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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Coal on the Fire...

We have previously on this blog seen several of Don Graham's interesting Action Analysis Classes from the Disney studios of the mid-1930's. Because of public interest, Walt asked Graham to write a book on animation in the 50's. Five days after Disneyland opened its gate, Don Graham dated his effort, called The Art of Animation.

The book was deemed too revealing by Walt ("if we publish this, EVERYONE can make animated features!") and Bob Thomas was asked to do a book by the same name, which was more general and focused on Sleeping Beauty, published in 1958. Here is a quote from Graham's discarded book that deals with scripts. It describes what was at this time (1955) the current procedure.

"Once a story is chosen, the process of adapting it to animation proceeds. A written script is first prepared in which extraneous actions and situations are eliminated. Much of this is done by skillful use of dialogue. A word or two may explain what has happened. To say in animation, "I ran all the way from the castle" is considerably less expensive than animating the run, painting the backgrounds and doing the camera work.

The script contains the first exploration of character development. A few words establish individual characteristics through mannerisms of speech or verbal conflict between the characters. Here the brilliancy of the story must be suggested in verbal witticism, jokes and repartee. Here conversations must be planned to develop conflict and plot.

Places are indicated for songs or musical interludes to establish mood. Whole musical sequences must be incorporated at this time. Usually these songs and musical parts are developed and the lyrics written after certain graphic exploration has further revealed the potentialities suggested by the script.

A good script is of tremendous help in building a feature, but due to the graphic nature of animation it in no way assures a successful production. Words can only suggest pictures, not dictate them.

When the original script has been accepted, the story director becomes the dominant figure. It is his responsibility to prepare the story in complete detail until it actually goes into production. After that, he works in close accord with the animation and musical directors who have assumed the major responsibility of seeing his work brought to the screen as a finished production. It is only through his guidance that the picture may emerge as a unit.

His first step is to break the story down into sequences, or large related parts. These parts are assigned to various story sketch units or crews who must completely visualize each sequence on the story boards. A unique exception was the preparation of Lady and the Tramp. Here one story director, with the help of only one sketch artist, prepared the complete story. In contrast, Fantasia was prepared by some sixty story men. Usually, sequences are prepared by small crews of two men each."

[Addition: the Walt-quote was relayed to me by Børge Ring who says he either read it in an older official book or was told it by Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston or Marc Davis. The actual quote was "Everybody and his brother could make a studio."]

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Anonymous J Chad Erekson says...

This is wonderful stuff. I love the previous Don Graham notes you've posted and his Composing Pictures book. Please continue to share his writings. I love to get my hands on that whole book.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008 at 3:13:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Michael Sporn says...

Egad! Is he saying that scripts were written for Disney features BEFORE the storyboards? Could Mike Barrier have been right?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 5:21:00 AM PST  
Anonymous The Jerk says...

the 1955 version of the book was never published, then, i assume.... i would love to read more of it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 6:50:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Floyd Norman says...

Maybe it's just me, but I think the story crews on most features are way too large. "The Jungle Book" originally had one guy - - Bill Peet. After Peet quit, we had about four. I think that's really all you need in my opinion.

By the way, thank you so much Han for the DVD. I owe you a favor.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 8:16:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Kevin Koch says...

Interesting. Of course, Graham surely isn't talking about a script in just the way we talk about one now, but likely a combination of outline and treatment. But it does make that point that words were used to convey the basic ideas before drawings came into play to develop and refine those ideas. Which is hardly surprising, but still good to confirm.

Thursday, January 24, 2008 at 9:14:00 AM PST  

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