Effects Department

The effects animator is a special kind of artist: he has a curiosity about the way things work, a feel for the mechanical, and usually sees great beauty in the patterns of nature. Some effects animators have been fascinated with pure realism and have tried doggedly to duplicate it, while others have created spirit in the movement of water and lava, drama in fires and storms, and astonishing loveliness in the handling of falling leaves and snow. During the making of Snow White, the Effects Animation Department grew to a total of fifty-six men and women, many proficient in special techniques, all amazingly patient as they drew endless tiny shapes.

Originally, character animators had done all of the effects in their own scenes: rain, smoke, shadows, tears, clouds, dust, speed lines—even throbbing lines to represent pain and question marks to show confusion But Walt felt that these all lacked style and asked his men to be more observant and to draw more accurately. They observed. and as soon as someone noted that the image of a real object moving fast is blurred on film, every animator tried to find his own way of drawing a blurred image in cartoon terms. In attempting to outdo each other, these animators created shapes that became designs in themselves, dominating the scenes, and the inkers were puzzled as to whether these concoctions should be traced in ink, painted on (op of the eel, drybrushed, or done in different colors.

A favorite device for portraying an arm or a leg moving very fast was to draw a series of after images following along. Unfortunately, this always looked more like spaghetti trailing the limb than a true blurred image. Carleton (Jack) Boyd, who later became head of the Effects Department, still laughs about those days. "Four feet of wet spaghetti! It looked awful—but

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we were trying to find out how to do it. It took a lot of mistakes before you found out what you could do." This type of personal expression came to an abrupt end when Walt eventually set up the Effects Department to standardize the procedures, unify the appearance, and control the quality.

With new importance given to what always had been secondary animation, the men selected for the new department seldom could hold themselves down to a supportive role. Even though they were aware that their work should be subordinate to the main action of the scene, the enthusiasm that led to the experimenting also swept away care and much of their judgment. Again, it was Jack Boyd who shook his head and laughed as he thought back on a scene he had once done. "I had just discovered water! I was a star! You guys did a wonderful job on the character animation, and I came along with a splash and destroyed you!"

Then with a sigh. "Now I shudder to think of that stuff." W

Shadows were another problem. These had been done in a very simple way from the earliest da; because they anchored the figure to the ground. Without some kind of contact with the background, the characters seemed to float around, walking on air. no matter how much weight had been animated into their movements. Just a circular shape painted around their feet in an unobtrusive grey defined where they were standing, and as they walked about or jumped it continued to show just where they were. Being opaque ii covered anything on the background that it passed over, unless it had been carefully animated to fit the shape it encountered. Too often an easier solution uis to ask the background man simply to paint out the offending object and leave a barren path in its place.

As the quality of the pictures approached that of the better book illustrations, this crude shadow was replaced by one done with a transparent paint that gave i much more realistic appearance. Since this darkened the background without obliterating any of the detail, the spectator could now see every rock and pebble right through the shadow, and the background painters became much happier. Unfortunately this wonder paint dried very quickly, leaving streaks and puddles varied in density from eel to cel. causing the shadow to look quite agitated on the screen as it wiggled and jittered.

When the paint was very cold it was somewhat easier to use. and if it were confined to small areas that the "girls" could paint quickly and deftly, a satisfactory result could be obtained. So the painters worked close to the refrigerator and moved fast, but the shadow was still only one shade and there was no o possible if a slight variation was desired. More thm that, it was impossible to paint large areas on the eels and keep any consistency in the quality.

A far better result came from painting the shadow] completely black, but photographing it at only partial exposure. This way. there was complete control. The shadow would be light when it was shot at thirty percent exposure or very dark when shot at seventy percent. and between the two almost any shade could be obtained, enriching the appearance of the scene a both design and color, since the shadow darkened the enisling color without disturbing the harmony of the relationships

This was just what was needed to make the group of dwarfs match the quality of those first sketches. A mask over part of the scene changed the values on the figures whenever they entered that area, without re-quinng any new painting, or. especially, a whole new set of colors. Now . the dark and light patterns of the scenes could be created in a .very simple way. but in a way that added depth and luminosity to an amazing degree. The shadows that the dwarfs cast on the walls contained rich, subtle colors that were not on anyone's palette, adding to the enchanted feeling of the whole cottage At the same time, controlling the shades on the figures in the group prevented them from looking like a police lineup.

These double-exposed shadows required that the scene be photographed twice, once with them and once without, which was not only a headache for the cameraman but doubled the expense of his efforts. Not too much later he would be shooting scenes ten and twelve nme> for special effects, so the problems of a second pass became minimal. However, in the lean years, the double-exposed shadows were among the first things to be eliminated in the drive to cut expenses.

More dramatic background painting w ith very careful matching to the character achieved many of the same results, or created a surface so dark or textured that il would not show a shadow. In The Rescuers, the

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