Thursday, August 30, 2007

Pinocchio Part 26

We're back inside Monstro, with Walt Kelly animating Geppetto, Eric Larson doing Figaro and John McManus handling the tuna. Carl Barks was known as "the duck man" and I have to wonder if poor McManus wasn't known as "the tuna man" for a period of time.

Walt Kelly, to his credit, gets a tremendous sense of weight and effort into Geppetto pulling on his fishing line in shot 1. There is also a great combination of camera moves, background animation on the ship and water animation in shots 1 and 2. The Disney artists were always great at creating a sense of objects moving through a three dimensional space. That and the fast cutting create a visceral sense of excitement.

Larson's animation of Figaro is a comic battle, with Figaro only tentatively in control of the fish. The cut between shots 5 and 6 is a little rough, though the numbering doesn't imply any deleted shots between them. The cut would have worked better if it was on some of Figaro's action.

It's typical of Disney to include comedy, like Figaro's tuna tussle, in action/suspense sequences so that the suspense doesn't get too intense. A higher level of intensity will be saved for the climactic escape from Monstro, where comedy will be completely absent.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Pinocchio Part 25

This is an unusual sequence in that it's cast by animator. Woolie Reitherman handles all three main characters in this sequence: Pinocchio, Jiminy and Monstro. His Pinocchio has a much longer nose than usual. His Jiminy has a smaller head than Ward Kimball draws for the character.

Reitherman was known as an action animator and that's certainly how he's cast here. The action is frantic on the part of all the characters.

The sense of scale and power are preserved by Monstro's relationship to the tuna and the destruction of the underwater arch.

Mention must be made of John McManus's tuna animation. The tuna are not characters but they're believable fish and they're animated in ways that don't confuse the eye. I assume that Cornett Wood did most of the bubble and airbrush streak work, two things that add to the richness of the scene. I also assume that Sandy Strother is responsible for the fracturing rock archway in shot 3, which is very effective.

Jiminy's cowardice, swimming ahead of Pinocchio in order to save himself, leads to him being locked out of Monstro and much of the climactic action. As always in this film, doing something to help others leads to positive results and doing something selfishly leads to trouble. However, just as it was necessary for Pinocchio to go after Geppetto without Jiminy's prompting, it's necessary for Pinocchio to save Geppetto without Jiminy's help. While Jiminy's actions fit with the worldview of the film, they are also a script convenience to get him out of the way.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Pinocchio Part 24

Another very short sequence. Monstro starts to eat and Geppetto madly pulls the tuna into the boat to nourish himself and his pets.

Geppetto is handled by Walt Kelly here, whose birthday (he would have been 94) was just a few days ago. While Kelly learned an enormous amount while at Disney, he was never in the first rank of animators. At Disney, action was not as respected as acting, so lesser animators were given action shots so the top animators could be saved for acting.

While the layout of scene 4.1, looking out from inside Monstro's mouth, is similar to one used in The Brave Little Tailor (see shot 61 here), it is beautifully animated by Don Tobin. There's a tremendous sense of scale in the contrasting sizes of Monstro's teeth and the water and fish that pass over them. Tobin's water animation is just excellent; there's a level of complexity that's very difficult to achieve.

Eric Larson contributes some good comedy with Figaro swatting the flailing tuna to prevent them from escaping. This pays off in a later sequence.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Pinocchio Part 23

This sequence is so short it would be a crime not to comment on it immediately. What we learn here, after knowing that Geppetto and company are close to starvation, is that Monstro is waking up and hungry.

Woolie Reitherman handles Monstro in shot 2 and I'm guessing that John McManus animates Monstro in shot 5. I find the contrast between the handling of Monstro's eye on these shots very interesting. Reitherman has drawn Monstro's eye in a much more cartoony fashion than McManus. Furthermore, Monstro's timing is rather fast in Reitherman's hands. I think that it works against conveying Monstro's bulk. Reitherman doesn't just move the eye, he moves the whole whale in order to register Monstro's reaction to seeing the tuna. McManus's rendition, besides being drawn more realistically, emphasizes only the movement of the eye; he doesn't move the body. Reitherman takes over Monstro for shot 6 and times his movement appropriately for his bulk.

Personally, I think that the sequence would play better without shot 2. The shock of that eye opening in shot 5 is very powerful as is Monstro leaving the ocean floor. Shot 2 is timed too much like a typical cartoon take, ignoring Monstro's bulk and reducing him from a force of nature to a scheming cartoon character.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Pinocchio Part 22A

This scene is more exposition. We see Monstro for the first time, see Geppetto's circumstances inside the whale and learn that he is near starvation.

Because Geppetto only has mute animals to talk to, the exposition is naked. Geppetto can't verbally interact with anybody, so he's forced to spell out the information as directly as possible for the audience.

There is some exposition that's visually communicated. We see that Monstro is huge, based on his size relative to the fish and the size of the bubbles he emits in shot 1 as well as his size relative to a full sized boat in shot 2. Geppetto and Figaro both sneeze, foreshadowing Pinocchio's later sneeze and what it inspires. Cleo, nosing around the bottom of her bowl for food, pushes up some rocks that end up looking like tombstones, a visual comment on the threat of starvation.

Eric Larson gets all of Figaro here and Fred Moore does most of Geppetto, with Bill Shull picking up shot 4.3. All that's required of the animators in this sequence is to play the single attitude of despair. It's stated economically, but we don't spend a lot of time looking focusing on Geppetto's mental state. Here's a case where the stage business - petting the cat, checking the fishing line - works against the emotion in the sequence. Geppetto is facing death and still has no idea what's happened to Pinocchio, yet his animation and the choice of shots don't emphasize his anguish all that much.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Saturday at The Labyrinth

Alberto Ruiz, David Coleman, Joe Weatherly and Stephen Silver will be appearing at The Labyrinth bookstore, 386 Bloor Street West, on Saturday, August 25, 7:30-9. More details here and here. I regret that I'm going to miss this as I'm out of the country, but anyone within 100 miles of Toronto should make the effort to be there.

Pinocchio Part 21A

Correction: By mistake, I credited Milt Kahl with shot 21.1 in the mosaic. The Jiminy animation is by Woolie Reitherman. I've edited what's below to reflect the correction. Unfortunately, I'm not going to be able to correct the mosaic itself until early September, as I'm away from home. I'd like to thank The Spectre for catching the mistake and pointing it out in the comments.

Correction 2: Courtesy of Galen Fott, the mosaic has been fixed and edited into Pinocchio Part 21. Thank you, Galen.

This sequence is very typical of the 1930's fantasy genre in animation. In the Silly Symphonies, Happy Harmonies, Merrie Melodies, Color Rhapsodies, etc. animated films would create worlds unfamiliar to audiences purely for their novelty value. It's animation's version of spectacle.

earlier showcased spectacle scenes like Geppetto's clocks and Pleasure Island, but as this film nears the climax, all the stops are pulled out in the scenes revolving around the search for Geppetto and his rescue. We have the creation of an underwater world, chock full of effects animation to make the world as vivid as possible. The art direction and effects are really the stars of this sequence more than anything having to do with story or animation.

After Pinocchio jumps into the water, really nothing happens except that he moves through the environment while searching for Geppetto. It's the variety of ocean life and the vivid detail in the backgrounds and the effects that provide appeal for the audience. The bubbles, the reflections, the ripple glass effects, and the audio distortion are what make this sequence believable.

While there are top animators at work here (Reitherman on Jiminy, Kahl and Clark on Pinocchio), there's really little in the way of acting or gags. Reitherman gets the best raw material with Jiminy taking on ballast and interacting with the fish. One of the most interesting Jiminy moments, when he's stuck in a rapidly filling bubble. While Kahl gets the Pinocchio acting scenes, there's not much interesting here. Like Frank Thomas in the last sequence, I feel that Kahl was wasted. Lesser animators could easily have handled Pinocchio in this sequence.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Quotations from Chairman Mamet, Part IV

The last installment of quotes from David Mamet's book Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business.
"The observed rule in Hollywood is this: 'Feel free to treat everyone like scum, for if they desire something from you, they'll just have to put up with it, and should they rise to wealth and power, any past civility shown toward them will either be forgotten or remembered as some aberrant and contemptible display of weakness.'"
Not exactly "Be nice to people you meet on the way up as they're the same people you'll meet on the way down." Also this:
"Robert Evans wrote in his book The Kid Stays in the Picture that the best films seem to come from the most troubled sets, but with respect to Mr. Evans, I think this is a bunch of hogwash. I think that a producer likes a troubled set, because it allows him to "save the day" and otherwise exert undue and unfortunate influence upon a mechanism that, had he been doing his job correctly, should have run smoothly in the first place."
Here endeth the lesson.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Quotations from Chairman Mamet, Part III

More quotes from David Mamet's Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business.
"The making of movies is magnificently pragmatic. As in combat, as in sex, the theoretical is all well and good if one's a commentator, but the thing itself can actually be understood only through experience. No one on any set, or in any cutting room, knows the difference (if such there is) between realism and naturalism -- they are merely "telling a story with pictures." A couple of guys in a coffee shop set out to write a gag; a couple of guys with a camera set out to film a gag; a couple of guys in an editing room set out to make sense of the trash that's been dumped on their desks. That's moviemaking in its entirety -- anything else is just "the suits." Through it all the clock is ticking: so many days and they take away the camera, so many days and the studio needs to release the print."
And this:
"The dramatic experience is essentially the enjoyment of the postponement of enjoyment. The mouth waters at the prospect of a delicious meal; the palms sweat in anticipatory delight of sex. The enjoyment of the pseudodramatic entertainment has nothing to do with anticipation. It is, not only aesthetically but physiologically, akin to actual ingestion or congress.*

*Consider the difference between enjoyment and stimulation. One leaves the ballet feeling refreshed, as a promise has been fulfilled. One quits the videogame or pornographic film feeling empty and vaguely debauched -- for one has only been stimulated. The brain, here, craves a repetition of the stimulation, as with any drug. One may sit in front of the television for five hours, but after King Lear one goes home."

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Quotations from Chairman Mamet, Part II

More quotations from David Mamet's book Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business.
"As the writer changes, year to year, his or her perceptions and interests change. At twenty he is interested only in sex, at thirty in sex and money, at forty in money and sex, at sixty in money and validation, et cetera."
And this:
"The filmed drama (as any drama) is a succession of scenes. Each scene must end so that the hero is thwarted in pursuit of his goal -- so that he, as discussed elsewhere, is forced to go on to the next scene to get what he wants.

If he is forced, the audience, watching his progress, wonders with him, how he will fare in the upcoming scene, as the film is essentially a progression of scenes. To write a successful scene, one must stringently apply and stringently answer the following three questions:

1. Who wants what from whom?
2. What happens if they don't get it?
3. Why now?

That's it. As a writer, your yetzer ha'ra (evil inclination) will do everything in its vast power to dissuade you from asking these questions of your work. You will tell yourself the questions are irrelevant as the scene is "interesting," "meaningful," "revelatory of character," "deeply felt," and so on; all of these are synonyms for "it stinks in ice."
These magic questions and their worth are not known to any script reader, executive, or producer. They are known and used by few writers. They are, however, part of the unconscious and perpetual understanding of that group who will be judging you and by whose say-so your work will stand or fall: the audience."
And this:
"a. Make them wonder.
b. Answer their question in a way both surprising and inevitable."

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Pinocchio Part 20A

This sequence, where Pinocchio escapes from Pleasure Island and discovers that Geppetto has gone searching for him, is very much exposition. It marks the end of the second act and the start of the third.

The letter from the Blue Fairy is somewhat clumsy. Why doesn't she appear herself? I'm guessing it's because we need to see Pinocchio make the decision to go after Geppetto on his own and not have him come to it through discussion. Still, to have Jiminy reading the letter in order for the characters and the audience to learn information is pretty poor storytelling.

One of the interesting things about animation here is that Woolie Reitherman is one of the few animators who gets to do more than one character in a shot. During the early shots with Pinocchio running, Reitherman handles both Pinocchio and Jiminy. Later in the film, there are shots by Reitherman that include Jiminy and Monstro.

Reitherman's Jiminy is solid in this sequence. There's good comic animation in shot 12 where Jiminy is trying to dry off and in shot 29 there's a terrific take when Jiminy realizes that Geppetto has been swallowed by a whale.

While this sequence is built around Pinocchio's moral turning point - his independent decision to do right by rescuing his father - the direction and animation throw this moment away. There is no shot of Pinocchio wavering between fear of Monstro and the love of his father. Such a shot would literally show his thoughts and coming to a decision. I think that the film missed a major personality opportunity by not including this. Certainly Frank Thomas, the animator who did Pinocchio in these scenes, was capable of pulling it off. However, the film wastes Thomas in this sequence. What's here isn't particularly taxing from an acting standpoint and lesser animators could have done the job equally well.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Quotations from Chairman Mamet, Part I

David Mamet is a successful playwright (American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross), screenwriter (The Untouchables, Wag the Dog), and director (The Spanish Prisoner, State and Main). He's written about the act of writing and directing. His latest thought on these things are in his book Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business. Here are some of this thoughts from the book:
"I pass a poster for the current film and count eighteen names of producers.

On the poster?

Note that the poster is traditionally a way to attract the eye, and so the mind, to a novelty. The producers may in fact have contributed something to the film, but who in the world has ever gone to a film because of the identity of a producer? No one.

Then why list eighteen?

And here we have, to the physician, the unfortunate, inescapable, symptom -- here is the sunken cheek, the dark hollow neath the eye, the foul breath and thready pulse, the herald of death: the film, perhaps, is being made no longer to attract the audience but to buttress or advance the position of the executive."
And this:
"Movies are a potentially great art. Like any human endeavor, like you and me, they have inevitably been exposed to and have, in the main, submitted to the power of self-corruption, of self-righteousness, to the abuse of power. But like General della Rovere, like you and me, like the studio executives, they possess the possibility of beauty and, hence, for human transformation: not as preaching, not as instruction, not as doctrine -- all of which, finally, are out of place in the cinema and can awaken, at best, but self-righteousness. Movies possess the power to speak to the human soul, to free us from the weight of repression.

What is repressed? Our knowledge of our own worthlessness.

The truth cleanses, but the truth hurts -- everywhere but in the drama, where, in comedy or tragedy, the truth restores through art.

The audience has a right to these dramas, and the filmmaker and the studios have a responsibility to attempt them."
More quotes to come.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Oliver Hardy

Updated Below.

August 7 is the 50th anniversary of Oliver Hardy's death. Ed Wynn once said that a comedian isn't a man who opens a funny door, he's a man who opens a door funny. Oliver Hardy could open a door, or do anything else, funny. Like Jack Benny, he was more of a comic actor than a comedian. His ability was not creating gags or directing pictures, but taking a situation and finding where the laughs were.

He had a very expressive face, one that communicated his thoughts without needing words. His hands were things of beauty, always swooping in graceful arcs, his fingers adding additional filigrees to his gestures.

As animators, we value funny movement, so naturally, we have reasons to value Oliver Hardy.

Mark Evanier contributes his thoughts on the anniversary of Hardy's death.

Update: Børge Ring wrote me the following:

In 1948 I was a young jazz guitarist freelancing on Copenhagen Radio. During a guest program I accompanied
Laurel and Hardy, Oliver Hardy stood before my music stand. He was so big that if I wanted to have a look at the studio audience I had to lean sideways. The two master comedians sang the old cowboy song "Home on the Range" (in C-major).

They were touring Europe and during their stay in Paris Stan Laurel received a letter from the (then) unknown pantomime artist Marcel Marceau who wrote: "I have learned everything from you and Chaplin. We have a tiny theatre in the suburb. Won't you come on friday afternoon at 4 and have a look?" Stan went and saw.

Next day he clapped a press conference together at Hotel Hilton where he presented Marceau to the journalists telling them what he thought about Marcel's pantomime art. This started Marceau on his successful career.

Pinocchio Part 20

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Simpsons Meet The Fleischers...

...or Barney meets Bluto, if you prefer.

While looking at The Simpsons Handbook, I was struck how the construction of the characters resembled the construction used at the Fleischer studio. The Fleischers never really outgrew this approach to construction. You can see it as late as the Stone Age cartoons, which were some of the last things they did before losing the studio.

You know how in It's a Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart gets to see what the world was like if he was never born? Looking at The Simpsons model sheets, it's like looking at a world where Fred Moore was never born.

These characters are created out of separate, static shapes. The lines that define the shapes are completely lacking in rhythm and there's no attempt to use line to tie the shapes together.

None of the Fox primetime animated series seem to be interested in flexible shapes, which really is a shame. I've heard that Fox considered stretch and squash old fashioned, but as you can see, The Simpsons approach isn't exactly new.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Pinocchio Part 19A

As I mentioned earlier, I think this is the scariest sequence in any Disney animated film. It is beautifully set up and there's even humour to start with.

The audience has already learned through Jiminy that the boys turn into donkeys. So when Lampwick grows long ears, the audience can concentrate more on Pinocchio's reaction than on the ears. The film makers didn't want surprise to step on Ollie Johnston's great reaction shot where Pinocchio pushes away the beer. There's more comedy when Pinocchio tosses the cigar.

Pinocchio's lack of empathy for others comes across when he laughs at Lampwick's predicament. It's only when Pinocchio's laugh comes out like a donkey's bray that he realizes that Lampwick's problem is also his own. Lampwick is oblivious to his own condition and only begins to realize it when his own laugh turns into a bray. From this point forward, Fred Moore gets to do the most dramatic animation of his career and he does a brilliant job. First, Lampwick tentatively feels his face. His sense of touch isn't enough to convince him. It's only when he pulls down his ears and sees them and then rushes to the mirror that the full horror of what's happened to him sinks in. Shot 14 is Moore's last and he perfectly captures Lampwick's panic as he madly scrambles around the room trying to make sense of it. Then Lampwick turns to Pinocchio, begging for help and even asking for Jiminy's help. Lampwick's clasped hands, his crawling on his knees, his desperate, begging advance on Pinocchio is very powerful animation.

I don't know if Bob Youngquist or Milt Neil animated Lampwick's hands turning into hooves in shot 16. The animation itself is nothing out of the ordinary, though the shaking is a nice touch. However, the context that it's in, preceded by Moore's portrayal of panic and accompanied by Ollie Johnston's horrified Pinocchio reacting, makes the shot incredibly powerful. We're watching Lampwick's humanity vanish in front of our eyes. Like Alexander, Lampwick's last words are calling for his mother. His bravado, his defining characteristic, doesn't survive his transition.

Milt Neil shows Pinocchio reacting to Lampwick and then Milt Kahl steps in to portray the beginnings of Pinocchio's transition. Kahl doesn't get as much footage as Moore as the audience already knows the process and it can be shortened, but Kahl is every bit as effective as Moore in conveying the panic that arises. Note how effective the simple addition of a line under Pinocchio's eyes changes his emotional state.

Don Towsley animates Jiminy's frantic return to lead Pinocchio off the island. Rescuing Pinocchio is Jiminy's chief act in the film, enabling Pinocchio to finally become an active character and develop a conscience of his own.