March 30, 1992 – The Walt Disney Feature Animation Department Wins the Academy Award for the Development of CAPS
“[CAPS] gives us not only the opportunity to do some really good art, but it also gives us the opportunity to really begin to explore what these computers and graphics things can do for us in kind of shorter pieces where we can get really a little crazy. And I’m looking forward to all of us getting a little crazy.”- Roy Disney
During the 64th Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles on March 30, 1992, nine men—Randy Cartwright, David B. Coons, Lem Davis, Thomas Hahn, James Houston, Mark Kimball, Peter Nye, Michael Shantzis, and David F. Wolf—shared an Oscar for a technical innovation developed jointly by the Walt Disney Feature Animation Department and Pixar Studios. Known as CAPS, or Computer Animation Production System, this innovation computerized the ink and paint process of animated films. CAPS allowed the artists to assemble the separate pieces of animation, from the background to the special effects, onto the final film directly. CAPS was first used in an animated feature in the final scene of The Little Mermaid, and was fully used in The Rescuers Down Under.
“One of the technology guys, Lem Davis, thought we could use computers to paint the characters in our films and digitally assemble all the artwork,” Don Hahn said about the CAPS project.
Roy Disney, excited about the opportunity CAPS could give the company, asked Frank Wells, President of the Walt Disney Company, for $10 million to spend on the CAPS program, even though the risk was great, and there was no guarantee of return on the investment. The Disney check went to Alvy Ray Smith, the co-founder of Pixar, the best company to work with when bridging the gap between hand-drawn animation and computer technology. Pixar and Disney employees on the project worked around the clock on the program, with mounting deadlines and quotas. Although The Rescuers Down Under was not a huge success, CAPS received widespread critical acclaim on Beauty and the Beast.
“It was just the basis of what was to come in terms of the 3-D animation process. It was the engine that drove everything else forward,” former chairman Peter Schneider has said about the use of CAPS.