Friday, October 13, 2006

Tales From Ward K. VI -- Pinocchio

Still more from the Ward Kimball interview of three decades back. This time centered on Disney's second animated feature (which was what I was there to interview him about in the first place)...

Ward Kimball: Pinocchio* was the first picture where I operated as an animation supervisor. Walt began to take the older, or more talented, or whatever you want to call them animators and make what he called animation supervisors. Maybe two or three of us would go on a picture early -- try to take the story sketches and develop a character, draw a character that would work in animation. Lot of times, a story sketch wouldn't work.

The cricket had been drawn like a little black grasshopper, and the problem there was getting a character that Walt would accept. Now, that was a tough job because like I tell everybody, the cricket looked like a cockroach. So each time I'd go up there, Walt would kind of frown and say "He's not cute enough," or something.

So by a process of elimination, I dropped all the cockroach stuff so what we had was a little man, with a cut-away coat, which I suppose you could call wings, the way they come to a point in back, but there they stop. There's a collar, top hat, and umbrella, and his face is an egg with cheeks. No ears, two lines on top, reminiscent of the feelers, and his nose. You couldn't put on anything that looked like nostrils or holes or things that looked ugly.

And finally we got this abstraction, a cute symbol they called a cricket. He can't be anything else, and he's small. That's one thing you can say about him: he's not a three-foot mouse like Mickey. And he had the voice of Cliff Edwards.

Steve Hulett: I've seen a publicity photograph of you sketching Cliff Edwards. Was that for Pinocchio?

Ward Kimball: No, they have a picture of me making a sketch of ... no, that was later. They have a picture of me drawing a sketch of Edwards strutting as I was drawing Jim Crow (Dumbo), but in the end, we didn't use Edwards for that. I think for Pinocchio, we did shoot some photostats of Cliff with a hat ... He was five foot six or seven, dancing with a top hat for the intricacies of a tricky little step. But the size and his personality, the way we drew him, were miles apart. You only looked at him for reference, for timing on a dance thing. I think he did go through a few things like that, but we didn't follow the photostats like we did with Snow White or the witch.

Steve Hulett: Ken O'Connor told me they used some live-action rotoscope on Pinocchio.

Ward Kimball: Well, that might have been done on that famous scene where you move from the star down to the city. In those days it helped a lot. And Gideon and the Fox, they shot what's-his-name for the fox. They did the dance steps that Norm Ferguson and John Lounsbery would use, just to look at. Lots of times, expecially if you weren't familiar with music or dance, you didn't know what the leg did.

I was given so many musical things to do because I liked those things. Wilfred Jackson was a musician. I remember I worked on "Woodland Café" with him, a short. With all his inserts, truck-ins and that Cab Calloway type voice. So naturally I got the little cricket singing "Give a Little Whistle." That was the first scene we put in the reel, sliding up and down the violin.

Before that, we worked for six months on the sequence, and I don't think the cricket was in it, and Walt realized it wasn't working. And he threw it all out and started over ... I tend to forget the problems we had, and that's the tendency of everybody, but Pinocchio was no soft touch. In fact, I thought it was harder for everybody than Snow White. We finished Snow White and we said, "Ha. We know how to do features!" And everybody went into Pinocchio with this great load of confidence. Boy, six months later we found out, and Walt found that, that what you learn in one picture doesn't necessarily work on the next picture.

Then Walt brought in the cricket, added that little personality. The story needed something to bounce Pinocchio's problems off of. How do you bring a marionette to life? How does he know the facts of life unless he has some tutor? ... See, the cricket has educated Pinocchio and you get a kick out ot Pinocchio's mistakes and his naïveté, his unworldly approach ...

Art Babbitt more or less set the character of Geppetto, he was going a little too real with Geppetto. Fred Moore went the other way, and between the two of them, they got the character as he now appears ... In order to get the sequence together, so Walt could kind of get the feeling of it before it was entirely animated, he would ask the animators to pull pose reels.

And we didn't necessarily like to do that, because you would get a false impression. There's no way of making a key pose reel where you have them inbetweened and so forth to give the feeling and the timing subtleties you want of pure animation ... On that song where the cricket is sitting in the window and sings "When You Wish Upon A Star," it's a long scene and long words. Some words took up a whole two or three feet when he'd hold those big notes. And of course, I brought the scene out and I remember the biggest laugh of the showing came when one one of the drawings I printed "Hold it boy" your dreams ... come ... truuue.

And I had this last pose with the hand out and, of course, he has all sorts of head shakes, and here's this drawing being held for two or three feet with a sign: "Hold it boy." Somehow, everybody thought it was funny. It got the biggest laugh of the evening.

(Hulett: Ward was right about "Pinocchio" being no "soft touch." Because of story snafus and the attention to detail, the picture wasn't released until early 1940, thereby missing the holiday season and the Christmas box office. "Pinocchio" made far less money than "Snow White" in its initial release, and within a year and a half the studio was close to insolvency. Happily, WWII and lucrative government contracts for training films came along at just the right time.)

*"Pinocchio" was also, by my estimates, the most expensive motion picture, dollar per minute, of its time. It was far more costly, for example, than "Gone With the Wind," produced and released at the same time.


Anonymous said...

"Pinocchio" is perhaps, the reason I'm in this crazy industry.

Captured my imagination when I was a kid, and is still inspiring after all these years. Warts and all...

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