Check the Category Labels in the side-bar on the right! There you can find animator drafts for sixteen complete Disney features and eighty-five shorts,
as well as Action Analysis Classes and many other vintage animation documents!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Prod. 2224 - Beach Picnic

Released June 9th, 1939, this short directed by Gerry Geronimi features some of Shamus Culhane's best animation for Disney. Børge Ring reminded me that Culhane had problems NOT imparting life into Seabiscuit the rubber horse, and ended up making a paper model of it, which he shot just as they did many years later on Cruella de Ville's car etc. (We even had paper models shot on our 1986 Valhalla...)

Also, Børge notes that the animation of seawater is very effective. You can almost taste the salt during Pluto's siesta in the beginning of the film. It also shows a reprise of Norm Ferguson's flypaper scene, this time in color, reworked by Culhane.

Other featured performers: Al Eugster, Frank Oreb, Lester Novros, Paul Satterfield, Milt Schaffer, Preston Blair, [Claude] Smith, Stan Quackenbush, [Chester] Cobb and Lars Calonius.

Note the number, 2224. This was the time the studio changed to four-number production numbers. The actual materials show the original number, RM-24 (RKO distributed Mickey nr. 24)...
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This constitutes shorts draft number 66 on my blog.
I thought this one was missing a page, until I looked at the scene numbers...

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Prod. UM-16 - Puppy Love

Directed by Jaxon, released 9/2/1933. It can be found on the Treasures DVD - Mickey Mouse in Black and White. We find our staple animators, Johnny Cannon, Ben Sharpsteen, Frenchy de Trémaudan, Norm Ferguson, Dick Lundy and Les Clark, now augmented by Fred Moore. Sharpsteen supervised Paul Allen and Dick [Huemer]...
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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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Monday, January 21, 2008

Lloyd Richardson revisited

I have previously mentioned Disney editor Lloyd Richardson, whom we met on 30's shorts, on Alice in Wonderland and the True-Life Adventures. Here is a small article from the Disney Newsreel, an in-house studio publication, of April 25th, 1980, noting his retirement.
I believe he was born 4/21/1915 and passed away 2/19/2002...
Disney Newsreel April 25th 1980...< Click on it!

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Prod. CM-11 - Traffic Troubles

Released 3/7/31, it took little over three weeks to animate, from 12/29/30 to 1/24/31. Again directed by Burt Gillett, it features my favorite group of animators: Dave Hand, Les Clark, Tom Palmer, Ben Sharpsteen, Dick Lundy, Jack King, Johnny Cannon, Norm Ferguson and Frenchy de Trémaudan.

This is the film for which Dave Hand did some animation that he later mentioned - Walt told him several times to exaggerate his actions, until Hand got so irritated he said to himself "I'll show him exaggerated!" and made it twice as wild, so much so he thought he might be fired. Upon seeing it, Walt just smiled and said something like "See? That's just what I meant..."
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Friday, January 18, 2008

Prod. CM-7 - The Gorilla Mystery

The date on this draft is the release date, 9/22/30. It was directed by Burt Gillett and can be found on the first Mickey Mouse in Black and White Treasures DVD. Jaxon on the piano, and Johnny Cannon jazzing it up. "A scene where Mickey points a gun at the gorilla was cut," according to IMDb...
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Laugh-O-meter

(From several sources we know that Walt Disney depended heavily on his ARI (Audience Response Institute) where the audience response would be recorded on questionaires filled out after a screening. Card Walker ran this in the 40's. A bad ARI could kill a film, even if it had been fully animated. Well, I had not heard this before, though:)

Børge Ring writes:

From Laugh-O-gram to Laugh-O-meter...

Walt Disney's intense study of audience and what made an audience react lead him during the early 30's to invent and build what he called a Laugh-O-meter. It was a sound recorder that registered the laughs of a cinema audience during the projection of a short. During the projection it ran in sync with the film and, counting seconds (or feet?) delivered a report on which seconds of the film brought laughter and to what degree. A secretary wrote out the report in typescript across a barsheet of the film.

19,5 through 37 Belly laff
48 through 62 Titter
and so forth

The machine was capable of backlash. If a film was unsuccessful the secretary would write "slight titter" or "some coughing."

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Jaxon the Warrior

Børge Ring writes:

Wilfred was a warrior before he became an earl:

Young Wilfred Jaxon's idea in 1928 of linking animation to musical beats of half a second apiece rocketed Walt Disney's cartoons forward into gigantic success all over the world. Audiences laughed themselves silly because young Walt Disney (one of the best of "Walt's People") knew how to use synchronized sound for highly comical effects. For years on end his films rode heavily on this wave.
Walt was a king and a king creates earls out of select warriors so as to extend his detailed control while covering a lot of ground. During the two years before Wilfred was made a director he was animating on Mickey shorts.
What sort of an animator was he?
Excellent for the time. Actually in the forefront. Looking at three of the shorts he partook in, Jaxons animation comes out looking loose, at ease, meticulous and happy with what was put on his light box. His personal preferences in animation went out towards the abstract in the vein of Tyer and Scribner and Nolan but as he said "I make Disney films, not Jaxon films."

During "The Birthday Party" from 1931 Wilfred animated a musical number where Mickey and Minnie are playing dual pianos and sing "I can't give you anything but luuuve...Bebbee".
Their actions are joyful and in perfect sync, not just on the frame, nay in the middle of the frame, halfway between sprocket hole two and three, expertly on the dot like Ub Iwerk's skeleton dancers. Ub was Wilfred's old mentor.

In ">"The Firefighters" from 1930 he succeeds in making a ladder run down its own steps. Quite a feat. You try that one.
In the very same film he made the only disturbing Jaxon drawing I know of: Minnie is screaming for help out of a smoke filled window high up. She is the same cute little Dorothy Dandridge we met in Plane Crazy except for a few frames where she is momentarily an angry rat.

"Pioneer Days" from 1930 has Jaxon animating three folksy country musicians playing folksy dance music, reels and the like that the early pioneers had brought with them to Indian country from Old England.
Wilfred was likely entrusted with all musical "acts" for quite a time after "Steamboat Willie" until others caught up on the newfangled technique. Burt Gillett and Dick Lundy both felt naturally at home in a music situation. In "The Chain Gang" a spirited Mickey is playing a mouth organ. The action is very well observed from life and there is one stealthy "abstract" body distortion (for the heck of it as it seems).

Towards the end of "Pioneer Days" Jaxon animated a real fun scene. Minnie is being tied to a totem pole by an aggressive Indian. Mickey Mouse enters the scene with a popgun and shoots the Indian in the south pole. A remarkable wrestling scene follows, it is staged in extreme close up. Mickey is about to lose the fight but Minnie wriggles loose and puts the obligatory burning ember into the inside of the Indian's pants making him scream (slightly too early) and run away. That particular bit is animated by David Hand who, like Jaxon, was in time to become one of king Walt's earls. Dave became a Super Earl on Snow White.

Until Mark Meyerson (God bless him) sent me the draft I "knew" this scene to be one of Norman Ferguson's very best. The indian's timing and Mack Sennett styled signals of intelligence smelled strongly like Ferguson but it wasn't him. It was young Wilfred Jaxon.
What the scene did smell of was most probably Walt Disney's acting out the affair to the film's director Burt Gillett. Directors like Hand and Gillett "sold" their animators on the scene by acting out "things" the way Walt did. Guys like Sharpsteen, Gillett and Ferguson came to Walt Disney's small studio with years of animation experience behind them. Young Wilfred Jaxon was a Glendale born greenhorn with a natural talent and his animation stood up well next to theirs.
He must have animated on a lot more films than the three mentioned above but the drafts of those are not available. "Tant pis" as they say in Paris.

Wilfred Jaxon became, by general consensus, the most creative of Walt Disney's directors. Michael Barrier and David Johnson and Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston have told all about it.
Jaxon's simple device for "Steamboat Willie" of giving time a structure had consequences beyond aligning music and animation, (the so-called Mickey-Mousing.) Wilfred Jaxon aka Jackson gave animators a handle on time as such. A handle superior in many ways to thinking hard with your thumb on the button of a stopwatch.

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Prod. CM-10 - Birthday Party revisited

Some time ago, I posted the only page of an old version of the draft to the 1931 Mickey Mouse short called The Birthday Party. Here is it in its entirety in a later copy.
In 1942 it was remade as Mickey's Birthday Party...
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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Showman of the World

Here is Walt Disney's address on accepting the first Showman of the World Award on the occasion of the First Unified Convention of Motion Picture Exhibitors, the National Association of Theatre Owners (the other NATO) at New York City, on October 1st., 1966.
Less than nine weeks later, Walt had passed away.

Though I do not know which magazine this copy stemmed from, I find it an important document to present here, being in Walt's own words! I love his description of Harry Reichenbach...
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Disney's Lost Chords Website

You may have noticed the link in the sidebar pointing at a new site specifically for the book Disney's Lost Chords by Russell Schroeder.
I made this site because I truly feel this is a glorious, noteworthy enterprise and that the book should be in every home!

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Harper Goff

This in from my old mentor Børge Ring:

Harper Goff played the banjo and not the harp in The Firehouse Five Plus Two.

He was a production designer on some of Walt Disney's live action features such as the demanding "20.000 Leagues under the Sea."
In 1956 Walt lent Harper's expert services to Kirk Douglas to storyboard and make a "leica" for a difficult sequence in Kirk Douglas's film about "The Vikings".
Goff was allotted twelve months to complete the job...

Based in a suite in the Palace Hotel in Copenhagen he drew a detailed action story board in pencil, helped by a young local artist who coloured the scetches.
Whenever a new locale came up (such as a viking hall) Harper would make a very large, well thought-out design in colour.
Once every week he flew up to Bergen in Norway to check on the building of three viking ships. All three of these has a well hidden small Diesel engine so that they could return quickly to the starting point of a scene in case of retake.

He scoured England to find a suitable historical castle with no neighbouring telephone poles in sight. At long last he found one in Normandy. During the film the castle is attacked by a horde of vikings carrying a huge tree trunk to smash the castle gate.
To know if the scene would function on camera Harper hired seven Normandy taxicabs and linked them up like a train. The train had the same length as the tree trunk the vikings would carry. The cabs rode slowly up the winding road to the castle gate and Harper shot a 16mm film of the scene to show to Richard Fleischer, the film's director who came to Copenhagen once a month for a meeting.

"It seems quite a burden on the budget to employ two expensive people for a whole year in advance?"
"On the contrary, it saves a colossal amount of money on the ultimate production," said Harper on his way to the restroom.

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Prod. 2223 - The Hockey Champ

Also directed by Jack King, and just two production numbers up from Donald's Cousin Gus, The Hockey Champ was released 4/28/39, three weeks before Cousin Gus. This draft of 3/30/39 notes the assistant directors as Harry Teitel and (editor) Lloyd Richardson, whom we also met on Alice in Wonderland some twelve years later.

Layouts again Bill Herwig, animation by Lee Moorehouse, Paul Allen (we should know more about these two!), Eric Larson, George Rowley, Bernie Wolf and Don Towsley, with single scenes by James Culhane and Larry Clemmons, three feet co-animated by (Max) Gray - effects by Amatuzio, Jack Gayek, Ed Aardal and John McManus.
Also available on Treasures DVD - The Chronological Donald, Volume 1 - if you still can find it...
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Saturday, January 05, 2008

Babbitt's Fun

This in from my old mentor Børge Ring:

Art Babbitt's idea of fun:
"My idea of fun is to get up in the morning and dress into a pair of old overalls. Having a bucket of water, a bag of cement and a great big pile of bricks and then to build a wall."

Børge: "What is so exciting about that compared to what we are going to do here in the studio this morning?"

"I'll tell you: at the end of the day your hands are dirty with cement instead of with people."

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Prod. 2221 - Donald's Cousin Gus

This draft of 3/10/39 shows that director Jack King picked it up ten months earlier, 5/16/38. His asistant directors were Jack Handley and Harry Teitel (later known as Harry Tytle, the manager who wrote
--albeit a bit confusingly--the interesting, hard-to-find book "One of Walt's Boys").

Layout by Bill Herwig, animation by Woolie Reitherman, Paul Allen, Don Towsley, Lee Moorehouse, Johhny Cannon, Bernie Wolf with single scenes by James/Shamus Culhane and Ken Peterson (before HE went into management) - and an effects scene by Reuben Timmins. Released 5/19/39 and available on Treasures DVD - The Chronological Donald, Volume One.

According to Jack Kinney (in a letter to my old mentor Børge Ring), they intended to make a series using Cousin Gus, but decided against it as "gluttony wasn't funny..."
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We have entered another year - Happy New Year - I hope that I can continue to post things here that may be of interest... And I hope YOU will continue to comment, and we can learn new things together!

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