Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Above: Ken Anderson in 1977 with Elliot the dragon -- shortly before I worked with him on "Catfish Bend." Ken Anderson -- a pillar at Disney Animation for forty-plus years -- worked in animation in the thirties, then layout in the forties and fifties, and finally in story. He talked to me for an article back in May, 1978, around the time he retired from the studio. I share the pearls of his insights below... KEN: I think that Walt was always impatient with the restrictions of a cartoon. He strived for more and more realism, more naturalism in the features. In "Pinocchio," in those big downshots of the town at the beginning of the feature, Charles Phillippi -- the head of layout -- wanted an eagle's eye view of the town's streets. That downshot was six feet wide and six feet long. What Walt wanted in his layout people was a group of guys who would be capable of previsualizing the animation in the scene before the animator got them. So he wanted to have men who could draw the animated charaters. Charlie Phillippi and Hugh couldn't draw characters, but they were brilliant in staging and brilliant in camera moves. But that gave them a weakness as far as Walt was concerned. I came out of animation and could draw characters. I practically keyed several dwarf scenes in "Snow White," like where Grumpy's nose is coming up over the top of the bed. I did some of this in "Pinocchio," but by then I was tapering off. Several scenes that I keyed -- and almost pose-tested the animation -- the animators just timed out and completed. Guys like Fred Spencer were getting bonuses for stuff I keyed. But Walt made it clear to me that posing wasn't what he wanted me to be doing, and my interest shifted from character keying to layout and design to character development and then to story. All those things are tied together, particularly character development and story, because they go hand in hand with making a good picture. And all those things have to be synthesized -- story, color, music, characters -- to make an entertaining whole. Walt allowed you to draw your own inferences about what you were to do, but he let you know when you wandered away from what he wanted. So instead of keying, I began working on persepctive. I'd make a grid of how big or small a character would be in different parts of the layout, so the animators would have a reference whenever they moved the character around on it. To me, the perfect culmination of layout, animation, and art direction happened in "Song of the South." Every scene was thumb-nailed before it went to layout, checked with the director Wilfred Jackson and story man Bill Peet. Then the scene was cast for an animator and the animator could redraw the thumbnails if he wanted and we would thrash it out. So we knew exactly what a scene was going to look like before the scene was photographed, before the live actors were shot. And we could go into a sweat box and know if a scene was right or not. There were plenty of arguments, it was never easy, but I think we got a better result. We pasted all the thumbnails in a large book so we knew exactly where we were at any given time. There was never that degree of coordination again. Jackson had a heart attack and was in and out, and other things happened. On "Pinocchio," Gustaf Tenngren had the greatest influence as far as creative input. I had a lot to do with every sequence except the whale. I built the model of Stomboli's wagon, put in the springs so the action was right, and so on. We painted the wagon flat and outlined all the differed colored sections of it with a thin black line, and then we photographed it and transferred the image to washoff cells, which were photographically sensitized cells, and then they'd be painted. We had a problem with the cells shrinking at different rates, so that there was a jiggling effect to overcome. There were a lot of problems, but the basic system was diveloped for "Pinocchio," and we've used it ever since. One of the most difficult scenes in terms of layout was where Pinocchio is in the bird cage in Strombolli's wagon. It was a multiplaine shot, and you had a great number of levels. There was the swinging bars of the cage -- two levels, front and back -- and Pinocchio inside the cage, responding to the pull of gravity. The problems with registration were tremendous. On top of that, there was the light coming in through the window, with the moon shining in the background. That was on the level farthest back. The moon was held while other things were moving and swinging. The light ray of the good fairy had to be air-brushed. Planning all the effects was every complicated and involved a lot of planning. I doubt that the care and expense that went into that feature could be duplicated today. What interested Walt was our striving for new things. I kept a notebook of camera angles and moves from other pictures, for instant "Anthony Adverse" (WB 1936) where the hero and heroine kiss and the camera moves up into the trees and whirls around as if the girl was swooning, then comes back down. Walt took a look at the notebook and liked it, and had the others start to keep ones like it. Walt was always aiming at exceeding the limitation of the medium, but we never heard it expressed in so many words.
Posted by Steve Hulett at 9:07 PM