Here's Walt Disney to Explain the Amazing Multiplane Camera

Disney has almost been synonymous with the term animation since the early 20th century, and they've produced some of the most well-known and beloved works in cinema history. Beyond their fantastic ability to tell stories that resonate with people of all different ages, the technical proficiency of Disney's hand-drawn animations was a step above most of the industry. Part of that was due to the invention of the Multiplane Camera, which literally gave 2D animations a third dimension, and in the process, brought them to life.

Here is Walt Disney himself in 1957 to explain the camera:

While this wasn't the first multiplane camera, it allowed for far more complex movements (from Wikipedia):

The most famous multiplane camera was invented by William Garity for the Walt Disney Studios to be used in the production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.[3] The camera was completed in early 1937 and tested in a Silly Symphony called The Old Mill, which won the 1937 Academy Award for Animated Short Film.[4] Disney's multiplane camera, which used up to seven layers of artwork (painted in oils on glass) shot under a vertical and moveable camera,[3] allowed for more sophisticated uses than the Iwerks or Fleischer versions, and was used prominently in Disney films such as PinocchioFantasiaBambi, and Peter Pan.

You can see more examples of the multiplane camera in use in Disney productions in this video (which is only available to watch on YouTube):

Video is no longer available:

This camera became obsolete as computer-assisted animation and computer-generated animation became more prevalent, and the last Disney film to use the technique in any significant way was The Little Mermaid. The natural progression of these ideas is actually replicating what a real camera can do in the virtual space, as seen with a film like Pixar's Wall-E and its use of anamorphic "lenses" to give a distinct feel to the images. The opening of the film actually feels like an homage to those earlier Disney films, before moving into the anamorphic look (as a side note, cinematographer Roger Deakins was a visual consultant on the project):

For more on the Multiplane Camera, check out the link below.

Link: Multiplane Camera -- Wikipedia

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I love this clip because I've spent the last 7 years working on a film using exactly this method of animation but with photographs from space:

I fell in love with style of animation as a kid and always been interested in various forms of animation. When I was trying to figure out how to make motion picture images using just photographs, I eventually realized I could adapt multiplane animation to make it work assuming I could find enough photographic data for the needed planes (since I'm not drawing or photoshopping etc.).

It's really a brilliant technique and I still prefer this still of animation over the modern 3D Pixar style.

August 10, 2014 at 6:30AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


On a side note, It's incredible how similar Bioshock's Andrew Ryan character is to Walt Disney in this clip (and Rapture to EPCOT).

August 10, 2014 at 9:59AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


If you're ever in San Francisco, a visit to the Walt Disney Family Museum is well worth it. They have the multi-plane camera on display there. It's a massive two story contraption with hot tungsten lights for each of the levels. A true innovation of its time.

August 10, 2014 at 10:35AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Kurt Fillmore

Now Adobe After-Effects does it all! This incredible Walt Disney's tool is available for all - Viva computers :)

August 10, 2014 at 11:46AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Gul Ramani

Holy schnikes, Walt invented the After Effects Camera!

August 10, 2014 at 11:48AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


Walt may have invented the multi-plane camera but computers make it possible for everyone to use it. btw After-effects can do much much more than simulating multi-plane camera.

August 11, 2014 at 1:08PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Gul Ramani

The one used to shoot Snow White (among others) is in the lobby of one of the Animation buildings here on the Disney lot in Burbank.
It's pretty darned impressive and you can even stick your head in and look down from the camera's perspective.
Quite something.

August 10, 2014 at 8:49PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Christopher Sco...

Good Lord, I miss the old timey 2D cartoons.

August 11, 2014 at 2:38AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM


And that's how you stumble over an answer.......

I always wondered why in the old cartoons the backgrounds had such a distinct desat look from the characters or objects being interacted with. It was simply a matter of material being used :D

August 12, 2014 at 7:16AM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM

Torben Greve

I love posts like these. And oddly enough, it helps me understand how to better use the After Effects camera, as others have mentioned!

August 13, 2014 at 7:18PM, Edited September 4, 8:56AM