Monday, October 10, 2011

Disney Live Action Reference

Someone known as lostvocals4 has taken live action footage from Operation Wonderland, a live action promotional piece that Disney made for Alice in Wonderland, and synched it up with the finished film.

Disney was shooting live action reference footage at least as early as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. That procedure continued in the 1950s, especially because the budgets were tighter and the films had to be made more efficiently. Ed Wynn was filmed as the Mad Hatter and Jerry Colonna was filmed as the March Hare, with Kathryn Beaumont as Alice. What's interesting is that the audio from the reference footage was used as the final audio in the film.

The artists on screen, in order of their first appearance, are Les Clark, Fred Moore (at left) with John Lounsbery, and Ward Kimball.

If you want to see the entire Operation in Wonderland, which contains additional live action reference for the Walrus's dance and the march of the playing cards, you can see it here and here. Look for Walt Disney manning the animation camera. I doubt that he did that much after the 1920s.

(Link via Drawn.)


Peter said...

Is that the real reference footage here, or has it been staged for the promo? It has been edited together with supposed shots of the animators sketching for this presentation, so the fact that they are synched to the soundtrack may not mean they were actually recording it at the time. It seems to me that specific animation reference material would more likely be shot mute to a playback of the chosen soundtrack than shot at the same time as voice recording. A camera might record the voice artists' delivery at the time, for facial reference and gestures, but did they really get them to give a pantomime performance, with props, as well as deliver a clean sound track? I can imagine that with vaudeville performers they might want to get a full performance rather than just a 'reading', but weren't Colonna and Wynne already veterans of radio?

Pete Emslie said...

I've run these clips many times over the years in my class when I'm speaking on the topic of caricature being used in animation. I'm certain that all of the dialogue you see with Jerry Colonna and Kathryn Beaumont is them lip-synching to a prerecorded dialogue track, as the mouth actions are off a fair bit from what they're saying. However, that opening scene of Ed Wynn has always struck me as being so dead on with the lip-synch that I'm convinced he actually was doing that dialogue on the spot, and that indeed is what ended up on the soundtrack. I seem to recall having read something about that being the case, but I can't recall where. You might want to ask Brian Sibley, as he's the Disney historian with a particular affinity for Alice in Wonderland.

Pete Emslie said...

Aha! A bit of research turned up the info that I'd recalled having read about this recording session. From the Encyclopedia of Walt Disney's Animated Characters, here's a quote from an interview with Ward Kimball that describes what transpired:

After the script had been written, and we had what we thought was a good dialogue track, we decided to shoot a rough black-and-white live-action version to serve only as an inspiration for my animation, and from which I could select any bits of business that I might choose to re-work into animation. For this live-action test we decided to use Ed Wynn who had provided the voice of The Mad Hatter. The problem was, Ed had trouble following the playback that had been recorded by himself. It drove him crazy. Sitting there with his big hat among all those knives, forks, and teacups, he said "I can't do it. Why don't you just turn that darn voice-track thing off, and I'll remember roughly what I said." We agreed by saying, OK, we'll just use one little mike with no attempt at fidelity to pick up what you say so that Ward can later identify the action."
Well, the nonsense stuff that Ed ad-libbed on the soundstage was a lot funnier than some of the recorded stuff that we had carefully written out for him. When Walt saw the black-and-white test he said, "Let's use that soundtrack! That's great!" The sound department hit the fan, complaining, "We can't use that test-track; there's too much background noise!" To which Walt simply replied, "That's your problem!" and walked out of the room.

Peter said...

Wonderful! Another example of Walt going straight for what he wanted, where others would have been 'reasonable' and given in!

Thanks for clearing that up.

Peter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brett W. McCoy said...

An improvised voice performance can lead to some very memorable characterizations. I've read that there was a lot of that going on in the early days of 'The Simpsons' (especially with Albert Brooks).