Monday, February 23, 2009

Fifty-ninth Anniversary of a Toonish Fork in the Road

Close to six decades back, Walt Disney Productions released Cinderella, the first full-length animated feature since Bambi. The company had released plenty of toonage in the interim, but none that told an eighty-five minute story with a beginning, middle and end.

Disney was not then in terrific financial shape. I remember my mentor Larry Clemmons telling me:

"I visited the lot in the late forties. I was writing Bing Crosby's radio show then, and Bing came to the studio to record Ichabod, and I drove over to visit old friends I hadn't seen since leaving in '41.

"And the reaction of the guys in the story department, guys I'd known, was 'Gee, you're working for Bing Crosby on network radio. Must be great. And here we are, stuck in Burbank.'

"Back then, after the war, the studio was seen as a sleepy little place that made kids' cartoons, far away from the Hollywood action. A couple of the story writers wondered if the studio would even be around that much longer." ...

In the late forties, it was pretty common knowledge that Walt Disney Prods. was living hand to mouth. It was going through a lean and mean period, working to conserve cash, releasing cost-efficient "compilation" features that, while less expensive too produce, we're not bringing in huge amounts of cash at the box office. The company was also using bottled-up profits in Great Britain to make low-rent live-action films, using relatively unknown actors in the leads.

Somewhere along in here, Cinderella was greenlit, Peter Pan was reactivated, and Alice in Wonderland moved into development. Because Walt had big plans, and to make them happen he needed to take bigger swings at the plate, aiming for the fences.

And Cinderella, the first animated feature out of the on-deck circle, turned out to be a hit, giving the studio financial breathing room. While Alice in Wonderland the following year misfired, Peter Pan did not, and Disney suddenly had the economic muscle to make an amusement park down in Anaheim happen. Which gave the company a whole lot of leverage and cash flow.

The rest, as they say, is the corporate collosus we know and love today.

Oversimplification? No doubt. But the point is that Walt Disney, starting with Cinderella in 1950, drove down the right roads at the right intersections and thereby set his smallish cartoon studio on a route to ginormous prosperity ... instead of say, the historical deadend (and footnote) occupied by U.P.A.

So. Happy Birthday, Cindy! You made a difference!

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

lets hope princess and the frog is a cinderella style hit so 2d will live on and "talented" artists can once again continue to work at disney!

besides, the decision to go all cgi was a corporate blunder(intended to get back at pixar for splitting) that is just waiting to be corrected. so be it if 2d folks are financially ruined by then- but better late than never.

Anonymous said...

I'm also hoping the best for "Frog", but I wish they were trying to emphasize that we were seeing drawings, rather than simply pick up where they left off with design and style. Adding tone and highlights (as in the trailer) is a huge mistake.

There's got to be another way to make it ring "Disney", but to really emphasize that we're seeing moving drawings.

And using Randy Newman is also an idea which is 10 years past it's prime... much like when Dreamworks used Elton John again with El Dorado.

I sure hope I'm wrong...

Floyd Norman said...

There’s one major difference. The studio ain’t going broke today -- but the artists sure are.

It’ll take good storytelling AND hand drawn animation to turn things around.

David McBride said...

I'm hopping the princess and the frog does well. It has been too long since we've seen some traditional stuff on screen. It would be great if 2D would be looked at as having its own great qualities again instead of just an out dated art form succeeded by CG. So up coming animators like myself can get our turn at it.

Anonymous said...

"so 2d will live on and "talented" artists can once again continue to work at disney!"

That's an incredibly ignorant, selfish, immature, and arrogant statement.

I love hand drawn animation, but there are cg animators that are as good AND better than the best hand drawn animators, and they can draw well, too.

The films are not about "animation." They're about STORYTELLING. That's why Disney flubbed (twice--after Walt died and the latter Eisner/Stainton years).

Don't pin your hopes on "FP" being any kind of savior. It might be a hit, and I sure hope it is.

But in the big picture, it's just that: another picture. Hand drawn, cg, live action, sand on glass. Who cares? Just make it worth my 2 hours and 10 bucks.

Floyd Norman said...

Gosh...

Anonymous said...

The rant above is right, of course.

Anonymous said...

wow,
I never knew how much venom and hatred was directed toward 2d people until I read this thread.

Phil said...

It's sad and pathetic to see the angry and impotent rage that some 2D artists have for 3D animators, as evidenced by the immature tantrum displayed in this thread. It's the same tantrum that was ranted in a previous thread, by the same person.

This kind of rage comes from powerlessness. It comes from standing on the sidelines and watching the world pass them by. Instead of taking personal responsibility for growing their skills and career, and adapting, as countless traditional artists have successfully done, this lone person has decided to refuse personal responsibility, and simply guttersnipe those who have.

True artists, like the many traditional 2D animators who actually adapted and became proficient in both old and new technologies, are constantly growing, exploring, and gaining inspiration from whatever life throws their way. Quite unlike this lone guttersniper, who shows not the mark of a true artist.

Anonymous said...

"it's sad and pathetic to see the angry and impotent rage that some 2D artists have for 3D animators"


3d "ANIMATORS"? that is a gift word you don't deserve. keep kidding yourself

David McBride said...

I didn't mean to give the wrong idea. I love all forms of animation. I am not angry or immature at all I just had my heart set on doing hand drawn animation from as far back as I can remember. With that being said some of my favorite films are 3D. All I meant is that I would like to have the option to try my hand at all mediums.

Anonymous said...

don't kowtow t this imposter David!
Hold onto your dream. They we be gone soon enough

Anonymous said...

"I just had my heart set on doing hand drawn animation from as far back as I can remember. :

A noble dream, and one I've had. But there are just as many bad cg animators as their are bad hand drawn animators. And just as many good ones that work on films less than their talent. And some good ones that get to work on great films.

The point being, that the FILM is the thing. The story. Good animation (hand drawn or cg) does not elevate a bad film (Aristocats, Robin Hood, Rescuers Down Under, Prince of Egypt, Sinbad, Road to Eldorado, Roger Rabbit, Treasure Planet, Secret of Nimh, Shrek 3, ...), even if it's not the animators fault the material is middling. The best animators are great storytellers and film makers, and do their best with the material they've got. The idea that hand drawn is better than cg is just silly, and incredibly limiting in a bad way.

Is traditional animation BETTER with a bad performance? I don't think so, and neither do a vast majority of audience members who just want to be entertained by a great film.

"don't kowtow t this imposter David!
Hold onto your dream. They we be gone soon enough"

No. They won't.

But I do hope some great films featuring hand drawn animation keep coming. And some puppet films, and some cg films, and some live action ones, too!

Anonymous said...

3d "ANIMATORS"? that is a gift word you don't deserve. keep kidding yourself


Doesn't your bagging shift at Trader Joe's start about now?

If by "They we [sic] be gone soon enough," you mean "well over $1.5 billion in revenue from CG animated features last year alone," then yeah, sure! Hold on to your dream indeed, because pipedreams are all you have, while hosing down the asparagus section.

By and large, those 2D animators who could actually animate had little trouble making the switch. The ones who had a harder time were the less talented, less creative ones in cleanup and assisting. Is that why you're so bitter, guttersniping loser?

Anonymous said...

" less talented, less creative ones in cleanup and assisting"

B.S. The best assistants and cleanup artists draw BETTER than animators. Dale Oliver drew better than Frank Thomas, and Thomas SAID so. Many times. The animator is there for the performance. Some draw very well, too.

It's like saying cg game animators are less talented than cg feature animators. Which they are (and take that with a grain of salt).

Anonymous said...

"Doesn't your bagging shift at Trader Joe's start about now?"

I know you are referring to a real person in this statement, and that person had to have courage and fortitude to take that job when economics destroyed his dream job. If you are working in the media of your choice it is a gift, not a justification of that media. Be grateful that you are doing what you like to do and have some regard for your fellow man-- and that goes for all D's.

Anonymous said...

It is not a gift, it is a choice. A choice to increase skills, adapt when necessary, and embrace new technologies. Animation is animation, whether with a pencil or a mouse. The principles don't change, only a person's willingness and fortitude to master new challenges.

And no, I'm certainly not criticizing anyone in particular, other than the non-animator in this thread who erroneously thinks that CG animators aren't animators. Obviously a sign that s/he never grasped what animation truly is in the first place, which explains why they couldn't make the switch.

Anonymous said...

"Animation is animation, whether with a pencil or a mouse. The principles don't change,"


this rhetoric has bombed the quality of our animation and animators back to the stone age. continue to believe the lies that have enriched you while the true talent base has suffered so.
working at trader joes is far more noble than moving around lifeless puppets and saying it is real animation.

Anonymous said...

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

Nice trolling. I appreciate a good laugh in the morning!

Anonymous said...

"this rhetoric has bombed the quality of our animation and animators back to the stone age."

Ignorant hack.

Anonymous said...

wow...

the ignorant hack does seem bitter and sad...
but the cg guy seems downright cold and cruel. the poor 2d guy is obviously in a bad state. but kicking a guy when he is down seems to be the order of the day. remember what jeseus said about turning the other cheek.

Anonymous said...

Well, sorry but when this guy starts off by announcing that people who work in cg are less talented, disposable, are not true animators, and openly gunning for the day when all cg people are laid off (ha!), it's obvious that he's trolling, trying to get a rise out of people. I have no sympathy for such a person, and am more than willing to make a strong, even harsh, defense to such stupidity.

As I said repeatedly, plenty of 2d folks were able to continue their careers, and apply their skills to new technology, because it's really not rocket science. If a person isn't interested in doing that, fine, but don't start flinging poop at those of us who did, suggesting that we're not "real animators." Don't suffer fools gladly.

Anonymous said...

to heck with the bitter 2d people.
they had their time in the sun. It's our turn now!

Anonymous said...

This place is turning into "animationnation.com" a place where the owner has to post by himself. Noticed their viewership has dropped off tremendously since they BADLY redesigned their page. It's day has passed. Thank god for Cartoon Brew.

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