of both of us in him. The character is very round, pliable and squishy so I thought a lot about Grumpy and Bacchus (from 'Fantasia') as well as the seminal character designs that Gerald provided. Danny's improvisation really helped to make the character come alive as well and provided just the right blend of comedy and emotion that the part called for."

He adds, "John and Ron have taken a canvas that's huge -- Ancient Greece and the gods -- and given it a scope and breadth that makes it magical. One thing that really does make animation magical is when it stops being something that you could see in live-action and goes to the next level. Animation allows us the scope to do things that are larger than life."

Orchestrating the hilarious antics of Hades' sidekicks, Pain and Panic, were animators Brian Ferguson and James Lopez. Inspired by the voices of Bobcat Goldthwait and Matt Frewer, these two first-time supervisors let their imaginations run wild and worked closely to create their characters' intertwined performances. In designing Panic, Ferguson started with the eyes and subsequently came up with the elongated head which best suited the character's cowering "demon-or."

Ellen Woodbury, the supervising animator for Pegasus, drew on her love of horses and experience animating Zazu (the hornbill in "The Lion King") to create Hercules' playful pony pal. She looked at lots of bird footage before deciding to give this big elegant horse the characteristics of a little tweety bird. "He's such a combination of opposites," she says. "Here's this sleek princely character and he turns out to be kind of a goofball jock. Instead of big commanding voice, he comes out with these little chirpy sounds. Pegasus' whole orientation is physical and he just loves to horse around."

For his animation of Baby Hercules, supervising animator Randy Haycock was able to do some important studies close to home with his own newborn, who arrived just in time to serve as a reference model. The animator was also responsible for overseeing Herc's actions as an awkward teen, and for that he drew on his own teenage experience of being tall, skinny and a bit uncoordinated.


For more than a dozen years now, Disney's feature animation team has enlisted the power and technological advantage of computers to help them tell their stories in new and innovative ways. The first real breakthrough for CGI (computer graphics imagery) came with the 1986 Disney animated feature, "The Great Mouse Detective," directed by Musker & Clements. For that film, specially trained artists using the latest technology created the interior clocktower of Big Ben -- a treacherous and complex room filled with 54 moving gears, winches, ratchets, beams and pulleys -- as a backdrop for the climactic confrontation between a mouse sleuth named Basil and his rodent nemesis, Professor Ratigan. The effect was dazzling and dramatic and led to further experimentation with each successive film. Swirling ballrooms ("Beauty and the Beast"), a roller-coaster magic carpet ride through the Cave of Wonders ("Aladdin"), a stampede of wildebeests ("The Lion King") and unprecedented Medieval crowds at a fabulous festival ("The Hunchback of Notre Dame") are some of the wonders created by Disney's CGI team in recent years.

For "Hercules," CGI artistic supervisor Roger Gould undertook the department's most challenging assignment yet -- creating an enormous 30-headed mythical beast that the ancient Greeks called the Hydra. Choreographing the movement of the heads and integrating the action with the hand-drawn characters proved to be a two year long assignment for a team of 15 artists and technicians. The scene itself lasts just under five minutes. Additionally, the CGI team created new morphing programs that allowed painted backgrounds of Olympus to move and animate.

Gould explains, "The computer is really good at animating complex things that would be too time consuming to draw, like thousands of wildebeests. It's also terrific at creating dimensionality and perspective. That's a great place to start, but John and Ron wanted a really loose style of animation with lots of squash and stretch, which is where the computer is historically weak. Our challenge was to bring the Hydra to life, create the dynamic movement of a flying, aerial camera through this living jungle of heads, and still make it look like it belonged in the same world as the hand-drawn characters."

The CGI team also constructed a computerized model of the Hydra that allowed the animators to stretch the eyes, twist the jaw and essentially make the character as loose as if it were hand-drawn. To achieve this level of flexibility for a single-headed Hydra required 1,244 individual animation controls, where each control represents one degree of movement, such as the left/right position of the left pupil, or the forward/back angle of one fin on the Hydra's head. Bringing the 30-headed creature to life necessitated 23,392 custom-designed animation controls.

Gould further explains, "Achieving the looseness of movement was the first step, but then we needed to teach the computer to 'draw' each frame in the hand-drawn style. Normally, three-dimensional animation is rendered by the computer to create highlights and shadows that mimic how light behaves in the real world. But realism is not our goal. For us, the key is a program developed at Disney over the past dozen years, that allows the computer to translate the three-dimensional object into a line drawing. The computer then colors in this 'drawing' with areas of color, just as traditional artwork is colored."

As far as animating the Hydra itself, Gould says, "It's definitely the most complicated character animation we've ever done on the computer. It's really intense because, in some scenes, you're dealing with the equivalent of 30 characters, all of whom have to be carefully choreographed to work together, and still keep the viewer's eye focused on the main action."

The directors wanted to make Olympus, home of the gods, an ever-drifting world made of clouds and where objects and props come to life from the clouds. To help bring this to life, the CGI team worked closely with the Effects and Background departments on a breakthrough morphing technique. Multiple paintings of clouds and cloud-like images were blended together and combined with drawn effects animation using a newly created program. This allowed background paintings to actually transform and animate while every frame still looks as rich and intricate as the original paintings. Examples of this include Baby Herc's cradle and Zeus' reclining chair forming from the clouds.

For Gould, his experience on the film has been a real eye-opener and one that was greatly satisfying. He notes, "The computer is a very versatile tool and we are just beginning to explore its many possibilities. Ultimately, the real power of the computer is that it expands our abilities as filmmakers to tell stories and show audiences things that they have never seen before."


As a long-time fan and admirer of renowned British artist/political cartoonist/designer Gerald Scarfe, John Musker was anxious to work with him and "Hercules" presented the right project at the right time. When Scarfe was called in to contribute some conceptual art and suggestions for character design during the project's formative stages, the filmmakers were so inspired by his work that his role expanded to that of production designer. Over the next three years, Scarfe created literally thousands of drawings (many as large as 3' x 3') and became integrally involved in the production working in concert with the animators, the directors, art director Andy Gaskill, production stylist Sue Nichols and the other artistic supervisors to create one of Disney's most distinctively graphic films of all time.

"After looking at Gerald's art and conception of the characters, we realized that his style complemented some of the Greek vase painting style," recalls Musker. "They both had a strong emphasis on line and shape that was very calligraphic. Gerald described Greek art as a combination of power and elegance. It has this monumental quality, but it also has this very elegant, linear quality that is not unlike his own.

"We also discovered that Gerald's style was perfect for animation," continues Musker. "It's very graspable. His drawings have an innate and anarchic energy that seem to explode off the page. He draws from the shoulder with big swoops, so there are these big, strong shapes which have a bold and immediate impact."

Working from Scarfe's initial character designs and bringing his own artistic talents to the process, Gaskill began to adapt the artist's style to other aspects of the production including layout and background.

Gaskill explains, "One of the characteristic things about Scarfe's drawings is a sort of spikiness or swoopiness. His characters are so sharp, you could cut yourself on them. We began to incorporate the sharp pointy design element -- we call them Scarfy shapes -- into our layout and backgrounds. Even the clouds have spikes on them instead of being the soft amorphous objects you would normally expect. The result is a more fantastic and exaggerated look than we've ever done before, which can be quite humorous or sinister depending on how its used."

Scarfe himself was thrilled and flattered to work on the project. It also happened to involve three of his greatest passions: Disney animation, Greek art and mythology. As he got more and more involved in the collaborative process, his enthusiasm and excitement mounted and he expressed to the directors his desire to have a hand in designing every character from the leads down to the people in the square in Thebes.

"Hercules is a marvelous subject," says Scarfe. "It deals with mythological subjects, not real Earth bound people, so it provides a great scope for letting your imagination fly. None of us know what Mount Olympus or the Underworld look like so it gives you a lot of room to be creative. Ron and John wrote a brilliant script which immediately triggered great images in my mind.

"One of the first things I did after I read the script was to go to the British Museum and start looking at the Greek vases," recalls Scarfe. "They've got all these amazing drawings of Hercules and other characters and they're done with a beautiful, elegant, economic flowing line -- a serpentine line. John, Ron and Andy all had the same vision and our code words became 'strength with elegance.'"

He continues, "My approach to designing the characters was to do everything instinctively. I would think, 'What does this character look and feel like?' and 'What should he or she be doing?' I would act and become the character, rather like the animators do. I wanted to feel what they felt and let it emotionally come onto the paper without kind of working it out too intellectually. The trick is to grab them quickly and slam them onto paper as fast as possible because ideas are a bit like dreams. After working on the character designs for about a year on my own, it came time to turn 'my babies' over to the animators. They looked after them brilliantly and brought them up and gave them life."

To help get the animators accustomed to his style, Scarfe met with them at a retreat early in the production and spent time with each of the supervisors. He would draw over their drawings and make suggestions as to how best to incorporate his style into their animation. The collaboration continued throughout the film with occasional visits and through the miracles of modern technology (faxes, satellites, etc.).

"One of my big efforts was to try and get a kind of style running through the entire movie," adds Scarfe. "I wanted to maintain that world as much as possible. I worked with the background department to help them get the same shape and simplicity into their paintings and I spent time with the clean-up team and did some drawings for them to get them on the same page."

In his role as art director, it was Andy Gaskill's job to make sure that the film had a unified look and that all the various elements worked together as a whole. In the early stages of visual development, he took actual pages of the script and began illustrating them with rough images to suggest layout and color possibilities. This jump started the creative process and proved to be a tremendous help in getting the production ready for storyboarding and animation.

Among his duties, Gaskill was responsible for guiding the lighting and color aspects of the film. "As a rule, we used a lot of theatrical or stage lighting throughout the picture," he notes. "We were able to change the lighting dramatically to suit the moment. If we needed a light we would turn it on and it could be whatever color it needed to be. Animation is very similar to stage lighting in that respect because the audience accepts it without explanation."

As for color, Gaskill and the creative team pulled back from their original concept of bright, bouncy backgrounds so as not to upstage the characters. Instead, they saved their bounciest and most color-saturated moments for the songs as in "Zero to Hero," where outrageous and preposterous colors are used with wild abandon. That colorful sequence also integrates elements of Greek design motifs and decorative arts, including the classic Greek key and images of waves.

Tom Cardone, who served as the film's artistic supervisor for backgrounds, was a key player in determining the color palette. He explains, "This film is quite varied in terms of environment and emotion and we tried to discover ways of showing that through the color. For the opening party on Mount Olympus, we used colors that were happy and light; lots of violets and pinks with a deep blue sky. The 'Big Olive,' on the other hand, is a gray place that is supposed to be dirty and weathered after all the catastrophes. Hades' Underworld headquarters is primarily a black-and-white environment where the only real color you see is the flame of his hair. The Armageddon sequence starts with a warm green sky lit by a fire and transforms to deep violets and reds as the action intensifies."

Gaskill concludes, "Scarfe's designs stretched us in ways that were at first difficult and challenging for a lot of people. In the beginning we looked at his drawings and said these are really preposterous. We had never seen anything like them for an animated film. But once the animation started to come back and I saw that his designs were reflected in the work, I knew we had something that broke all the rules and was very special."

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