Friday, May 05, 2006

The Nifty Nineties




The Nifty Nineties is one of the few cartoons directed by Riley Thompson. The Mickey cartoons he directed were sometimes referred to as the "drunk Mickeys," possibly due to the alcohol consumption of the crew (both Fred Moore and Walt Kelly were known to imbibe) or possibly due to the style of animation, as the characters are more flexible in these cartoons than they've ever been.

Thanks to Jenny Lerew of Blackwing Diaries, I have a copy of the animator draft from the studio for this cartoon. The cartoon features an all-star cast of animators, including Fred Moore, Ward Kimball, Walt Kelly, Marvin Woodward, Les Clark, and Bud Swift. There's another animator credited as Smith who is probably Claude Smith. I don't know if the second names attached to some scenes are the names of assistant animators or possibly effects animators. If anybody knows, please comment.

I know that Walt Kelly, later the creator of the Pogo comic strip, animated on Pinocchio, Dumbo and The Reluctant Dragon, but this is the first time I've been able to identify specific scenes that he did. It's clear from his scenes that he was considered a more junior animator. The star Mickey scenes are done by Moore, Clark and Woodward. The broad action Mickey scenes are done by Claude Smith. None of Kelly's shots has much acting potential and he only gets one close-up.

If you are familiar with the entire cartoon, there is a sequence of still artwork which parodies the temperance plays of the 1890's. The drunk in this sequence looks like it's a caricature of storyman and director Dick Huemer, though I can't be sure. Unfortunately, the animator draft only identifies this material as coming from the music room, so I don't know who is responsible for the art.

I love animator drafts for the insights they give into a director's style. Thompson clearly gave animators continuous shots to do. Other directors like Clampett and Culhane were less likely to do that. In addition, Thompson was willing to let animation, rather than layout and cutting, carry the film. Moore's longest shot is his last one, which is 45 feet and 5 frames long. That's just over 30 seconds of continuous animation. Similarly, Kimball's longest shot is his second shot, which is 33 feet and 14 frames, or over 20 seconds. Of course, in the case of Moore and Kimball, the animation is so good and so lively that you're happy to keep watching.

There are mysteries associated with the draft. I have no idea who Elliotte is. He only animated a pair of hands removing a show card. There's information in the footage column that I can't figure out, such as "S & 1/2," "S & 1/4," "1/16S," "1/8S," and "1/4S." The background column includes notations like "NP" and "NS" that are mysteries.
If anyone knows what these things refer to, please comment.


29 comments:

Jenny said...

According to Kimball, "Smith" was Claude Smith on this short; he left during the strike and became a noted cartoonist in the New Yorker.

Great post! Glad to see your blog up & running. : )

Andrew Leal said...

Hey, Mark! Great to see you have a blog. Swamped with pending academic disaster, but as for identifying specific Kelly scenes, apart from working on the crows on Dumbo, both Selby Kelly and John Canemaker, in his audio commentary on the DVD, identify Kelly as animating much of the Ringmaster, especially the silhouette scenes, as well as the silhouette clowns, while Howard Swift apparently handled the facial close-ups, such as the scene where Mrs. Jumbo is roped. Kelly also worked on fawns and Bacchus and Jacchus in Fantasia, though I don't know how easy it is to discern his scenes there since even though he wasn't an "assistant" in the clean-up sense, he was basically working in tandem with Kimball.

intergalactic said...

Hi there...

Nice to see a new addition to the wonderful world of blogs. Jerry made a post over on the Brew so I'm sure that your comments are soon to over-flow!

I just wanted to say welcome aboard and that I'm very interested to see what you have to share. In fact just the other day I was watching "The Brave Little Tailor" on my ipod and thinking how it would be great if someone took the time to do a complete study on some of these great old shorts.

Cheers!

...i

St John Street said...

Excellent post love the info I've alot of great things about u from Jody Todoschuck she was in your animation class at Sheridan. I'm going to link u to my blog and return for more insightful info so I can continue to learn and grow have a great weekend and take care!!!

Linton Joseph

Anonymous said...

Elliotte is John Elliote who did some really great Mickey animation on "The Little Whirlwind".

Thad K said...

Killer work, Mark. I can't wait to see future animator breakdowns!!!

Mitch K said...

Wow, this blog is like finding a few bits of gold on a riverbank. I can't wait to see what else comes along!

By the way, I'm starting animation at Sheridan in the fall, so hopefully your name will become familiar to me.

I'm bookmarking this blog! Thank you! =)

Marc Deckter said...

Welcome to Blog Land, Mark!

Thanks a lot for posting the "Animator Identifications" for The Nifty Nineties.

Anonymous said...

NP means New Pan, NS is New Still (instead of S/A and then a number, which is Same As...)

The footage count for the specific person was set to a certain amount, like 1/8S is 1/8th of the scene length. S&1/8 would be scenelength plus 1/8th of the scene. So for 1 foot that would be 18 frames, as 1/8th of 16 is 2...

John Elliotte, called Jack (it seems everybody in the 40s named John was called Jack) was indeed an animator.
The second name on the drafts is often the effects animator. Remember that drafts were not historical but working documents, and thus used to find the "responsible" person, if something had to be changed. (See Mike Sporn's blog from February for more on this).
--Hans (A. Film)

Kevin Koch said...

Great blog! I can't answer any of the questions you raised, but I'm enjoying the hell out of what you're doing. I hope you'll be able to break down more cartoons by animator -- it's a tremendous learning tool.

David Nethery said...

There's information in the footage column that I can't figure out, such as "S & 1/2," "S & 1/4," "1/16S," "1/8S," and "1/4S."

My first thought about those mysterious numbers on the draft is that they might be referring to field sizes or other camera information , remembering that Disney at the time had it's own system of field guides that are not like the standard guides most of us are familiar with ( see : http://fields.afilm.net/ )

But could it be that 1/16, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 are musical notations ?

"SA" referring to the backgrounds is almost certainly "Same As" , so "SA 2" means it's a same as (reuse) of the BG from Scene 2 , but I'm puzzled by "NS" and "NP" . The S and P designations might refer to whether the background is "still" and "panning" which is borne out by comparing the draft of Nifty Nineties with the scenes described , but I don't know what the "N" refers to .

Larry T said...

This is very interesting, Mark.

I was surprised to see Sidney C. Onatais on Disney's roster. The only thing I had heard about him is that he worked on a few Woody Woodpecker cartoons in the mid 40s.

Those annotations you're seeing in the side column of the draft sheet are decriptions of how the action is supposed to look: The normal amount of animation was 12 fps (because there are 24 fps of film). However Disney didn't usually stick to this, so the timing notes you see describe how the drawings should be arranged timewise: 1/4 (slower) 1/8 (quicker) 1/16 (quicker) 1/24 (animation on 'ones').

By the way, greetings from Canada. ;)

Michael Sporn said...

Hi:

John Elliotte is credited as animator on Pinocchio & Fantasia.

Michael Barrier said...

The drunk in the temperance sequence is definitely a caricature of Dick Huemer. The whole cartoon is really an extended in-joke; notice that the theater's asbestos curtain includes the names of Walt, Wilfred Jackson, Bob Martsch, Ben Sharpsteen, and many others. I think that Kimball and Moore provided the voices for their caricatures, although I'm sure only of Kimball.

Elliotte was John Elliotte, who has screen credit as an animator on Pinocchio and Fantasia (effects, I think; I'll have to check on that). Wood was Cornett Wood, who was an effects animator for Disney, and I suspect those other mysterioujs names are all effects animators, too. Smith was surely Claude Smith, who assisted Moore before becoming an animator (he has screen credit on Dumbo).

Brian Meyer said...

I'm enjoying your site. Very informative. Your scene breakdown with accompanying stills was a great idea. I would love to see more of that as well as read more obscure information about the old animators. Thanks.

david nethery said...

Cool. The comments are finally showing up !

Seems to me that Hans (from A-Film) nailed it with defining the mysterious numbers on the draft.

I didn't see his comment until after I had posted mine.

I got "S" = still and "P" = pan , but I'm glad he provided the explanation that "N" = new , as in NP = "new pan" . The practice of dividing up the scene footage length into 1/4, 1/8, 1/16, 1/24 was new information to me. I haven't seen that on many of the drafts I've read , or else I've forgotten about it . I tended to comb through the drafts looking for animator names associated with specific scenes and glossed over some of the other info, which usually referred to field sizes and things like that . We had an almost complete set of the feature drafts , as well as many shorts, at the Disney Orlando studio reference library and I used to go look at them sometimes on my lunch hour. We weren't allowed to copy them, but now I wish I had broken the rules and asked forgiveness later ! Those drafts from the reference library are now probably sitting in storage somewhere .

Hans Perk said...

Also, Elliotte animated on shorts, like Cured Duck and Village Smithy.

That footage counts were complicated stuff witnesses this memo... And if you study it, it doesn't really seem fair, does it? ;-)
--Hans

Hans Perk said...

As to Onaitis, it is probably Franklin Onaitis, who - at least in July 1946 - was in room 1A-13, and thus was (as the placement of his name on the draft suggests) effects animator, as this was the same hallway that lead to George Rowley, Blaine Gibson, Jack Boyd and Sandy Strother...
--Hans

Mark Mayerson said...

I think that Hans is correct on Onatais. Note that's how his name is spelled on the draft and is different from S.C. Onaitis who worked for Lantz in the 1940's. S.C. was billed as Casey on at least one cartoon, though I can't remember the title off the top of my head.

Hans, I'm amazed that you know what room Onatais worked in and that it was a hall full of effects animators. Thanks for sharing that.

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Mark Mayerson said...

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Hans Perk said...

Hi, Mark - you must have seen Frank Onaitis (and others we have recently discussed) in the images on the Guild's blog from the Guild's publication The Animator in 1945. I really like being able to put faces to the names!
(tip: click the image, then change the ..._b.jpg to ..._o.jpg to see them in original (huge!) size).

steve waLLer said...

On "The Parent Trap" two-disc DVD, there's a bonus section where David Swift (a.k.a. Bud Swift) interviews Ward Kimball for roughly ten minutes. The two laugh about "The Nifty Nineties", because Ward gave Bud such a hard time over the animation of the horse jumping up the tree. Swift recalls it being the first chance he'd been given to animate at Disney's. He had to re-do it several times, in order to please Ward. Later on, Swift moved into directing live-action TV and features. Just a couple of years after doing the interview, both Swift and Kimball passed away.

SparkyMK3 said...

Interestingly, in Phi Beta Pogo (which had a big chunk of the book talking of Kelly's tenure at Disney) this cartoon is brought up. I'll paraphrase the following said by Ward Kimball:

Q: Did you work on any Mickey Mouse shorts with Kelly?
A: We only did one together. It was a terrible thing called The Nifty Nineties directed by Riley Thompson, who didn't know one end of a director's chair from another. The animation i did on this cartoon was terrible. Kelly did a whole sequence illustrating the song "Father, Dear Father, Come Home with Me Now"--a takeoff of an old lantern-slide show. He drew a caricature of Lou Debney wearing a little girl's blond wig and singing the song. Every time the film cut to this little girl on stage singing, she'd be crying a little harder, until at the end she had a complete breakdown, sobbing and standing knee-deep in gushes of tears. It was so funny that Fred Morre and I fell down laughing when we saw it. But Walt (Disney) thought the in-joke and little-girl animation were gross and decided to cut them oout. Now you see only the lantern slides, with the singing voice offstage."

Also, Walt Kelly animated one of the dancing crows from Dumbo (the tall one, i think) as well as animation of Mickey in a bucket+rope in the short "The Little Whirlwind." He also worked on the Lampwick sequence in Pinocchio.

Sanek said...

Hello.
Mister Mayerson, I appreciate your mosaic(you started all that!), but I don't like that you don't put scenes numbers and full names of animators. So...you will not be against if make redo this mosaic?

Anonymous said...

Hi,

I have two original drawings from the great Al Eugster. I'm his great great great nephew. Not looking to sell them, however I am more than happy to submit them to you to put on this website. I have taken digital images and they (I presume) would be be the last known drawings from Al. I have a Seven Dwarves drawing he drew me for a Christmas present dated January 1987 and a Donald Duck drawing dated in 1989. He liked to pre-date pictures and give them to his family members (as he didn't have any children) three to four years in advance. My brother received a Donald Duck in 1986 and a Mickey Mouse in 1988.

Mark Mayerson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Mayerson said...

would love to have copies of Al's drawings. If you could email them to me at mark.mayerson(at)sheridanc.on.ca I will be happy to post them on this site.