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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Average Animator Footage in 1938

Two and a half months after the premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, on March 11, 1938, Producer/Supervising Director Dave Hand issued this memo called DEADLINES. Of course, everybody in the animation business has gotten memos called this, but here is an insight into just how much was produced by the (now) famous animators at Disney's in the Golden Age. Fred Moore stands out as missing on this memo, but otherwise it is quite a list of top talent. (Bernard Garbutt animated?)

Now, I do not remember when Disney changed to a 5-day work week, but let's say it was before this time: in this case Norm Ferguson had a weekly average of 35 feet, or 23 seconds 8 frames! Pretty high up we also find Fred Spencer, Frank Thomas and Bill Tytla, with 30 feet, or 20 seconds each. On the other end of the scale is Larry Clemmons with 10 feet or 6 seconds and 16 frames, followed by Ollie Johnston and Don Lusk with 12.5 feet or 8 seconds 8 frames each...
Dave Hand memo 1938 Dave Hand Average list Dave Hand Average list enhanced
Since the second page was a bit hard to read, I enhanced it for legibility, which is the image on the right.



Anonymous Bill Burg says...

For anyone who still believes computers make animation more efficient, it is astonishing how much faster these guys were than most computer animators today--not to mention how much better!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007 at 7:55:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous David N says...

Very, very interesting. Do you have more of these footage reports from subsequent years, Hans ? Did they get faster or slow down as the movies got more complicated ? But 1938 would have been working on Pinocchio , right ? So, that was one of the most complex, detail-laden movies.

Bill Burg: you note that "it is astonishing how much faster these guys were than most computer animators today."

I would say not just faster than most "computer animators" because those footage numbers seem very high compared to what many traditional animators were turning out at Disney Feature Animation from the late 80's (when I started at Disney), throughout the 1990's and up to the closing days of the old Disney hand-drawn dept. in 2004.

While there are some of the veterans (like Mark Henn, Dale Baer, Andreas Deja , Eric Goldberg, James Baxter, and quite a few others) who turn out high quantity as well as high quality footage, it was not unusual for animators at Disney in the 80's and 90's to be turning out more or less 7 ft. per week of finished rough footage.

There may have been other factors involved in that ... there was a high degree of micro-management going on and a lot of nitpicking and re-dos from the infamous "too-many-cooks-stirring-the -broth" syndrome on some of the 90's features, but it would seem that based on those 1938 footage numbers (when some of those high-footage guys were young, some only animating for 2 or 3 years at that point) it would be safe to say that they were much faster than many or most modern day animators.

Were they just more talented than us or was it that Depression-era work ethic or what ? Was the system in 1938 just not as "constipated" as later on , with the 30's animation directors and supervising animators more at liberty to approve large chunks of footage on their own assigned sequences , with Walt having the final say on approval of footage ?

Monday, April 2, 2007 at 7:38:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous David Nethery says...

Ok, this Dave Hand memo from 1938 has really peaked my interest, because I'm in the midst of trying to create a schedule/budget for a (hand-drawn) animated film, plus I'm absolutely crazy about this time period in animation and I want to know more, more! Details, details ! These Golden Age footage numbers are higher than what I've heard previously and higher than what I experienced first-hand at Disney in the '80's and '90's .

The memo reads as if the numbers are the daily footage output for each individual animator, but could it be that these numbers also reflect the work of any Jr.animators/assistants
that the named animator may have had working with him on his unit ? Or does the particular week reported on the Hand memo just reflect a high footage week for some of the animators, where they were able to pump out 25 or 30 ft. of rough footage, but then perhaps it took them another two weeks to tie-down the drawings to get them in shape to pass along to the clean up crew ? That "tie-down" period might make their cumulative footage output for a month or the entire year much less than what is shown on the Hand memo . (or is the Hand memo actually reporting a cumulative average figured out from a number of months , not just one particular week in 1938 ?) We've always heard about how prolific "Fergie" was , but also how he worked very loose and had a top team of assistants (who had to be competent animators in their own right, not merely clean up artists) to follow up and get his work ready for inking.

There is a portion of an interview with Dick Lundy in Leonard Maltin's book "Of Mice and Magic" where he talks about one of the big differences for him when he left Disney and went over to Walter Lantz is that at Lantz there was a mandatory 25 ft. per week footage quota for the animators, vs. Disney's where if an animator could turn out good, funny personality animation then 5 ft. per week was acceptable. (page 170 in "Of Mice and Magic"). I've also read over the years from people like Chuck Jones that the footage quotas at Warner Bros. were around 20 to 25 ft. per week (sometimes more) and how much higher that was compared to the output at Disney's. Richard Williams confirms that former Warner Bros. animators like Ken Harris were very, very fast, able to routinely animate 35 ft. a week of full animation.

Tom Sito's book mentions the footage quota at Schlesinger's in 1940 was 23 ft. per week, while at Disney's it was 5 ft. per week.

Mike Barrier mentions in Funnyworld No. 14, Spring 1972 that Disney's had recently imposed a footage quota of 15 ft. per week for the animators working on "Robin Hood" , whereas previously there had not been such a quota.

link to Funnyworld No. 14

If I recall correctly, I heard the same thing from Dale Baer when I was working for him. I believe Dale told me that when Robin Hood was being made (Dale worked on it as one of the first of the new generation) that a footage quota of 15 ft. per week was imposed and that this was a new policy at Disney's at that time and much to the annoyance of the animation staff. This has been a while since I worked for Dale and I may be mixing this up with something I heard from someone else or read (in Funnyworld ?) , but I think I'm correct about that.

All this to say that I'm still scratching my head and trying to figure out what the footage numbers on the Dave Hand memo mean compared to what I've read or been told previously concerning the average footage output at Disney's .

Monday, April 2, 2007 at 12:23:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous Jenny Lerew says...

Great document! Wow.

I am totally mystified as to why MOORE was not included on this memo? Is there any animator of similar stature left out? I can't think of a signle name other than Fred's not listed. It's very odd...

Monday, April 9, 2007 at 12:55:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous David N says...


It is an intriguing document , in more ways than one, especially the mystery of why top animator Fred Moore isn't mentioned on the list (Fred on vacation that week? This is a single memo providing us a snapshot of the animation crew's output on a certain week in 1938, so who knows where Moore was... home sick with the flu or on vacation ?)

I'm still trying to reconcile the higher daily footages listed on the Dave Hand memo with things like the Dick Lundy remark to Maltin that "5 ft. a week was acceptable" at Disney's (compared to the 25 ft. per week mandatory quota at a place like Lantz) and the similar numbers I've read over the years from other people contrasting the relatively high footage quotas at places like Lantz and Warner Bros. (25 to 30 ft. a week) compared with 5 - to - 10 ft. a week at Disney .

Is a puzzlement...

Monday, April 9, 2007 at 2:07:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous Hans Perk says...

It just now occurred to me to count this daily footage together - it makes 145 ft or 2320 frames, or 1 minute 36 seconds 16 frames. EACH DAY. That is 8 minutes and 3 seconds (or a long short film) each week! About 6 and a half hours per year. Gee...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009 at 11:30:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Rodney Baker says...

I returned to this post to consider it again and remain impressed with the productivity level of these old school animators.

We've got a lot to learn (or relearn) yet!

Saturday, August 10, 2013 at 3:15:00 PM PDT  
Anonymous David Nethery says...

Looking at this again I notice that in addition to Fred Moore not being on this list , Ham Luske is also not on the list . And Grim Natwick IS on the list, but I would have thought by 1938 Natwick would have been gone (since he left after Snow White to go to Fleischer's in Miami, FL to work on Gulliver's Travels ) Did Grim Natwick do any footage on Pinocchio or Fantasia around this time period , after Snow White had wrapped ?

Friday, April 17, 2015 at 1:29:00 PM PDT  

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