Fantasia Film Earthquake Vacation Premiere


Diagram m the Lay Manual of the Hon: camera crane devised ft ' the final shot in Fantt Amazing effects kere of tained by painting low images on panels of and moving the camc slowly through them Pictures taken from the A\t Maria" section in Fantasia show how this looked c* the screen D>

at dawn, giving a spiritual feeling for the end of the picture.

The special effects men looked at each other. No camera they had could move that slowly and continuously—why, it would have to be 40 or 50 feet above the drawings. Maybe the camera could move horizontally, but even if it were put on some kind of little carriage and moved along a track, a crew could never get it in precisely the same place a second time to make the dissolves Walt mentioned. And even if they were able to calibrate the camera moves some way, the artwork would have to be on panes of glass at least three or four feet wide, and mounted on some kind of stand, and those stands would have to be moveable, too. It was out of the question, it could not be done. How would they ever control the light, what kind of room would they get, and would it not be impossible to do away with the reflections off the glass? There was just no way that this could be done, especially in the few remaining weeks before the deadline for the picture.

So Walt had the carpenters knock the seats out of the end of the sound stage (which was at least 45 feet across), shut down the recording sessions, and he told them to go ahead! A couple of cameramen, two or three carpenters, two inventors, and an artist, and the project was begun. A partition was built across the end of the sound stage, and behind it strange things began to appear. A special stand mounted on rubber wheels was built for the camera, and on the side, pointing rigidly to the floor, was a metal pointer. On a wooden rail nailed to the floor tiny numbers were marked in black and red and blue pencil, all carefully measured from one end of the stage to the other. Set astride the camera track and the marked rail were large stands holding panes of glass with surprisingly little color painted on them. Most of the effect would be in the lighting and the camera exposures. Today it would be called a "Mickey Mouse" contrivance, but everything seemed to work, to be sturdy, and to offer the necessary control. The tape would certainly hold for one time through; as with most of the studio set-ups, this was never expected to be used again.

With barely three weeks left before the deadline and only days after those men had fallen asleep filming the spirits rising from the ground, the crew started to shoot this last scene. With everyone carefully checking and rechecking, each man made his moves as the lead cameraman read from the elaborate exposure sheet and the camera inched its way across the stage. The crew who had built the set-up stayed on to do the shooting, even the carpenters. Since they knew how it was supposed to work, it was assumed that if anything went wrong they could fix it more quickly than anyone.

On that crew was a young and eager Bob Broughton, who would contribute his talents to the Special Effects Department for another 40 years. They shot nights and they shot days, and the only time they had a break was the one night of the week Walt played badminton on the stage from 7:00 to 10:00 in the evening.

It took just over six days to shoot it all, and the men fell into bed while the film was being processed at the lab. The next day a very anxious group assembled to see how this wonder of wonders looked on film. It was beautiful! There was not a jerk or wobble in the whole thing, but there was a major difficulty. In one of those unfathomable vagaries of the human mind, someone had put the wrong lens on the camera; so in addition to the magnificent artwork, the camera had recorded the stands, the track, and even the busy workers running around during the week of shooting!

It had to be done over. The deadline was now only days away, but this was not the deadline for camera work, or for the lab. or for the answer print. This was the premiere showing of the picture in New York! No picture ever had been premiered with the last 200 feet missing. The filming had to be perfect this time. The crew shot for three days and nights, stopping for a brief rest during the badminton games—then back to the figures on the floor and the careful moves. All was going well, coffee was keeping the crew awake, and a quiet determination had settled over the whole process when suddenly, late in the evening of that third day, there was an earthquake! Not a big, shattering one, but a rolling, shaking movement that froze the men in their tracks. Rocking and vibrating before them was the line of wooden stands holding the glass panes! The men held their breath, but it was over as suddenly as it had begun. No glass was broken, nothing was off its mark, the track seemed intact and straight, but how could they be sure? If they went ahead and completed the scene and it turned out to have a jump or a jerk or a false move, it would be ruined and there would not be enough time to reshoot it before opening night. If they started all over again, they barely would have time to finish it before that important date. What if there were a delay for any reason? Was that cutting it too thin? This was a big decision—for someone else to make. The crew went home to bed.

The next morning the department heads decided it would be better to chance another earthquake, fire, or flood and go for a take they could be sure of; so once again the crew rolled the camera back to the starting mark, checked the lens, put in new film, and started one last time. Walt cancelled his badminton and barred everyone from going on that stage.

With only one day to spare, the crew finished shooting and rushed the film to the lab. There were no disasters on the stage or at the lab, and the men had done a perfect job. While they took a week's vacation, someone else jumped on a plane for New York with the precious film under his arm, arriving in the after noon with a good four hours to spare! It was spliced onto the end of the picture and that is the way it was run night after night until a new print could be made of the whole last reel.5

Why did these men work so hard, so persistently, so eagerly? Why did any of us become so dedicated, so unquestioning, so determined? Was it just that we were young and that the work was exciting? Each assignment seemed impossible at the start; yet a way was found to do it. and to do it so well that the whole staff was awed by the results. The exhilaration of breaking through barriers to new frontiers was more than any of us could resist.

Orville and Wilbur Wright wrote letters home from Kitty Hawk that they were being eaten alive by the sand fleas, constantly irritated by the blowing sand that got into everything, half-frozen every night by the cold winds, straining to read their diagrams and figures with inadequate light in the evenings; yet they were so excited about what they were doing, so stimulated by the tiny successes of each day that they felt like kids again and could hardly wait for the light of dawn that would bring them new opportunities.6 Possibly not every inventor has the chance to experience this sensation. for often inspiration ends up in perspiration and compromise and drudgery. Fortunate are those who have known the exhilaration of the creative process.

With the beginning of the second World War. all of this came to an end. Our highly trained and talented men were drawn into the war effort where their special skills were more urgently needed. Only a couple of the younger men returned to the fabled Special Effects Department, but the work was different. Economics was calling for experimentation, but in efficient methods rather than in new fields.

By that time, Ub Iwerks had returned with his own type of creative invention. It had been barely a dozen years since he was known as the greatest animator in the world, yet now he had given up drawing to concentrate on his inventions, finding more productive processes, building new devices, creating artistic effects. Part of his genius was his ability to go directly to the heart of the problem when something was not working. Where others tried to fix the failing part, Ub instinctively went right to the thing causing the problem. Where others looked for a way to get the job done, Ub found a way to make it into something better. He understood cameras, projectors, lenses, eels, paint, and film, yet he also understood the artist's difficulties, the ingredients of a quality product, and. most of all, Walt's dreams.

The Special Effects Department became more sophisticated, replacing haphazard tactics with orderly procedures. Instead of the contraptions built with tape in such a casual manner, the new devices were built to work and to last. A machine shop was assembled to make precision instruments and intricate mechanisms that would assure repeated quality in the visual effects. The men in the department became some of the most highly skilled in Hollywood and occasionally were lent out to other studios when very special effects were needed.

The unforeseen and enormous problems of Disneyland and Walt Disney World drew Ub away from the film work, and Eustace Lycett took over the department. Eustace was one of the "kids" from the earliest days, and together with Art Cruickshank and the rest of the crew could handle any problem tossed to them. Seasoned, experienced. creative, their skills were needed more often on the live action pictures than on the carefully budgeted animation features. For The Black Hole. they had to think up the answers before anyone was quite aware there would be a problem. They knew there would have to be a device that could hold a model spaceship and move it in every possible manner. In addition, they would have to have a camera on amount that could make any move to match, and the whole would have to be coordinated by some mechanical mastermind. They sat around in a circle, discussing, first, what they would have to have; second, what type of thing would do it; and. third, how such a thing could be built. This approach was reminiscent of creating the homemade contraption for the last shot in Fantasia, but the results were dramatically different. The men developed something so intricate and complicated, yet so simple in appearance and operation, ihat it seems to be a highly sophisticated robot—which is just what it is, although they prefer to call it a "computerized camera." As long as these men can come up with answers before we realize there is a question, the films will continue to combine fantasy and believability in a very real way.

Sketches Homemade Robot


Disney Animation Background Drawings

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