42. The Finale from Carnival of the Animals(Fantasia 2000)

Movie: Fantasia 2000

Year: 1999

Key Players: Eric Goldberg (Director, Story, Animator), Susan Goldberg (Art Director), Joe Grant (Original Concept)

Yes Fantasia 2000 isn’t talked about as much as the other Disney films of the 1990s but that is a sad development: it is one of the most beautiful films the studio has ever done and has a ton of really high moments. One of those high moments is the Finale of the Carnival of the Animals segment, which is about a nonconformist flamingo who plays with a yo-yo.  It is a wonderful collaboration between husband and wife team Eric and Susan Goldberg and is a perfect marriage of animation, art, and music.  Particularly unique about this scene is that is one of only four times watercolor has been used on the backgrounds of a Disney film (Snow White, Dumbo, and Lilo and Stitch being the other three) and from my knowledge is the only time watercolor has been used on actual characters (despite the fact it later was put into the CAPS system to blend the characters together with the background.) Therefore this scene has made it at number 42 on our countdown and is the subject of today’s post.

Ironically the idea for the Carnival of the Animals came from someone who worked on the first Fantasia, Joe Grant (who was co-head of story with Dick Huemer and head of the Model Deparment, which was instrumental in finding the look of the characters in the film.) His idea was that to the piece the Finale from the Carnival of the Animals that ostriches would use yo-yos.  I’m sure part of the inspiration was the Dance of the Hours segment in the first Fantasia, which also contains ostriches.  In many ways Carnival of the Animals is a tribute to that piece: both have satirical animals doing outlandish things timed to music.  Grant at this point was a man in his 80s but he was still incredibly sharp and full of ideas. He returned to the studio in 1989 after a 40-year absence to help out with the second-generation story team and to help come up with ideas. “Joe was a nuclear generator of ideas,” remembers Eric Goldberg fondly.  “Joe Grant’s approach to story and design were simple,” reflects Mike Gabriel. “Build out from a kernel of a character bit. Invent a fresh new character and build your story around him or her or it. Entertain above all else. Give them something they haven’t seen before. Delve deeply into the past masters of design like Migel Covarrubias, Sullivant, Daumier, Kley, and Peter Arno and any of the New Yorker magazine masters.  He had an endless supply of material from his personal morgue that he always referenced just like today we reference internet search engines to find inspiration he would use artists to find inspiration. Sometimes photos but usually art. He liked to develop a bit first, a small entertaining moment with a character, like an image he drew of Percy the royal pug fresh from England, having fetched an arrow back to Pocahontas holding the bow. It’s a funny drawing and it makes you want to see a whole sequence built around that image. He did small drawings that led you to imagine entire sequences. His general approach was not to spend too much time thinking about anything let your pencil or pen or charcoal just start working and let it flow out as you draw. Just get to drawing. Anything. Just start. He knew by working the drawing, trying this trying that, he would eventually discover something fun to draw or something funny to depict. He always kept a sign on his door. It said simply “Get to work”. The greatest thing about Joe, besides hating old people who acted old, was his intrepid nature. Keep at it. Never give up. On an idea, on life.  His determined way of never growing old never falling out of the world he was living in You are not of the past no matter what age you are, if you keep engaged. He taught us to stay a part of the world we inhabit. Pay attention to the world you inhabit. Observe and reflect, then interpret. Find the funny in your every day life whether it is the way your cat is flicking it’s tail without even looking like it belongs to her. That is how he came up with the Tale of Lorenzo. Or in the loud guy in the restaurant booth next to us one lunch drowning out Joe’s story, and Joe calmly says after a long pause, “The only annoying thing about this is his story is better than mine.” I keep posted the quote that Joe loved more than any other it seemed to us in his later years. It was by Henri Bergson and it said ” To exist is to change, to change is to mature, and to mature is to create oneself endlessly.”

Joe Grant pitched the idea to Roy Disney at one of the very first meetings for Fantasia 2000 and the segment was green lighted.  In John Canemaker’s book Two Guys Named Joe you can see some of the original drawings he did for the yo-yo ballet.  They are simple but they are loose, entertaining, well staged, and full of ideas.  Quite a few of those ideas actually ended up in the finished segment.  However soon after someone came up with the idea of using flamingos instead to be more original and colorful.  Quite a few people have taken credit for this idea including Michael Eisner but nobody knows for sure.  An early conceptual storyboard was done by old-timer Vance Gerry and second-generation animator Dave Cutler.  Eventually Joe suggested that only one animator do the piece and Eric Goldberg was the one chosen (he ended up doing all the story, direction, and animation.) I’m not exactly sure when Carnival of the Animals was in production but from my knowledge it was made sometime during the mid-90s(Pocahontas, Hercules era.) One indicator of this is that Goldberg got the idea of using many of the yo-yo tricks when seeing Mike Gabriel do them when they were directing Pocahontas together.  Therefore I guess he animated the scene either when directing Pocahontas or between that production and Hercules.  Later Eric directed the Rhapsody in Blue segment for the film as well.

Essentially at the surface this segment is just a running gag that goes on for two minutes: what would happen if you gave a yo-yo to a flamingo and how would the other flamingos respond? This conclusion is understandable because the segment is tongue-in-cheek in tone but personally I feel there is a deeper message to this segment that is easily missed until after a few viewings.  My personal interpretation is that the story is about nonconforming and how ultimately it’s much better to be different and true to who you are rather than be the same as everyone else. For example the pink flamingo represents individualism and nonconforming. He is eccentric and unique but he’s completely comfortable with who he is and doesn’t let the others stop him from being who he is.  The others look down on him playing with his yo-yo, don’t accept him, and try to take it away from him but he continues to be himself and embraces what makes him different.  On the other hand the orange flamingos represent conforming and close-mindedness.  They all look the same, act the same, and all think the same.  None of them are willing to be themselves and even as much as consider doing or accepting anything that’s at all different from what the others are doing.  To make the point clear the orange flamingos are bland and boring as characters while the pink flamingo is a much more interesting and likeable character. If you study the animation you’ll notice that Goldberg uses his technique and skills as an actor to describe and communicate this theme.  The orange flamingos are always in the same pose as the others are in and their poses very rarely change. They all have the same timing and their acting poses throughout the piece are incredibly similar. On the other hand the pink flamingo is timed very differently from the others and his timing has much more variation. He’s always changing poses, the speed of the timing constantly changes, and he has a much broader range of movement and expression.  Freeze-frame the introductions of the different characters and you’ll see what I mean.  The orange ones are very graceful in their introduction and their movement is constant and fluid. On the other hand the pink one is energetic and changes what he’s doing every time the piano plays.  Great example of how Eric can tell a story through music.  There is also another interpretation of symbolism that is believed to be true by some people that I also could see possibly being true. It is that the conflict between the flamingos represents the relationship between animation artists and studio management at that time.  For example the artist is someone who wants to be creative and express himself while the studio management doesn’t appreciate what the artist does and doesn’t share that gift.  I could see this being the inspiration but I could also see the analogy as a complete coincidence.

Perhaps my favorite part of this scene is the art direction done by Eric’s partner and wife, Susan Mckinsey-Goldberg.  She is a genius with color and was responsible for making all the color choices in the segment. “She art directed the whole thing,” explained her husband. “Those are her color palettes. I don’t think people understand how important color is in making a film successful. It’s certainly a key ingredient and an important one in people’s emotional response to the material, you know. And I’m a very pedestrian guy with color…the sky is blue, the tree is brown, the grass is green, but Susan is not, and that’s great. It is very, very surprising what she comes up with and it looks great and harmonious together. I always like people who use color for emotional value rather than realistic intent.”  Eric is definitely right and Susan’s colors are very beautiful. There’s a quality of emotional honesty and expression in her choices that makes this scene stand out. Those colors represent the emotions and personalities of the characters, not what is obvious and realistic.  For example the flamingo with the yo-yo is pink while the flock of flamingos is orange. This represents the differences of these characters in who they are and what their perspective is.  Also when the flock is onscreen the backgrounds are yellow while they’re green for the pink one.  In real life of course this would never happen but here it’s incredibly believable. I also like the fact that Susan uses delicate, subtle shades and values of color and doesn’t go for the obvious, prime colors. The tones and shades are incredibly specific and evoke qualities and feelings impossible if she approached the work thinking of colors in a black or white mindset.  It’s sad for me how little experimentation is done with color in animation today (whether CG or 2d) and find that it’s much harder to become emotionally invested in recent animated films because of this (the movies Up and Tangled being exceptions.)  On the other hand I find it very easy to be touched and personally impacted by something like Carnival of the Animals and Rhapsody in Blue. It’s quite possible the color choices are the explanation of this(Goldberg’s film Pocahontas is another example of how strong and empowering color can be if used for emotional value.)

It’s hard to believe because it feels so natural but Carnival of the Animals uses a technique very different from almost every other Disney film: watercolor.  Susan Goldberg single handedly painted all the backgrounds and characters with watercolor to make the emotional value of the colors even stronger. I particularly am impressed by the way the water was painted here because it really does feel like liquid and has a nice feeling to it. The computer was then used to matt the watercolor characters with the watercolor backgrounds. This may sound easy to do but it was not.  The last time feature animation had used watercolor onscreen was Dumbo back in 1941 and certainly no experimentation had been done with using watercolors with the CAPS system. However the Goldbergs won their case and it was used. “We convinced management that this technique, was going to work, which is very difficult to do with a huge studio like this,” said Eric to John Canemaker. “It wasn’t going to be cheap.” One huge supporter of this technique was Joe Grant and he really championed the idea all the way through. My only criticism of the visuals of this scene is that I sometimes disagree with the camera angle choices but that’s only a minor drawback. The lighting and color more than fill that space and make this one of the most visually satisfying moments in Disney history.

Another great thing about this scene is that it is a perfect marriage between animation and music.  Eric Goldberg has been known for many years as an expert at animating to music (starting with the Friend Like Me musical number in Aladdin) and this certainly is one of the very best numbers he ever did.  He really understands the music and has complete control over what he’s doing.  Throughout his career Eric has religiously used x-sheets to plan out his scenes and has become a master at precisely timing his scenes and finding the rhythm appropriate for the section.  Everything the flamingos do exactly matches the beat and melody of the music. However the animator credits someone else as being the one who helped him nail down the timing and precision of the piece.  Here Goldberg explains how the late Kent Holaday, an assistant animator who was a lip-sync expert on the side, was essential in finding the musical structure here: “He sat down with me for two days and showed me the musical structure of the entire piece before I started storyboarding and through his enthusiastic love for both music and great sync, gave me the tools I needed to conceive actions for the piece. For example the structure for the opening measures, as the flamingos are out walking, goes: 1,2,3,4-trill-1-2-3-4-5-6/ armed with this knowledge I now knew I needed six flamingos, who would walk in lock step for four step (1,2,3,4), leap and spin in the air (trill), and fall back into the water(1-2-3-4-5-6). Kent showed me each time this structure was repeated through the piece, and I could see where the actions should be approached in a similar fashion. He went through my set of x-sheets, showing me not only where the beats fell but which instruments were playing, indicating visually on the sheets. Their individual rises and falls. He called this fabulous technique of his ‘Melody Timing’ in honor of the musical Disney film.”  Whether it comes from Holaday or Goldberg it’s undeniable the understanding of musical structure is flawless and the animation is timed perfectly to the rhythm.  Eric is a master of the charts and he’s incredibly good at putting everything in the right place in a pose and nails down the speed between the poses. Speed is very important in pose to pose animation because it not only communicates what feelings are driving the character in a scene and the manner in which they act but also because it gives a feeling of energy and life to the characters instead of making them feel stiff. Goldberg does a good job with this here and I particularly admire how the pink flamingo becomes more and more energetic as the scene goes, making it clear he isn’t at all impacted by the criticism given by the flock.  Another thing to look for when studying this scene is how he uses contrast in the way the characters move.  The orange flamingos move in a straight, graceful, and smooth manner while the pink flamingo moves in a jagged, awkward manner.

This scene should definitely be on everybody’s freeze frame list because it technically is very well done. On the side dealing with mechanics it has good use of arcs and spacing. An example of this is the swinging movement of the flamingo’s feet and body when he’s playing with the yo-yo.  It’s planned out perfectly and the arc of action is very fluid. Also this scene is brilliant because Goldberg caricatures the way flamingos move in a way that’s appropriate for the piece (not too realistic and is comfortable being cartoony) but still retains some essence of how the real birds move.  A good shot to study for this is the one at the very beginning where the orange flock wakes up and flies off.  From a performance standpoint the animation here is very clear in attitude and the characterization is very solid.  A must study shot showing this is the one where the pink flamingo nervously looks at the other flamingos staring at him but still continues to play with the yo-yo. This is consistent with his character: he knows the other flamingos are out to get him and he knows they disapprove of his behavior but he’s still going to do what he wants to do.  Last Eric’s gift is that he knows exactly how to use technique to convey an idea and put on a great performance.  It’s all character driven but is mechanically flawless and takes full advantage of the tools of animation while using them the right way. Everything I’ve said above explains why I love this scene and have selected it for the countdown. Fantasia 2000 is one of the very first movies I remember really affecting me when seeing it in the theater and I believe the first one I left saying ‘Maybe I want to do something like this someday.” It was a great early impression of animation and I still feel it’s the best hand-drawn film I’ve ever seen in a theater on its original release.Thank you to everyone who worked on this scene for coming together to make such a great piece of art and film!

Bibliography

Two Guys Named Joe by John Canemaker

My Interview with Mike Gabriel

Character Animation Crash Course by Eric Goldberg

The Making of Fantasia 2000 Documentary

Christian Ziebarth’s Interview with Eric Goldberg

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