– Here’s a good example of something you won’t see animated in cgi. This is an ice skating cycle out of a Popeye cartoon, Seasin’s Greetinks!. It’s, of course, on the Popeye dvd, and is animated by Roland Crandall and Seymour Kneitel.
These Fleischer cartoons are so original in their jokes that there’s always a surprise or ten in every scene. The twists and turns are designed only to get laughs; I can give you a dozen examples from this short alone, but I’ll just recommend you watch the film.
It’s not just the stories that take odd spins, it’s the animation as well. There are bits that move in their own idiosyncratic way that are designed purely for laughs. Eccentric movements that would rarely show up in a Disney film dominate these Fleischer shorts.
Check out this cycle. Every eighth drawing is completely off the book. It gives the cycle a hilarious turn and completely dominates the move. It’s probably not the best way to build character (unless, perhaps, only one character moves like this), but it sure makes for some funny animation.
The thing about these Fleischer films is that it moves this way all the time. There’s always something about to take you for an odd turn, and while you’re looking for the big move, you’re just buying these small ones. The effect is cumulative, and the animation in these Fleischer films is just plain wacky.
A cgi animator doesn’t look for the odd twist in every frame. They can, but it wouldn’t make sense to be doing it that way, especially when the goal is to make the animation fluid in the final. The animation is too based on real life, as the computer sees it, and the individual frames don’t exist in the same way they do in 2D paper animation. There’s more risk in the 2D mode, but the reward can also be more ingenious and gratifying.
But what do I know? I don’t animate with cgi, and I’m just making a supposition based on what I’ve seen so far. Everything’s possible, but it sure doesn’t seem probable from my seat.
Having said that, let me also say that there aren’t too many animators doing 2D animation like this anymore. Maybe that’s the complaint I really have. Invention and daring in our medium seems to be a thing of the past.
- In November 2006 I posted the storyboard, workbook and final layouts for a Jax Beer spot which was directed by Mordicai Gerstein. I thought it interesting enough to recap the two posts, so here they are.
This spot was directed by Mordi (Mordicai) Gerstein. He left animation in th 70′s to write & illustrate children’s books. (He won the Caldecott Medal for his book, The Man Who Walked Between The Towers. This was the book I adapted to animation in 2005.)
What follows is the storyboard and the director’s workbook. (It appears to be an agency board, though it’s drawn in a style that looks to be Mordi Gerstein‘s. Perhaps boards from the agency were drawn by the studios back in 1964; I’m not sure. The layouts were drawn by the same artist.)
The workbook has several flaps on it that indicate changes in timings. There are also glue stains where I assume other flaps fell off. (See page one, last row, first column.) Each column represents 16 frames/one foot of film. Odd numbers are marked off.
Each row contains 8 feet of film/128 frames. Each page represents 32 feet/512 frames. It would have been smarter to keep to even numbers.
More modern exposure sheets generally have 80 frames/five feet per page. This also divides into two feet of 16mm film. (Handy.) The numbers add and divide smartly and easily. But then most people don’t use exposure sheets anymore.
The art was done by Mordi (Mordicai) Gerstein, who also directed the spot. Grim Natwick animated the spot and Tissa David assisted him. Of course, this was in the days before auido tapes could be handed out, so the animator would get a phonograph of the soundtrack. They could mark it with a white pencil to indicate key spots.
I thought that this in conjunction with yesterday’s prep material gave a good indication of the preproduction that went into making a commercial back in 1962.
That said, here are the layouts:
– Retta Scott‘s name was always an intriguing one for me.
She was an animator on Bambi, Dumbo and Plague Dogs. She was layed off at Disney’s when they hit a slump in 1941 but came back to do a number of Little Golden Books for Disney. The most famous of her books was her version of Cinderella, one which was so successful that it remains in print today as a big Little Golden Book.
When asked why females weren’t animators at the studio, the Nine Old Men who traveled the circuit, back in the 1970′s, often mentioned her. They usually also said that she was one of the
most forceful artists at the studio, but her timing always needed some help (meaning from a man.) Ms. Scott was known predominantly for her animation in Bambi. Specifically, she’s credited with the sequence where the hunter’s dogs chase Faline to the cliff wall and Bambi is forced to fight them off.
The scene is beautifully staged and, indeed, is forceful in its violent, yet smooth, movement. I was a young student of animation, so this sequence had a long and lasting impression on me.
Here are some of her illustrations for Cinderella published in 1950 to tie in with the Disney film. Oddly, the illustrations don’t completely look like the film’s characters. The cat and mice are close, but Cinderella, herself, is very different, less realistic. She looks more like a Mary Blair creation. When I was young, I was convinced that these were preproduction illustrations done for the film. If only.
I won’t post all the illustrations of the book; I want to give an indication of her work, and I think this should be enough to do that.
(Click any image to enlarge.)
I’ve written two posts about Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston‘s book, The Illusion of Life the last couple of weeks. I came to the book only recently and realizing that I’d never really read the book, I thought it was time. So in doing so, I’ve found that I have a lot to write about. The book has come to be accepted almost as gospel, and I decided to give my thoughts.
There were two major complaints I’ve had with what I’ve read in their book so far, and I spent quite a bit of time reviewing those.
- First out of the box, I was stunned to read that these two of Disney’s “nine old men” said that they’d originally believed that each prime animator should control one, maybe two characters in the film. Then, later in life they decided that an animator should do an entire scene with all of the characters within it. This is not what I’d seen the two (or the nine) do in actual practice. post 1
Secondly, they argue for animating in a rough format, and they give solid reasons for this. As a matter of fact, it was Disney, himself, in the Thirties who demanded the animators work rough and solid assistants who could draw well back them up. Then much later in the book the two author/animators suggest that it’s better for an animator to work as clean as possible with assistants just doing touch-up. This helped out the Xerox process, but didn’t necessarily help for good animation. post 2
The book starts out sounding like it’s going to be a history of Disney animation, but then starts getting into the rules of animation (squash and stretch, overlapping action and anticipation and all those other goodies) exploiting Disney animation art in demonstration. Soon the book moved into storytelling and how to try to keep the material fresh and interesting. It all becomes a bit obvious, but you keep hoping that some great secret will be revealed by the two masterful oldsters.
They do go into depth about how to develop characters when making animated films. They offer lots of examples from Orville, the albatross in The Rescuers to the three fairies in Sleeping Beauty, but their greatest attention goes to Baloo the Bear in The Jungle Book. They were having a hard time with this guy; they had been trying to do an Ed Wynn type character, until Walt Disney, himself, suggested Phil Harris. Once they auditioned Harris, they knew they were on the right track, and the character kept grabbing more screen time and grew ever larger. In the end, audiences just loved him.
Personally, I’ve always hated Phil Harris’ performance in this film. What was it doing in Rudyard Kipling’s book? When I was a kid, Harris and Louis Prima were the perfect examples of my father’s entertainers. He loved these guys and spent a lot of time in front of the family TV watching the Dinah Shore Show______Tom Oreb designs for Sleeping Beauty.
and other such entertaining Variety Shows with
lots of little 50′s big-band jazz-type acts. I hated it; this was my parent’s kind of music and humor and had nothing to do with me. I was the kid who paid his quarter to see the Walt Disney movies (that was the children’s price of admission in 1959.)
In their book they say they knew he was perfect because generations of kids later (who have no idea who Phil Harris was) still take joy from Baloo. What they forgot is what I knew all along. This was The Jungle Book. If they had been truly creative, they would have developed a character in line with Kipling’s material that would have been an original, not an impersonation of Doobey Doobey Doo, Phil Harris. The same is true of Louis Prima as a monkey. (There was a time when Disney said that they should never animate monkeys because monkeys are funny on their own, in real life. Animation wouldn’t make them funnier.) Sebastian Cabot, as Bagheera, works as does George Sanders as Shere Khan.
- Right: A discarded sequence from Robin Hood showed a messenger pigeon so fat and heavy he had to be shot into the air. This gave the animators the beginnings of The Albatross Air Lines in The Rescuers.
Phil Harris was so successful, they dragged him into Robin Hood as well. Robin Hood. The very same character from The Jungle Book is now Little John! All those cowboy voices in Robin Hood don’t work either, especially when you mix them up with Brits like Peter Ustinov and Brian Bedford. When these two thespians work against Pat Buttram, Andy Devine and George Lindsey, it’s one thing. Throw in a Phil Harris, and you have something else again. Where are we, the audience, supposed to be? Is it “Merry Ol’ England”? Or is it the lazy take on character development by a few senior animators who have taken license to jump away from the story writers for the sake of easy characters of the generation they’re familiar with. Robin Hood is a mess of a story – even though it’s a solid original they’re working from, and I find it hard to take written advice from these fine old animation pros who take an easy way out for the sake of their animation; shape shifting classic tales to fit their wrinkles.
At least, that’s how I see it – saw it. And perhaps that’s why it’s taken me so long to read this book. I felt (at the age of 14 when these films came out) that the Disney factory had turned into something other than the people who’d made Snow White and Bambi and Lady and the Tramp.
They had, in fact, become the nine old men.
The Jungle Book was the last film Bill Peet worked on. He left
before the film was done. He’d had a long, contentious relationship
with Disney. He never felt he’d gotten the respect he deserved.
They were incredibly talented animators, and they certainly knew how to do their jobs. The animation, itself, was first rate (sometimes even brilliant as Shere Khan demonstrates), but try comparing the stories to earlier features. Even Peter Pan and Cinderella are marvelously developed. Artists like Bill Peet and Vance Gerry knew how to do their jobs, and they did them well. When Peet quit the studio, because he felt disrespected, Disney’s solid story development walked out the door.
The animators were taking the easy route rather than properly developing their stories. The stories had lost all dynamic tension and had become back-room yarns. Good enough, but not good.
Today was Nik Ranieri‘s last day at Disney’s studio. He’s definitive proof, in the eyes of Disney, that 2D animation is dead as an art form. This is the end result of some of the changes Thomas and Johnston suggest in their book. The medium took a hit back then; it just took this long for the suits to catch up. Good luck to Nik and the other Disney artists who no longer work steadily in what is still a vitally strong medium.
Andreas Deja has a recent post which begins with Cruella de Vil in bed, in curlers, reading the newspaper. She is annoyed by a phone call from Jasper, one of her henchman. Andreas reports her half of the conversation, “‘Jasper!’ she pauses in anger, then ‘Jasper, you idiot!’”
Andreas, finishing up his comment on Marc Davis‘ beautiful animation, writes,”Everything is top notch here, her body composition, wonderful grotesque expressions – those cheekbones are priceless – and of course subtle, controlled animation.
Modern animation as good as it gets.”
That last phrase really got me thinking, “Modern animation as good as it gets.” How astute of him. It’s something I’d thought about before, but here it’s actually articulated by Mr. Deja, one of the most important of the 2D feature film animators. (To me, he’s probably the finest of all current animators.)
I’d placed the break in animation from Richard Williams onward. Dick had studied all the masters, imitated and reworked many of their best moves. He turned his thriving studio in the seventies and eighties into the pinnacle of the medium, teaching animation to many gifted artists and producing commercials, predominantly, had trained a small army to go out into the world and make good, strong theatrical style animation of the highest caliber. Rules were reworked and made to work to get the richest form of the medium.
Animation was reborn in the style of Richard Williams and his influences such as Art Babbitt, Ken Harris. and Milt Kahl.
Hans Perk on his blog, A Film LA, publishes the drafts of the animators working on the Disney features allowing us to know who did what scenes. These are usually very informative. Hans recently completed posting the drafts to Lady and the Tramp. In among these drafts, Hans made this comment:
- Again, very serviceable animators, no masterpieces…
I like the CinemaScope note for sc. 28: “Lady will have to be alive throughout scene.”
Then if you notice other scenes on this page there are some that dictate “held cels” of other characters to the left or right of screen. They were certainly trying to control the animation for the wide, Cinemascope screen. See if you can find a note like that on any feature done today. See if you can find ANYTHING held on any feature done today.
Andreas is writing about animation features done from Cinderella forward. I believe he’s considering the changes that the live action reference work to make Cinderella, Alice and Peter Pan led to Sleeping Beauty and later films. 101 Dalmatians was the big change with the human animation, led by Milt Kahl, Marc Davis, and to a great extent Frank Thomas.
This was the big change. This was the model followed by animators that came after the “Nine old men.” With a couple of films, such as Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, a cartooning style entered the work and stayed there. The genie in Aladdin almost turns that film into a reworked Warner Bros cartoon. But a couple of the animators: Andreas Deja, Glen Keane, Mark Henn, Duncan Marjoribanks, Ruben Aquino and several other prominent among this generation went directly to the Milt Kahl model. Interestingly, this is also Dick Williams‘ model.
Of course, Milt Kahl is perfect to place at the center as an ideal.
Just as Snow White and Pinocchio were a step up from the Silly Symphonies, so too, 101 Dalmatians and Sword In The Stone were a step up from Cinderella and Peter Pan. Tarzan, The Lion King, and The Prince of Egypt were remarkable changes from The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.
Given the work on Lilo and Stitch, Mulan, Spirit and several of the later features, it seems like a major change – a new growth period was due. Yet it was cut short by the financial success of some of the cgi features. 2D animation stopped.
Modern animation was stilled for the moment.
To keep in accord with Hans Perk‘s recent posting of the drafts to Lady and the Tramp, I am reposting a couple of these valuable past posts. Here’s one I like a lot.
- A friend (who asked to remain anonymous) sent a copy of this script of “The Story of Pluto,” an early episode of the Disneyland TV show. This document obviously follows the show very closely, but I think a lot of the on screen dialogue is actually missing. Regardless, I thought it a good opportunity to go back to the show (which when it hit TV was called “The Story of Dogs.” (At least, the video on the Lady and the Tramp DVD, which has the same date listed is longer.)
I’ll first post the “script” and then will follow with frame grabs from the TV program wherein Lady runs from some rough dogs who are chasing her, and Tramp comes to her rescue. The original show aired in B&W, but this version mixes B&W PT to color ruff-cut. It’s one of my favorite sections of the film with a lot of animation by Woolie Reitherman. (It comes on page 11 of the script.)
Here are the script pages:
This sequence is followed immediately by Milt Kahl‘s sequence where Lady and the Tramp go to the zoo. They seek the help of the beaver to remove her muzzle.
- Before there was video tape (which means before there were dvds), there was only 16mm film that you could project in your own home. I had (and still have) a nice collection of decaying movies and used to show these often. One of the regulars to show and watch and laugh at was the great Mickey short, The Whoopee Party. Everyone loved this short, no matter how many times we watched it. It’s a great film!
This encouraged me to watch it again on the B&W Mickey dvd I have. So I couldn’t help but jump for joy over the story sketches they include in the extras. Why not post them? So here they are – sketches from the limited storyboard they produced. I’ve also interspersed frame grabs from the film so you can compare images.
- From 1983-85, Tissa David teamed with three other friends in Holland to begin work on an animated version of Mendelssohn’s Midsummer’s Night Dream.
This film would introduce several animated characters from Shakespeare’s play over a live action orchestral performance of Mendolssohn’s music. These characters chased each other around the orchestra until, eventually, the animation took over, and the orchestra melted away. The tympanist, himself, melded into Bottom.
This film was completely animated by Tissa, including all inbetweens and layouts. She was the film’s director, though in all the time she worked on this film, she never once described her role to me as such. She was just making a film she loved with several extraordinarily talented friends.
Kalman Kozelka was a brilliant cameraman who shot the entire film in a home built multiplane camera. It’s unjust to call it simply photography, because every scene involved seven to ten exposures with mattes and special lighting. Half of the scenes combined live action with the animation, and all of the scenes involved multiple levels with back and front lighting.
Ida Kozelka-Mocsary, Kalman’s wife, designed all the character coloring and colored all the cels . She worked closely in helping Kalman to prepare everything for the photography including mattes.
Richard Fehsl was the brilliant designer who colored and, in many cases, animated the Bg’s. All of these Bg’s were painted with dyes on frosted cels under rather delicate inking.
All four took story credit.
I have a good handful of the overlarge cels and artwork from the film. Here are a few of those cels along with a number of representative frame grabs from the film.
___I have so much more art from this film, that there’ll surely be more posts to come.
This video (vhs) can still be located – used copies – on Amazon here.
The film features a live-action orchestra with Shakespeare’s characters running wild over the footage. Eventually, the picture opens to an animated woods. It was photographed by Kalman Kozelka, color styled by Ida Kozelka-Mocsary, and Bg designs by Richard Fehsl.
The film aired on the BBC in 1983 and was released on VHS by Goodtimes Video.
(click any image to enlarge.)
Bottom chases Titania in the woods.
I started discussing some of the thoughts put forward in The Illusion of Life, the book by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. I had some major problems with some of the discrepancies in that book. Here’s the second, a continuation of that post.
- On page 39 of the book, we read, “Walt introduced two procedures that enabled the animators to begin improving. First, they could freely shoot tests of their drawings and quickly see film of what they had drawn, and, second, they each had an assistant learning the business who was expected to finish off the detail in each drawing. Walt was quick to recognize that there was more vitality and imagination and strength in scenes animated in a rough fashion, and he asked all animators to work more loosely. The assistant would ‘clean up’ these drawings that looked so sloppy, refining
them to a single line that could be traced by the inkers onto celluloid. The assistants became known as ‘clean-up men,’ and the animators developed one innovation after the other, achieving effects on the screen that no one had thought possible. In some cases, the drawings were so rough it was difficult to find any cartoon figure inside the tangled swirl of lines, and the men who made a duck or a dog out of smudges and scratches had to have a very special type of knowledge.
Shooting tests of scenes while they were still in the rough enabled the animators to check what they had done before showing it to anyone. Any part that was way off could be corrected quickly and
shot again. This encouraged experimentation, exploration, and imagination, quickly promoting a closer bond among the animators.
- Yet on page 229 the authors turn to side with management when they suggest that “. . . a new procedure called ‘Touch-up’ was instigated. It asked that the animator draw slowly and carefully enough so that the assistant need only touch up the drawings here and there to make them ready for the Ink and Paint Department. By this time all of our animators had become more skillful and were able to adjust to the new idea without noticeable damage to the product. Top quality clean up work is needed on only a handful of scenes in any sequence, and a great variety_____________Three Tytla ruffs
of shortcuts can be used on the balance
to make them acceptable.”
In short, this means that the older nine men and some of the other more seasoned veterans could work clean because they were already brilliant at the animation thing. Whereas Walt had demanded that animators, in the 1930s, work rough so as to keep the animation as loose and free and alive as possible.
It also veered toward Milt Kahl’s pleasure at seeing hos own lines used in the newly developed Xerox outline in the final ink & paint. If the assistants would indiscriminately erase only some of the animators’ lines leaving many other key lines (including, at times, construction lines for the face and body parts). Kahl’s ego wanting to see his own beautiful line meant superseding color inking – as had been done in the past._______A relatively clean drawing by Norm Ferguson
Using this new procedure would mean a need for fewer clean-up artists who could work faster and with fewer problems, thus speeding up the footage rates. It also depended on the animators, such as Thomas and Johnston who worked fast enough, that the footage rates were now closer to what they could turn out.
One wonders if this new found speed would also cut into the imagination of the scenes these men animated. (By they way, I use the term “men” because Johnston and Thomas do not once in this book consider the possibility of a female animator. It’s always”men” or “he” or “him”. Old prejudices die hard; though I suspect the two had no problem with the idea of a female animator. In fact they always bowed low in front of Tissa and her abilities. And I’m certain they were not patronizing her in any way.
One wonders if a chink in the armor hadn’t developed then and there in the animation production. Younger people would do all they could to work clean, thus handicaping the animation they turned out.
As a long-time assistant, I know that my animation has been tight to the extreme, annd more than once Jack Shnerk advised me to start working rough when I animated. However, as management (I am the boss of my own company and controller of my own films), I sought to turn out the largest output and eliminated any assistant or inbetween working on my material. I sacrificed good animation for speed and production. It has not only hurt my work but my films, and I know it.
Woman of the Year was a project that came to me in the very beginning of my studio’s life – 1981. Tony Walton, the enormously talented and fine designer, had gone to Richard Williams in search of a potential animator for WOTY (as we got to call the name of the show.) Dick recommended me. But before doing WOTY, there were some title segments needed for Prince of the City, a Sidney Lumet film. (I’ll discuss that film work some other day.)
Tony Walton designed the character, Katz, which would be the alter-ego of the show’s cartoonist hero, played by Harry Guardino. Through Katz, we’d learn about the problems of a relationship with a media star, played by Lauren Bacall. (All images enlarge by clicking.)
It turned out to be a very intense production. Three minutes of animation turned into twelve as each segment was more successful than the last. There was no time for pencil tests. I had to run to Boston, where the show was in try-outs, to project different segments weekly; these went into the show that night – usually Wednesdays. I’d rush to the lab to get the dailies, speed to the editor, Sy Fried, to synch them up to a click track that was pre-recorded, then race to the airport to fly to the show for my first screening. Any animation blips would have to be corrected on Thursdays.
There was a small crew working out of a tiny east 32nd Street apartment. This was Dick Williams‘ apartment in NY after he;d finished Raggedy Ann. He was rarely there, and when he did stay in NY, he didn’t stay at the apartment. He asked me to use it as my studio and to make sure the rent was paid on time and the mail was collected. Since we had to work crazy hours, it was a surprise one Saturday morning to find that I’d awakened elderly Jazz great, Max Kaminsky, who Dick had also loaned the apartment for a night. Embarrassed, at the awkward confrontation, I ultimately moved to a larger studio – my own – shortly thereafter. Dick was convinced I was upset at him and the two of us didn’t talk for years afterward.
Here are a couple of photos of some of us working on WOTY:
Tony Charmoli was the show’s choreographer. He worked with me in plotting out the big dance number – a duet between Harry Guardino and our cartoon character. I think this is the only time on Broadway that a cartoon character spoke and sang and danced with a live actor on stage. John Canemaker is taking this photograph and Phillip Schopper is setting up the 16mm camera.
Here Tony Charmoli shows us how to do a dance step. Phillip Schopper, who is filming Tony, figures out how to set up his camera. We used Tony’s dancing as reference, sooting Tony’s dancing in 16mm, but our animation moves were too broad for anyone to have thought they might have been rotoscoped.
John Canemaker worked with Sy Fried, our editor. John did principal animation with me on this one big opening number. Here they’re working with the click track and the live footage of Tony Charmoli to plot out the moves.
At one point I asked John to have the character, Katz, flick his tale at Harry Guardino, tripping the live actor mid-dance. It got a laugh at every performance.
Steve Parton supervised the ink and paint. To get the sharpest lines, we inked on cels and didn’t color the drawings. It was B&W with a bright red bow-tie. A spotlight matte over the character, was bottom-lit on camera by Gary Becker. It was shot almost like a pencil test with high contraxt to get those very sharp lines.
8. Harry Guardino on stage with the creation of “Tessie Kat” developing on screen behind him. This was Harry’s first big solo.
The filmed segment was shot backwards so the matte would develop as the song sang on.
The entire seqeunce took about 2½ minutes.
9. John Canemaker gets to see some of his animation with Sy Fried, editor.
All together we had more than 12 minutes of animateion song duets between Harry Guardino and Katz. It was originally supposed to be three pieces totaling about five minutes. The animation was so successful in the tryouts in Boston that they kep adding more material. Finally the last song added – about 1½ minutes never made it to New York. Harry never properly learned it in Boston and he was too nervous for the Broadway opening to learn it for the big Opening. So the number was cut.
Lately there’s been more animation on Broadway and off-Broadway. Things are done with digital screens, and the technical aspect has gotten easier. One version of Sunday In the Park with George had painted backgrounds developing via animation as the characters sang their songs. Too bad the show didn’t offer the heart that was in the original Sondheim gem, when here wa no animation involved. Hopefully, eventually there will be something more. We did a show that was very successful (the show wasn’t successful; the animation was.) I’d love to try again. The only other try I had was to do musical scenics for the Overture to Meet Me In St. Louis on Broadway. The producers were irritants and didn’t help move things forward. I did get to meet the songwriter, Hugh Martin, before he passed away. That was my treat in that project.