Sunday, August 20, 2006

Plutopia Part 3

At studios like Warner Bros. or Lantz, the only films made were shorts. While animators were always changing studios, it still led to a certain amount of consistency from film to film. One of the interesting things about Disney is that the shorts were often used as a holding tank for feature animators between assignments. A cartoon like Mickey's Delayed Date consisted almost entirely of animators from the shorts department, but on Plutopia, there are several animators who worked predominantly on features: Les Clark, Fred Moore, Marvin Woodward and Norm Ferguson.

This led to a real difference in the quality of the Disney shorts. This cartoon is better animated than Mickey's Delayed Date due to the skills of the crew. Director Nichols takes advantage of this. He clearly casts Plutopia by sequence, with the exception of giving Moore the lion's share of Mickey scenes.

It's interesting to see how Moore's style changed from a cartoon like The Nifty Nineties. Mickey's snout is larger than in the earlier cartoon and his head is smaller in relation to his body. Moore's poses are still highly personal, but I don't think that his timing is quite as sharp as in earlier cartoons. There's sometimes a tendency for his characters to float between poses and they occasionally do here.

Scene 21 is credited to Ferguson, but it looks to me like Moore did Mickey in that shot and Ferguson only handled the dog.

One excellent piece of Ferguson's animation is Pluto lying down on the mat in scene 30, where he goes down in stages, each part of his body timed separately. It's a very funny piece of motion.

I wonder what Ferguson's drawings looked like in the '50's? There are published examples of his Pluto from the 1930's, but I don't think I've seen later examples. The thing that strikes me about Ferguson's version of Pluto in this cartoon is that it doesn't have a strong sense of design. I think that George Nicholas's version of Pluto is far more attractive looking. Ferguson's drawing also handicaps scene 31, where Pluto floats away in his dream. It's a tough scene due to the changes in size and perspective, but Ferguson (or his assistant) wasn't up to it. There is also some bumpy timing in that shot.

Ferguson was a supervising animator on Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. Does anybody know what he did on those films? I'm curious if Ferguson's drawing is noticeable on those features.

I've yet to see anything Les Clark animated that doesn't impress me. Clark gets the initial part of the dream sequence, where the characters' relationships are nailed down. Pluto is initially in revenge mode, taking sadistic pleasure from tripping the cat. The cat is remorseful and begs to be punished. This is all personality animation and Clark does a great job of putting the emotions across and establishing the dream's version of the cat.

George Nicholas draws a beautiful Pluto and has a real talent for strong, cartoony poses. Take a look at these:

His shapes are very flexible and he uses a lot of drag on the fleshy parts of the cat, which results in a beautiful looseness. Until the 1950's, Nicholas was mainly a shorts animator but he did get his chance to animate on features like Cinderella and Lady and the Tramp. I hope that we can identify more Nicholas work on the shorts, as I think that he's deserving of more attention.

Marvin Woodward brings up the rear, taking care of the transition from the end of the dream back to reality. By the time Woodward's scenes appear, all the heavy lifting has been done and Woodward's scenes have no surprises to deliver. Ferguson gets the final fight scenes and Moore finishes up the cartoon with Mickey.

Note the changes in background colors, keyed to the cat's emotional shifts. This is the kind of thing that Clampett did in the later Warner cartoons and it's interesting to see Disney picking up on it. The dream background sets and props are also very much in a UPA vein. Disney had no problem going with a graphic approach in a dream sequence here as they had done in the Pink Elephants dream in Dumbo.

Once again, I'm at a loss to know why this cartoon doesn't get more attention. Besides the outrageous content, there's excellent animation here and some bold, attractive graphic backgrounds. I think that this cartoon is an under-rated gem and if you haven't seen it, I hope that you'll seek it out.


Thad said...

That first image of the cat needs to be on a certain kind of awareness poster.

- Thad

Anonymous said...

I imagine that it doesn't get more attention primarily because it's a Pluto cartoon. Unfortunately, to many people, sitting through a Pluto is only slightly preferable to sitting through a Casper.

Anonymous said...

There are also some examples of Norm Ferguson's drawing in Robert Field's 1940 book, The Art of Walt Disney.
They're not cleaned up, almost looking more like gesture drawings.

This followed the Disney method a number of animators followed in the '30s: animating primary, secondary and tertiary movements only. The assistants had to have been genius artists. You can hardly find the character in some of the animators' drawings.

Anonymous said...

To me Mickey in this cartoon is a lot like the one Floyd Gottfredson was doing on the comic strips in the late 40s early 50s.

Anonymous said...

I mean in they way Mickey is draw!Quite "angular".