On this day in 1997, Hercules was released in theaters, merging Greek mythology and Gospel music. Hercules has become a cult classic in the 21 (yes, 21) years since then. Animators often use live-action reference models during their process to help their characters and the scenes they’re working on look as true to life as possible. This was the case during the production of Hercules. Check out this video that splices behind-the-scenes footage of dancers performing the exact choreography that we’ve all seen the Muses do in the film during “Zero to Hero” with storyboard art and footage of the final film, and prepare to be amazed! This is exciting stuff.
We were lucky enough to chat with co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker. Here’s what they had to say about their inspiration for the scene.
John: We were emulating MTV in its heyday and this number was always meant to be this big music video. When we were trying to visualize this I was on a plane, and I was listening to the track and I was watching an NBA highlight reel and hearing the song in my headset and thought, ‘oh we should really do a video where we intercut the great sports exploits of Hercules intercut with a dance number.’ The other really big music video at the time that this was influenced by was C+C Music Factory’s “Things That Make You Go Hmmm.” I had watched that video and broken down how they did it shot by shot, and it was really cool. So we wound up hiring a choreographer, Frank Gatson who choreographed En Vogue videos. So he came in and it was unbelievable. We had a soundstage and even had a crane swooping over the dancers.
Ron: It was the most elaborate video shoot we’ve ever done and I think has ever been done for animation. We do shoot live-action reference, that’s not all that uncommon on all the films we’ve done. But this went beyond. This is something that goes back to Snow White, where they shot live-action reference with Marge Champion a great dancer in the ‘30s. They actually shot her dancing to some of the songs and then the animators looked at that for inspiration. So this goes back to that tradition but on a much crazier scale.
John: This one was cut shot for shot to give animators a better sense of the music video vibe we were trying to get. It was really a lot of fun to do. Kendra Haaland was our associate producer and she became the producer of this shoot. She got everyone lined up from the stage where we shot, to the director of photography, to costumes that matched the designs for the characters. We shot the whole thing and I think it was the most elaborate thing we’ve ever done.
Ron: Mike Show was the key animator on the Muses. So he was there when we shot this, and then looked at it afterwards. Some scenes were storyboarded but whenever we got to the Muses we really wanted something genuinely choreographed.
Thanks so much to Clements and Musker for sitting down to chat about “Zero to Hero!”
Music and lyrics for “Zero to Hero” were written by Alan Menken and David Zippel.