Sunday, April 06, 2008

101 Dalmatians: Part 2A

The opening to this film is its own mini-movie. While I haven't gotten to the "meet cute" portion in the mosaic yet, the opening of the film is really a complete short. We're introduced to Pongo and Roger. We learn Pongo's objective (to find a mate for himself and Roger) as a remedy for his boredom. After rejecting several possible mates, Pongo spots one he's interested in and manipulates Roger into taking him to the park so that they all can meet. In the next mosaic to come, Pongo manipulates the two humans into physical contact and then waits breathlessly as what looks like a disaster dissolves into humour and success.

While we learn things about Roger in this sequence, we really learn that Pongo is the protagonist. He doesn't settle for the status quo. He sets his goal and then pursues it. Later, when the puppies are stolen and the humans fail to recover them, it is Pongo who suggests using the twilight bark and who runs away with Perdita to find their puppies. That's all believable to us because we have already seen Pongo bend events to his will.

It's interesting that the film starts with a voice over by one of the characters. Pongo isn't an omniscient narrator and his voice-over disappears once Cruella enters the film. There are good reasons for that. The voice-over puts the events of the film in the past, and the fact that Pongo is narrating tells us that he, at least, survived what we're about to see. The existence of narration removes the audience from the immediacy of the drama, so when the main plot finally kicks in, the voice over has to vanish.

Besides introducing us to Pongo and Roger, the opening features some excellent animation. The women walking their dogs are textbook examples of expressive walks. Michael Sporn has broken down the art student's walk here. There are several notable things about this walk. First is the shape of her spine. When she walks, she leads with her hips. Her body is depicted as an 'S' curve. That curve stretches and squashes with every step. Furthermore, her shoulder moves along a path of action that's a sideways figure eight, or the sign for infinity (∞). The art student walks on a 16 beat, meaning one step every 16 frames of film.

By contrast, the French girl and her poodle walk on an 8 beat, or twice as quickly. Pace alone says a lot about the character. Her posture is upright and her nose is in the air. There's almost no spinal stretch and squash here. One of the most interesting things to me about this walk is the delineation of the hips.

When I looked at stills of Bagheera in The Jungle Book, I was amazed at how flat some of them looked. Because there's no interior detail within the outline and the character is painted a flat colour, the drawings hardly look dimensional. However, when Bagheera moves, his shoulder blades, ribcage and pelvis all exist dimensionally. The Disney artists figured out that if they understood structure and how it moved, they could define it with very few lines. The French girl's hips are an example of this, though it may not be obvious from the small reproduction below. Two lines, the front and back edges, are all that's available in the design, yet because the animator understands the shape of the hips in three dimensions, we see the hips as they turn in space.

Both Frank Thomas and Blaine Gibson are credited in the draft, so I'm not sure who actually animated this walk. I might be tempted to give Thomas the credit, but Gibson was a sculptor so he undoubtedly had the necessary knowledge.

(This is my first attempt at using video with blogger, so apologies for any problems. I'm using Firefox on an iMac, and I can't figure out how to get this to cycle. Anybody have a suggestion?)

One more note on the pace of walks. The art student and the French girl have dogs that walk at the same rate as they do. The buxom woman is walking on a 10 beat and her dog is walking on a 6 beat. That means that for every three steps the woman takes, the dog takes five, something that takes a fair amount of planning to pull off when they both cover the same distance while walking at different rates. A 10 beat and a 5 beat would have been a lot easier to plan.

We feel we know something about these women purely from their walk cycles. Their designs, postures and paces communicate with very few drawings. In some ways, they are just throw-away gags about how owners resemble their dogs, but the animators' skill level was so high at this point in time that even a throw-away is packed with attitude and information.


Luke Farookhi said...

I've always loved the characters walking along the street in this scene. As you say, very well defined personalities, simply through the animation of their walks.

Perhaps also worth noting here is the reversal of the animal/human relationship. This seems to me to continue throughout the film, with Cruella as (increasingly more bestial) predator pursuing the more human dalmatians.

Thad said...

Unrelated, but happy birfday, Mark!

Pete Emslie said...

Have you noticed that this initial shot of Anita differs slightly from the way she looks in the rest of the pic? This first appearance always struck me as being a bit different since I first saw the film as a kid. Still, not so glaringly different as the two Kaas in "The Jungle Book".

Yeah, Happy Birthday you rascal! Here I was talking to you Monday about it being James Garner's 80th, and you never said a thing about it being your birthday too. I gather you're several years younger than Jimbo though...

Anonymous said...

Wonderful insight Mark! I really do love these scenes you really see the personality of the each character by their walks. It's something I see lacking in modern animation for the most part.

oh about the looping video thing:
try using they host various different types of video formates