This Is How Disney Animates Hair of All Textures

Disney princesses always have enviable hair. In the transition from hand-drawn to computer-generated animation, that asset remained constant. But the technology animators use to craft these inclusive styles advances with every project. Encanto‘s Madrigal family rocks 12 distinct hair types, far more than ever shown on-screen before. It took lots of discussions and hard work to make this a reality. In this video from Movies Insider, Encanto creatives share the process involved in this important representation of diversity.

From Straight and Blonde to Kinky and Dark

Originally set up to sell hair products, the designation of 12 distinct textures is now used for many purposes. All are represented for the first time in a Disney animated film, according to the Afro Colombian representation consultant who worked on Encanto. As shown in even the first teaser trailer, the Madrigal family is a diverse bunch, from their gifts to skin tones and hair types.

Disney animators created software specifically to deal with Rapunzel’s hair in 2010’s Tangled. Her 70 feet of golden locks would weigh 80 pounds in real life, so the laws of physics had to be broken. Not to mention she used it to open doors and tie people to chairs. For 2021’s Encanto, software engineers advanced and adapted the technology to restore natural behavior to a wide range of animated hair. But there were many steps along the way.

Updating the Algorithm

Animators used the software iGroom to manage short hair and fur for Bolt. In Tangled, they used it to split 140,000 strands of hair into 147 groups, manipulating each separately. No word on how they’ll handle the hair in the live-action version of Rapunzel in development.

Another step in the process was animating braids for Frozen. The more advanced software Tonic manages that while also factoring in the many scenes involving wind and snow. Miraculously, only one hair-related mistake made it into the film. Time to let it go.

Screenshot showing Disney animation of Rapunzel's hair in Tangled

Moana was the next step, adding curlier and darker hair than previous films. Originally Maui was going to be bald, but the Polynesian cultural advisors pointed out the importance of the mythological hero’s hair. Disney recorded movement of real people so that the hair would move realistically in scenes with wind or water. So like the whole movie.

Princess Hair

In the best scene from Ralph Breaks The Internet, the 2D princesses from Disney’s past got their 3D hair makeovers using this same technology.

Jasmine, Cinderella, and Pocahontas show off 3D animated hair in Ralph Breaks The Internet

I still wish my hair looked like Ariel’s. There’s nothing natural about it, but I want mermaid hair nonetheless. And I will continue to covet Disney princess hair as it becomes more and more natural and inclusive.

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. Her hair is 2A (like Bruno, but we don’t have to talk about that). Melissa also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth. 

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