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10 Facts About Disney’s The Hunchback Of Notre Dame

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Lust, racism, and religious bigotry aren’t topics that are usually broached in family films. Which may explain why Disney’s 1996 take on The Hunchback of Notre Dame didn’t make much of a splash at the box office. Despite this underwhelming response, the movie has since found its audience and now commands a loyal fan base.

1. FROLLO’S JOB WAS CHANGED TO AVOID OFFENDING RELIGIOUS GROUPS.

In the original Victor Hugo novel, Claude Frollo is Notre Dame’s Archdeacon. However, Disney feared that an evil priest wouldn’t sit well with Christian organizations. As such, Frollo was transformed into a judge. Furthermore, the plot’s theological underpinnings were downplayed. “[We] were told not to make the movie too religious—a pretty daunting task when you consider how much of this story takes place inside a big church,” animator Floyd Norman later said. Still, some Bible references couldn’t be avoided. Consider this: The Hunchback of Notre Dame was Disney’s 34th full-length animated feature. Just two of the film's songs—“God Help the Outcasts” and “Heaven’s Light/Hellfire”—contain more references to the words “Lord” and “God” than all 33 of Disney's previous films combined.

2. “THE BELLS OF NOTRE DAME” WAS A LATE ADDITION TO THE SCORE.

The opening number can make or break a musical. Usually, it’s the song that both captures an audience's attention and sets up the story. Yet, surprisingly, Hunchback almost didn’t get one. The original plan was to start the film with spoken exposition and a flashback montage. However, this didn’t satisfy production boss Jeffrey Katzenberg. Feeling that something was missing, he asked lyricist Stephen Schwartz and composer Alan Menken to create a new song for the sequence. Singing duty mostly went to Clopin, a theatrical Gypsy voiced by Paul Kandel, who recalls that “we were about a third of the way through the process of making [Hunchback]” when this ballad was completed."

3. THOSE SINGING GARGOYLES WERE INSPIRED BY THE NOVEL.

Quasimodo’s on-screen sidekicks are three wise-cracking statues named Victor, Hugo, and Laverne. Where did Disney get such a wild idea? From the source material. In the Hunchback novel, our lonesome protagonist often talks to the cathedral’s gargoyles. “He sometimes passed whole hours crouching before one of these statues, in solitary conversation with it” reads Chapter III. To create some comic relief, directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale simply expanded upon this concept.

4. QUASIMODO COULD’VE BEEN VOICED BY MANDY PATINKIN.

In The Princess Bride (1987), Patinkin took a stab at movie immortality by playing sword maestro Inigo Montoya. Several years later, Disney offered him a very different role. After Patinkin left the medical drama Chicago Hope, the studio asked if he’d consider voicing Quasimodo. He immediately said yes, but soon ran into trouble. Hunchback had already been converted into several live-action movies—including a 1939 classic starring Charles Laughton as Quasimodo. Since Laughton is Patinkin’s favorite actor, he wanted to emulate that performance. But the producers insisted on a friendlier bell-ringer. “They had their own Disney needs,” Patinkin told the Los Angeles Times. In the end, Quasimodo was voiced by Academy Award nominee Tom Hulce.

5. SOME SCENES WERE ENHANCED WITH COMPUTER-GENERATED TOWNSPEOPLE.

Back in the mid-1990s, hand-drawn animation was still Disney’s favorite technique. Nevertheless, the studio had been integrating computer effects into their feature films ever since 1986’s The Great Mouse Detective. For Hunchback, a special program was used to generate large crowds of people. Both the Feast of Fools scene and the climax are riddled with digital Parisians. Six different body types (male and female) were created in order to pull this off. Each individual bystander was given a unique set of motion instructions. These were randomly drawn from a set of 72 predetermined movements such as clapping and jumping.

6. “HELLFIRE” WAS MODELED AFTER AN ITALIAN OPERA SONG.

Composed by Giacomo Puccini between 1899 and 1900, Tosca is now one of the world’s most popular operas. Act I ends with a song that’s guaranteed to give goosebumps. Called “Te Deum,” it belongs to the villain, Scarpia, who sings about his diabolical plans with a chorus of churchgoers. Almost a century later, Disney gave us the equally unforgettable “Hellfire”—Frollo’s epic solo. “Te Deum” was the song’s main source of creative inspiration.

7. DISNEY ASSUMED THAT THE FILM WOULD GET A PG RATING.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame deals with very taboo subjects, from sexual fantasies to eternal damnation. (There’s also scene where the female lead pole dances.) Naturally, Disney executives didn’t think that the MPAA ratings board would apply their “general admission” stamp. Screenwriter Tab Murphy “fully expected it to get a PG.” As he told the Chicago Tribune, “It felt like a PG movie to everyone, including everybody who signed off on it, from Michael Eisner to Roy Disney.” News of the board’s decision to rate it G was met with widespread disbelief. “Maybe it was the gargoyles,” Murphy suggested.

8. VICTOR HUGO’S DESCENDANTS HATED IT.

Released on June 21, 1996, The Hunchback of Notre Dame garnered considerable criticism from Hugo scholars—as well as from Hugo's family. In an open letter to the French newspaper Liberation, the author’s great-great grandchildren—Charles, Jeanne, Sophie, Adele, and Leopoldine Hugo—dismissed the movie as “vulgar commercialization by unscrupulous men.” A particular bone of contention was Hunchback’s aggressive marketing campaign. “[The] story used in this film is borrowed from the work of Victor Hugo,” they noted, “but his name is not even mentioned on the posters that now cover the planet.”

9. JASON ALEXANDER WOULDN’T LET HIS OWN SON SEE THE MOVIE.

Hunchback may have defied the odds and nabbed that G rating, but many parents still chose to keep their little ones away. Among them was Alexander, who voiced Hugo the gargoyle. “Disney would have us believe this movie’s like the Ringling Bros., for children of all ages,” said the Seinfeld star. “But I won’t be taking my four year-old. I won’t expose him to it, not for another year.”

10. BELLE FROM BEAUTY AND THE BEAST MAKES A CAMEO.

Keep your eyes peeled: When Quasimodo sings “Out There,” Belle can be seen wandering through the streets of Paris—and, true to form, she’s got her nose stuck in a book. Look carefully and you’ll also spot a peasant shaking out Aladdin’s magic carpet during the same sequence.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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