I would guess an actor, one who was truly devoted to their craft, would try to assume the full personality of the character he or she is playing. For an actor who felt devoted to the craft, they’d veer toward some specific acting school. Stanislavski or Boleslavsky, Actor’s Studio, Meisner, Chekhov or whatever combination thereof, the actor would use these schools of approach trying to fully possess the soul of the character.
Marlon Brando, Julie Harris, Paul Newman, John Garfield, Clifford Odets, Montgomery Clift and Marilyn Monroe all these acting greats had their techniques, and all those methods did start with Stanislavsky.
The question for us is how did this affect animation’s actors – the animators? Or did it? I’ve only seen this discussed in depth in one book, Mike Barrier‘s Hollywood Cartoons. Barrier shows a real understanding of Stanislavsky and Boleslavsky when he discusses the overt course of action taken by one animator, in particular, Bill Tytla.
We know that there were plenty of others that were excited by the newly discovered techniques, though we don’t know how wide spread this influence was. My first realization that it was a strong influence came from a joke John Hubley shared with me. He said that the animators broke into two groups, those that were interested in Stanislavsky and those that couldn’t spell it. Hubley was friends with Tytla. Tytla had been the close roommate to Art Babbitt, and Babbitt was close with Hubley, right to the near end.
But Tytla. Let’s look into what he was doing with his animation. I’m going to make a lot of suppositions to tell you what I think he believed . . . the reasoning and the way he worked.
Now, let me show you something.
Here are some drawings and a QT movie of the seven dwarfs. Six of them are carrying Grumpy to the wash basin to clean him despite his violent protests.
Note the distortion on many of the drawings. #239 & 241 for example. #254 & 256 as well.
Here’s the QT movie of the full scene:
The P.T. is exposed on ones at 24FPS.
Note the buttons on the bottom far right will allow you to
advance (and reverse) the action one frame at a time. You
should go through this to see the distortion on the inbetweens
and how it works when the animation is in full motion.
There’s a great deal of distortion and smearing in Tytla’s work. I think he uses it to heighten the acting moments that his characters are performing. This particular scene is more action than acting, so other than to show off his distorting the characters, it isn’t a great example of acting, per se. Bt that drawing #239 is a good example of what he’ll do, even to the face of the principal character in the scene, to get his animation to work.
It’s almost as if he’d studied live action frame by frame and represents all those motion blurs in live action by smearing the face. The dwarfs are probably the first time complicated acting is successfully achieved. They’d done it before with many of the characters in the Silly Symphonies, but these are characters who sustain strong personalities over a long period of film. They also go through strong emotional changes which underline and works off their personalities.
Tytla brought beautiful distortion to many of the drawings he did, using it as a way to hammer home some of the emotions in the elasticity he was creating. Yet, the casual observer watching this sequence in motion doesn’t ever notice that distortion yet can feel it in the strength of the motion.
Four drawings (#1, 11, 22, & 48) that shift so enormously but call no attention to itself.
Brilliant draftsmanship and use of the forms.
After I first posted some of these drawings and spoke a bit about the distortion Tytla would use to his advantage – for emotional gestures – I received some comments. I’d written that . . . “It’s part of the “animating forces instead of forms” method that Tytla used. This is found in Stromboli’s face.
This note arrived from Borge Ring after my first post Bill Tytla’s scene featuring Stromboli’s mood swing:
- The Arch devotees of Milt Kahl have tearfull misgivings about Wladimir Tytla’s magnificent language of distortions. ‘”Yes, he IS good. But he has made SO many ugly drawings”
Musicologists will know that Beethoven abhorred the music of Johan Sebastian Bach.
Note in one of these arms (right) Tytla uses Stromboli’s blouse to make it look like there’s distortion. It barely registers but gives strength to the arm move before it as his blouse follows through in extreme.
There’s also some beautiful and simple drawing throughout this piece. Stromboli is, basically, a cartoon character that caricatures reality beautifully. A predecessor to Cruella de Vil. In drawings 76 to 80 there’s a simple turn of the hand that is nicely done by some assistant. A little thing among so much bravura animation.
Many people don’t like the exaggerated motion of Stromboli. However, I think it’s perfectly right for the character. He’s Italian – prone to big movements. He’s a performer who, like many actors in real life, goes for the big gesture. In short his character is all there – garlic breath and all.
Here’s a short part of another scene. I’ve enlarged the images a little so that the thumbnails are more revealing. Just look at the distortion on the heads and how he stretches the arm to give it a violent emphasis.
Tytla starts with arm and head all the way back to
the character’s right. It’d be hard for Stromboli to
reach any further back without real distortion.
Here’s the final QT of the entire scene.This part comes at the very beginning:
Click left side of the black bar to play.
Right side to watch single frame.
David Nethery had taken my drawings posted and synched them up to the sound track here.
It’s not clichéd, and it’s well felt and thought out. Think of the Devil in “Night on Bald Mountain” that would follow, then the simply wonderful and understated Dumbo who would follow that. Tytla was a versatile master.
We’ll continue next time with Dumbo Fantasia and other Tytla gems.