Wednesday, September 10, 2008

101 Dalmatians: Part 17A

In this segment, Cruella and the Baduns are searching for the dogs, who are fighting their way through a snow storm. They are rescued by a collie who brings them to a dairy barn where they are able to eat and rest.

You will notice that in Part 17, I was able to identify which animator did which character in a shot. That's because Ruth Wright, the secretary responsible for this portion of the draft, included the information whereas none of the other secretaries bothered. I did make one change to this in shot 17. Wright had Ollie Johnston animating Perdita and Hal King animating Pongo. Given the characters' relative size in the frame and the amount of acting each had to do, I believe that Wright made an error.

The opening scene between Cruella, Horace and Jasper is cast by character. Marc Davis handles Cruella (as he does throughout the film), and Cliff Nordberg takes care of her henchmen. I've talked a fair bit about the so-called "lesser" animators at Disney. Here's a perfect example of excellent work being done by Nordberg. At other times in the film, Horace and Jasper are animated by John Lounsbery or John Sibley, but Nordberg is fully capable of animating to their level on these characters. He shares the screen with Marc Davis, certainly one of the best of Disney's animators, but there's no feeling that Cruella is a more polished piece of work than what Nordberg is doing. Nordberg's handling of the acting and dialogue in shot 4 is excellent, as is his action animation when Cruella throws Horace back into the van on top of Jasper in shot 5.

The march of the dogs through the snow storm (and the draft notes that there is "live action blowing snow") is a demonstration of the power of posture to communicate a character's emotional state.
Perdita's entire spine, from head to tail, is drooping, showing her to be exhausted. Facially, her eyelids are partially closed and drooping, while a single line beneath each eye, indicating a bag, reinforces how tired she is. This one drawing shows the power of cartooning. What Hal King has done here is to isolate what conveys the necessary emotion. Adding more detail to this drawing would not strengthen it; additional detail would distract from what's important. The point of cartooning (and animation) is to strip away everything that doesn't contribute to the desired statement and to play up what's left.

Hal King pretty much handles the entire march through the snow and deserves praise for how effective the animation is in these shots. Eric Larson and Ollie Johnston get some personality scenes with Pongo, but King sets the tone.

The first shot of the collie (shot 14 by Julius Svendsen) is my nomination for the worst piece of animation in the entire film. The collie is running through deep snow, yet the dog does not appear to be exerting himself in the slightest. There is no sense of force emanating from the dog's limbs or a sense that the terrain isn't solid. There is also no effects animation of snow being disturbed by the dog's legs (though this probably wouldn't have been handled by Svendsen). The run is especially weak when you compare it to Ollie Johnston's Pongo animation in shot 16.1, where Pongo struggles to run through deep snow to let Perdy know that they have reached shelter. Johnston's run is specific to the environmental conditions, where Svendsen's is not.

Later shots of the collie tend to go quite flat. In contrast to the other dog animators, Svendsen leaves the collie in profile most of the time and doesn't turn or tilt the character's head during dialogue. It's a shame, as the collie has a heroic role to play and his voice, by Tom Conway, is quite distinctive. While other supporting characters in the film are successfully realized, the collie is a missed opportunity.

(Tom Conway was the brother of George Sanders, who later voiced Shere Khan in The Jungle Book. Sanders was married to Zsa Zsa Gabor, whose sister Eva voiced Bianca in The Rescuers. Instead of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, for Disney features you can play Six Degrees of George Sanders.)

Svendsen is the sole animator of the collie, so he has to take responsibility for this. His animation of the horse earlier in the film is far superior. Once the characters move to the dairy barn, the drawing and animation of the collie look decidedly weak next to Hal Ambro's cows, who are far more dimensionally drawn and animated.

You can tell that censorship was breaking down by the 1960s. In the '30s, Disney had to cover up Clarabelle Cow's udder with a skirt. Here, the pups are actually shown suckling on the cow's teats, something that never would have been allowed in earlier years.


Thad said...

(Posted this in the other post by accident...)
Your comments about the collie aren't very surprising. It's not only weak animation, the collie's just not a very pleasing design at all. It's ugly and out of place. No fun to it like all of the other characters (animal and human).

Floyd Norman said...

I sure don't mean to pick on Sven because he was a darn good animator. Yet, I still remember concerns about the collie way back then.

I'm surprised the director never asked for changes. Maybe we were just concerned with getting the picture done.

Funny remembering this after all these years.

Pete Emslie said...

One more bit to add to your "Six Degrees of George Sanders". One of the cows in that sequence of 101 Dalmatians is voiced by Queenie Leonard. At the time, she was the wife of Tom Conway. By the way, Conway also provided the opening narration in Peter Pan.

For the record, I like the collie's design. He certainly looks like a noble aristocratic type, and I always found his air of gentle authority quite comforting as he provided a temporary safe, warm haven for the pups, giving that scene a bit of a breather from all of the action that both precedes it and that which follows.

Anonymous said...

About the collie,I had the great chance to talk quite often with John Ewing. Lounsbuy's assistant and he said that Wollie would allow a lot through.John gives an account on Sword in the Stone about a badly drawn scene of Kay that John Ewing animated, one of his first and wollie let it go though. John was expecting it to be given the thumbs down. Whether Wollie directed the Collie seq I don't know?