Sunday, February 07, 2010

Pinoke's 70th

On February 7th, 1940, Disney's second animated feature (and the third 3-strip Technicolor animated feature) was released.

Above, the 1940 trailer. Below, part of my article from Film Comment:

A Star Is Drawn.

... Seventy years after its premiere, Pinocchio remains the most lavish hand-drawn animated film ever made. In its attention to detail and the scope of its art direction, it has never been equaled. Yet at the time of its production, Pinocchio seemed a natural progressiom from Snow White, which came about because Walt Disney increasingly found the traditional cartoon short economically and artistically constricting.

But Disney knew Snow White's shortcomings better than anybody. "We've learned a lot since we started this thing," he told a reporter. "and I'm conscious only of the places it could be improved. I wish I could yank it back and do it all over again."

Ken Anderson, a long-time Disney art director and story artist, believed that Disney was aiming in a very specific direction: "I think that Walt was impatient with the restriction of a cartoon. He strived for more and more realism, more naturalism in his features. I kept a notebook at that time of camera angles and moves from live-action pictures like Anthony Adverse. Walt took a look at the notebook and liked it. He had others start keeping notes too. He was always aiming at exceeding the limitation of the medium, though we never heard it expressed in so many words."

From the start of his career, Disney borrowed from live-action. As there was Douglas Fairbanks in The Gaucho (1927), so there was Mickey Mouse in Gallopin' Gaucho. There was Buster Keaton's Steamboat Bill, Jr., and then Mickey's Steamboat Willie, the first sound cartoon.

But as the year's passed, Disney drew more on live action's visual techniques and less on its subject matter. His small Hyperion Studio grew as rapidly as its products' fame and technical sophistication. Young, new animators were hired. Watercolorists like Philip Dyke found their way into a growing background department. New development and story artists were brought in.

Designer and animator Albert Hurter had come to the studio after a career in animation dating back to World War I. Disney quickly saw that Hurter's talents could be better used rendering preliminary "idea" sketches, and his drawings of characters and strangely humanized inanimate objects influenced the look of numerous Disney shorts.

On the first Disney feature, Snow White, Hurter daily produced fifty to a hundred sketches covering all areas of the production. The dwarfs' cottage, the wicked queen's castle, and the nightmare forest through shich Snow White escapes all bear his creative stamp.

Even before Snow White was completed, Disney set newer employee Gustaff Tenggren (who was also an award-winning children's book illustrator), to work creating Pinocchio's European storybook flavor. While Hurter designed chairs, table legs, clocks and music boxes inside Gepetto's workshop, Tenggren rendered the town streets and undersea landscapes where Pinocchio had his adventures.

Claude Coats, then a Disney background artists, remembered Tenggren's "crisp, pen-and-ink watercolor style": "He painted terrific views of the houses in the little, Swiss-looking village. They had an interesting proportion to them that influenced the scale of our work at Disneyland later on." Tenggren, more than any other individual, was responsible for the overall look of Pinocchio, but he left the studio before the feature was done, and received no screen credit.

"We did an immense amount of research on Pinocchio," said layout artist Ken O'Connor, "studying houses and carvings and everything else. We'd come in and look at the storyboards and do thumbnails of camera pans and angles and pin them up underneath, working out lighting and mood.

"I remember working on a scene of Gideon and J. Worthington Foulfellow in the village streets. Tenggren had sketched this down view through rooftops of them and Pinocchio marching off along the cobblestones and I had to make it work for animation. I did the rough layouts, then moved to a live-action stage where I set up angles and props and directed the actors through stacked boxes like they were moving through the streets. They mouthed the dialogue and did the gestures, and we used the film as a guild for the animators. Then I went back and did the cleaned-up layouts.

"For another sequence, Tenggren had some great drawings of the waterfront and the Red Lobster Inn, where Gideon and Foulfellow meet the evil coachman. I tried hard to keep the feeling of his drawing in my layouts, and I had this complex camera move where the camera would go down an alley, around a corner and down to the inn. But I was getting too expensive in my thinking, and I had to condense it. I never did feel I caught as much of the flavor of Tenggren's sketches and I wanted to.

The biggest problem I always saw with getting together a long, animated feature with different art directors working on different sequences was the difficulty in making the whole thing hang together. You had people trying to outdo each other and you had to keep in mind the section of the film that came after yours. And it was a good idea to know what came before. I always found it remarkable that the features hung together as well as they did."

What held Pinocchio together was the critical sense of Walt Disney. No detail escaped his notice. He conducted story meetings, reviewed animation, watched test reels of color footage. He changed backgrounds, altered animated air-brush effects, and even made the decision on which highlights were to be sprayed or brushed on characters.

"We all had egos," said veteran animator Eric Larson, "but Walt had a way of taking those egos and making them work together as a team. This guy had the ability to take your into a story meeting and tear a sequence or reel of animation apart and rebuild it so you had something solid and concrete. He never forgot anything. If he said something to you it was a good idea to write it down, because he'd remember it even if you didn't. His enthusiasm, his effort for perfection, came off strongly on Pinocchio." ...

Long ago, when I interviewed some of the veteran artists who worked on Pinocchio, they said it was the most complicated feature they ever did. Complicated or not, Pinocchio is the most expensive of the Disney pre-World War II features, costing more, minute-to-minute, than Gone With the Wind. But because of an unfortunate dust-up then going on in Europe (one of Disney's major markets) Pinoke made less than half what Snow White did during its initial release. Happily, it's done quite nicely since.

So birthday salutations, little wooden boy. You definitely helped make the company what it is today.

(Ward Kimball offers his memories of Pinocchio here.)

Add On: And this date is 57 years and two days after the release of Peter Pan, which (unlike Pinocchio) has had sequels and spinoffs and teevee shows spinning along in its wake.

(Side point apropo of nothing: Years ago I watched Pinocchio and Peter Pan back to back in some screening room or other. What jumped out at me was how much faster the cutting was in Pan, with the length of individual scenes way shorter.)

16 comments:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Death to Trolls said...

Whoa, wait a minute: a post celebrating the release of Pinocchio (and Peter Pan) is used as a flimsy pretense for yet another hater to post a "bash The Princess and the Frog" comment ?

How is this on topic at all ? Steve didn't even mention PATF in his post about Pinocchio.

Randy V said...

I agree with Death To Trolls. Leave PatF out of this. I like that this guy has the cajones to suggest HE knows what Walt would have thought of it!

ON TOPIC: I still think Pinocchio is the greatest animated film ever made. It is uplifting, dark and fiercely emotional. It is funny, scary and beautiful to behold. Happy 70th birthday Pinoke!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

At the risk of feeding the troll...

"Lady and the Tramp" was a combination of a story called "Happy Dan, the Whistling Dog" by Ward Greene and a Joe Grant idea about a cocker spaniel So while Walt may have stuck with his decision on the name of the film (not surprising, it being his studio and all), he sure didn't stick with the original title.

Steve Hulett said...

I'm not in the mood for off-topic comments. Therefore comment #1 has been deleted.

Steve Hulett said...

Also #4.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you're being an ass. WAY more off topic posts have remained on this blog.

My post was about Pinocchio AND the current state of Disney.

If you cant handle opinions about Disney, you should re-consider keeping your job.

Floyd Norman said...

I still consider "Pinocchio" a Disney masterpiece even though Walt seldom even mentioned it years later.

For those who never sat in meetings with Walt, don't try to guess what he would have liked or disliked. You'd be surprised.

Stephen Worth said...

Nice article, but Steamboat Willie wasn't the first sound cartoon. The Fleischers had several and Terry did one earlier.

Anonymous said...

T. Hee once commented once that some people thought Pinocchio might have been an overall better film than Snow White, but that nothing Walt did before or since he died compared with the accomplishment of Snow White.

Anonymous said...

Pinocchio is a better film, in every way but especially technically. Just my anonymous humble opinion of course.

But it's true that Snow White was an unprecedented achievement-one that is still hard for us to relate to today, taking it(and everything animation has become since in this country and around the world) for granted as we do.

Derrick said...

...and don`t forget it's a fairy tale, a good one.

Steve Hulett said...

If you cant handle opinions about Disney, you should re-consider keeping your job.

Put them down where they belong -- at the current Disney post.

And if you don't like the way the blog administrator (moi) administrates the blog, feel free to vote against him in the next election.

Dorseytunes said...

I know this is a long list, but I wanted to acknowledge the animators involved. I am amazed at the talent behind Pinocchio. This was found on the Internet Movie Database.

Art Babbitt .... animation director (as Arthur Babbitt)
Preston Blair .... animator
Jack Bradbury .... animator (as John Bradbury)
Jack Campbell .... animator
Les Clark .... animator
Claude Coats .... background artist
Merle Cox .... background artist
John Elliotte .... animator
Hugh Fraser .... animator
Campbell Grant .... character designer
Joe Grant .... character designer
Ray Huffine .... background artist
Albert Hurter .... character designer
Ollie Johnston .... animator (as Oliver M. Johnston)
Milt Kahl .... animation director (as Milton Kahl)
Lynn Karp .... animator
Ward Kimball .... animation director
Eric Larson .... animation director
John Lounsbery .... animator
Don Lusk .... animator
Robert Martsch .... animator
John McManus .... animator
Joshua Meador .... animator
John P. Miller .... character designer
Fred Moore .... animation director
Charles A. Nichols .... animator (as Charles Nichols)
Art Palmer .... animator
Don Patterson .... animator
Martin Provensen .... character designer
Wolfgang Reitherman .... animation director (as Woolie Reitherman)
George Rowley .... animator
Ed Starr .... background artist
Norman Tate .... animator
Frank Thomas .... animation director (as Franklin Thomas)
Don Tobin .... animator
Don Towsley .... animator
Bill Tytla .... animation director (as Vladimir Tytla)
John Walbridge .... character designer
Bernard Wolf .... animator (as Berny Wolf)
Marvin Woodward .... animator
Dick Anthony .... animator (uncredited)
Mike Arens .... animator (uncredited)
Dick Brown .... animator (uncredited)
Bruce Bushman .... layout artist (uncredited)
Lars Calonius .... animator (uncredited)
Bob Carlson .... animator (uncredited)
Walt Clinton .... animator (uncredited)
Sam Cobean .... animator (uncredited)
Shamus Culhane .... animator (uncredited)
Phil Duncan .... animator (uncredited)
Blaine Gibson .... inbetween artist (uncredited)
Franklin Grundeen .... animator (uncredited)
William T. Hurtz .... animation assistant (uncredited)
Walt Kelly .... animator (uncredited)
Murray McClellan .... animator (uncredited)
Bob McCrea .... animator (uncredited)
Bill Melendez .... assistant animator (uncredited)
Paul Murry .... inbetween artist (uncredited)
Milt Neil .... animator (uncredited)
Lester Novros .... animator (uncredited)
Ken O'Brien .... animator (uncredited)
Frank Oreb .... animator (uncredited)
Chic Otterstrom .... animator (uncredited)
William Shull .... animator (uncredited)
Robert Stokes .... animator (uncredited)
David Swift .... animator (uncredited)
Howard Swift .... animator (uncredited)
Harvey Toombs .... animator (uncredited)
Kay Wright .... inbetween artist (uncredited)
Robert W. Youngquist .... animator (uncredited)

Steven Hartley said...

It appears that so many animators had worked on this film (Dorseytunes showed a long list of artists on Pinocchio)

and I'd like to thank all the artists who made this film possible!

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