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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Blend

--The two Disney patents of Mary Louise Weiser
The Pinocchio Blu-Ray really brings home to us the amount of work that went into the creation of the beautiful imagery. The characters have a rounded look that adds dimensionality and realism to the otherwise flat surfaces. The technique used to accomplish this look is generally just referred to as "The Blend." On the Special Features one can hear noted historian J.B. Kaufman refer to it as such.

Mary Louise Weiser<< Click to enlarge...
I recently found this image of Mary Louise Weiser, head of the Ink and Paint Department at the Walt Disney Studios in 1939, during the period when the techniques for painting Pinocchio and Fantasia were finalized. Ms. Weiser has two patents to her name, assigned to Walt Disney Productions: one for a formula for grease pencils (filed Nov. 14, 1939, granted Apr. 28, 1942, nr. US 2,280,988), and one for a method of adding roundness and texture to characters - in other words, "The Blend" (filed a week later, Nov. 21, 1939, granted Sept. 2, 1942, nr. US 2,254,462).

As you can see in the following, the actual patent, the "discontinuously associated translucent modifying areas adapted to impart depth to the underlying areas" - is basically just this: on the cell with the character, or on a new one on top of this, dab with a sponge, apply a lacquer or draw with grease pencil, to get an effect of roundness. In other words, The Blend just means "paint the effect on top of the cell!" No witchcraft! This is basically what they did on Snow White over two years earlier, when they applied rouge to Snow White's cheeks. The patent does go into different ways to accomplish this effect, in itself an interesting insight...

Ms. Weiser's patent for grease pencils directly refers to the above patent, and she sees these as an integral part of reaching the goal of getting a good blend-effect on the cellulose-based cells. In the wording of the patent, it would "not only permit the artist to work directly on the cells but in addition permit the artist to produce pastel effects, textures, stipples and stains capable of creating the depth and roundness referred to in the co-pending application" above!
The use of grease pencils in animation has been very well established during the 70's and 80's. I remember the quest for good pencils "as used by Richard Williams in Soho Square" during the making of Børge Ring's Anna & Bella, which we cleaned up directly with cell pencils.
(I would like to see that application by Bill Garity that was co-pending with this, on a photographic process to create the characters' lines!)

The Blend has previously been referred to as a "technique that was used:" we just knew they used "The Blend," without getting into the details. It seems clear to me now that there really were no details! In some scenes of Jiminy Cricket, we see a very smooth blend, possibly airbrushed on, or lightly applied with a small sponge - in others we see heavy clear light lines either made with a paint brush or with grease pencil. Just a lot of work, all done by hand, by "dedicated professionals."

Nowadays, of course, CG animation has this roundness built in - at times even too much of it. Hand-drawn animation gets its help from paint programs that may have the possibility of adding a shading effect like the Blend. Still, I hope that the above will give some insight into the considerations and elbow grease that went into the creation of the masterpiece that is Pinocchio. Give a kind thought to Ms. Weiser next time you watch the fruit of her labor!

[Addition: on page 189 of The Illusion of Life, you can find another image of Mary Weiser!]

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Anonymous Michael Sporn says...

Staring at an actual cel from the films of that period gives one pause. The incredible inked lines done with quills in all those colors, the colored cels with their textured "blend". It's hard to stop staring. (I'm not sure I've ever been in such awe staring at a photoshop screen.) Just staring at one of those cels makes me want to get back to the desk and start drawing.

Thanks for posting this document. I always assumed it was some form of airbrushing. Still learning about the workings of that studio.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 at 5:05:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Eric Scales says...

I remember reading somewhere (maybe Illusion of Life) about a type of cel that Disney developed with a rough surface on one side. This surface allowed the cell to take a bit of medium, such as actual pastel. They then put the cel through some sort of process (I want to say it involved heat but know that doesn't sound too likely) where the rough surface was removed, except what had been drawn on. The rest of the cel was then clear for the rest of the character to be applied. If memory serves, it was for effects such as the slight shading on things like the fish, or fairy's wings in Nutcracker suite. Explaining this now, it sounds really strange, and I've never heard this story repeated. Can you perhaps shed some light on this story?

Friday, April 17, 2009 at 1:54:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Stephen Worth says...

The type of grease pencil they used was a bit different than an art grease pencil. They were makeup pencils used live action. The material in the pencil was softer than the waxy grease pencils we use and would spread out smoothly when they worked it. Red Hot Riding Hood had the same sort of rouge effect on her cheeks.

Saturday, April 18, 2009 at 10:03:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Christopher James Doyle says...

The great thing about the techniques described is that they maintained the style of the drawn image.
Modern day programs that apply 'similar' techniques of blending or shading, for whatever reason, (incorrect use or over used) make the image in my opinion totally 'gooey' and 'heavy handed' and lack contrast ('Curious George' comes to mind) which the old technique avoided because most times tiny 'lines' were still noted and had texture.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 at 2:29:00 AM PDT  

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