Animation &Disney &Frame Grabs 09 Sep 2009 07:43 am

Fantasia FX

- Herman Schultheis was an effects animator who worked on Fantasia. He kept a tight record of the effects they were creating from 1938-1941 and a photo display of how they were done. Schultheis disappeared in 1954 while trekking through Central America, and the notebook was forgotten until his wife’s death in the early 1990s, after which it was discovered by Howard Lowery behind the couple’s bedroom wall.

The book will be on display at the The Walt Disney Family Museum when it opens in October. It’s also been digitized so that visitors will be able to go through the book, enlarge photos and view it page by page.

Prior to the discovery of the book we were able to figure out a few of the effects. One Disneyland show, in fact, recreated the bubbling lava scene from the Rite of Spring sequence.

(Click any image to enlarge.)

Josh Meador recreated the slow motion shoot of the
boiling concoction used to develop the bubbling lava.

However, the book revealed so much more than we’d understood
about how the superb effects had been crafted.

Herman Schultheis created the book of charts and photos
which gives us a link to the many creative effects in the film.

Using a vat of water, they were able to
drop ink into the liquid and film it in slow motion.

A photo of the ink spilling into the water behind built-in mattes.

Taking the shot of the ink, they then turned it upside-down.

They then superimpose the “smoke” (or ink) over the volcanoes.
This same effect was used in Close Encounters of the Third Kind
to create clouds when the alien ships were moving in on the
farmhouse where the boy and mother lived.

The orchestra was shot on a set with strong, planned shadows.

All these shots were orchestrated and planned for color effects.

They were also catalogued by Schultheis who kept close
track of the music, as well, in his book. You can see a
page by page breakdown of the score at the top of the page.

You can see the highly polished sheet of metal (middle left) which reflected
and distorted the animation drawings. This is what the camera photographed
in some of the scenes during the Night on Bald Mountain sequence.
It was also used for the fire in Bambi.

1 2
This scene’s ghosts were shot using that distorted metal reflection.

2a 3
The ghosts also used a form of cross dissolve.
John Hubley explained to me how that was done.

4 4a
They shot the entire scene at 50% exposure. Then they went back
to the beginning and reshot the entire scene again at 50% exposure.

5 6
However on the second shoot, they started by shooting a black frame.
This made #1 fall where #2 should have been, #2 for #3 etc.
This creates a ghostly dissolve effect.

6a 7
All of the drawings labelled with an “a” are the double exposures:
2a, 4a, 6a

A make-shift circular multiplane camera was built.

Created out of wooden sheets with holes cut out,
placed so they could shift angles, they were designed to
allow revolving artwork in the circular cut outs.

This allowed shooting scenes such as this shot of
a spider web as the camera turned around it while
dew glistened off it.

The spinning snowflakes are well explained in Schultheis’ book.

The snowflakes had a detailed construction.

The path of action was intricately defined.

The snowflakes were shot against a sheet of black velvet
hiding the wire guides.

They were shot in tight closeup. From below you can
see the turning gears they were constructed on.

Each snowflake was built on a turning gear
so that they could revolve in their path of action.

Burn these snowflakes over the multiplane background
and add matching 2D animated fairies within each snowflake,
and you have the finished scene.

17 Responses to “Fantasia FX”

  1. on 09 Sep 2009 at 8:25 am 1.Heidi said …

    Simply astonishing. Thanks so much for my morning inspiration.

  2. on 09 Sep 2009 at 9:52 am 2.Stephen Macquignon said …


  3. on 09 Sep 2009 at 10:30 am 3.doug vitarelli said …


  4. on 09 Sep 2009 at 10:41 am 4.Oswald Iten said …

    Amazing! During my teens I was always trying to figure out how these effects were achieved, I even considered building a small multiplane camera.

    I wish this notebook were more widely available. Thanks a lot for sharing!

  5. on 09 Sep 2009 at 12:41 pm 5.Masako said …

    Just looking at these gives me goosebumps. Thank you for sharing!

  6. on 09 Sep 2009 at 1:19 pm 6.willy hartland said …

    INCREDIBLE. I had know idea until now, how complicated those sequences
    were to create.

  7. on 09 Sep 2009 at 2:07 pm 7.Stephen Worth said …

    Nice! Does the book mention the photographic process used for the lines in Snow White and to transfer pastels to cel in Bald Mountain? I was told that the crew that developed that process went out with the strike (or perhaps with the war) and didn’t return- and no one at the studio knew how they achieved the trick of putting lines on cels mechanically… until Iwerks developed the vapor fuse xerox system many years later.

    Scenes like the multiplane shot of Snow White picking flowers with the huntsman and the Queen sitting on her throne were animated much larger and photographically reduced and printed onto cels. I’ve seen many of these cels and the delicacy of the lines is remarkable.

  8. on 09 Sep 2009 at 9:07 pm 8.Pierre said …

    The snowflake effect is absolutely fascinating. This explains alot and it’s great to see the amount of innovation that happened in the FX animation department.

    Thanks as always for sharing this!

  9. on 09 Sep 2009 at 10:14 pm 9.Tom Minton said …

    This Herman Schultheis volume is to animation photography what John Alton’s “Painting With Light” was to live action film noir.

  10. on 10 Sep 2009 at 4:30 am 10.slowtiger said …

    This is just so great to see. Not that tank shots or distortions or multiple exposures are a big mystery – but that they maintained this amount of control over it! The snow flake rig is amazing. It’s a completely mechanical solution for a common problem we nowadays would solve with motion paths. Same concept – different tools.

  11. on 10 Sep 2009 at 12:49 pm 11.Stephen Perry said …

    The circular wooden multiplane, I’m sure in the photos they’re filming the spinning galaxy of dust at the beginning of the Rite of Spring piece? These pics are all on the 2 disc Fantasia DVD too… They definately should publish the book!

  12. on 10 Sep 2009 at 1:53 pm 12.Robert Schaad said …

    Thanks for posting these. Always great to see the process by which effects were created…especially pre CGI, etc.

  13. on 10 Sep 2009 at 2:55 pm 13.Michael said …

    Stephen, these ARE all frame grabs from that dvd. I haven’t read the book nor had access to it, but I know the information that it’s recorded.

  14. on 14 Sep 2009 at 12:42 pm 14.Stephen Perry said …

    After I’d typed it I guessed that these were the very same pics from the DVD. Plus on that frame dissolve, it was used quite a lot through-out the 30′s. When Dick Williams found out about it from Art Babbitt during his lectures, Dick went crazy for it. In Snow White when the dwarfs are cleaning Grumpy, the very last shot of Grumpy being dumped in the tub as the others run inside. The water splash I think is animated on 3′s with dissolves. While Grumpy’s on 2′s.

  15. on 14 Sep 2009 at 1:01 pm 15.Michael said …

    Most dissolve effects are done completely differently. Hubley told Dick Williams about this method, but Dick rejected it opting to use his more complicated methods which provided more detailed dissolves. Hans Bacher has a sterling analysis of how Dick’s dissolves were done.

  16. on 25 Sep 2009 at 2:31 am 16.Dan said …

    Wonderful! Most people have no idea of the work, vision, and talent that goes into a project.

  17. on 26 Oct 2010 at 12:46 pm 17.Odis Letellier said …

    This is my first time i visit here. I found so many interesting stuff in your blog especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! keep up the good work.

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