Animated Short 'Duet': Master Animator Glen Keane Googles It

Duet Publicity Still - H 2014
Courtesy of Google ATAP/Glen Keane Productions

Duet Publicity Still - H 2014

This story first appeared in the Dec. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

During his celebrated 38-year career at The Walt Disney Studios, Glen Keane, 60, created such classic characters as Ariel in The Little Mermaid, the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas and Tarzan. But now that Keane, who left the studio in 2012, is on his own, he is branching out beyond the hand-drawn animation on which he built his reputation and is experimenting with innovative forms.

His film Duet, on the shortlist for the best animated short Oscar, combines hand-drawn animation with interactive techniques, blending old and new. A magical look at a boy and a girl whose paths weave together from birth through adulthood, it's a visual poem that can be viewed as a traditional linear story but also as an interactive video via Google Spotlight Stories, available on Moto and, soon, Android phones. Says Keane: "The narrative is the same, but the viewer can choose to follow the boy, girl or pet dog. Ultimately they lead you to the same ending, but there are different paths you can take to get there."

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Duet, which comprises more than 10,000 drawings, was created in an "incredibly creative, tight-knit environment" at Google, says the animator. "Half the room was programmers, and half was the hand-drawn work." Because screens on mobile devices refresh at 60 frames per second, Duet contains 60 new images every second, rather than the 24 fps rate Keane used throughout his Disney career. "But we didn't have to do 60 different drawings for each second of animation," he explains. "For fast action, you could have 60 different drawings, or you could have as few as 12 if you shot each drawing five times. Typically we ended up doing about 30 drawings for a second. I found the slow-motion areas were where I wanted the most drawings. You'd think it's the opposite, but that's really where I wanted the fluidity of motion."

Keane also had to keep in mind that those watching interactively could move in any direction, so he created a 360-degree world. "To animate something where you are giving the audience the camera is really a scary thing. I'm used to controlling composition. You still want to direct where they go, but now it's more coaxing than controlling," he says. "This wasn't like anything I'd ever known as an animator. I want to keep exploring that path."