Monthly ArchiveJanuary 2009
We pick up as Merlin (as squirrel) walks off in a huff followed by the granny squirrel. Wart falls.
Seq. 006 sc. 300: Animator: Frank Thomas
Had this been my film, I probably would have ended on Merlin and Wart walking away and would have eliminated the last shot of the squirrel. The film’s not about her; it’s about Wart. I guess I’m not as sentimental.
This is Frank Thomas land. “Zimpleton” comments on Hans’ blog that “Thomas did 489 feet and 7 frames of animation only interrupted by a 2 foot scene by John Lounsbery and he does an additional 63 feet and 7 frames at the end of the sequence.” Quite extraordinary.
(Click any image to enlarge.)
These scenes wherein the squirrels scamper around the moving branches is an
absolute pleasure for me. They really captured the essence of trees with some
of these scenes. I can’t think of any other animated film that does the same.
I think Frank may have been caricaturing himself in some of these
Merlin/squirrel scenes. Certainly I think of him with the character.
Take a closer look at the image in the upper right. They double exposed
a second head at about a 60% exposure to create a beautiful blur.
In computer land this probably would be a real blur.
One final post to come.
- Back to the break down of the squirrel sequence from Disney’s Sword In The Stone. This is the third of five segments – it’s longer than I remembered.
Going through the material like this, one becomes accutely aware of how many scenes Frank Thomas handled. Quite a lot of footage. (Only one scene here belongs to John Lounsbery.) I think he may have wanted to own such a sequence, and he went for it. It’s also interesting to see how many long pans are among his scenes. In the old days, the animators generally had enormous help from scene planners on the mechanics of the pans and trucks. I’d be curious to know how much Frank took on himself. Obviously, he had a character having to delicately touch many of the curving and moving branches. This is something he’d have to work out. I tried, in a rough way, to reassemble those pan backgrounds.
Thanks to Hans Perk for posting the drafts to this film enabling me to ID the scenes.
Seq. 006 sc. 49: Animator: Frank Thomas
Two more posts to finish the sequence.
- Currently playing at the New Victory Theatre on 42nd Street (until Feb. 1) is a theatrical presentation of Jason and the Argonauts. Given the quality of the shows that play at the New Vic, I can pretty much guarantee that this is a first rate show.
I also have no doubt that the creators have seen the Ray Harryhausen film, Jason and the Argonauts, and must have been under its spell (however subliminally) in creating the show. It would be hard to believe otherwise given the reputation of the film. The skeleton fight, alone, makes the film famous.
This gives me a good excuse to attend to Mr. Harryhausen’s film and post the chapter from his 1972 book, Film Fantasy Scrapbook, about that film. The book is written in the first person singular and collects B&W images like a scrapbook.
Here it is:
Of the 13 fantasy features I have been connected with I think Jason and the Argonauts pleases me the most. It had certain faults, but they are not worth detailing.
Its subject matter formed a natural storyline for the Dynamation medium and like The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad strayed far from the conventional path of the “dinosaur exploitation film” with which this medium seemed to be identified.
Taking about two years to make, it unfortunately came out on the American market near the end of a cycle of Italian-made dubbed epics based loosely on the Greek-Roman legends, which seldom visualized mythology from the purely fantasy point of view. But the exhibitors and the public seem to form a premature judgment based on the title and on the vogue. Again, like Sinbad, the subject brewed in the back of my rnind for years before it reached the light of day through producer Charles Schneer. It turned out to be one of our most expensive productions to date and probably the most lavish. In Great Britain it was among the top ten big money makers of the year.
A preproduction drawing (above) compares favorably with a film still (below.)
The drawing is quite a bit more dynamic. (After all, it is Dynamation!)
Some of the difference in basic composition between the pre-production sketches I made for Jason and the counterparts frames of the production is the direct result of compromising with available locations.
For example, the ancient temples in Paestum, southern Italy, finally served as the background for the “Harpy” sequence. Originally we were going to build the set when the production was scheduled for Yugoslavia. Wherever possible we try to use an actual location to add to the visual realism. To my mind, most overly designed sets one sees in some fantasy subjects can detract from, rather than add to the final presentation.
Again, it depends on the period in which it is made as well as on the basic subject matter. Korda’s The Thief of Bagdad was the most tastefully produced and designed production of any film of this nature but unfortunately the budget that was required would be prohibitive with today’s costs.
The Skeleton Sequence was the most talked-ahout part of Jason. Technically, it was unprecedented in the sphere of fantasy filming. When one pauses to think that there were seven skeletons fighting three men, with each skeleton having five appendages to move each frame of film, and keeping them all in synchronization with the three actors’ movements, one can readily see why it took four and a half months to record the sequence for the screen.
My one regret is that this section of the picture did not take place at night.
Its effect would have been doubled.
Certain other time-consuming technical “hocus-pocus” adjustments had to be done during shooting to create the illusion of the animated figures in actual contact with the live actors. Bernard Herrmann’s original and suitably fantastic music score wrapped the scenes in an aura of almost nightmarish imagination.
In the story, Jason’s only way of escaping the wild battling sword wielding “children of Hydra’s teeth” is to leap from a cliff into the sea. (Above left) A stuntman, portraying Jason for this shot, leaps from a 90-foot-high platform into the sea closely followed by seven plaster skeletons. It was a dangerous dive and required careful planning and great skill. It becomes an interesting speculation when dealing with skeletons in a film script. How many ways are there of killing off death?
(Above right) Another angle with the real Jason jumping off a wooden platform into a mattress a few feet below. The skeletons and the rocky cliff were put in afterwards while the mattress was blotted out by an overlay of sea.
Director Don Chaffey and Ray Harryhausen discuss the leap with Italian stunt director Fernando Poggi.
When transferring published material to the screen it is almost always necessary to take certain liberties in the work in order to present it in the most effective visual terms. Talos, the man of bronze, did exist in Jason legend, although not in the gigantic proportions that we portrayed him in the film. My pattern of thing in designing him on a very large scale stemmed from research on the Colossus of Rhodes.
The actior: his blocking the only entrance to the harbor stimulated many exciting possibilities. Then too, the idea of a gigantic metal statue coming to life has haunted me for years, but without story or situation to bring it to life. It was somewhat ironic when most of my career was spent in trying to perfect smooth and life-like action and in the Talos sequence, the longest animated sequence in the picture, it was necessary to make his movements deliberately stiff and mechanical.
Most of Jason and the Argonauts was shot in and around the little seaside village of Palinuro, just south Naples. The unusual rock formations, the wonderful white sandy beaches, and the natural harbor were within a few miles of each other, making the complete operation convenient and economical. Paestum, w its fine Greek temples, was just a short distance north. All interiors and special sets were photographed in a sm studio in Rome.
For the second unit operation a special platform had to be fitted to the Argo in order to achieve certain camera angles. Although it looks precarious it was far more convenient than using another boat for the shots.
The Argo had to be, above all, practical in the sense that it must be seaworthy as well as impressive. It was specially constructed for the film over the existing framework of a fishing barge. There were twin engines for speed in maneuvering, which also made the ship easily manipulated into proper sunlight for each new set-up.
Harryhausen off the book’s back cover
to give an idea of scale of drawing sizes.
Emily Hubley‘s film, Toe Tactic, gets a solid and extended series of screenings at the Museum of Modern Art beginning this Wednesday, Jan. 28th and including several shows over this weekend.
The Toe Tactic. 2008. USA.
Directed by Emily Hubley. 85 min.
With the voices of Eli Wallach, Marian Seldes, Andrea Martin, David Cross, and Don Byron.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009,
Thursday, January 29, 2009,
Friday, January 30, 2009,
Saturday, January 31, 2009,
Sunday, February 1, 2009,
Monday, February 2, 2009,
- Speaking of Emily Hubley, we were on a panel together this past Sunday at the Pelham Picture House in Pelham, NY (a half hour ride out of Grand Central). Other members of the panel included George Griffin, who moderated, Bob Blechman and Jeff Scher.
It was a very different kind of panel and I enjoyed participating in it. We were all New Yorkers (although Emily actually lives in New Jersey), all Independents and all concerned with the “art” and future of animation. From a long and well-established designer/producer to an experimental film maker who has learned how to make a living from his art fwe made a very diverse group. I was certainly honored to take part of it and thank J.J. Sedelmeir for getting me involved and the hard work of Andy Nichols and his team at the theater.
There were about fifty people spread out in the audience, and their questions and comments were quite knowledgeable. Only a small number seemed to have floated there from the city, but it was pleasing to note those who did. The day was cold and crisp, and the trip not a bad one – relatively short.
The program was part of the exhibit, It All Started Here! at the Westchester Arts Council Gallery in White Plains. This exhibit continues through February 28th.
There are also a number of other screenings and programs at the Jacob Burns Center Jan 27, Feb 5, and Feb 23. And a presentation on the History of NY Animation by J.J. Sedelmeir and Howard Beckerman at the NY ComiCon on Saturday Feb 7 at 4pm.
- A lot of attention was given this past week to the nominees for the Academy Award but not much has been written on the blogs about the nominees for Best Short Animated Film in the BAFTAs. These are:
CODSWALLOP – Greg McLeod, Myles McLeod
VARMINTS – Sue Goffe, Marc Craste
WALLACE AND GROMIT: A MATTER OF LOAF AND DEATH – Steve Pegram, Nick Park, Bob Baker
Varmints was on the Oscar short list, but didn’t make it to the finals.
The Wallace and Gromit film wasn’t entered or probably might have won. I think it’s now ineligible having been shown on tv in England.
Codswallop is a film I haven’t seen to date. You can view a clip of it here.
Speaking of symbiosis, I posted an article from 1932 on my site last Sunday and a day later a couple of beautiful photos appear on Mike Barrier ‘s site. Ted Eshbaugh‘s publicity photos live on some 3/4 of a century later. Now that’s a highlight – or maybe it’s just history.
- Here’s a floral fantasy worth viewing.
What follows are three variations of Background art done early on for Fantasia.
Here is a stunning final work of art. This background is by Sam Armstrong who headed the department on the sequence. It is, at least partially, pastel – still soft and glowing some 68 years later. I love how the addition on the lower right (see the B&W layout above) beautifully finishes the composition.
This comment from Alexander Rannie was interesting enough that I thought I should add it to this post:
- Dear Michael,
During a recent trip to the Disney Photo Library I ran across a publicity photo of Stokowski seated at the piano in Walt’s office with Walt standing just behind him. There was some music propped up on the music stand of the piano and my curiosity got the better of me.
So, loupe in hand, I peered intently to see if I could determine what music from Fantasia had been set before the great maestro so that he could bring the classics to life on Walt’s piano.
Well, imagine my surprise at seeing a production number that didn’t match that of Fantasia. And the music wasn’t for piano, but for Woodwind I. And one of the pages was upside-down to boot!
And then there was that familiar melody, the notes of which I could just make out.
Paula Sigman Lowery was seated across from me and, knowing she’s not only a historian but a musician, I said, “Do you recognize this theme: La, la, la-la-la-la, La?”
“Isn’t that Pluto’s theme?”, she said.
Of course it was.
So the music that the great Stokowski is playing from is actually a Woodwind I part from Bone Trouble. And this music gets around: it’s the same music in the photo of Walt and Stoki that you posted with the Sam Armstrong background and can even be found lurking in a publicity photo of Norm Ferguson and Deems Taylor looking at material from “Dance of the Hours.”
I love Hollywood.
Articles on Animation 25 Jan 2009 09:22 am
Here’s an article from Modern Mechanix January 1932. Ted Eshbaugh seems to have invented the first color cartoon, or at least he thinks he did. (Wasn’t Lantz’ titles for The King of Jazz in two strip technicolor color in 1930?) Eshbaugh, out of Boston, began his series, featuring Goofy and Nanny Goat, in 1932. This was the same year that Disney reworked his in-production B&W cartoon, Flowers and Trees to three strip technicolor. He had secured the exclusive rights to this newly patented innovation. Perhaps this article pushed Disney into rushing this film into color production.
At any rate, Eshbaugh’s film – and Eshbaugh himself – have been relegated to history’s darker bin. The article’s fun, anyway.
(Click any image to enlarge to a legible size.)
Articles on Animation 24 Jan 2009 09:40 am
I recently wrote about the scrapbook I had as a child, and I shared a couple of mangled pages I had which represented the debut of The Bullwinkle Show.
The pointless memorabilia continues with two pages I’ve saved about the debut of The Beany & Cecil Show. I don’t for the life of me know what “Matty’s Funday Funnies” was supposed to be, but I remember their using this title for something. I believe The Bugs Bunny Show followed Beany & Cecil on Tuesday nights for a very short time, otherwise B&C was a Saturday morning show.
(Click the following images to enlarge.)
That’s about all there was for ads for this show.
- I continue here with the squirrel sequence from Disney’s Sword In The Stone. My doing thi s breakdown is precipitated bt Hans Perk‘s posting of the film’s drafts. I’ve loved the sequence since I first saw it in 1963; breaking it down forces me into a proper study of it.
However, I didn’t realize how long it was, and the break down will have to be broken up into a couple more posts.
Here, then, is where Frank Thomas takes over.
To be continued.
The following films have been nominated for Best Animated Short Subject
La Maison de Petits Cubes by Kunio Kato
Lavatory – Lovestory by Konstantin Bronzit
Oktapodi by Emud Mokhberi, Thierry Marchand
Presto by Pixar/Doug Sweetland
This Way Up by Alan Smith, Adam Foulkes
The Best Animated Feature nominations are:
Bolt, Kung Fu Panda, Wall-E
The nominations for Short Subject (both Live and Animated) are an interesting choice. I much prefer Glago’s Guest to Presto (my idea of a really bad film), but my favorite (House of Small Cubes) is nominated. I won’t complain. I expected Skhizen to be among the choices, but it’s probably too intelligent.
On to a more interesting, though not topical subject:
-When you speak to most animators they’ll probably tell you that the key sequence in The Sword In The Stone is the squirrel sequence. Hans Perk has been posting the drafts to this film, and since he’s now putting up the squirrel sequence, I thought it worth contributing a “mosaic” (not as good as Mark Mayerson would have done) for the sequence.
It’s longish, so it’ll take a few days to put it together. Here’s the first part: