Computer Animation Production System

The Computer Animation Production System (CAPS) is a proprietary collection of software programs, scanning camera systems, servers, networked computer workstations, and custom desks developed by The Walt Disney Company together with Pixar in the late-1980s. Its purpose was to computerize the ink and paint and post-production processes of traditionally animated feature films produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios.


CAPS in film production

CAPS was the first digital ink and paint system used in animated feature films, designed to replace the expensive process of transferring animated drawings to cels using India ink or xerographic technology, and painting the reverse sides of the cels with gouache paint. Using the CAPS system, enclosed areas and lines could be easily colored in the digital computer environment using an unlimited palette. Transparent shading, blended colors and other sophisticated techniques could be extensively used that were not previously available.

The completed digital cels were composited over scanned background paintings and camera and/or pan movements were programmed into a computer exposure sheet simulating the actions of old style animation cameras. Additionally, complex multiplane shots giving a sense of depth were possible. Unlike the analog multiplane camera, the CAPS multiplane cameras were not limited by artwork size. Extensive camera movements never before seen were incorporated into the films. The final version of the sequence was composited and recorded onto film. Since the animation elements exist digitally, it was easy to integrate other types of film and video elements, including three-dimensional computer animation.

Evolution of the system

The first usage of the CAPS process was Mickey standing on Epcot's Spaceship Earth for "The Magical World of Disney" titles. The system's first feature film use was in the production of The Little Mermaid in 1989; however, the use of the system was limited to the farewell rainbow sequence near the end. The rest of the film used traditional painted cels.[1] Subsequent films were made completely using CAPS; the first of these, The Rescuers Down Under, was the first 100% digital feature film ever produced. Subsequent films, including Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame took more advantage of CAPS' 2D/3D integration. After The Little Matchgirl, the system has never been used again.[2]

Special edition editing

For the Special Edition IMAX and DVD versions of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, and Mulan, new renders of the original elements were done and recorded to alternate master formats. In addition, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King had newly animated sequences added to their special editions, and both of the IMAX editions and Aladdin had significant cleanup/restoration done on the original digital sequence elements to enhance detail, correct mistakes, and solidify clean-up animation and drawing.


In 1992, the team that developed CAPS won an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Scientific and Engineering Award. They were:[3]

  • Randy Cartwright (Disney)
  • David B. Coons (Disney)
  • Lem Davis (Disney)
  • Thomas Hahn (Pixar)
  • James Houston (Disney)
  • Mark Kimball (Disney)
  • Dylan W. Kohler (Disney)
  • Peter Nye (Pixar)
  • Michael Shantzis (Pixar)
  • David F. Wolf (Disney)
  • Walt Disney Feature Animation Department

CAPS was capable of a high level of image quality using significantly slower computer systems than are available today. The final frames were rendered at a 2K digital film resolution (2048 pixels across at a 1.66 aspect ratio), and the artwork was scanned so that it always held 100% resolution in the final output, no matter how complex the camera motion in the shot.

In 2004, Disney Feature Animation management decided that audiences wanted only 3D computer animated features and closed down their traditional 2D animation department. The CAPS desks were removed and the custom automated scanning cameras were dismantled and scrapped. As of 2005, only one desk system remained (and that was only for the purpose of reading the data for the films that were made with this system).

The acquisition of Pixar by Disney in 2006—along with the corresponding influx of artists and management, including Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter—meant that the future of traditional, 2D animation at Disney was subject to change. Pixar prides itself not only on its world-class 3D skills and knowledge, but many of its artists and managers also pay deep homage to traditional, 2D animation, including Lasseter himself, who had experience as a Disney animator prior to co-founding Pixar.

Since the merger with Pixar, Disney has finished production on a new 2D animated film, The Princess and the Frog, released in November 2009. As most of CAPS was shut down and dismantled, and based upon now-outdated hardware and software, Disney's latest traditionally animated productions (How to Hook Up Your Home Theater, The Princess and the Frog, and the upcoming Winnie the Pooh) are being produced using Toon Boom Harmony computer software, which offers an updated, more cost-effective digital animation system. The Toon Boom software had been in use by the DisneyToons Studio subsidiary from 1999 onward.[4]


  1. ^ James B. Stewart, DisneyWar: The Battle For the Magic Kingdom, Simon & Schuster, 2005, p. 104.
  2. ^ Walt Disney's The Little Matchgirl
  3. ^ page for the CAPS Sci-Tech Award
  4. ^ (2007). Toon Boom Professional Project List Montreal, Quebec,: Toon Boom Animation.

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