Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dumbo Part 21A

This is a continued discussion of the "Up in the Tree" sequence. The first part dealt with racial issues surrounding the crow characters. This part will look at the animation. I'm reprinting the mosaic below so that you don't have to scroll down several articles to see the shots.

The two animators whose work is important in this sequence are Ward Kimball and Don Towsley. Kimball is a master of certain things. His poses are very strong; they have a strong line of action and good negative shapes. They are also very rhythmic, with long sweeping curves that tie a character's body parts together into a unified whole. He also understands stretch and squash, changing the character's body shape to make the pose more pleasing or to communicate more effectively. As a result, the poses read very clearly.

The pose above is typical of Kimball's work. Note the negative spaces that separate the legs, arms and cigar from the rest of the body. This pose has a clear silhouette. The line that runs down the back ends at the character's right foot and the line that runs down the chest ends at the character's left toes. That line also forks and continues to the sweep of the tail. Note that the angle of the arms and the tail are parallel and that each arm is defined by continuous curved lines, broken only by scalloping to give the impression of feathers.

Kimball is also a master of contrasting timing. This was standard at the Disney studio at the time, though Kimball's background as a jazz musician may have made him more sensitive to this than most. If you watch this sequence with the sound turned off, you can clearly see how Kimball accents his animation by placing fast actions against slow ones. This is accomplished by the spacing between drawings. The wider the spacing between drawings, the faster the character will appear to move.

There's a sequence in the Disney Family Album on Kimball, where he flips key drawings drawings of Jiminy Cricket. (If you go to the link, the relevant portion is at 2:42.) Those drawings are an entire course in animation by themselves. Everything an animator has to know is in those drawings and by 1940, those qualities were as natural to Kimball as breathing.

Don DaGradi did a good job of laying out the crowd shots of the crows. However, Kimball knew how to animate them so that the audience knows where to look. This is another tough skill to master, as with 5 characters on the screen, an animator who doesn't understand staging will produce a mess of unfocused movement.

What's here is typically strong Kimball animation, but the next sequence is where Kimball really shines.

I first watched this sequence single frame on Super 8mm film. During the heyday of the home movie market, Disney released seven minute long sequences from their features in colour and sound. The last few shots of Timothy really made an impression on me due to their strong poses. At the time, I assumed that the work was by Fred Moore, though now I know it was Don Towsley, a lesser-known animator who did some excellent work at Disney.

The one negative against Towsley in this sequence is his treatment of Dumbo's face. He pushes the facial features too low on the head, giving them a pinched look.

However, his animation of Timothy is great. In those final shots, Timothy is bursting with enthusiasm for his vision of the future. Towsley puts in a lot of broad poses that are very different from each other, though each one is impeccable. As Timothy moves between the poses, the rapidity of his movements perfectly communicates his excitement at discovering the truth that will finally redeem Dumbo.

In addition to what I've already mentioned, take a close look at panels 5-12. The motion is very sophisticated in that Towsley is not having all the body parts move at once. In panels 5-9, the arms are leading the body. In panel 10, the body leads and the arm hangs back before snapping forward in panel 11 and the motion resolving itself in panel 12.

Look at how broad those poses and shape changes are. Look how appealing the drawings are. You can't tell the timing from the stills, but there's some very fast accents in that animation. Towsley really knew what he was doing.


John V. said...

Interesting that Kimball seems to have supervised the animation of all the characters in these sequences - not just the crows. They also contain the film's only (as far as we know, from the incomplete draft) Don Towsley scenes, and Towsley had been in Ward's unit on "Pinocchio".

Eric Noble said...

Fascinating. Don Towsley seems to have a been a great animator. It's a shame we never heard more about him.

I love this sequence. It's one of my favorites in the film. I love how you analyze these films. They add so much depth to them.

Steven Hartley said...

Yeah Towsley seems to have worked close with Kimball (via Pastoral Symphony in Fantasia, Jiminy Cricket, and the crows sequence).

And I like the final shots of Timothy and I think its a great and the character bursts into enthuasism and personality and my favourite shot is the "Dumbo, the ninth wonder of the universe, the world's only flying elephant!" because its just so expressive and it bursts with joy!

Towsley seemed to have left Disney working on other projects and did some work on Chuck Jones' version of Tom and Jerry.

David said...

I wonder what led to Don Towsley leaving Disney ? He seems to have stayed on through the late 40's .

He must have been highly thought of at the studio because there is a series of definitive 1937 model sheets of Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto that bear Don Towsley's signature. But it seems he was yet another very talented animator (like Milt Neil) who never quite made it into the upper echelon .

Here's one of Don Towsley's model sheets:

Goofy Model Sheet by Don Towsley


Zartok-35 said...

Timothy abruptly becomes alot more lanky and tall in the legs in the last few shots of the sequence, and it sort of bothers me.