Saturday, November 15, 2008

101 Dalmatians: Part 20A

This is the climax of the film where Cruella and the Baduns attempt to stop the truck carrying the dogs back to London.

While it is an exciting sequence, what strikes me is how little the dogs have to do. They have been active characters before this - searching, fighting and avoiding capture - but there's nothing left for them to do. Except for Perdy catching a pup by the tail as the truck tilts dangerously, the dogs are literally just along for the ride. While the audience has been asked to identify with the dogs as protagonists, now the audience is stuck rooting for a truck driver who has no history with the audience and no idea what's really going on. It's a bit of an odd turn for the film to take.

It's also something of a disappointment that the bad guys are the authors of their own misfortune. Again, after the dogs have worked so hard to rescue the puppies and return home, why not give them the opportunity of striking the final blow? Instead, the bad guys cancel each other out and the dogs ride home to safety.

There are some interesting shots where the backgrounds recede behind the characters riding in vehicles. If they were done as traveling mattes, the matte work is excellent as there are no matte lines visible. Those lines are visible in later films like The Rescuers, so why are the shots here better? Perhaps they were done using the multiplane camera, which would not require matte work as the entire shot would be done in camera. Does anyone know?

This part of the film really belongs to Cruella. While her henchman have done most of the dirty work until now, she is the main villain in the chase. In shot 158, her car crashes through some trees and parts of it get stripped off, the resulting look in shot 160.1 is very much a nod to the California hot rod culture of the 1950s. Big Daddy Roth, anyone?

Prior to those shots, in 149-154, the car lands in a snowbank and instead of animating the snow, someone decided to use the live action footage from the model shoot of the car. The live action images were transferred directly to cels and painted. As a viewer, these shots have always called attention to themselves and taken me out of the story momentarily. For one thing, the texture of the snow in these shots doesn't match any snow in the rest of the film. For another thing, there are registration problems. You can clearly see the live element weaving relative to the painted backgrounds they've been inserted into.

The film leaves Cruella, Horace and Jasper stuck in the snow without a way home. Are the arrested? Horace and Jasper are guilty of burglary. Cruella is guilty of attempted murder of a truck driver. Are they fined? There's no doubt that Cruella has broken the speed limit and driven recklessly. We'll never know.


David said...

"The live action images were transferred directly to cels and painted. As a viewer, these shots have always called attention to themselves and taken me out of the story momentarily. "

I've always found that shot extremely disturbing (visually) .

If anything should be fixed digitally this is it .

Michael Sporn said...

Nothing should be fixed digitally. This is the film it is.

Excellent analysis, Mark.
I always wondered about the scenes with the BGs reducing into the distance, as well. I always assumed it had to have been done with the Multiplane camera.

Personally, I like the fact that the dogs don't do in the villains and an outside interference causes their end. Comeuppance for their having been bad, not the action of heroes is a theme I prefer.

Luke Farookhi said...

I think the decision to have Cruella defeated by her own determination more than anything else is quite a deliberate one to increase the character's menace.

Throughout the film the dalmatians are able, to an extent, to fight and fend off the Baduns, but they never get close to Cruella. I always thought the Cruella of the live-action film was made less menacing by the fact that she is not only defeated but humiliated by the animals.

Jenny Lerew said...

"Nothing should be fixed digitally. This is the film it is."

Amen. Heartiest applause from over here!

spokeshave said...

I think the shots of a reducing bg's would have been done by shooting, probably a second set of xeroxed cels. With painted black around a clear character area and then shot onto hi-contrast bw stock. To give them a male matte, black character area against a clear film. The character cels would be shot over black, the film would be rewound and the hi-con matte bi-packed with the film in the camera, holding back the character area. Then the cameraman would shoot a pull out on a large bg. Rescuers was probably done on the optical printer, requiring a male and female hi-con film mattes. Each hi-con film would shrink differently so making it hard to get a perfect line-up of the two mattes, hence the white line around one side. It might have been cheaper for the shots to be farmed out to an outside optical house on Rescuers?
I doubt whether thay would have had enough depth of field on the multiplane too move the bg plane away from the character plane...
Plus they never shot on color film at Disney's, so everything had to be shot three times on bw fine grain panchromatic stock with a low ASA rating, in yellow, cyan, magenta.
It's unfortunate that the camera dept never wrote anything down, whether individual cameramen kept little note books is up for debate. Plus why on later films did they choose too use the optical printer for such shots?

David said...

"Nothing should be fixed digitally. This is the film it is."

Well, of course, I agree. Wasn't seriously suggesting it.

My comment was tempered by "if" .

("If anything should be fixed digitally this is it")

My comment was aimed at the digital tampering that continues to go on with these films (mostly with the color timing) . I don't really want them to tamper with the older films at all , but really now , this shot of Cruella's car doesn't look good. Do you think it looks good ? I'm convinced it was a rough pass that got left in the picture the way it is because of budgetary reasons. They ran out of time and/or money to do another pass on it.

I'm the same as Mark: this shot calls attention to itself and takes me out of the story momentarily.

How did you all feel about the baby raccoon cel pop-off mistake near the end of Bambi ? I believe that was quietly corrected for the DVD release.

spokeshave said...

Looking at the final drafts on afilmla of these scenes with bg's moving away from the character level, have the words. Overhead written in the BG column? I wonder if it means aerial image? Where by the bg footage was projected via a front silvered mirror through condensers in the rostrum table top up into the film gate. The cels would create their own matte.

Mark Mayerson said...

Spokeshave, thanks for that thought. I have never seen an aerial image set up, but I would think that there would be increased grain on the background as you are photographing a photograph. Or maybe there would be a softness issue, like there is with back projection used in Hollywood films of the 1930s and '40s. Are my assumptions correct? I ask because I don't see any difference in sharpness or grain for the backgrounds in these shots in 101 Dalmatians.

spokeshave said...

True, but they would be using fine grain bw panchromatic stock x 3, yellow, cyan, and magenta. The large condensers on the table focusing these 3 color seps one at a time into the film camera gate. Some of the effects in 2001 a space odyssey were done using the 3 stip color separations, taken from a color neg. Disney's shot onto the bw neg with the 3 different filters or in the case of the multiplane it looks like they did with the lights? But they also may have had a small glass plane with pegs that bolted onto the rostrum camera carrage, so it would move up or down with the camera, keeping the character at the same distants from the lens while pulling out from a large bg on the tabletop. If they had used the multiplane then the letters MP would be typed into the bg column on the finaldrafts. I wonder if theres ever copies of earlier drafts, ie linetests draft?