Thursday, July 27, 2006

Mickey's Birthday Party Part 2

Mickey's Birthday Party is a very loose remake of the 1931 Mickey cartoon The Birthday Party. It borrows the basic situation and some gags, but doesn't re-use any animation and expands on things such as the cake gag considerably.

It seems that every one of these shorts reveals another "unknown" animator. Marvin Woodward animates an awful lot of this cartoon and does a great job. His Mickey and Minnie are very appealing and solidly drawn. His work is not as flamboyant as some other animators' scenes in this cartoon, but Woodward gets all the Mickey and Minnie acting scenes. The characters are likeable and you can really feel the relationship between them.

According to Alberto Becattini, Woodward started at Disney around 1931. He's got work in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, The Three Caballeros, Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Lady and the Tramp, but what scenes did he do? I can't think of any, yet he was clearly a very capable animator.

The mysterious Shafer (who is probably Milt Schaffer, but not definitely) handles most of the Goofy scenes with James Moore picking up the rest. These scenes could easily come out of a two-reel comedy as they're close to slapstick sitcom. The animators manage to make the cake gags believable, even though they're fairly cartoony and Goofy is an appealing victim of his own ineptitude.

My admiration for Les Clark continues to rise. Here, he gets away with some risque breast gags with Clara Cluck and Donald. I'm surprised that the Hays office let this get through, considering how skittish they were about udders just a few years before.

When Clara is dancing, there are some extreme visual accents used for a single frame to really hit the musical beat. Take a look at this drawing. Her rear, breasts and shoulder are all pushed uncomfortably, but because it's for a single frame it doesn't bother you at normal speed. Clark does all of Clara's dancing scenes and they're full of this kind of distortion to match the musical beat.

I'd have to know more about Clark's feature work, but I wonder if he might not have had more freedom on the shorts. It doesn't seem that he was often the lead on a feature character, so he was forced to make his work fit in with other people's. Maybe that watered it down. On the shorts, Clark's characters exude confidence and liveliness. Were those qualities present in his feature work?

Can somebody define what the Music Room was? My understanding is that it was where the directors and the composers worked out the timing and score of the cartoon, but why are the first scene (which is just a background) and 4.1 (Minnie putting on lipstick) credited to the Music Room? Were there artists and animators assigned to it?

I'll talk about Ken Muse, Riley Thomson and Bernie Wolf in a future entry.


Thad K said...

I checked the draft of "Alice", and Woodward does a bunch of scenes in the 'Garden of Live Flowers' ("Dog-and-cat-erpillars... Lazy daisy") and 'The Mad Tea Party' (teapots) sequences.

- Thad

brian meyer said...

Music Rooms are animation scenes in which there is no character animation.

They frequently serve the purpose of establishing a given local or are used for visual continuity. The term "Music Room" originated in the early days of animation when the directors shared an office with the musician who set the pace of each scene to music. A piano was always present in the director's office and if a scene moved forward in production without going to a character animator, that scene became know as a 'Music Room'.
Information courtesy of Disney/Sothebys.

floyd Norman said...

Yep, Brian got it right. I'll add that "Music Room" was where the sequence moved into production. Whenever Walt approved a storyboard, it went to Music Room -- or where the director, layout artist and animator prepared the board for production.

It's an old term, but I still miss it. I confess I was always elated when a board of mine went to "Music Room."

Stephen Worth said...

Clark animated on every Disney feature except Bambi. His feature work was just as good as his shorts. Perhaps his most famous sequence is the scene in Fantasia where Mickey is pulling up his sleeves and bringing the brooms to life. Walt singled that sequence out as the best animation of Mickey that ever had been done.

Clark was one of the first Disney employees and trained as Iwerks' assistant. His ability to work in a wide variety of styles led him to be used as Walt's "finisher"... when an animator was late in delivering his scenes, Clark could step in and pinch hit and his scenes would be indistinguishable in quality or style from the original animators.

He was a quiet man and was very close to Walt, which kept him above studio politics, and pretty much out of the Disney history books. But if anyone is responsible for the success of Mickey Mouse, it's Clark.

I really like Clark's Clara Cluck and Donald in Mickey's Grand Opera and the scene where the hero and heroine meet in Martins & the Coys. I worked for his widow on his estate and I have a lot of info on him. Walt originally picked Les to write the Illusion of Life book, but he passed away just as he was beginning it.

See ya

Stephen Worth said...

One other quick Clark anecdote...

Mrs Clark told me that Les didn't have art schooling the way many of the other artists at Disney did. This made it difficult for him as the studio changed and evolved. But with typical Mickey Mouse determination, he taught himself to keep up with the changes. He would take examples of the new style- a few Moore or Tytla or Kahl scenes from the stack of finished animation- and would lock himself in his office for days or a week at a time, studying and absorbing their way of drawing. When he would emerge, he would be able to animate in the new style. He did this several times in his career, reinventing his own style each time.

The one constant was his approach to performance. If you look at Clark scenes, particularly the ones of Mickey and Minnie together like the box lunch sequence in Building a Building, you can really see Walt acting out the parts underneath the characters. Clark's scenes always had a great deal of focus and detail when it came to delivering lines and making gestures and expressions.

See ya