Tuesday, May 30, 2006

More on Mr. Duck Steps Out

I managed to replace the images in the previous post after discussions with Hans Perk about some of the identifications. Even when you have the drafts, there are mysteries. For instance, shot 73 (and the numbering is mine, not the Disney studio's) is not on the draft. It may be by Ray Patin, who did the surrounding shots, but it may not. And the drafts list shots 93-95 as a single shot. In this case, it's likely that the animation was continuous and it was turned into three shots by changing the camera field during shooting, but we can't really know for sure.

I've admired this cartoon for years, mainly for the dance animation. Looking at it now, I see other things to admire, but I see weaknesses in the cartoon as well.

One of the things I've long noticed about Disney cartoons is their use of space. They don't hesitate to move the camera. If you're aware of what that entailed with cels, backgrounds and a camera stand, you know what an effort it was. Artwork had to be oversized, which made it clumsy to handle, and cranking the compound while shooting made camera work more complicated. For instance, I've only pictured one of the nephews in shot 83, but the camera pans in two directions to include all three of them. Shot 96 has Daisy enter the frame, Donald and Daisy dance through the screens, which vibrate, and then the camera pans to the right to find them on smashed furniture.

Because the Disney studio moves the camera so freely, there's the implication that there's a larger space beyond the frame and we're just seeing a portion of it. Cartoons from other studios move the camera less and in more restricted ways, giving the impression that the characters are confined in an enclosed space.

Another interesting thing about this cartoon is the way it cuts on action. There are more shots here than I realized, even before the pace picks up for the climax. You're not aware of the cutting because the animators make sure that actions continue from one shot to the next, which disguises the cut. This was a hallmark of live action Hollywood films of the time and Disney uses it to advantage. At Warners, the tendency was to cut from one character to another, which was simpler and more economical but didn't give the cartoons the same kind of visual flow.

I do have a couple of problems with this cartoon. While the backgrounds are attractive,
I think that they are overkill. They're not as graphically simple as The Pied Piper of Basin Street, for example, and the highlights, reflections, shadows and graduated tones sometimes make it hard for the characters to read.

My other problem is that the character conflict doesn't pay off properly. The nephews want to get between Donald and Daisy and Donald wants to keep them out of his way. When Donald bests them, they take revenge with the popping corn. But once they stick it to Donald, they don't take advantage of it. They should use Donald's loss of control as a ticket to dancing with Daisy, but instead they opt to play musical instruments, something they could have done at any time without getting into trouble. And Donald's popcorn-powered dancing makes him more attractive in Daisy's eyes, not less. While the nephews want revenge, they actually help Donald and voluntarily step out of his way.

Director Jack King clearly believes in casting animators by sequence. While there are some shots scattered among several animators, most of the sequences are logically cast. Les Clark is better known for his work on Mickey, but his Donald animation is great and he gets the cartoon off to a beautiful start with smart dancing and nice personality touches.

Ken Muse does good work on the nephews and Emery Hawkins does the final shots of the cartoon. King takes advantage of Hawkins' ability to handle broad action.

Shot 46 is almost 14 seconds of continuous dance animation by Paul Allen, somebody who I never was aware of until seeing the draft for this cartoon. He's a very good animator, yet I don't believe that he was ever interviewed or written about. Only Les Clark's work in this cartoon can compare with Allen, who easily outclasses Muse and Lundy here. What a shame we don't know more about him.

One of the things that bothers me about animation history is that the Disney shorts are a historical black hole. There were no credits on them until 1944. Animators who did not work on the features extensively and who left before that date have never received credit for their work. We don't know what films Emery Hawkins and Ken Muse worked on while at Disney. And even animators who stayed beyond 1944, like Paul Allen, spent the better part of their Disney careers without credit. This is one reason why it's so important for these drafts to be published. While it's possible to chart the progress of the Disney studio by looking at the films, it's impossible to see the development of individuals without the drafts.


Hans Perk said...

You are very right, of course, Mark. It is interesting, though, that on Alberto's Page are a LOT of credits for the animators, including Paul Allen, whom I also didn't know anything about until I was able to purchase these drafts.

Go to the bottom of the page for more links. I do not know Alberto, or how he got his data, but there is a lot there... Not ALWAYS totally all-inclusive, but still, more than I have seen anywhere else.

Mark Mayerson said...

I would love to know where Alberto got his information. His site is a great resource if the information is accurate.

However, as good as it is, more needs to be done. Paul Allen is just a name unless we can point to specific scenes that he did. And the quality of the assistant work is so high on the Disney shorts that we can't identify work by Hawkins or Muse by their drawing styles, as we can with their work at other studios.

I think that we're just beginning to understand the contributions of individual animators, though I'm encouraged that we seem to be building up some momentum.

Thad said...


Alberto's site is one of the most accurate sources you'll find on the internet. He really knows his artists and gets his facts straight! He helped me identify a few favorite comic book artists of mine (some turning out to be former animators).

BTW, the one problem you have with the short, Daisy going nuts for Donald after his 'dancing', is my favorite part! It's the same sort of twist Barks would put in his later comic book work.

- Thad

Jenny Lerew said...

Great analysis, Mark; detailed and still a pleasure to read--no mean feat.
I especially perked up at this:
"Because the Disney studio moves the camera so freely, there's the implication that there's a larger space beyond the frame and we're just seeing a portion of it. Cartoons from other studios move the camera less and in more restricted ways, giving the impression that the characters are confined in an enclosed space."
I'm ashamed to say I've never articulated that, but I can visualize various cartoons and realize that it's true...you really hit on a fascinating filmmaking observation. Thanks!

Mark Mayerson said...

Thanks for the compliment, Jenny. I struggle to make useful observations. I'm sure that there's interesting material in this cartoon that I'm missing.

Thad, I'm glad to hear that Alberto's site is accurate.

My problem isn't with Daisy. She wants to dance and with the popcorn-powered Donald, she gets a better partner than ever. My problem is with the nephews. They're motivated to mess up Donald so they can get to Daisy, they don't accomplish it and they don't seem to care.

Hans Perk said...

Quick note: in July 1945, "Emory Hawkins" sort of sat by himself in the Disney animation building in room 1F-15.

Anonymous said...

My father worked at Disney in the late 1930s to early 40s and then went to fight in ww2. He left me 30 some production cel drawings and his employment card. They are sequential of the first part of Mr. Duck steps out. His experience of working there was his dream, but the way the artist were treated was the bad memories. These cel drawing have never been seen by anybody and my hope is someday they could be shared with the puplic and give credit were credit is due, to the unknown artists at Disney!

Garry Apgar said...

It would be great if "Anonymous" could send Mark or Hans Perk at least one image (of an entire sheet) from among those thirty animation drawings so that it can be posted ... and even better, supply his or her father's name ... to help give credit where credit is indeed due.

As Mark so aptly put it, "I think that we’re just beginning to understand the contributions of individual animators."

It' s high time we moved beyond the Nine Old Men and shed more light on their many predecessors, assistants, and the in-betweeners who worked under or collaborated with them.