Flowers and Trees. first cartoon in color. Start of art school at night.
Personnel passes 100!
Three Little Pigs. Astounding success finances expansion and more stud>. Bottom of Depression.
sonality, and, preferably, an interesting one. He must be as comfortable as an old shoe, yet as exciting as a new spring outfit. Spectators can laugh at a gag. be dazzled by a new effect, and be intrigued by something completely fresh, but all of this will hold their attention for barely ten minutes. As Charlie Chaplin said of his own beginnings in the movie business, "Little as I knew about movies, I knew that nothing transcended personality."4 In addition to gags and effects, there must be a point of entry through which audiences can identify with the story situation, and the best way is through a character who is like someone they have known. He can be more heroic, or bigger than life, or "meaner than sin." but basically he has to be human enough for the audience to understand him and identify with the problems he faces in the story.
The great American mime and artist Angna Enters5 used to give her class the assignment of writing a postcard under imagined circumstances, because it is an action devoid of any interest whatsoever without the addition of personality. But once a strong personality is introduced great possibilities suddenly become apparent.
To begin with, it helps to develop a situation in which your imagined personality can function. Say that you arc starting out on a tour; it is morning and the bus is ready to leave. You have been urged to hurry-up. but just then you remember that you forgot to put the cat out before leaving home! You must write a quick note to your neighbor who has the key, asking her to take care of things. Now, how would you write the card? If you have chosen a nervous, insecure, and disorganized personality in the first place, you will have almost unlimited bits of business to show all facets of the character—the confusion, the panic, the fear of being left behind, the inability to phrase words so that they make any sense, the flutter of imminent chaos, the desperation.
Or suppose the person writing the card is highly indignant because a computer insists that he has not paid a certain bill and has just sent him his last notice. Now the words must be chosen with care. The computer and the company that has been stupid enough to own it must be told off in no uncertain terms. There will be no recourse from the incisive accusations you are setting down. You could be gleeful, enjoying each cruel word. Or you could be triumphant as you think of better, stronger, more biting words. Or you could be trembling with rage at the whole idea of the terrible effrontery of this mechanical age.
Suppose the writer were lovesick and writing to his dream girl—probably the third such note that morning. A silly smile might become fixed on his face as he reveled in each sugary word. With half-closed eyes and heavy sighs, he would gaze into space seeing a momentary vision of her precious face. There would be kissing of the card when he was finished, even a reluctance to drop it into the mailbox until he had sighed one last time and kissed the beloved name just once more.
It is easy to see how the development of an individual personality in a story situation can make even the dullest action become entertaining. In addition to the personality, however, there should be a change in the initial action that will enable an animator to show more than one side of this personality. The most interesting character in the world is not very exciting when sitting and listening to a symphony concert. Our true personalities are best revealed by our reactions to a change we did not expect.
Take a simple example of a golfer getting ready to make a crucial shot. He shows concentration and deter-
mination as he prepares for the important swing. Then, suppose he misses the ball entirely. His true character will be revealed at once! If he is Donald Duck, he will fly into a rage and blame the ball. If he is insecure and nervous, he will blame the club and promptly break it over his knee. Or. if he is a popular amateur who has been off his game but has a sympathetic gallery trying to encourage him. his response will be bitter dejection. and you will have pathos in your story.
Our goal in these studies is to make the audience feel the emotions of the characters, rather than appreciate them intellectually. We want our viewers not merely to enjoy the situation with a murmured. "Isn't he cu-ute?" but really to feel something of what the character is feeling. If we succeed in this, the audience will now care about the character and about what happens to him, and that is audience involvement. Without it. a cartoon feature will never hold the attention of its viewers.
The various aspects of what animation is. what it could do. and how it worked were learned slowly over the years. They were certainly not evident when the art form was first discovered, except in the epic works of Winsor McCay. the New York Herald's skillful cartoonist. Working essentially alone, he turned out several astounding films between 1911 and 1921, with some cartoon figures so convincing that he was accused of tracing them from photographs. In response. McCay drew a dinosaur for his next film. and. incidentally, discovered the importance of a cartoon character's personality in establishing rapport with the audience. Today his films are historic classics, but in their time they were not commercially successful, and that forced McCay to return to newspaper work. His creations were virtually forgotten for fifty years.
Others entering the animation field lacked McCay's awesome talents, and few attempted anything more than what was commercially acceptable. After all. in those early days, movies were still a novelty and cartoons were added to the program only for amusement. They were not an important part of the show, and very little money came back to the studios that made them. Audiences responded to the gags and preposterous situations. so creative energies went into a search for different approaches, fresh angles, new tricks, rather than into making better pictures. When the men in a studio found a gimmick that was successful, they hung onto it tenaciously. Max Fleischer had his "Out of the Inkwell" series, and Pat Sullivan's studio produced Otto Messmer's films of "Felix the Cat." Animated comic strips, illustrated jokes, live action retimed and combined with drawings, and a variety of other efforts were made to assure contract renewal for a struggling studio.
Of all the early pictures, only the films about Felix suggested the idea of giving a character personality, but his creators had failed to develop this past rudimentary beginnings, relying instead on visual tricks that got audience response. Nothing then gave a clue to what animation might someday become, and no promising artists were attracted to the studios. Most people felt that by 1923 just about everything had been done that was possible, and the exhibitors were looking in other directions for something new to keep their audiences laughing.
This was the situation when Walt Disney entered the field, and he was not an immediate success. In fact, it is even surprising that he was able to get a toehold in this tough business of limited contracts and tight money. But Walt was a fighter and had great determination; he was no aesthetic artist living in a dream world. As he said. "I have been up against tough competition all my life. I wouldn't know how to get along without it." Any man with Walt's talents but without his spirit and tenacity would never have made it.
There were constant battles, many defeats, endless disappointments: he lost the rights to his cartoon character, his staff, his contracts. And then when he finally began to achieve a bit of success, his studio became a prize to be taken over one way or another, or run out of business! Union jurisdictional problems plagued him as he developed new techniques, new equipment, and new ideas in entertainment. Yet through it all he never lost his love for people or his faith in their judgment. "1 am interested in entertaining people, in bringing pleasure, particularly laughter, to others, rather than being concerned with 'expressing' myself with obscure creative impressions."
Through those first years, Walt and his brother Roy*' struggled alone against the people who controlled the movie industry. In later decades when Walt's back was to the wall he had the strong support of his staff, whose loyalty and dedication to both their boss and their work kept them making sacrifices through days of uncertainty. When it came right down to it, most of us were more interested in keeping animation alive than we were in making money. We were beginning to sense the magnitude of the art form that we were discovering, and its potential held us like a magnet.
Walt was basically a communicator, and in the animated film he found astounding potential for expressing his ideas. The cartoon drawing always had been a very simple and direct graphic form, and whether it was for social comment or just amusement it had to present a unified, single idea with nothing complicated, extraneous, or contradictory in its makeup. When the cartoon was transferred to film these elements still applied, and nothing was drawn that was not part of the idea. Background, costume, character, and expression were all designed for a succinct statement. Behind the character there was only a horizon, or a house, or a rock to run into, but that was all.
To include only objects that were needed for the idea became the basis for a language of drawings on film. Walt took to this naturally, and if any of his staff introduced something wrong or confusing or vague, he was quick to notice and to educate the offender. Walt gradually added the more sophisticated graphic symbols of acting, presenting complicated ideas that had to be understood very quickly. We used to indicate how successfully drawings communicated these thoughts by saying that they either "read" or "didn't read." John Hench.7 one of the studio's most gifted artists, said "We don't really know how much we learned here about using images to communicate—to develop a kind of visual literacy." At the time, none of us thought in those terms or stopped long enough to gain perspective on what was happening. The language of imagery was emerging as a separate art form of its own, requiring skills and disciplines different from those of related crafts. Not every artist could master the demands, and most failed to realize that they were involved in something quite different and exacting.
"I think this is a little hard for people to understand," John continued, "the fact that you are developing a kind of language, and a very precise one. They figure that graphics are not precise at all—they're
Another building for animation.
Personnel passes 200.
Building for Ink & Paint. Personnel passes 4(H).
Another animation building.
Personnel passes 800.
Walt decides to make one feature a year.
Personnel passes 1000.
Burbank Studio finished; staff moves as work is completed on Fantasia.
War in Europe takes foreign market. Staff cut to 700.
Pinocchio. Fantasia. Bambi all lose money at box office. Golden Age is over.
TIME CHART 1934 to 1943
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