Walt Disney's Magic Touches All of Us

Posts tagged ‘Silly Symphonies’

The Key to Disney’s Artistic Masterpiece

pinocchio posterThere is something special about the second full length Disney animated film, Pinocchio, released 78 years ago, that is easy to forget as you get caught up in the story and characters.

There’s a critical element that makes characters like Pinocchio, Gepetto, Jiminy Cricket, Honest John, Stromboli and the detailed backgrounds so beautiful to watch. Walt recognized a key advancement in movie making before most of the film industry and it would revolutionize, not only his animated films, but all movies. . .

 

color

Seems Obvious, right? As I wrote about in Ahead of His Time . . .Again and other posts, Walt had an uncanny ability to see into the future and make decisions that others were too afraid or lacked the foresight to consider. I’ll get back to that thought.

It’s easy to understand why we take color for granted. Most of us have grown up in a world of color. Television, movies, newspaper comics, our smartphones and computers are, and have, used color for decades.

hyperionBut, let’s travel back in time to 1930. The recently created Technicolor three strip process was unproven, expensive, required specialized equipment and extremely bright light that needed to be balanced for every shot. The major studios were not  prepared to take on the cost to retool their equipment and experiment with the new technology. Imagine what a risk it was to Walt and Roy’s fledgling studio, huddled into overcrowded buildings on Hyperion Avenue. Even with the success of Mickey Mouse and the Silly Symphonies, Roy was understandably nervous, since their current contracts would not pay them additional money to offset the costs of producing in color.

Of course, Walt was undeterred, both by the technical obstacles and that other nasty annoyance – Money – or so it might seem. A couple of paragraphs back I mentioned Walt’s foresight. In most books I’ve read about Walt, he was more interested in quality and innovation than what it would cost to achieve his goals. But, don’t for a minute think that he wasn’t business savvy.

Flowers and TreesThe Technicolor people were so desperate to prove their process that they would have financed all of the changes necessary for Disney to retool for color animation. Walt was so convinced that color would make his animation more realistic and more entertaining that he decided to stop production on the Silly Symphony short Flowers and Trees and start over in color. He had the back sides of the black and white cells washed to remove the gray shades and had the Ink and Paint department redo them in color. And instead of taking that silly money from Technicolor, Walt made a deal for two years exclusive use of the Technicolor process.

Flowers and Trees, now in color, was a huge success and even rivaled Mickey Mouse in popularity. For his people’s efforts, Disney was awarded the first Academy award for an animated short in 1932. Proving color could work with Forest and Trees was more than just a stunt. Walt was now confident that he could began the process to develop Snow What. The films success enabled Roy to get new, desperately needed bank financing. Plus, Walt now had a two year head start using and learning about color over any other studio. And learn they would, throughout the rest of the Silly Symphonies releases.

In a previous post Inspired by Walt to get Creative, I mentioned the book Ink and Paint, the Women of Walt Disney’s Animation, as inspiration for a novel I am writing. I highly recommend the book to anyone whose interested in learning the back story of what it took to get Animated films through production. Flowers and Trees utilized about 400 different color shades.

Getting back to Pinocchio, the shades ballooned to about 1,500 shades to complete, what might be the finest hand drawn animated film ever made. That number doesn’t include special effects like water above and below, bubbles, the Blue Fairy glow and other important film elements.

Live action films have the advantage of actual colors to shoot. For hand drawn animation, the Disney Paint department had to deal with issues like colors shifting after drying or being under the not camera lights, as well as a need for wide ranges of shades depending on the action in the context of the film. The Disney Paint people ended up designing their own colors and paints to meet the increasing demands of the films. Disney hired chemists and built an entire department to create, manage and distribute paint as needed.

I chose Pinocchio as the focus of this post because I think it might be the apex of what Disney artists, including animation, background, and painting created in those early years of feature films. Keep in mind, this one only feature film #2 for the Studio and it’s an artistic masterpiece. The backgrounds are of quality found in museums around the world. The use of color not only fills the screen, but adds to the film’s mood through the use of shadows and details that might not register fully when screening the film.  But upon closer inspection the completed work reveals subtle and complex intricacies.

I believe that there are some films that are better because they are in black and white. If, for example, you watch a noir film that has been colorized, the loss of shadows and the heightened color seems to mute the overall tension common in films like The Third Man, The Big Sleep or Double Indemnity. There’s no doubt that color afforded so many possibilities to the world of Disney animation. After the richness of Pinocchio, Disney artists explored many different styles. Fantasia was a mix of realistic

rite of spring

Rite of Spring

Modern

toccato and fugue in D minor

Tocata and Fugue in D Minor

traditional animation humor

Dance of the Hours

Dance of the Hours

and Classical

The-Pastoral-Symphony

Pastoral Symphony

Bambii takes us into the realistic world of landscapes and animals.

bambii art

And, Sleeping Beauty, perhaps one of the most visually experimental and stunning films, can be seen as an end, not only of the golden age of hand drawn animation, but of the use of artistic drawing and painting styles in Disney Animated films.

sleeping-beauty

Jiminy_Cricket_standing_up_to_LampwickOverall, it’s hard to imagine any of the films, starting with Snow White, any other way, but in glorious color. I don’t think there’s any doubt that, even if Walt had gone ahead with Snow White in black and white, it might have been considered a good, maybe ground breaking film. But it would not have had the impact that the color added. It almost certainly would not have encouraged Walt to continue to explore and expand on the use of color in Pinocchio, both in character design (27 different colors were used to bring Jiminy Cricket to life) and detailed backgrounds.

Walt Disney never described himself as an artist. He didn’t draw as well as others, he couldn’t paint and he had no training in the use of color. He did, however, recognize how much color would bring to the films he was making. As with other great leaders, he surrounded himself with people who could do those things. The list of great animators, artists on all of the films during Walt’s lifetime, both conceptual and actual production is lengthy. Walt not only took advantage of their skills by constantly challenging them to do more, but he encouraged their continued growth by providing training. We’ll never understand how, but somehow, Walt could see the finished product in his mind’s eye. By any means at his disposal, like taking a leap of faith on Technicolor, he found a way to realize those dreams and ideas.

walt oscar forest and trees

 

Advertisements

Can Artists be Champions?

usopen logoI spent the last couple of weeks watching the great tennis being played at the US Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows (Also the site of the 1964 World’s Fair that Disney headlined). I love sports in general. But there’s something about the competitions that are head to head. There’s no one out there to count on but yourself. Tennis doubles down on the mano a mano-contest by forbidding coaching during the matches other than supportive yelling and clapping. If one of the players finds him or herself on the short end of the score, it’s up to him or her to come up with a new game plan or get themselves out of a negative mental funk. The champions, like Nadal, Federer, both Williams and a select handful of others can  do both, which is just one of the qualities that separates them from the pack.

goofy tennis

Certainly, practicing plays a part in a person’s success at any endeavor. But, success, is different from being recognized as the “best” at something. In sports, being the best is measured by wins and or statistics – most home runs, lowest E.R.A., most touchdowns thrown, etc. Being the best is more complicated to qualify in the arts. Beauty, as well as entertainment value, humor, scariness, dramatic quality, are found in the senses of the beholder. One person’s favorite painting is at the bottom of someone else’s list. I’ve heard people refer to Walt Disney as the best producer of animated features or the best theme park designer. There can be no argument that Walt was successful beyond the expectations of most people. But, was he the best?

ub iwerksWalt was quite comfortable admitting that he was never the best at drawing or animating. In fact, by the time he had come up with idea for Mickey Mouse and instilled him with the characteristics that would make a drawing one of the most recognizable icons in the world, it was Ub Iwerks and others who ultimately brought him to life. I’ve not heard any recollections of him doing any drawing that ended up on the screen once he had hired others to do the work. And, yet, it is his animated products for which he is most remembered.

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to see if I can we draw any parallels between the qualities that help athletes succeed on the tennis courts and the kind of success Walt achieved.

330px-Michelangelo_-_Creation_of_AdamCreativity – Tennis players are more like improvisational actors, creating as they go and responding to their opponent’s work. Great tennis players use creativity to surprise the other player. Since creativity is the essence of any artist’s work. In many cases, art is creating something out of nothing. It might be carving David out of a block of stone, mixing pigment with oil to create the Sistine Chapel, sitting at a lifeless piano and writing “Feed the Birds” or using language to write “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Walt’s creative fortes were developing ideas, sometimes through improvisational thinking in response to work by others in his creative field. From his earliest successes like the Alice Comedies to Disneyland, Disney found ways to improve

multiplane

Multplane Camera

on the success of others. The multi-plane camera brought depth to his animated work. Snow White pushed the limits of an audience’s attention span for animated shorts. And, of course, Disneyland went well beyond the amusement parks that had been around for more than a century and improved on even the most successful ones of their time like Luna Park in Coney Island.

Adaptability – Tennis players, like most athletes, never know just which of their skills and abilities will respond on any given day. So, not only do they need to adapt their game plan to take advantage of a good backhand one day while the forehand can’t find the inside of the court. But, at the same time, great tennis players quickly adjust their game to the strengths or weaknesses of their opponent. Players who can’t adapt have little chance of winning if their serve isn’t working and they have no other options. Walt’s success was dependent upon his ability to adapt to changing audience’s tastes and interests for entertainment. We all like to talk about the times when he was right. There were, however, times when he missed the mark, like the much criticized film Victory Through Air Power and the Pack Mules at Disneyland. But, he was right about feature length animated films, family focused, live action features, audioanimatronics, and theme parks.

1180w-600h_020116_oswald-hungry-hobos-short-q-and-aMental toughness – The difference between winning a losing for tennis players of roughly equal skill is whether they can capitalize on any advantage their opponent presents or whether, when presented with a losing situation, they can continue to fight rather than giving up. Walt demonstrated this ability many times during his life and his career. Early on he had several failed attempts at starting his own business. Once he managed to succeed and build his studio, he had to maintain his positive mindset when confronted many times with money problems, intellectual property control problems with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, an animators strike, and having his studio commandeered by the US military during WWII.

Striving for excellence – The same mental toughness pushes professional tennis players Walt Disney, Filmproduzent, USAto improve their game. During daily, focused practice sessions the best players maintain the better parts of their games and try to improve upon their weaknesses. That kind of dedication is only possible if the player wants nothing more than to be the best he or she can. It also means giving up some parts of what many of us would consider a normal life. It might mean doing without personal relationships, education, strict diets, and other things most of us consider fun or important. Walt never seemed to want anything other than producing the best products he could. The only way he could know if he was achieving excellence was his own judgement, until someone would pay him for the work and/or an audience would respond positively. As a result, it seems that he developed a very for excellence. The more he succeeded, the higher his standards became. This was evident in how hard he pushed the people who worked for him and, perhaps, how stingy he was with compliments. He also spent many nights and weekends sleeping in his office and giving up time with his family.

Practice – Tennis players spent countless hours every day on the court and working on their fitness. The difference between winning and losing can be stamina and the ability to execute simple and difficult shots when arms and legs are weary. Practice also instills muscle memory, so the player to be confident executing shots and allowing him or her to focus on mental toughness rather than the physical act of hitting the ball. Disney used the Silly Symphonies shorts to help his animators and others to learn and practice the skills that he knew would be needed to finish Snow White. During Disney’s lifetime, would-be animators worked under through an apprenticeship doing clean-up cleanupwork (cleaning up the extraneous lines animators left behind), then moving on to in-betweening (animators did the key poses then the in-betweeners would fill in the drawings needed to smooth out the movements), then they might get an opportunity to draw lesser characters before moving on to lead animator. All of this work was not only necessary to complete the thousands of drawings needed to complete an animated feature, but provided practice needed to insure they had the skills to move on to more complex work.

It might be possible to compare artists to tennis players in this way. And, in a way, the comparison shows that Walt was a champion. But, Walt’s most important qualities lay in his ability: to dream big like he did with Snow White and finally Disneyland; choose the right people for the right jobs, even if they may not have exhibited all the skills required to complete the job, like he did with X Atencio when he asked him to write the lyrics for “Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life”. But, I believe the most important part he played in his own and other’s success was his ability to inspire and lead people. He had an uncanny ability to get others to see and believe in his dreams. As a result, they probably excelled more than if someone else had asked.

walt_disney-multiple_oscars-303x406

D23 Expo 2017 Pre-Event Excitement

expo_Banner_2017According to the LA Times, there will be about 60,000 people attending the D23 Expo this year. It’s anybody’s guess how many tickets were sold for this years event at the Anaheim Convention Center. I’m happy to say, for the second time, I will be one of the thousands. You may have heard or read about waiting on lines, the crowds and that it’s impossible to get all the sessions you’d like to attend. I can’t speak for the other 59,999 Disney addicted souls, but I would rather accentuate the positive.

For me, the Expo represents an amazing gathering of people who can’t get enough Disney. Strange as it may seem, with all of the thousands of Disney fans who might live in or around where I live, I have found it difficult to connect with fellow Disneyites. I recently found a group of people who love all things Disney as much as I do. But for years, the only time I could surround myself with Disney fans, without making a spectacle of myself, was to go to a Disney movie. (See my post What’s with you and the Disney Thing? for some thoughts on my connection to Disney) The D23 Expo offers people like me an amazing opportunity to let the Disney Company do something for me as a fan, make me feel important and be surrounded by like minded people.

disney-twenty-three_SP09_Cover

2009 Premiere Magazine Issue

Over the years, Disney has done small things to acknowledge their fans, who, by the way, give them the funds to keep creating. Magazines, the old Magic Kingdom Club and probably some other things I’ve forgotten or didn’t know about. I don’t live near either of the 2 U.S. theme parks or the Disney Studios, so attending special events like premiere’s, screenings or tours is very difficult. I was always looking for something more. Maybe even a thank you for the money I have spent and the time I have loyally and happily invested in Disney related movies, trips and merchandise over the years. So, when Bob Iger announced the D23 fan club in 2009 I signed up. If nothing else, at least I’d get a magazine for my membership money. As I expected, early on, the events were mostly in and around Anaheim. But, the quarterly magazine has consistently exceeded my expectations. The articles are interesting and varied, the pictures are excellent the overall feel of the publication is very classy. And they always include a little keepsake surprise with the issues. So, I kept renewing. I’m glad I did.

Fast forward to 2012 when the Disney Archives announced the “FANniversary”  celebration, with NYC as one of the cities they would visit. I grabbed my tickets, hoped for something more than marketing for the fanniversary 2012latest Disney films and tried to manage my expectations. The event exceeded those expectations. Not only was the event well organized, but there were keepsakes for everyone and the presentations by the Disney Archivists were interesting, full of surprises and included pictures and video that I had not seen before, covering movies, television, theme parks and more, all related to Disney Celebrations. I left the theater feeling more than satisfied with my annual membership.

The FANniversary was followed by an anniversary screening of Peter Pan on the big screen in NYC. Then in 2014 there was a second FANniversary tour. This time it celebrated many Disney anniversaries, including:

  • The 1964-65 Worlds Fair – 50 years
  • Donald Duck – 80 years
  • Disney’s MGM Studios (yes they referred to it that way for the celebration!) – 25 years
  • Mary Poppins – 50 years
  • The Muppet Movie, Muppets Take Manhattan, and Muppet Babies – 35, 30 and 30 years
  • Marvel – 75 years
  • Sleeping Beauty – 55 years
  • The Little Mermaid – 25 years
  • The Incredibles – 10 years
  • Toy Story 2 – 15 years
  • The Lion King – 20 years
  • The “E” Ticket – 55 years
  • The Haunted Mansion – 45 years
  • The Tower of Terror – 20 years
  • The Adventurer’s Club – 25 years
  • Splash Mountain – 25 years
  • Big Thunder Mountain – 35 years

This time the event was held in a much larger theater, which speaks to the popularity of the event, and included a photo opportunity to see and stand near two pieces of Disney History. I can’t find my photos, but they were Mary Poppins’ hat and a Duckster statuette.

Once again, a lot of care was taken in organizing the afternoon and a good time was had by all who attended.  Now we’ve moved onto 2015 and I’m really starting to feel the love from Disney. So, I put some nickels, dimes and hundred dollar bills together (remember I live near NYC) and bought a ticket to my first D23 Expo.  As I get on the plane to LAX, I’m alternately excited and terrified. I had been reading some stories about camping out, long lines, and some attendees turned away from sessions that had filled up. This was a picture of the convention center the day before the Expo began.

d12 convention center 2015

The size of the signs correctly foreshadowed the size and scope of the convention. But, that day it looked peaceful.

I’m having difficulty remembering, but I think I arrived at the convention center the next morning at around 7am. My first impression was that things were a little disorganized as far as where to go, and the lines to check in were ridiculously long. After several hours in the heat, I was inside and found my way to another line to wait for the Legends presentation.

expo 2015 pano

This isn’t going to be a review of the 2015 Expo, so, I’d like to say that overall, I left after the 3 days, feeling:

  • That I had more than gotten my money’s worth . Between the sessions and the show floor, it was a first class event. So much to see and so many things to do.
  • Like an insider. Many of the sessions included new announcements for movies, theme parks and more. Sessions for movies and parks required everyone to seal their phones in a bag while monitors watched the crowd. Very secret.

coming soon expo 2015

  • Totally appreciated by the Disney Company. They pulled out all the stops. There were so many surprises, including top movie and theme park “Stars”, including Harrison Ford, Sir Ben Kingsley, Johnny Depp (once as Captain Jack Sparrow), Chris Evans, Richard Sherman, Marty Sklar and Rolly Crump, to name just a few. And the three days included many unique experiences, including: Showings of the Silly Symphonies with live orchestral  accompaniment and commentary by Leonard Maltin. A live concert of Disney Broadway songs featuring James Monroe Iglehart (original Broadway Genie).  Imagineering trivia and secrets.And  I took advantage of the Charter Members lounge, which was like a quiet oasis amidst the general noise of the conventions.

Silly symph concert

  • Overwhelmed by the exhibits on the show floor, including the Pandora sneak peak, Disney Archives display of original Disneyland artifacts, Star Wars costumes, Shanghai Disney preview and even John Lasseters Hawaiian shirts, plus vendors and shopping.

lasseter hawaiin

  • Thoroughly exhausted, since I spent all day at the Expo and then went to Disneyland for a few hours each night. Whew. And I was looking forward to the next Expo.

Yes, I waited on some lines, but I never felt like it wasn’t worth it in the end. No, I did not get to every session I wanted to, but I’ve never been to any conference or convention, for business or pleasure, where I was able to accomplish that. Yes, there was a lot of walking, but that made up for not getting in my usual exercise time. No. I didn’t get very much of the special Expo merchandise, but I that wasn’t why I attended. Yes, I was tired, but I will still take advantage of the discounted Disneyland tickets again this year.

Last year, I was able to attend the 25th anniversary showing of Beauty and the Beast at  Lincoln Center. Not only did we get to see the movie on a big screen, but there was a panel discussion with Angela Lansbury, Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White and producer Don Hahn. We were treated to a mini concert by Alan Menken and then cane a complete surprised. Ms. Lansbury came out and sang Beauty and the Beast accompanied by Mr. Menken.

This year I had the unique opportunity to attend a D23 Gold member event in NYC, which celebrated the 20th anniversary of Disney re-opening the historic Amsterdam Theater in NYC. You can read the full account of this amazing day in my post Report on D23’s “Behind the Scenes” NYC Event.

So, here we are, less than a week away from Expo 2017. Certainly, knowledge is power, I’m less nervous about what to expect. But, since it seems that Disney is always tinkering with things, I expect that there will be differences in how things work this year. Again, I’m managing my expectations for what sessions I would like to attend. Now that the full schedule is out, there are many things I’d like to see and experience. Many of them overlap or happen at the same time.

I hope that my second Expo is as fun and fulfilling as the first. I will try to attend some of the large sessions for Parks and movies and some of the reunion/celebration sessions for Lion King, Zorro and Hercules. I also would like to get to the sessions celebrating some of the Disney magic makers from the past like the Ink and Paint women, Disney product legacy, and the virtual visit to Hyperion Studio.

I hope all of you that have taken advantage of D23 are enjoying your membership as much as I am. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that it would be nice if the profitable Disney organization would not charge extra for tickets to all these events. But, I do understand that everything costs money. And I wouldn’t want them to skimp on the quality of the events. Even though many activities take place in Anaheim, the Disney Company is making a real effort to reach out to fans in many ways. Certainly, mounting an event as ambitious as the Expo every two years involves hundreds of people and very complicated logistics. If they were to ask me, I would encourage them to do more in the future and keep me and the rest of my Disney fan community feeling appreciated.

 

 

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: