When long, golden tresses are your only means of escaping a prison tower, eluding an abusive mother and rescuing the handsome thief who has promised to take you on your first road trip, a bad hair day is not an option. To ensure that Rapunzel never split an end in the new film “Tangled,” Walt Disney Animation Studios unleashed a small army of digital stylists -- a team of more than 30 animators and software engineers -- that Vidal Sassoon himself would envy.
When it comes to computer generated animation, hair is, well, hairy. Computers have trouble when objects collide, and Rapunzel's hair is made up of more than 100,000 objects (i.e. strands) that bump into one another, sweep over her shoulders, slide across the ground and crash into other characters in moments of both embrace and defense. As character-generated animated characters go, Rapunzel is Mt. Everest, and "Tangled" a sign of how high the medium has climbed since shiny, hairless toy characters populated the original "Toy Story" in 1995. "This is a progression of the art form," says Jerry Beck, animation historian and editor of the site Cartoon Brew. "The difference with 'Tangled' is that the hair is a character unto itself."
Long hair is costly in terms of computing power and technicians’ time, which is why most female CG characters wear their hair in a bob or a Lara Croft-style braid. In the case of “Tangled,” a wash-and-go 'do was out of the question. Rapunzel’s famously magical hair had to remind the audience of the character’s vast, untapped potential.