Walt Disney's Magic Touches All of Us

Posts tagged ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’

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

 

A Snow White Winter Holiday Surprise in NYC

As I sit in my house surrounded by a frozen tundra that looks more like the arctic than Long Island, I’m reminded that one of the benefits of living close to New York City, is the holiday season festivities. Our family makes many trips into the City during the course of the year — Museums, markets, restaurants, theater, shopping to name a few. The holiday usually includes a day to enjoy the changes many of our favorite go through in the month before Christmas. For those who don’t get the opportunity to visit during this magical time of year, I’d like share some of our favorites. Some are iconic and some less known. This year included an unexpected tribute for the 80th anniversary of the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Retail stores in NY are famous for their elaborate, usually holiday themed windows

A lesser known but equally amazing site is the Metropolitan Museum’s 18th-century Neapolitan Nativity scene set under a Christmas tree populated by angels. The pictures don’t do the display justice. The front of the tree depicts the classic scene of Christ, Mary and Joseph in the manger attended by Kings bearing gifts along with elephants, camels, horses and royal attendants. All around the tree in the is surrounded by different scenes of life in 18th Century Italy from farms to merchants. The mysterious way the Angels on the tree are lit confounds even many who see it in person. The history of the display is quite fascinating, going back to a collection of figures started in 1925.

met museum tree

met museum creche

Two marketplaces have become magnets for shoppers. Both offer many artisan goods and food but very different vibes. In lower Manhattan, Union Square Park adds a holiday market to its regular farmers, green market for the holidays. The maze of vendor kiosks makes it feel like a fun scavenger hunt.

An uptown market started in 2002 at Bryant Park, behind the main branch of the NY Public Library, not only has a market but a skating rink and restaurants.

Theatrical spectacles are very much on display in NYC starting around Thanksgiving. They include famous the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular featuring the Rockettes in the iconic Art Deco building located just behind 30 Rockefeller Center.

Rockefeller Center’s iconic holiday transformation includes the area in and around the front of 30 Rockefeller center. During the summer it is home to the Today show’s concerts and a restaurant in front of the golden statue of Prometheus.

Most everyone who has a TV has seen pictures how that same space is changed for the holidays.

The crowds, especially on the weekends are massive and a bit overwhelming. But it’s hard to beat the atmosphere. This year if you could stand with your back to the tree at the ice rink (hard to do), you looked through the Rockefeller Center Channel Gardens with their angels to saw the department store Saks Fifth Avenue lit up to look like a certain iconic castle.

Saks from Rock Center Gardens

And perhaps, for us fans of Disney, Saks chose to use their holiday windows to pay tribute to the 80th anniversary of the premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The crowds make it really difficult to get really good pictures of the windows so I’m borrowing some great ones from TimeOut New York.

Saks Snow White 5

Saks Snow White 4

Saks Snow White 3

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Saks Snow White 1

Saks Snow White 2

Saks Snow White 13

Saks Snow White 10

These two were the same window

Saks Snow White 11

Saks Snow White 12

Saks Snow White 9

Saks Snow White 8

Saks Snow White 15

Saks Snow White 7

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Other windows showed designer’s re-imagining Snow White fashion

Most of the windows were animated in some way. Here’s a nice video.

It’s not Disney specific, but here’s a link to the light and music show on the front of the building.

Most of the holiday decorations go up around Thanksgiving and remain on display until early January. If you can swing it I highly recommend a magical Holiday trip to NYC, even if there’s no special Disney event.

Saks Snow White 18

 

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