Sunday, March 30, 2008
101 Dalmatians: Part 1
Movie credits were once just a formality. If you look at early film credits, the title card contains an enormous amount of information.
Until the 1950s, title sequences might contain a background graphic beneath the type that would place the movie into a particular genre or style, but the credits were generally static and were something to get over quickly in order to get the movie started.
In the 1950s, things began to change. At the time, movies were fighting a popularity battle with television. Instead of being something purely obligatory, titles were looked at as potentially entertaining. Saul Bass became famous for his animated graphics in movie titles, starting with Carmen Jones (1955). In 1956, Bass designed the end titles for Around the World in Eighty Days, produced by Mike Todd and which featured cameo appearances by many Hollywood stars. The titles were directed by Bill Hurtz for Shamus Culhane Productions (see below).
The artists at the Disney studio had to be aware of Bass's work on this film. With Dalmatians, they had the opportunity to jump on the bandwagon and create a title sequence that set the tone for the film while entertaining audiences. Just as Bass used a graphic motif of a circular vortex for the titles of Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958), the Disney artists built the titles of a film about spotted dogs around the motif of spots.
(I'm not an expert on the Disney live action features of the time, but I'm sure that some of them, possibly predating Dalmatians, also had Bass-like titles. Can anyone cite examples in the comments?)
Another influence on the titles may have been Orson Welles end credits for The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). While those credits are spoken by Welles, when he credits the cinematographer, the visual on screen is a camera. The rest of the technical credits are done in the same way, so the credits are an explanation of the movie-making process. In the Dalmatians credits, the graphics demonstrate the craft of animation production. The spots become musical notes for the composer credits. Bill Peet's credit as writer is hand-written, fitting for a storyboard artist, while Dodie Smith's credit is typewritten and accompanied by the sounds of a typewriter. The animator credits are accompanied by moving dogs. The effects animator credits have pulsating letters.The layout credits are shown over line drawings of backgrounds and when the background artist credit appears, the line drawings are coloured in.
The above mosiac doesn't do justice to the title sequence because the most interesting parts are the transitions between title cards, animated by Carleton "Jack" Boyd. Les Clark provided the character animation that was mixed in with Boyd's graphics.
The titles themselves are very interesting. The phrase "With the talents of" was a catch-all for people who provided voices but who also provided live action reference. Mary Wickes is credited, but her contribution is only indirectly on screen as she acted out Cruella's motions unless she provided a voice that I'm not aware of.
There are two other things that are interesting about these credits. The directing animators have their names zoom up, a not so subtle bid for attention and a declaration of their importance to the animated features of the 1960s. The other interesting thing is that Woolie Reitherman receives top billing as director, even though he's the new kid on the block compared to Gerry Geronimi and Ham Luske. It's also interesting that the directors names start big and then recede, the opposite of the directing animators. Again, this may be an unintended comment on the shifting power within the animation department. There's no question that animation dominated direction in the '60s Disney features, to the detriment of the films.