A work of narrative enchantment, unfolding over one magic-filled evening: The Sleeping Beauty is a cherished masterpiece of classical ballet, sumptuous scenery, and undeniable romance. For the Company's latest creative partner, Steelworks, this posed a perplexing if ultimately inspiring question: how to capture so much, in a short but powerful animation—and to represent this well-known story in a new yet authentic way?
As we approach the return of The Sleeping Beauty to the NYCB stage, we spoke with Steelworks' Chago Venable about the creative process behind their approach to this timeless tale of a curse overcome by love.
Please tell us a little about yourself, and about Steelworks.
My name is Chago Venable and I am an executive producer and lead creative producer at Steelworks. Steelworks is a creative partner for brands and agencies, specializing in CGI, motion, animation, and post-production, and delivering compelling work across industries in the global marketplace. Based in Los Angeles, New York, and London, our team consists of highly-skilled artists, designers, retouchers, and creative producers, all with extensive knowledge and experience in visual effects, innovation, and technology.
Do you have a personal connection to ballet or dance?
My older cousin was a dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for many years before becoming the rehearsal director for their second company. I grew up watching their holiday performances of Revelations and hanging around the studio from time to time, watching rehearsals.
Have you worked with a dance or ballet company before?
No, this is the first dance-inspired animation that we have done at Steelworks. Our team of artists were surprisingly familiar with the story of The Sleeping Beauty and embraced the challenge of developing abstract visuals to communicate the plot in a short CGI animation. We were heavily influenced by the mood and stage design of the ballet, as well as certain key moments of the story itself.
Please share a little about the creative process behind the Sleeping Beauty project.
We broke the ballet down into several key moments that we thought would be particularly visually stimulating and took cues from the ballet’s lush set design—in particular, the color palette of warm pinks, lilacs, yellows, and orange-golds. There were two iconic floral sequences in The Sleeping Beauty that NYCB's Media team highlighted in their initial brief that could be of particular aesthetic inspiration:
In the “Rose Adagio,” each of Princess Aurora’s suitors come to her with a rose. The choreography involves her performing the same steps with each gentleman, as if testing to see which one will be the best dance—and life—partner.
The “Garland Dance” is set to some of the most identifiable music in the ballet, and includes garland motifs and kaleidoscopic patterns.
As we wrote in our case study for this project, by manipulating color and textures through movement, we were able to represent both the good and evil character dichotomy of the storyline, as well as the passage of time. Matching the exquisite essence of the production’s scenery and costume design, we created a colorful floral design strategy; we used lilacs and roses with slightly abstracted colors to align with the palette used in the performance. Viewers will notice botanic butterflies representing the fairies who bestow gifts on the Princess Aurora at her Christening, thorns injecting dark ink representing Carabosse’s poison, as well as the bright, colorful fabric textures at the finish, representing the eventual awakening and wedding of Princess Aurora and the Prince.
Why use CGI for a project like this?
CGI is a powerful and interesting medium for communicating about ballet because it allows for the creation of vivid and dynamic visual representations of movement and dance. With CGI, our artists and animators were able to create reality-based abstractions (inspired by elements from the set design) to interpret key scenes from the performance. CGI opens up new, limitless possibilities for exploring the art of ballet in ways that would be difficult or time-consuming to achieve with other, traditional forms of animation. Using CGI, we were able to quickly experiment with different types of lighting, camera angles, materials, and textures, allowing for greater emphasis on storytelling through dynamic, emotionally impactful imagery.