Thursday, June 22, 2006

More on The Little Whirlwind

The more I examine the animator drafts that are coming to light (and I'm grateful for each and every one of them), the more I realize that our understanding of Disney animation is terribly incomplete. There are animators like Les Clark, whose work in the features isn't all that celebrated, yet here he is doing excellent work that deserves to be talked about. That goes for his scenes in Mr. Duck Steps Out, too.

And it seems that each draft reveals a hidden treasure: Paul Allen in Mr. Duck, Cliff Nordberg in All The Cats Join In and in this cartoon, John Elliotte. He was credited on features throughout the 1940's, but I've never read anything about him and am not aware of any of his feature scenes being identified.

While we know about effects animators like Josh Meador, Ugo D'Orsi or Cy Young, this cartoon has a crew of mostly anonymous effects people who do excellent work.

I can only hope that more of these drafts will come to light, especially for the features. I think that there are surprises awaiting us and many unsung animators whose work deserves recognition. The Nine Old Men are not the only Disney animators worthy of attention and some of them, like Les Clark, haven't gotten the attention they deserve.

This cartoon is a case of many hands all working at a high level. You've got typically great animation by Les Clark, Ward Kimball and Fred Moore, but they don't dominate this cartoon's footage the way they do The Nifty Nineties. Instead, animators like Duncan, Jones, Muse, Woodward and Elliotte manage to do personality-oriented action that maintains the standard, followed by straight action done by James Armstrong and Walt Kelly that makes for an exciting climax. Kimball and Moore return to wrap things up.

Just about every animator here has a highlight scene. Les Clark's entrance for Mickey is a walk that verges on dance. It overflows with personality. Clark also did Donald's first scenes in Mr. Duck, so it appears that he was counted on to set the tone for a character. Ward Kimball's best scene is number 13, where Mickey rakes leaves to the music. Moore follows Kimball in this section and you can see his poses in the model sheets I posted yesterday. Two of Moore's shots run 24 seconds or more (16 and 18), yet they never flag. There's not much in the way of gags in Kimball's and Moore's scenes in this section; the appeal comes strictly from how Mickey moves. That's a testimony to their ability to come up with poses and timing that satisfy your eye.

Ken Muse doesn't have much work in this cartoon, but scenes 25 and 26 are a well done comic struggle with the basket.

This is followed by John Elliotte's work. If I didn't know better, I'd think it was Fred Moore's. He seems to have caught Moore's Mickey proportions well and while his posing isn't quite up to Moore's standard, it's pretty darn close. He draws flexible shapes and has strong contrast in his timing. He has a talent for comic action that keeps Mickey's personality front and center. Mickey sneaking around the building includes some funny foot animation and a good take. The battle with the whirlwind in the bag is some of the best material in the film.

I wish I knew more feature scenes that Walt Kelly animated, because it appears from the shorts that he was considered an action animator. Mickey's run away from the tornado is well done and Kelly does some nice perspective animation of Mickey in the bucket. James Armstrong gets a lot of extreme long shots, but the few places where Mickey is a decent size (scenes 34 and 54) he handles Mickey well.

The whirlwind and its larger version are beautifully animated. Both have personality in addition to good rendering treatments. I don't know who did the marching leaves (either Woodward or Harbough), but they always make me laugh.

There are 27 animators on this cartoon! Contrast that to the half dozen or fewer who would animate on a typical Warner Bros. cartoon. Only the Disney studio had a staff so large that it could throw so many people at a short. And maybe Disney was the only studio where the staff was skilled enough to make a cartoon look consistent when drawn by so many hands.


Anonymous said...

Hey Mark, thanks for all the wonderful material you've been posting on "The Little Whirlwind". Aesthetically speaking, it is my alltime favourite Mickey cartoon - the design of the poses and their proportions being just so delightful and cartoony.

The credit for each scene is somewhat of a revelation to me, especially those attributed to Les Clark, notably the intro walk of Mickey and his pressing his nose up against the window, all of which I had always wrongly surmised had been done by Kimball. The Fred Moore scenes are classic in terms of strong posing, and I show that sequence in my class at Sheridan to show how descriptive and communicative well designed poses can be.

I knew that Walt Kelly had animated the scene of Mickey in the well bucket but had hoped that he'd done much more than just those short action scenes. It is interesting to note the pose of Mickey in image #41, where his hand position on his hat is pure Pogo! I sort of get the impression now that Kelly was not given much work of any substance to do at Disney, judging by his small contributions in both this and "The Nifty Nineties". No wonder he got frustrated and left for greener pastures.

By the way, I would also like to extend a "virtual handshake" and say hello to Hans Perk at this time. Hans, we may not have met in person but we know each other through Stacia. I enjoyed very much the DVD of your studio's sample reel that she passed along to me on her trip to Toronto last summer. Your work is great and I've always been a great admirer of Borge Ring's "Anna and Bella" too. Nice to make your acquaintance on this blog of Mark's!

Mark Mayerson said...

Hi Peter. Now that I know more about Kelly's work at Disney, I'm very glad that he left the studio. Had he not, it's very likely that he would have ended up an anonymous animator there. Within this cartoon, I can point to animators who were doing better work than Kelly and still didn't get high profile opportunities on future films.

There's no question, though, that Kelly really learned to draw while at Disney. If you are familiar with his comic book work before and after his stay at Disney, there's no comparison. Kelly definitely gained more from Disney than Disney gained from Kelly. And the audience definitely gained from Kelly going his own way and creating Pogo.

It goes to show that working at the top studio in the world was not necessarily the best choice for every artist.

Hans Perk said...

Hi, Mark - great analysis (again)!

And Hi, Peter! Heard a lot about you, and have been admiring your website, and your caricatures on Didier Ghez' series Walt's People! Good to see you are taking part in the discussions. Look me up on my own blog some day. (But keep coming back here, as I do!)