Archive for the Uncategorized Category

Where I’ve Been and What I’m Planning

Posted in Uncategorized on October 4, 2012 by Grayson Ponti Animation: A Site Analyzing All Things Character Animation

Dear readers and animation fans everywhere,

First of all I want to say I’m incredibly sorry for my long-time absence from this site.  Being a senior in high school I’ve had to put blogging and writing to the side as I’ve been running on my high school’s cross country team, doing my college applications, and keeping up with my AP work.  This leaves me with very little free time and since this is the only senior year I’m ever going to have I’ve dedicated almost all the spare time on my hands to enjoying it as well as creating my own artwork.  Therefore I decided I’d rather take some time off from posting rather than rush to get them done on time so I can give the posts the highest level of quality and thought possible.
However I really miss writing new posts and spending as much time on animation as I want to.  I’m anxious to get back in the swing of things on 50 Scenes and I plan on resuming posts as soon as my cross country season ends and the workload of my applications winds down.  My plan is to start putting up a new post around every week starting sometime either in the second half of November or December.

Thank you for your patience and I appreciate your understanding of how much time, thought, and energy the process of doing these blogs requires.

 

All the best,

Grayson Ponti

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

Posted in Uncategorized on July 13, 2012 by Grayson Ponti Animation: A Site Analyzing All Things Character Animation

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

43. The Walrus and the Carpenter(Alice in Wonderland)

Posted in Uncategorized on July 6, 2012 by Grayson Ponti Animation: A Site Analyzing All Things Character Animation

Movie: Alice in Wonderland

Year: 1951

Some of the Key Players: Gerry Geromini (Director), Bill Peet(Storyman?), Tom Codrick and Don Griffith(Layout), Ward Kimball(Animator- Tweedle-dee, Tweedle-dum, the Walrus, and the Carpenter/ character designer), Marc Davis(Animator- Alice), Norm Ferguson, Hugh Fraser, Nick Nichols(Animators- the Walrus and the Carpenter), Fred Moore(Animator- oysters)

Synopsis: Alice runs into Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum in the forest and they entertain her with a story called the Walrus and the Carpenter or the Story of the Curious Oysters.

The Walrus and the Carpenter segment in Alice and Wonderland is one of the high points of the movie and a good example of cartoon craziness.  It’s irrelevant, satirical, and full of slapstick but stays true to that premise.  In a way it actually feels like a short inside a film because the most of the characters in the segment are only present in this sequence with the exception of brief cameos at the end of the film and the fact that there is a continuity within the scene that mostly is irrelevant to the plot.  Characters like Tweedle-dee, Tweedle-dum, the Walrus, and the Carpenter very much resemble vaudeville entertainers from the past and bring back that same type of wit and humor, with the help of animators such as Ward Kimball and Norm Ferguson. The writing, animation, and music is all top notch here and this song is a very memorable one.  All these virtues come together to earn this scene a much-deserved place on our countdown at number 43.

I don’t know who storyboarded this section but a guess would be that Bill Peet had some involvement with this scene because he was involved with most of the comic highpoints of the film.  Certainly the half with Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum looks like it could have come from his drawing board. I could see Joe Grant and Dick Huemer working on the half with the Walrus and the Carpenter because they were all about New York-flavored comedy and vaudeville. Although story isn’t really the focus here I find that the writing in this section is very clever and witty.  The lyrics and dialogue have strong use of wordplay and have a nice ring to them.  I recommend searching on Google and reading out loud the lyrics to the Walrus and the Carpenter because I guarantee you’ll cry laughing.  They make absolutely no sense but they sound great together and are so absurd they’re hilarious but in a smart way.  The song reminds me of Dr. Seuss books and lyrics in John Lennon songs (fitting because he himself was a big fan of the Walrus and the Carpenter in the book version.) These lyrics were written to be animated to and the combination is contagious.

A big part of what makes the section with Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum is that the absurdity of those two characters makes Alice’s reactions and responses to them very funny. Although Alice isn’t wild or crazy I find that she can be very funny because of the way she responds to the situations she’s in.  Normally lines like “Because I’m looking for a White Rabbit” or “Because I’m curious to know where he’s going” are pretty bland but she says them with such an attitude that they can be rather humorous.  The contrast between her stuffy, uptight attitude and the irreleventness of Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum(who resemble vaudeville comedians) makes this scene very entertaining.  In this scene it’s worth noting that Alice is portrayed as an adolescent girl who’s very self-aware, intelligent, and perhaps has a bit of an attitude. As a teenager myself (17 at time of writing) I can indeed confirm that the way she carries herself and the way she acts her is very true to the way many teenage girls act.  This gives a sense of familiarity to the character and lets us connect with her (and if you’ve been a teenage girl put in a similar situation identify with her completely.) This contrasts with some other scenes where she is portrayed as a younger, more sensitive girl.  I prefer this version because it allows her to be a voice of reason in the film and remind us of how ridiculous the behavior of the other characters is. Also this allows her to like in this scene challenge the logic of the other characters and this serves as a source of good entertainment.  Last this part is very funny because it’s a satirical, exaggerated version of something we’ve all experienced in life.  At some point everyone has run into someone on the street who wasn’t very helpful to them, gave ridiculous answers, and kept going on about some random, irrelevant topic.  Of course there is no one in this world as nonsensical and absurd as Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum but they are believable because they represent an emotion and personality trait we’ve all seen in real life.  It’s the exaggeration of that believable idea that makes the situation so humorous.

The second half of the sequence of course is the song The Walrus and the Carpenter and it is clearly a throwback to vaudeville in performance and tone. The strong part here story wise is that the characters are very consistent, rich, and archetypical.  The Walrus is the arrogant, dominant salesman while the Carpenter is his sidekick who does all the work.  This is a great relationship dynamic and the animators make the most of it in their cartoony, broad animation.  The big joke here is why anyone would take the Walrus’s statements and proposals seriously because if you listen they make absolutely no sense! In fact the Walrus doesn’t really make an objectional point at all but somehow he is able to convince all the other characters to get tricked into his evil scheme.   If they even did as much as listen to him they would know he isn’t really saying anything at all and that they’d get nothing out of following his instructions.  The reason of course is that the Walrus has a gift for public speaking and at persuading people to listen to him (promising something like ‘We’re cabbages and kings” must be a pretty big compliment in the Wonderland universe.) Depending on how you interpret the story you can say that there is a pretty dark undertone here.  I could very easily be convinced that the Walrus and the Carpenter represent Adolf Hitler and the Nazis or child molesters.  This type of symbolism in a Disney film may sound unbelievable but if you pay attention there are a lot of innuendos to those subjects.  A man convinces people to join in his evil scheme so he can get the power he wants,  a man using false promises to lure in vulnerable innocent children,  people being abused and taken advantage of….sounds familiar?  I actually thinking about it am rather curious if this symbolism/innuendo was purposeful or if it was a complete coincidence. Anyway it is easily overlooked because the premise of the film is so absurd that few viewers bother to analyze it very seriously. Keep in mind as well that the behavior and characteristics of cartoon characters is a caricature of that of humans, who are intellectually and behaviorally very complex, so it’s quite possible that this interpretation is a complete coincidence.

Almost no information or insight regarding the development of the Walrus and the Carpenter sequence has ever been made accessible (with the exception of the draft Hans Perk has posted on his site A Film LA) and very few interviews have ever even as much as mentioned it so delving into the production and development with an appropriate amount of depth is nearly impossible.  That’s a shame because there a quite a few intriguing questions that can be asked when looking at the draft. One enigmatic observation is that quite a few of the key animators on the sequence did little if anything else on the film.  Hugh Fraser and Fred Moore’s contributions to the rest of the film are minimal (Fraser did some of the cards while Moore did a little bit of the White Rabbit but not much at all) while Nick Nichols and Norm Ferguson didn’t do anything else at all.  We will never know the answer but my guess is that by this point these men weren’t able to produce a ton of footage and struggled with maintaining the facility needed to be key players at the studio. This is not to say they weren’t very good but I do feel speed and facility were part of the equation (certainly they were for Fergy, who got a lot less footage on this film than he did on Cinderella, where he got some nice chunks on the King, Lucifer, and Bruno. Even in his prime during the 30s and early 40s he was only capable of doing a limited amount of feet due to his poor draftsmanship.) I’m actually curious why Nichols was brought on the film at all just for this sequence because at the time he wasn’t even on the feature animation crew (he was directing shorts.) The second question I have is why Ferguson got a directing animator credit when he did so little footage (only 64 feet).  Did he get the credit because of stature and reputation or did he get it because he supervised the sequence in a similar fashion to the way he supervised the animation of Honest John and Gideon in Pinocchio? I’m actually curious if it was Fergy or Kimball who planned out most of the animation here.  Certainly the part of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum was supervised by Ward (he animated a good amount of it himself) but what about the Walrus and the Carpenter? The character designs of the Walrus and the Carpenter look like they were probably designed by Kimball but I’m curious what extent of involvement he had in this scene besides animating the parts he did.  He certainly worked very closely with John Lounsbery on the film, especially on the Mad Tea Party and on the Cheshire Cat. “Lounsbery loved Kimball’s work,” reflects Dale Baer. “They worked a lot together on Alice because they could be zany together.” One thing we do know, however, about the production of this scene is that Ward was been directed by his arch nemesis, Gerry Geromini.  While he was definitely not very popular with the animation crew in general Kimball in particular was very vocal about his feelings about Geromini and soon after made it clear to Walt Disney he refused to work for him. Interestingly enough Disney actually put the two together because of their animosity. He thought that conflict and unlikely combinations lead to good results.  In a sense he was proven right because many of Ward’s best scenes were directed by none other than Geromini.  Gerry was great at directing scenes that had a violent, aggressive, and irrelevant sensibility to them with this one being a perfect example.  There is excitement in every frame and it’s a scene that gets you caught up in the action.

One observation I’ve made about the Walrus and the Carpenter is that besides the part in the woods (which is clearly Blairesque in design) this scene has very little influence from Mary Blair.  She was incredibly influential in the development of the look and color scheme of Alice in Wonderland so it’s odd that the scenes illustrating the story have so little of her imprint in them.  This actually in a way works out because the visual setting of the story has a contrast to that of the rest of Wonderland.  The use of color is more conservative and the backgrounds are less graphic, making the characters stand out a bit more.  However the part in the woods is clearly from Mary’s imagination and boy does it look beautiful! Actually if you compare the visuals of those two scenes you’ll see the most important contrast by far.  Despite the fact it’s far from being Disney’s most serious film Alice visually is perhaps the darkest film the studio ever made, in a literal sense.  If you pay attention the colors and the lighting are all very dim and dark.  Mike Giamo explained this in an interview with John Cawley: “ALICE IN WONDERLAND is a beautiful example of great art direction. When you look at the layouts, even though they are very caricatured and stylized, you’ll find an extreme amount of control and restraint. In fact, a lot of the layouts are vignetted. In other words, there are dark areas around the sides and just a spotlight effect on the character or on a group situation. It’s one of the darkest films, literally, that Disney ever did. 
PINOCCHIO is dark in total mood but ALICE is actually the darkest film in terms of color and styling. For being such a wild film with such eccentric characters, it’s mood with this vignette style creates a focus and a nice balance for all the eccentricity that takes place, so I really respond to that film in the way that it balances out. In blending layout with color and design, it’s one of the most readable films, because you’ll notice that the background values are very, very dark so that the characters become luminous and stand out. Almost in every scene you’ll see that the characters pop forward where the backgrounds, as eccentric as some of them are, tend to recede. I respond to that film very, very much.”  Among the few layouts not vignetted though is that of the Walrus and the Carpenter.  The backgrounds are very bright and the layouts are very lit up. Compare this with the cold colored, dark backgrounds behind the scenes with Tweedle-dee, Tweedle-dum, and Alice and you’ll see what I mean.  Tom Codrick and Don Griffith did the layouts were both parts of the sequence, which makes sense because they laid out almost all of Geromini’s scenes during this period. One thing those two layout men were great at doing was spacing in the layouts and using the architecture to suggest mood and feelings.  Pay attention to the layouts here and you’ll see what I mean.

a Mary Blair Concept art piece used for developing this scene

In this scene Alice is primarily animated by Marc Davis with the exception of a few long shots by Don Lusk.   Davis’s animation here is incredibly sophisticated and refined but has a nice, organic feel to it and is even timing wise instead of overly complex and all over the place.  This makes his shots feel natural and not take too much away from the crazy, broad animation of Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum while still making the character interesting and entertaining.  Like said above Marc’s Alice is mature, aware, and intelligent instead of naïve and sensitive.  This is shown in the way he handles her and in every pose she’s always deep in thought. Davis (who specialized in communicating story, character, and narrative in animation) gives the girl a strong presence and emphasizes the attitude in her personality. An example of this is a great shot of Alice where she gets up and says “Well my name is Alice and I’ve really got to get going….” while flattening down her dress.  This is a great storytelling pose and the WAY in which she pulls down her arms and flattens her dress while giving an annoyed face communicates that she is a girl who speaks her mind and can be a little stuck up at times. It is a very nice touch and adds a level of believability to the performance.  Another great shot is where she says “Because I’m following a White Rabbit. Because I’m curious to know where he’s going.” While this may seem like a very simple shot it is a great acting scene because of the complexity of emotion and behavior.  The nuances in the animation (the eyebrow, the way she points her finger, the way she holds her shoulder, the way she moves her head into their faces) make this scene believable because the way she’s acting is just the way teenage girls with an attitude answer questions to adults when they obviously don’t wan to bother talking to them at all.  These details in the acting let us know who Alice is and what she is thinking. I definitely recommend putting these shots on your freeze frame list! I love the clarity in Marc’s work and here is a perfect example. Last I really like the way he handles the live action here.  Davis always used the photostats very loosely and would while still capturing the essence of the action caricature it and expand off of it.  While the acting and actions stay true to the general premise of the live action you’ll see that he adds on ideas and interprets it loosely to retain liveliness in the performance.  On the other hand the few shots Lusk did show him being much tighter and more conservative with the live-action.

Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum are split between Ward Kimball and Cliff Nordberg (Kimball does the introductory acting scenes, Nordberg takes over  after the scene on the log, and then Kimball comes back when they start telling the story.) The two animators play off each other well and the characterization is relatively consistent. There are a few distinct differences in their scenes though.  Ward’s animation is very solid, uses graphically strong poses, is graceful, and is rhythmically timed while Cliff’s is more squishy, elastic, and energetic.  Part of this is Kimball was a much stronger draftsman than Nordberg. However the later animator maintains the creative, spontaneous spirit and energy set up before him. All the animation of Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum throughout the scene is incredibly funny and entertaining.  Even things as subtle as a nice piece of timing or a movement in an eyebrow are sure to bring a laugh.  Ward’s animation has a direct sense of humor to it and he always finds ways to make it just a bit more sarcastic and satirical.  However his animation here although cynical and sarcastic is sincere in its own way because of how emotionally honest and direct it is. This is a bit hard to describe but study his animation of Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum and you’ll see that there is indeed substance and sincerity to the broad acting and emotional complexity of the characters.  These characters are who they are and are true to that premise, which makes them sincere characters.  I particularly love the fast, rhythmic timing Kimball uses on the duo and find the speed of it makes them even funnier.  Timing is so important to defining who a character is as well as how they should be perceived and the animator does a great job of that here.  Here the fast, quick timing lets us know these are ridiculous, stagy characters who are eccentric and all over the place allowing us to get caught up with them visually and emotionally.  Ward’s background as a musician is helpful here because his scenes are so precisely timed and fit with the music perfectly.  There isn’t a single beat or melody that is missed in the texture of the timing.  I wonder how good of a choreographer Kimball would have been because he was so great at timing dance scenes and finding visual gestures to precisely match the music.  While Cliff’s scenes don’t have the precision or draftsmanship of Ward’s they are still very entertaining and are consistent with the acting choices already established.  I love the kinetic energy that flows through his work here and am very impressed by the quality of the scenes he does with Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum.

When the song starts the animator roster changes and up until the scene in the tavern the key animators are Norm Ferguson, Hugh Fraser, Nick Nichols, and Fred Moore. The only exceptions are one close-up of the Carpenter (done by Wolfgang Reitherman), the last line on the beach(done by Cliff Nordberg), and some long shots of the oysters walking(done by Judge Whitaker.) Fergy is responsible for the key acting scenes of the Walrus and the Carpenter and this was some of his last noteworthy work done at the studio before being fired in July 1953 after doing some underwhelming work on short subjects.  This is good casting because he understood vaudeville-style performance very well and was a great showman.  Fergy’s animation in this scene has a nice tempo to it and is strong in weight.  One of his strongest shots is the one of the two walking up at the beginning. It is an excellent walk and the weight defines who the characters are (highly recommend putting it on your freeze frame list.) I particularly like how Fergy exaggerates the weight, arrogance, and cynicism of the Walrus and can tell us so much about the personality before we even here him speak.  There’s a good arc of action in the walk cycle and the movement says everything.  Another good touch in that scene is how he exaggerates the features on the Carpenter’s face to show he’s a crazy, cynical guy who has been fooled into believing the Walrus actually is a respectable man.  Two other great Norm scenes are the shot of him reacting to the whistle(it’s very clear and shows us exactly what the Walrus is thinking) and the one of him making his proposal to the oysters(it’s very broad and satirical.) As always he times into his thinking drawings very well and his broad gestures and acting choices are brilliant. However while there are many things I like about Ferguson’s work here there are definitely a few aspects which are open for criticism. The most noticeable is that his draftsmanship here is very sloppy and oftentimes he is a little too off model (the worst being the scene where the Walrus lights his cigarette.)  Also from a technical perspective his scenes are sometimes a bit clumsy and sloppy. However ultimately I find his work here is good if not phenomenal.  Nick Nichols does a lot of the dialogue scenes and his draftsmanship is without question an improvement over Fergy’s scenes.  He emphasizes the wrinkles in the character’s faces more and he does some great acting poses(my favorite being the one of him holding a cigarette and glancing a pissed off look to the Carpenter who has almost jeopardized the believability of his proposal by mentioning having a bit.)  There’s a really nice vitality to his stuff here and it’s a shame he didn’t do more in the feature. Hugh Fraser does a lot of the action scenes on his characters and his stuff is so great in movement! The man can really move anything around with animatable shapes and really captures the spirit of the action.  His scene of the Walrus running up and whacking the Carpenter in the head is a good one to freeze frame when learning about acting through movement and sharp timing.  Fred Moore animates the oysters and his stuff is charming and appealing.  He uses squash and stretch well here and his proportions are adorable.

The scene in the tavern is animated by Ward Kimball(who focuses more on the Walrus) and Wolfgang Reitherman(who focuses more on the Carpenter.)  Their stuff has a contrast to the previous work on the characters because it is much more angular and their poses are more graphically structured.  Ward’s lip sync and mouth shapes on the Walrus are absolutely perfect and are consistent with who he is as a character.  He also does a nice acting scene where the Walrus is pretending to cry and nervously tries to get out of the tavern before the Carpenter realizes he’s been screwed. The nervousness and reaction he gives is true to how he would act in that situation.  The pose of him walking out while sweat is dripping down his body is a terrific pose.  Woolie’s scenes of the Carpenter are strong in draftsmanship and the action has a nice strength to it.

I love this scene because I love how satirical and witty it is.  Every time I watch it I can appreciate the humor in a completely different way and it’s so well thought out it never gets old to me. Also I like it because it’s so crazy and is hilarious.  The music, writing, acting, timing, and animation comes together in a cohesively-entertaining way and is always a joy to study.  These artists were very clever people and I like their sensibilities. Thank you to everyone who worked on the Walrus and the Carpenter sequence for helping contribute to the creation of such a great moment in Disney history.

Work Cited:

My Interview with Dale Baer

John Cawley’s Interview with Mike Giamo

John Canemaker’s Interview with Marc Davis

John Canemaker’s Interview with Ward Kimball

An Interview with Bill Peet in Hogan’s Alley

44. The Trial(Ichabod and Mr. Toad)

Posted in Uncategorized on June 29, 2012 by Grayson Ponti Animation: A Site Analyzing All Things Character Animation

Movie: The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

Year: 1949

Key Players: Jim Bodrero (Early Development), Jack Kinney(Director), Charles Philippi(Layout), Ollie Johnston, Hugh Fraser, Eric Larson, Rudy Larriva, Marc Davis, Judge Whitaker, Harvey Toombs(Animators)

The Wind and the Willows segment in Ichabod and Mr. Toad is one of the most imaginative and wittiest products the Disney studio has ever made. “Wind and the Willows is one of the studio’s neatest cartoon efforts,” wrote Leonard Maltin in his book Of Mice and Magic. “Like all great Disney films, this one artfully built a believable set of characters and situations on a fantasy foundation. What’s more, the film adhered a consistent point of view, telling the story of J. Thaddeus Toad and his adopted horse, Cyril, with imagination and wit.” In my book the high point of the Wind and the Willows segment is the trail sequence.  This scene has great acting, rich characterization, and its tongue-and-cheek treatment is very entertaining.  This scene is number 44 on our countdown and is the subject of today’s post.

The idea for making a feature out of Kenneth Grahame’s Wind and the Willows came from Jim Bodrero, a member of Joe Grant’s model department during the 1940s.  “I had read the book,” stated the artist in an interview with Milt Gray. “I wanted to do it, a long time before Walt. Walt thought it was awfully corny, but we finally got him around to it.”Him and fellow model department member Campbell Grant (best known for the visual development work he did for the Night on Bald Mountain segment in Fantasia) put together a Lucia reel going over the story and characters.  “Campbell Grant and I did Wind in the Willows, in which we started a new technique, Bodrero told Gray. “It was the beginning of [limited] animation, you might say, because instead of showing a storyboard, we flicked over storyboard stills, to the dialogue. That was so impressive that the studio audience applauded.”  I’ve seen very little of the work done on that version but from what I’ve seen it looked stupendous.  Jim’s model sheets of Toad in particular were very influential in this sequence and even some of the poses used in the final version came from it. He was the one who defined the character and the movie was going to be his baby.  Wind and the Willows was scheduled to be done as a low-budget feature, which makes sense because just that year Dumbo had been done for less than a million dollars but had a quality and substance in texture that almost no other Disney film has ever achieved.  The success of Dumbo encouraged more low-budget films to be made putting this one on the pipeline.  Animators coming off of Bambi such as Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, and Eric Larson were put on the feature and over 3,000 feet of animation had been done by the time Walt Disney himself decided to shelve it.  The quality wasn’t strong enough to impress the boss and the idea of making low-budget features was canned.

Around 1947 the idea of Wind and the Willows was brought back but this time as part of the double feature, Ichabod and Mr. Toad.  However the film’s creator, Jim Bodrero, had been one of the victims of the brutal 1946 post-war layoffs.  It was a tragic departure and the man who was so devoted to the studio never got a chance to work there again.  This time around Jack Kinney, famous for directing Goofy shorts, was put on as director.  The treatment of the story was however quite a bit different than the work that had been done before World War II. “They broadened it a great deal and got further away from the original drawings,” resentfully remember Bodrero. “We stayed much closer to the book.  I don’t think they did a very good job with it. I think it was better when Campbell Grant and I just had the flip-stills.”

Story wise the strongest part of this scene is the characterization.  Every character in this scene has a distinct personality and a very different attitude.  J. Thaddeus Toad is an interesting character because he tries to act like he’s very sophisticated and formal but really is completely eccentric and irrational.  While there are quite a few crazy characters in Disney history he’s unique because he thinks he’s reasonable and intellectual. He is very into himself and has complete confidence that he can outsmart anyone he comes across.  In reality this is all an act and nobody buys the persona.  This put a huge challenge on the animators (most of the stuff on Toad here was done by Ollie Johnston and Eric Larson) to convey this complexity and to keep all these things in mind when animating. The result is exceptional and you can tell Toad is arrogantly “faking” the person he is. You can see this in the way he walks communicates this and the way he acts captures this tone.  That’s something this scene does very well: it captures the tone of the acting so successfully in all of the characters.  You know what types of personalities these characters are and you can see it in how they react to the emotions in the air of the situation.  For example Toad acts arrogantly,  Mcbadger acts worried, Ratty acts seriously, Moley acts innocently,  the Defense Attorney acts rudely, and Mr. Winky acts cummingly.  This is taken a step further because one thing I’ve noticed is the way the different characters move their arms is telling of this tone.  For example Toad moves his arms with forced grace and with a confident assurance of himself. On the other hand the defense attorney moves his arms at a contrasting pace. Often he will start moving them precisely but then abruptly he’ll turn and point at someone.  I like it when films find these themes in the acting that tell it all and particularly like the atypical one they chose to use here. Another great thing about the characterization here is there is an excellent contrast between the different characters.  For example Moley is very friendly and light-hearted while Ratty is taking the situation seriously and is reacting to the trail in a sharp, intellectual way.  The character designs here are very expressive and allow for the animation to take advantage of the rich personalities that come out from the story department. Last the dialogue here is well-written and is specific to the character that is speaking. However there are a few weak spots to the story here that prevent this scene from being as good of a moment as it can be. That is that this scene hasn’t been built up to well and the character relationships haven’t been well structured.  What I mean is that the relationships don’t have enough complexity, development, or establishment for this to be a strong moment emotionally. This is unfortunate and part of me wishes Wind and the Willows was made as a feature to build on the rich material done here.

All the layouts in this scene are done by Charles Philippi, one of the first great layout artists in Disney history. His stuff is a bit on the sparse, some-what realistic side but it’s very graphic and has a thick vitality to it.  “I remember Ken O’Connor saying that Charles could start at one end of the paper and just start drawing, practically writing out rocks and trees,” remembers Mark Kirkland. “It was so fantastic.” Here however layout takes a back seat because this scene is all about character and performance.  Also another thing worth noting is the values of the color palette in the scene are very subtle and rarely are the colors particularly bright. Overall the entire movie is a bit dimmer in color than most Disney films, including the Sleeping Hallow part later.

Probably the most memorable piece of animation in this section is Ollie Johnston’s phenomenal District Attorney. The characters is entertaining because he’s flamboyant, opinionated, and abrupt. It’s in all respects a stellar performance and in my mind was one of his greatest achievements at the studio. “He was the first character I really had all by myself of any importance,” stated the animator. “I loved doing him even though there weren’t too many scenes; butt he was a real egotistical guy who had nothing but contempt for everybody that got on the witness stand. He’d laugh at them, make fun of them, and I got this great way of having him walk and then whirl on the character.” This strong analysis shows in Johnston’s animation and the effect he describes is a great touch.  The walk shows not only that he’s arrogant but that he hates everyone there and doesn’t listen to a word they say. A brilliant secondary action added to that is the motion he does with his hands on the whirl.  The fact that the whirl is so abrupt communicates the fact that he doesn’t care at all about anyone else and is too caught up in himself to bother to listen.  A must have on your freeze-frame list is the scene where the D.A. is asking a question to McBadger. The arc of action in the gesture is amazing as well as the contrast in the timing. At first his walk is very precise but then it suddenly goes into a whirl. Not only is the timing of the motion well done but the action and staging are incredibly clear. Another shot I like a lot is the one where he’s laughing at the idea Toad would sell his home for a motorcar.  All of Ollie’s animation here is so fluid and appealing to look at. I particular admire the texture of timing and acting he gives all of his characters throughout this sequence. Johnston also does some great stuff of Toad, Ratty, and Moley at the beginning. A particularly good part is where Moley waves at Toad but then Ratty puts his hand down to make him stop.  Marc Davis also does some good stuff with Ratty, Moley, and Mcbadger later in the sequence.

While Ollie Johnston and Rudy Larriva also do some of Toad, the key acting scenes of him are done primarily by Eric Larson.  His stuff here is very well timed as always and captures the personality of the character perfectly. “I guess Toad was one of my favorites,” admitted Larson in a television interview. “I think some of the most enjoyable actions I was ever able to get on the screen was Toad’s defense of himself in court. I felt that I did get a tone that is the peak of arrogance in that figure of action, in that particular bit of business.” Although I feel Eric is one of the weaker draftsmen of the top Disney animators he is so great at making a character believable and at putting their spirit on the screen.  Sadly he for some reason didn’t get a screen credit at all on the film, which is a pity because it is very much deserved.

Almost all of the scene illustrating Cyril’s story is done by Hugh Fraser, an unsung animator who alongside John Lounsbery often worked closely with Norm Ferguson.  “Hugh loved animating at Disney, he was a great guy,” remembers Tim Walker, who worked with him at Hanna-Barbara. “He was a solid animator who could animate anything. He was a good draftsman who could move anything around.” His stuff here has sharp timing and there is a cohesive feel to his acting.  I particularly admire the stuff he did on the weasels.  Fraser’s animation feels spontaneous and is strong in action.  The animation of Cyril on the podium is a combination of Judge Whitaker and Harvey Toombs.  Whitaker animates the horse with a lively feel and his animation is without question rather appealing.  Cyril has great charisma in those shots and has a nice New Yorker flavor to his acting.  Toombs comes in when he says “The only way a gentleman does- the honest way.”  His draftsmanship is distinct because he usually draws elongated snouts/noses and his animation has a skeletal, three-dimensional volume.  Harvey’s animation on this film is in my opinion the best work he ever did at the studio (with his work on the elephants in the Dance of the Hours being a close second) and this scene gave him a great opportunity to prove his acting skills.

Last Mr. Winky is handled by Ollie Johnston and Rudy Larriva.  I love how cunning of a character he is and find his atypical attitude to be intriguing.  A nice touch is the clumsy, duck walk he has.  Here animator Barry Temple has some comments on a brilliant shot done by Ollie: “One of my favorite scenes of all time is the scene in Wind in the Willows of Mr. Winky perjuring himself on the witness stand, where he casually reaches into his pocket and pulls out a rag that bartenders use to continuously wipe the spilled beer, which gave away his occupation as he wipes down the witness stand. It showed the audience that he was calm and collected, completely comfortable with lying, and gleefully helping to send an innocent Toad to prison. I don’t know if it was storyboarded that way, or if it was created during the animation process between the director and animator.”

I love this scene because of how witty and imaginative it is.  It takes full advantage of the medium of cartoon animation and I find a million ideas in it. The animators solve problems here in creative, unique ways and I find it makes the scene richer and more appealing. Also I love the characterization here and admire how that is taken a step further with genius performances by the animators.  Last I like the fast timing and satirical tone in the acting done here. This scene is a great one and I give sincere thanks to everyone who helped make it possible.

Bibliography

My Interview with Barry Temple

My Interview with Mark Kirkland

My Interview with Tim Walker

Milt Gray’s Interview with Jim Bodrero

John Canemaker’s Interview with Ollie Johnston

The Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation by John Canemaker

Hollywood Cartoons by Michael Barrier

Of Mice and Magic by Leonard Maltin

Before the Animation Begins by John Canemaker

The Illusion of Life by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston

45. Flynn’s Death and Resurrection(Tangled)

Posted in Uncategorized on June 22, 2012 by Grayson Ponti Animation: A Site Analyzing All Things Character Animation

Movie: Tangled

Year: 2010

Key Players: Nathan Greno and Byron Howard(Directors), Glen Keane(Animation Supervisor), Steve Goldberg(Visual Effects Supervisor), Mark Kennedy(Story Supervisor), Zach Parrish, Mike Surrey, Kira Lechtomaki,  Amy Smeed(Animators)

Synopsis: Flynn comes back to rescue Rapunzel but is stabbed by Mother Gothel.  Rapunzel begs her mother to let her heal him and she finally consents but Flynn cuts her hair off, taking away its power. Mother Gothel dies and Rapunzel’s free but Flynn is dying. However her tear resurrects him.

Some hand-drawn animation fans try to say there are limitations to CG and the power of what it can do. They say it can’t be as personal, emotional, special, organic, or compelling as 2d.  However I tend to disagree.  I feel CG is the same art form as hand-drawn just with different tools and has the potential to have that same special quality that hand-drawn has achieved. The scene that proved this to me was Flynn’s death scene in Tangled.  Not only is it very subtle but also it is very emotionally strong and compelling.  I feel it proved how powerful and subtle CG can be in a way that parallels what Frank Thomas’s scene of the dwarves crying over Snow White’s body did for proving what hand-drawn can do.  Along with the lantern sequence it is the most impressive scene in all of Tangled and helped put Disney animation back on the map once again for a new generation.  With all this greatness behind it naturally it makes it on our countdown at number 45.

When I think about what makes this scene great, the first thing I think about is how emotionally strong it is.  It is such a powerful moment and it is so real and honest on an emotional level.  This is particularly true in the scenes animated by Amy Smeed and Kira Lektomaki, two women animators who work at Disney.  “A bunch of the key stuff was done by our female animators like Kira, Amy Smeed, and Becki Breesy,” points out director Byron Howard. “It’s weird how there are so much more men in animation. Those females love the emotional stuff, the stuff that’ll make you cry.  Zack Parrish did some heavy hitters in the death scene but Amy did a ton of the subtle, controlled beautiful stuff in that.”  While most of the time I prefer caricature in animation because I feel the medium is best suited for that type of sensibility, in the moments that are most genuine and touching it is very important to have a less is more approach and to be extremely subtle. That’s what these two women did here and it is a nice contrast to the comedy and satire that has taken place in the movie up to this point.  Suddenly all the sarcasm and contrived story telling falls away and the honesty comes in.  There are two parts in particular that are must-haves on anyone’s freeze frame list for examples of great subtle animation. One is the emotionally intense scene where Rapunzel begs Mother Gothel to let her heal Flynn even if it meant staying with her on an island forever.  This is animated by Kira Lehtomaki and is absolutely unbelievable.  The will power and strength of Rapunzel is believable and strong.  You can feel and see the desperation that she’s feeling and it leaves a strong impact.  The second one would be the beautiful scene of Rapunzel crying over Flynn’s body animated by Amy Smeed.  “It’s a masterpiece of subtle emotional acting,” praised animator and husband Tony Smeed.  It’s contained and soft but has an emotional strength behind it.  Every bit of it has meaning and it conveys the emotion in the most direct and delicate way.

As great as the animation done by these two women is this scenecouldn’t have been done without the influence of animation supervisor Glen Keane. He was the one who pushed the animators to be able to do this and he helped make sure that 2d sensibilities remained present in the CG animation.  “Glen was such an important part of our performances I felt he was still part of the directing team even though he wasn’t,” reflects animator Adam Dykstra.   It’s also that man’s genuineness and soul that inspired the emotional quality of this scene, which was possible through the mentoring and draw overs he did on the work of the CG animators.  “To his credit it was great having him so involved with the film in the animation portion of it,” says director Byron Howard. “Glen’s thing is he wants a project that he loves, can dive into the character, where he can draw, and really express himself. That Rapunzel character was one he really loved and having his involvement go into that character was terrific. Bob Iger noticed that Glen isn’t a cynical, sarcastic guy and the Rapunzel Unbraided version went away. He said he wanted him to make the film he wanted to make. Glen is all about sincerity and has a very pure heart.” The directors, Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, were also crucial in pushing the animators to do such strong work.  They went the extra mile in paying attention to detail and getting every ounce of entertainment. “I think Nathan and I from the beginning said let’s not settle from second best,” explains Howard. “We knew our animators were good enough to do it and we knew they could do it if we were clear enough. We wanted to make the film feel like it’s real. You have to believe in them, believe they’re falling in love, and relate to these characters like they’re real beings. Even though they were crazy parts we asked the animators to think about parts of their life that were very emotional and put that into their animation. There are the tiniest things going on in the animation that rival things in live action. We were very demanding. Everyone was very proud of it.”

From a story perspective this scene is important to the movie because it is the emotional climax of the movie and it also is very romantic. Part of the romance here is we see first hand how the two characters have changed as a result of the other and it is clear that their love for each other is unselfish. For example up to this point it has been very important to Rapunzel for her to feel safe.  However here she is willing to risk her safety to let Flynn live and is strong enough to have the guts to go against the wishes of her mother.  She’s no longer just a beautiful heroine but a strong woman who is willing to do what’s right no matter what the cost.  Also up to this point Flynn has been someone who is all about living life to the fullest but here he is willing to sacrifice his life. The intensity of this situation and the emotional depth of it allows this change to pay off and to be as effective as possible.  If it weren’t for this scene the audience wouldn’t believe in the romance because it might be interpreted as being cliché or shallow (the movie is more than a little inconsistent with the way it handles this.) In this moment however there is no doubt these emotions are real and that they are sincere.  Also this scene is important because it’s so powerful and puts the icing on the cake for the movie.  Last it’s important because it’s the emotional temple of the story and is told very directly.

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Another virtue of the scene is the visual harmony of it.  The rigging done here is arguably the best ever done in CG animation anywhere making it much more appealing to look at.  Here visual effects supervisor Steve Goldberg explains some of the challenges that came in making the beautiful visuals of this film possible: “Getting that 2d sensibility represented why so many people came to Disney in the first place and they kept banging at that challenge. We were guided by the directing team to push for that direction and that not good enough mentality that really was inspiring, to keep trying. The biggest challenge was achieving the hair, which Glen kept pushing for in a physics simulation. We just had to get that twist in it and we had to add in a lot of properties to get that in. I would say because we were pushed in that direction as well as what we were able to do technically it was all about saying no it’s not good enough. That attitude was present everywhere in the film.  Glen was bringing that pushing attitude and the idea it can always get better in the review board.  We threw everything we had done with the rigs and started from scratch. We looked for the riggers to be the right ones for the picture.”  The answers to these challenges are impressive when watching the film and it is indeed something people want to look at. One detail that impresses me in particular is the way they handled the flesh in the faces. Most CG humans in my opinion look either too mechanical and flat or too grotesque because of the amount of realism there. Here the humans are designed and rigged in a way that’s well suited for animation and have a fluidness and life-like quality to them.  Last an important influence on the visuals of the film was the color script done by art directors Dan Cooper and David Goetz. They established in it the look of the film and the feeling of the lighting in this scene.  “Our directors on Tangled wanted to create the first CG Disney fairy tale, and they wanted it to look and feel like a Disney classic, like Cinderella, Snow White, or Pinocchio,” explains Goetz. “To understand what that meant, I went over Cinderella and to a lesser extent Pinocchio, to look at how those movies were designed; what shapes were used, their composition and lighting. We tried to apply what we learned to the look of Tangled. Most important was that the look of everything be appealing.”

Overall I really like the animation throughout this scene. In addition to the qualities I’ve already discussed I admire the refined, intense acting and the strength of the poses used (all of them are very clear and dynamic.) The animators succeed in finding the verbs in cartoon acting(although they are subtle) while fluidly and believably moving from one pose to another.  Besides Lehtomaki and Smeed the two other main animators here are Zach Parrish and Mike Surrey.  Parrish does a lot of incredible close-ups and his animation is very refined in feel.  Surrey, a 2d veteran,  does the scene of Flynn getting stabbed and some of Rapunzel comforting Flynn when she’s about to heal him. His stuff in this scene is sincere, clear, and well timed out.  Personally I’m a huge fan of Mike’s animation and find this scene to be among his best work.  Another thing worth noting is that in this scene every single movement has meaning and none of it feels overdone.  This is important to have in an emotional climax because it maintains the believability of the moment.  I do have one criticism of the animation here though.  It is that everything here is done at ones and sometimes it can get a bit swimmy as a result.  I will make my point loud and clear: CG ANIMATION NEEDS TO USE TWOS! There is no reason it shouldn’t and I feel the animation would feel much more organic with the use of it in addition to ones.

Personally I love this scene for several reasons. One is I love the passionate, personal quality in the animation.  Second I find it to be very moving and magical. Movies these days too often don’t make me feel that way so I find this scene special as a result.  Last I like it because it is truly a great moment and is done perfectly.  One magical moment can make the difference between an above average film and a classic.  This and the lanterns sequence make the difference for Tangled in my mind.  Thank you to everyone who worked on this scene for making it as special and powerful as it is!

Bibliography

My Interview with Byron Howard

My Interview with Tony Smeed

My Interview with Adam Dykstra

My Interview with Steve Goldberg

My Interview with David Goetz

My Interview with Dan Cooper

The Art of Tangled by Jeff Kurtti

 

 

46. The Chase(Lady and the Tramp)

Posted in Uncategorized on June 15, 2012 by Grayson Ponti Animation: A Site Analyzing All Things Character Animation

Movie: Lady and the Tramp

Year: 1955

Key Players: Wolfgang Reitherman (animator), Ed Penner and Joe Rinaldi (Story), Claude Coats (Backgrounds), Tom Codrick and Don Griffith(Layout), Gerry Geronimi(Director)

Synopsis: Lady in a muzzle runs away in the streets and gets chased by three threatening stray dogs in an alley.  Things look hopeless until Tramp shows up on the scene and intervenes. There’s a pause but then everything comes out and a vicious fight erupts. Tramp wins and goes over to comfort Lady.

Nobody could animate a chase sequence as well as Wolfgang Reitherman and almost all of them ended up on his drawing board.  “He was always stuck with the chase stuff because most people hated to do that, but Woolie got a big kick out of doing fast, action, wild-out stuff and he did it well,” praised Ward Kimball to Steve Hulett.  His chases are very distinct because they have a monumental weight and jolt that few others have in their scenes.  While he did several great action scenes one of his best ones definitely was the one in Lady and the Tramp where three stray dogs chase Lady in an alley and Tramp has to come to her defense. “It’s a textbook example of a Reitherman fight scene,” wrote Charles Solomon in his book Enchanted Drawings.   This scene has made it onto our countdown at number 46 and is the subject of today’s post.

My favorite thing about this scene is the filmmaking choices that are made. They work so well it feels like it couldn’t be done any other way but in reality it very easily could have been a very bland, cliché sequence.  First it’s rare in animation (especially in 1955) for there to be so much camera movement and the amount of cuts is mind boggling.  Not only is there a lot of this but the camera angles and movements that are being used are extremely aggressive and come at a very fast tempo.  While it must have been very hard for the studio to do it surely pays off and the awareness of he camera adds a feeling of drama and scope that couldn’t have been achieved anyway else.  The cinematography helps tell the story here and the scene is staged perfectly adding the maximum amount of “oomph.” Second I admire the pacing and staging decisions made by Wolfgang Reitherman. Usually an action scene will start slow, then move progressively faster, and then come to a climax before falling back done in tension.  This is exciting to watch but it gives no time for the audience to resonate what’s going on and the speed can be a bit overwhelming. What Woolie does here, however, is he starts fast, then abruptly moves faster, pauses, and then everything explodes remaining at that speed until the end. He’s a genius at animating these pause moments because he has time to focus on how the character feels in the situation and have the audience read that.  For example during the pause we have a minute to sink in the fact that Tramp isn’t going to back done and that the three strays really underestimate their competition. You can see this in the expressions they make and the way Reitherman stages their pose in the background.  Even though there is no action here it allows the intensity to build and for the explosion back into the fight to be much stronger than would be possible any other way.  The fight was also originally going to be much longer bur Woolie felt strongly it should be shorter to focus the suspense. “What I wanted to do was simply have a chase, corner, and then pow!” said the animator. “And then a moment of pause. And don’t fool around with it. A moment of pause. And then dive in and then go like everything! Then it had one great thing in it which was biting the rear hack of a dog and then it fled. Generally you like to feel the bad guy is going to win, and the good guy is going to come back. And eventually the ebb and flow of the battle changes and then it ends up that the good guy wins. But I think it is so effective in action scenes if you can stop for a minute because again it is too much to absorb. When it starts again, then it gives the audience a little jolt” Last I think an important decision made here is the scene although intense and powerful isn’t melodramatic at any point. This works because it allows the suspense and tension to be direct and real instead of over the top and breathy.

Although there is no dialogue until the end this scene is strong in story and it is the beginning of an important character arc for Tramp. The reason this scene is important to the feature is it’s where we see that there is substance to Tramp and that he potentially might change into more than just a self-centered nomad. Up until this point he’s been present as just that description and we have been given little reason to believe that he might actually be a great guy in the making. We know that because he made the decision to intervene when he very easily could have just minded his own business and not have bothered to pay attention. However he doesn’t do that and with no hesitation he challenges three strays that are stronger and fiercer than he is. The decision here in a way represents an important plot in the movie: that where Tramp decides what type of guy he wants to be. At the beginning he is very self-centered and has an I don’t give a damn attitude towards life. He is insensitive, selfish, and strongly opposed to any type of connection that would bring meaning to his life because it would make him have to sacrifice his independence to do whatever he wants to do. However because of Lady his mind changes and it leads to him eventually deciding to want to settle down and to be someone admirable with meaning in their life.  It’s this scene that’s the beginning of that change.  This arc means everything because Lady finally has a reason to trust and respect Trap as well as begin to see how in some ways he can be a good influence and companion for her. Her flaw is that she’s unbelievably passive and feels uncomfortable with anything new or different. On the other hand Tramp is completely comfortable doing his own thing and takes down the dogs with ease. He has guts and this is why he is good for Lady. This scene allows all that mileage and change to be absorbed with no dialogue and the dilemma is set up in a way that allows it to be strong and clear. This situation shows us this by the way the different characters respond to the conflict: passive and unsure Lady hides in fear while confident Tramp feels completely comfortable in the situation and maintains his cool during the whole situation. Storymen Ed Penner and Joe Rinaldi led the way on the film and were the two men most responsible for the development of the characters, especially Tramp. The two men made the story work and worked out all the dynamics of the story and its characters very well.   One last thing worth noting for a story sense is that part of the reason this chase is so good is that it is built up to well and expands on the development that has already been given.  So often these dramatic, emotional moments aren’t built up to well and don’t have as strong of an impact as they should.

Another strong point in the scene I feel is the layouts and backgrounds. The layouts were done by Tom Codrick and Don Griffith and it was directed by Gerry Geronimi. An interesting thing about the layouts in this movie is the camera most of the time is only about two feet above the ground to make the film feel like its coming through the dogs’ eyes.  “In Lady they used a ton of low horizon lines because they thought of the camera as being close to the ground,” comments Mark Kirkland, an animation director who has a great knowledge of animation layout.  Also layout artist Ed Ghertner lists Lady and the Tramp as one of his favorite films for animation layout. In this scene specifically the perspective is flawless and there is good focus in the camera.  Few live action films have as strong cinematography and layout as this scene does.  One shot I particularly find fascinating is the one showing the chase from the rear because it gives a feeling of distance and adds a good view.  The backgrounds here are fairly realistic but really strong in value, shading, and color tones. “Lady and the Tramp is the height of classic background painting,” praises art director Dan Cooper.

Tom Codrick

Almost all the animation in this scene is done by Wolfgang Reitherman except for the very beginning and the very end.  His animation has a strong vitality to it and the vigor is evident in every frame.  I particularly like the draftsmanship and clear staging in his animation. I’ve never seen a Woolie scene where you can’t tell what the characters are feeling and this one is no exception.  My favorite shot would definitely have to be the pause where we see Tramp in his back off, don’t mess with me pose and then we see the reaction of the strays.  I love it because of how intense and juicy it is. There are however a few shots not done by Reitherman. One is the beginning where Lady is running in the street, which is done by Hal Ambro. Ambro isn’t a name you hear everyday but he was great at subtle acting and drawing.  He usually did human characters but in this film he does a ton of Lady.  The part at the end where Tramp sees Lady with a muzzle is animated by Hal King, who received his only directing animator credit on this scene.  Last the exchange between the two of them at the end where Tramp sympathizes with Lady is done by Milt Kahl.  It’s a great section and is very technically well done both in mechanics and performance. On this film all the animators went above and beyond in researching the walks and behaviors of dogs. This shows in the animation and although most of it isn’t especially imaginative it is very technically well done.  Pretty much every drawing in this scene nails the anatomical structure of the animals precisely. “I love Lady and the Tramp because it’s the best example of anthropomorphic animation ever done at the studio,” reflects animator Ruben Aquino. “We looked at it as a bar to strive for on Lion King.”

Gerry Geronimi, Tom Codrick, and Wolfgang Reitherman talking over this scene on a clip from the episode of Disney a Story of Dogs

One last thing I’d like to note about the scene is that the audio during it is very good.  The music is so dramatic and really drags you into the dilemma completely.  This is a very emotionally traumatic moment for Lady so, especially because of the absence of dialogue, the music is very important here.  This film was the last one orchestrated by the one and only Oliver Wallace, who in my opinion is one of the three best musicians the studio has ever had (Frank Churchill and Alan Menkin being the other two.) He is so great at composing melodies that go with the emotion of a scene and this here is an example of him at his best.  I also would like to say the sound effects here are very good, particularly in the street scene.  All the things I’ve talked about in this post make me think of this scene as a very strong one and one that deserves acclaim. It’s amazing that people could make something like this and I want to thank everyone who worked on it for helping create such a great scene.

Bibliography

My Interview with Tim Walker

My Interview with Dan Cooper

My Interview with Ed Ghertner

My Interview with Ruben Aquino

My Interview with Mark Kirkland

Disney’s Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation by John Canemaker

Enchanted Drawings by Charles Solomon

47. He’s Got to Have a Weakness(Hercules)

Posted in Uncategorized on June 8, 2012 by Grayson Ponti Animation: A Site Analyzing All Things Character Animation

Movie: Hercules

Year: 1997

Key Players: Sergio Pablos, Nik Ranieri (Animators on Hades), Ken Duncan (Animator on Megera), Ron Clements and John Musker (Directors), Barry Johnson (Head of Story), Rasoul Azadani (Head of Layout), Gerald Scarfe (Production Designer)

Hercules is quite possibly the closest Disney animation ever came to doing a farce and is one of the studio’s wittiest films.  While I like the humor and satirical tone of the film in my view the best work in the film lies in two animated performances: Hades, the explosive over the top villain, and Megera, the atypical heroine.  Both performances I feel are very interesting and unique.  Not surprisingly my favorite scene in the film has both in them: it’s the scene where Hades, at the brink of defeat, tries to convince Megera to turn Hercules on so she can find out his weakness.  This scene is so strong in visuals and characters that I have decided to select it as one of my picks for 50 Greatest Scenes in Disney History at number 47.

This scene is a critical moment in the story because it is the first time we begin to understand Megera and get a glimpse of her emotional side.  We learn the reason why she is working with Hades and why she is guarded in nature.  Megera is a very emotional character and to avoid getting hurt her solution is to put a wall around them. However we see in this scene that while she is trying to protect herself that at heart the sensitivity is still there because she isn’t willing to see that Hercules has a weakness and tries to do everything she can not to help out Hades.  The animators did a great job at communicating this point through the staging because all throughout the scene Megera never once looks Hades in the eye and holds herself in a guarded posture (a visual symbol because the way she is trying to block herself off from Hades represents the way she is trying to block off all her emotions.) The second reason this is a very important moment in the plot is because while we see that Hades is a villain we also see why a character would fall for his tricks, which ties into a key theme in the movie.  This is a movie about through persistence overcoming weaknesses and not letting them bring you down. For example both Phil and Megera are characters that live an unhappy, worthless life because they’re trying to protect themselves from their past mistakes and Hercules makes them get past that. Therefore it’s very fitting that Hades’s biggest strength as a villain is to play with those weaknesses to bring his enemies down.  This is how he is able to get people to do what he wants and is the key to his power. The exchange here tells us everything about this trait and we finally see why Hades is dangerous to Hercules as well as how insensitive he can be to accomplish his selfish desires.  Last I find that this scene is important because a huge pressure comes over Megera, which is whether or not she’s willing to hurt Hercules to get her freedom. To be blunt I feel they dealt with that aspect of the story a little weak in later scenes because I feel it’s very unrealistic Hercules would have so little reaction to it and I wish we could have seen more of the inner trauma she must have been in there. However here it is dealt with completely believably and it is conveyed strong enough here that the audience buys the situation for the rest of the film. I oftentimes find scenes involving two characters having a conversation are among the most important in a movie. While they aren’t always the most fun to watch (although this one is) we learn a ton of essential information about a character and their personality (how they respond to things, what are their intentions, where they are coming from, how their personality compares and contrasts with the character they’re talking with, etc.) While the big moments in a film are important they can be rather weak if they aren’t built up to by scenes like this one. Directors Ron Clements and John Musker as well as story supervisor Barry Johnson did a stellar job at figuring out the dynamics of the characters in this movie and went above and beyond in finding situations to communicate the characterization they figured out.

I don’t know if it was Ron or John that personally directed this scene but my gut feeling tells me it’s probably one of John’s because of the wit and cunningness of the sensibilities.  However even though they technically split up the scenes the two have always had a very cohesive vision on their pictures and all the scenes are incredibly consistent.  Here is a good description of how Clements and Musker work together by Duncan Marjoribanks, best known for animating Sebastian in the Little Mermaid: “They’d give you a lot of freedom and then give notes later but they’re always open to somebody’s vision about this funny bit. They’re really collaborators that way and you know it’s frustrating when someone just tells you to do this this way and how it works in the context of the movie when you have a better idea.  Ron and John describe the story; they set you up with how they basically need as directors and how the character works in the context of the picture. They’re happy to have the contribution of anything that helps the picture and there’s no point to hold the artist’s hand when they’re working. They’re a great team for collaborating and really understanding each other’s minds. A lot of that came when they were trying to get the picture green lit because a creative executive might want to fuse in this popular idea or there’d be all kinds of reasons they would want this change. The two have to be able to handle that and argue this is the better way of doing that.  Any number of things can change a picture when a film is being developed. A lot of people their only job is to have an opinion. There’s a lot involved just in keeping the original story in tact. It’s hard to keep your idea on track. Your original idea. You have to defend what needs to happen and who the character is. They really need to work tightly together to defend their own vision of their work when people try to change it. It’s good too because when you’re dealing with this it helps the animators that they know what they’re doing and who the characters are. It makes it a lot easier for the animator.” Unlike their previous film Aladdin which had some major speed bumps in production, Hercules was a pretty smooth production and from the memories of the crewmembers was very fun to work on.  “I had just come off Pocahontas and there were a bunch of pictures coming off, recalls Brian Ferguson, a longtime animator who supervised Panic on the film.  “I had a few people saying I should try supervising and showed my reel to Ron and John to consider.  I put those scenes on a reel, gave it to Ron, and they liked them enough to cast me on Panic.  Nik was originally going to do Panic.  These big opportunities just came off. It was wonderful working for Ron and John. The entire rest of the crew was a ton of fun. Working with Gerald Scarfe was fun too. It was a lot of fun.”

One interesting thing about this scene is that there are two different design approaches going on but the characters feel like they’re from the same movie.  One of course is the influence of Gerald Scarfe, who was hired onto the film as the production designer.  Scarfe’s sensibilities as a caricaturist and cartoonist are very much evident in the designs of Hades, Pain, and Panic. “The look of Hades was 70% Gerald Scarfe and 30% me,” comments Nik Ranieri, the supervising animator on Hades. “Gerald would send me drawings and I’d send my drawings based on his drawings and then he would do the same until we arrived at a design that everyone was happy with.” If you study the scene you’ll notice a lot of the expressions and poses look like they could belong in a Scarfe illustration and have all of his signature traits(his eyes, noses, eyebrows, etc.) However Megera’s design isn’t so much a Gerald Scarfe-inspired one as it is inspired by Greek architecture. Ken Duncan, the supervising animator on the character, tried to make her look as Greek as possible and give her body a shape similar to that of a Greek vase.  It works well because Duncan’s approach to animation is like that of a sculptor and it shows in his work.  “They brought Gerald Scarfe in on Hercules and he got very excited about the monsters, Hades, the Hydra, Pain and Panic, the Fates, but really struggled with the human characters,” explains Rand Haycock, the supervising animator on Young Hercules, on the lack of interest Scarfe had in the more realistic characters. “He did a few drawings but wasn’t very excited about it. Andreas and I worked together, looked at a lot of Greek sculpture and artwork. We got an idea of how we wanted this character to look and feel while still keeping that S-curve fluid quality. At the same time we tried to really be influenced by Greek art. Gerald had a problem with young Hercules was that since I was drawing teenagers, studied how they moved the one thing I noticed was they were really clumsy on their feet. I thought that would make him feel insecure but Gerald didn’t like that. He’d say his feet were way too big. The production went very smoothly. Eric went from Hades to Phil because Jack Nicholson wasn’t going to do it. Ron and John really pick the guys who they feel would be good for the part and ask which character you like. I really identified with the nerdiness of teenage Hercules. They try to cast people based off of who they are as an artist. That’s given me opportunities to do complex characters but also I get to apply my life experience to the characters.” Overall the designs are all very graphic and geometric in look.  This gives Hercules a visual feel that separates it from the typical classic Disney one and I like it.

One reason I personally like this scene is I feel the cinematography in it is excellent.  The camera angles are perfectly staged and always seem to capture exactly what details are needed.  Because of the focus and specifies of the shots we as viewers are directed into what details we need to pick up in the scene and aren’t distracted by gimmicks.  The backgrounds here are very sparse and bland but that is appropriate because our attention needs to be completely on the characters and their conversation, not on the atmosphere.  Rasoul Azadani is the layout supervisor here and he is very good at making these types of adjustments in the layouts from shot to shot.  His secret is at the beginning of a scene he’ll often do a few shots that establish the atmosphere of the scene and give a sense of setting. Then he’ll either go one of two ways. In a scene that’s a broad situation or that is important for moving the plot he’ll use the architecture and feeling of the setting to add a flavor to the scene. The composition will be simplified to extremes and the spacing in the proportions will be used to go along with the emotional feeling of the situation. These layouts are flashy and unique but they still help tell the story. However in a scene that is less based on plot and is focused on dialogue between two characters Azadani won’t do that. He’ll do what he does in this scene: he’ll focus on making the audience feel the emotional situations of the characters by the way their body sits in the composition of the shot.  For example because both of the main characters in this scene aren’t emotionally-driven and keep a gap between their inner and outer emotions there are very few close-ups of them and most of the shots are showing the overall attitude their body gives. However in the shots where they are thinking deeply about something (Megera thinking about what her ex did to her, Hades trying to figure out how to convince Megera to follow his plan) or being overtaken by emotion (Hades getting frustrated by Pain wearing Hercules sandals) Rasoul uses extreme close-ups.  “Layout is all about filmmaking” is the piece of advice the layout man himself gave to me.

Hades in this scene is primarily animated by Sergio Pablos, who got his big break with this scene. What I love about his animation here besides his phenomenal draftsmanship is how he finds the dynamics of the specifics of the acting and has complete control over them.  Pablos animates the scene in a way that makes you feel the frustration Hades is feeling and pushes that idea in the weight of the character and in the acting choices he makes. You can see the resentment and desperation in his expressions and movement.  As great as Nik Ranieri’s animation of Hades is I feel Sergio takes it a step farther in emphasizing the last two emotions and handles the character in a more serious, less comic way.  This is important for this scene to work because he has to be perceived as a potential threat to Hercules and Megera.  However while Pablos does the bulk of the scenes there are a few crucial shots by Ranieri in the scene.  You can see the difference if you look carefully because Nik’s drawings are more angular and caricatured than Sergio’s. One is the smirk he gives when he is devising his plan as to how to persuade Megera to do what he wants. You can see the thought process in his eyes and can tell what he is thinking at all times. Nik always finds the key expressions in a scene that make the animation believable and is brilliant at finding a nice touch (in this case his eyebrows) that tells the audience what the characters are thinking.  There’s no formula to his approach and that is why it works.  Two other qualities worth noting that I feel are well-done are the lip sync in the Hades animation and the way he moves his fingers around. The last one is in my mind a great one because it communicates that he is dangerous because he is great at playing tricks and talking people into things. In real life oftentimes people who are thinking up a way to get what they want will use hand gestures when speaking (think salesmen and people trying to make up a story to get out of being in trouble.) “The thing I brought to the character was the constant hand gesturing,” remembers Ranieri. “I saw this as an opportunity to use his hands more. He just seemed like a more manic personality- someone who would use their hands a lot.”

A nice contrast to the Hades animation is the animation of Megera done primarily in this scene by Ken Duncan.  A little-known fact is that actually she was originally going to be animated by Duncan Marjoribanks, who had the assignment of doing the character for a few months until he left the studio.  Although few people seem to remember seeing any tests or drawings of the character by Marjoribanks some acknowledge that they see a few elements and sensibilities in this character that seem to come from him. “ I do feel there was influence from him,” admits animator Adam Dykstra. “Just his general style I see in her.” Her eyes and body shape look a bit Marjoribankseque and I feel her quirky, atypical personality roots a bit in the animator’s brain. However without question Ken made the character his own and I feel he did some of his best animation ever in this scene. The  subtle handling of the character is brilliant and the acting on the character is excellent.  Megera is the most atypical heroine in Disney history and she definitely looks and acts different than the average Disney woman.  Duncan captures this attitude and personality in his animation coming together to make a unique, interesting performance.  Another one of Ken’s gifts is he finds the nuances and gestures that are unique to the character and make the acting believable for the part (the way she rocks her hips, the way she moves back her hair, etc.) He doesn’t cheat with anything: the walk, the posture, and expressions are specifically tailored to the character and are well figured out.  Last Duncan’s animation is good because of the refinement and sculpted quality of his draftsmanship.

Although they are only secondary characters in this scene Brain Ferguson and Jamie Lopez handle the animation of Pain and Panic earlier in this scene.  Their stuff is whimsical, entertaining, and cartoony.  In particular I love Lopez’s scene of Pain reacting to Hades asking why he’s wearing Hercules sandals. The acting is believable and I love the fluidity of the animation. However Ferguson and Lopez aren’t the stars in this scene and appropriately take a back seat to the more important characters in the scene. Overall I feel all the animation in this scene is well-done and high quality. Everyone animating here has a great eye and is able to apply what they observe in real life into their animation. Also all the stuff here is controlled and well thought out.

I love this scene for several reasons. One I love the performances in the scene and am fascinated by the acting choices the animators make.  For example I find Hades’s explosive, fiery personality very entertaining visually and appreciate how different of a heroine Megera is.  It’s great when the characters in a movie are distinct in the way they look and they way they act. Even when animation is well drawn and well figured out I find when animators play it safe and make all the characters fluid and grounded it gets boring to watch very fast. That’s why I love scenes like this one where the characters are theatrical and entertaining. Last I love this scene because of how well it is staged and how intelligent the acting decisions are.  Thank you to everyone who worked on this scene for making it special and doing great work on it.

Bibliography

My Interview with Nik Ranieri

My Interview with Duncan Marjoribanks

My Interview with Brian Ferguson

My Interview with Randy Haycock