bul is built almost entirely on personality. In fact, it represents the peak of Walt's feeling for Mickey and has dialogue development that is so specific for this character that it never would fit Donald or Goofy or anyone but Mickey. One simple scene of Mickey reading to Pluto from a book on how to train hunting dogs, a longer shot of their camp in the woods, and that is all anyone needs to know about the situation. There is little continuity, once again, and each scene is in the picture because of its entertainment potential.
Mickey's reaction to seeing a bear right before him is pure "Disney," unique, spontaneous, fresh, and funny. No one bul Walt would have thought of that dialogue, or stretched out the situation to so much footage, or expected the animator to sustain the predicament with nothing but personality. But what personality! This is no ordinary, "Oh, Hi. Mr. Bear." Right from the first nervous gasp of recognition, while he is struggling to gain his composure, he is the Missouri farm boy living out a fantasy. "Oh. . . . It's you . . . that is, it is you—ain't it? I mean, isn't it? Uh. I thought you were Pluto, but you're not Pluto. . . . You're you, aren't cha? Uh . . . well, I'm Mickey Mouse. . . . Y'know? Mickey Mouse? I hope you've heard of me—I hope? ..." This gave the animator strong changes of attitude and texture in the acting that are seldom found in normal dialogue.
Walt had been so funny in the story meetings acting out Mickey's confusion that we asked if we could shoot a film of him as he recorded the lines. Mickey's voice was always done by Walt, and he felt the lines and the situation so completely that he could not keep from acting out the gestures and even the body attitudes as he said the dialogue. This was before he had worked in front of a camera, and he was reticent. Doing a good job of recording the voice with all the shading and timing and expression that were required was enough creative effort for anyone, especially when restricted to an unnatural falsetto voice for Mickey.
Walt was skeptical of live action at that time and not too sure of how we would use it, but our enthusiasm won him over. Reluctantly he agreed, but with restrictions: "Well. . . if you keep the camera in the booth— not out on the stage, mind you—and if I don't know-when you're doing it; and. . . ." On that day. he wore his baggiest clothes and his favorite old felt hat, which did not give him a crisp appearance but did make him feel comfortable and relaxed. The camera was set up so far away from Walt that our image on the film was very tiny, but still it captured the essence of his acting. While the animator nearly went blind trying to chart the timing and to sketch from the action, it paid off in a memorable little sequence that reflects Walt's thinking completely.
At the point in the recording where he said, "I'm Mickey Mouse. . . . Y'know? Mickey Mouse?" Walt instinctively reached out with his hand to denote the height of a little kid. It was the only time we ever knew just how big Walt considered Mickey to be. In spite of the help it gave us, he never let us put a camera on him again; and years later, when we wanted to look at that film once more, it had disappeared. No one knows what happened to it.
The use of design and color and beauty in our films was beginning to change their appearance dramatically, bringing the artwork closer to storybook illustration. The arrival of artists who were better draftsmen meant that the studio could dispense with the tricks and techniques that had brought the films this far and embark on a more ambitious course. Mood began to play an important part. Well-designed long shots are exciting to see, and if they can establish a special locale and build a mood at the same time they are invaluable. They reach immediately into the viewers' imagination, involving them in your pictures before you have barely begun.
We were helped in this by what we could do with both sound effects and music. Sound makes you think of your own experiences, which opens up a whole new range of symbols for communication. Night sounds, crickets and frogs, eerie wind, blustery wind, rain on a window or on the roof of a car—all work in our memories and immediately establish a mood. Music can do even more to arouse our emotions; and, while in the early films sound was spotty and reminiscent of a small band in an orchestra pit, music quickly found its way to a more artistic use through stirring themes that literally transported the audience into our make-believe worlds.
The Layout Department had been slow to develop, probably because there had been little call for the artistry later brought to the films, and possibly because
Walt was not aware at the time what good layouts could do. There had been no dramatic settings and not even a layout that matched the scope of ideas seen in the action. There was a lack of character in the drawing. with one house looking like another, all trees looking alike, and the final painting so gently tinted that it hardly could be seen. No one knew yet how to support the personality of an actor through the handling of his surroundings. The actor had to make his way alone.
By the time of the Three Little Pigs, Walt was beginning to look for entertaining ideas in a character's locale, and he loved to tell how the artists had drawn pictures of boxers and sports figures on the walls of one foolish pig's house, and pictures of girls in the next, while the practical pig had photos of Momma and Papa. This was a beginning, but few people saw that touch in the background while watching all the interesting action in front of it. Six short but busy years later, the audience was seeing the unforget table figures in Geppctto's house and detail after memorable detail throughout the whole picture. A way had been found to do it.
By 1936. a new type of picture was becoming possible. Technical skills were advancing and a new camera was being built that promised wonderful illusions; animation of rain and clouds and lightning had improved to the point tlrat they were quite convincing; cartoon colors were beginning to glow; and new styling coordinated all of a film's parts into one unified concept. When these achievements were combined with the ability to portray mood on the screen, a true milestone in the development of the animated cartoon resulted: The Old Mill, Academy Award winner for 1937. With no story other than the reaction of various animals to one stormy night in a broken down mill, the film showed that an audience could be swept up by sheer artistry and become deeply involved in an animated film.
Walt had not been so successful in his attempts to
establish new frontiers in other areas, notably in the animation of human figures. He called for cartoons about Persephone in the Goddess of Spring, a charming sugar cookie girl in The Cookie Carnival, a winsome stuffed doll in Broken Toys, and an excitable, greedy monarch. King Midas, in The Golden Touch. The cookie and the doll were acceptably feminine, but the whole world is highly critical of a less than perfect representation of a pretty girl. The animator's drawings and the movement they depicted were admittedly far from perfect.
King Midas proved to be unacceptable as well, although there was at least one moment when his feelings came across to the audience so strongly that a momentary sensation of empathy was created. The trouble here was not so much with the animation as with the story, which had not been worked out with nearly the care that was customary. It made Walt realize that "Story . . . must be considered the heart of the business." He continued, "Good animators can make a good story a knockout. There is not much that the best animators can do with bad stories."
Walt's feeling about stories generally always had been to get the entertainment first and then find ways to tie it all together. Chaplin had gone even further in this direction, making extensive use of printed cards to set up his predicaments: "Seasick, That night,"
"He finds a friend," "Lost"—and then he had gone right to the heart of what was funny in the situation. Walt felt the same way; he was not interested in getting from "here" to "there." only in what happened to the character once he was there.
Another frontier giving trouble was that of voices. Walt's original feeling seemed to be that cartoon characters should have cartoon voices, something different and as far from a natural voice as the drawings were from real animals or people. He had found a duck's voice in a radio comic,5 a singing chicken in an ex-opera songstress, and Lus staff volunteered more unexpected sounds. Animator Fred Spencer could talk through a gargle thai seemed appropriate for a fish—or at least some underwater character—and Ollie Johnston could talk with the bleating of a sheep, but no use was ever found for that particular talent.
As the stories became more sincere, the casting for voices took a new direction. Now the search was for animator Grim Nat wick —Broken Toys.
animator Grim Natwick — Cookie Carnival.
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sincere voices, real voices, not the trained voice of the stage but the completely natural voice of the boy and girl next door. In Cookie Carnival and Broken Toys, the voices were so commonplace that the animators could find no gestures or attitudes to caricature. Straight voices demand straight action, and the artists simply could not make the characters come alive. But Walt was not worried. He felt sure they would get it on the next picture!
There were changes in audience tastes, too, which became more sophisticated, more accustomed to better animation and more realistic presentations. People were expecting higher quality now and looked to us for extremely convincing characters. One historian, as he tried to trace the growth in Walt's thinking, asked, "Would it have been possible to create another character as broad as Donald Duck by the end of the thirties?" The answer was unanimous: "No one wanted another Donald Duck at that time." We had grown up.
Christopher Finch in his book. The Art Of Walt Disney, told a story about Dick Huemer meeting Ben Sharpsteen on the street after Ben had gone to work at the newly successful Disney Studio. Dick asked him, "What's the secret over at Disney's? What do you guys do that's different?" Ben answered simply, "We analyze." Dick responded that his people analyzed,
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too; everyone did. There had to be more to it than that. As he thought about it, Ben decided that the key ingredient must be "realism." In his own experience, he had found that much of the material in cartoon films was lost on the viewers; they could not understand it or relate to it. Walt had bridged that gap with realism, or a caricature of it. His situations were understandable, clear, and funny. His personalities were based on someone you knew.
As the studio grew. Walt had increasing trouble keeping track of everything that was being done, so he placed more of the burden on his two directors. Happily, he found that he could turn out more product this way while still exercising just as much control. At first he had called them "storymen." because their job was to see that the story elements were preserved. They just grew into their jobs rather than being appointed with any ceremony, because of the need for making all the action sync to the beat. First it was Wilfred Jackson, who never even really was hired. (He had asked if he could come in just to learn.) Then Walt added Bert Gillett, who had come out from New York with some reputation and experience.
Eventually, when Bert moved on to other work, Walt moved up the forthright and ambitious Dave Hand, who had a talent for getting things done. By this time, the responsibilities of the director were beginning to expand. He became the hub from which all other functions radiated. He had to follow every last detail through every department, to make sure that the finished film would faithfully reflect the ideas that had originated in the Story Department. To do this, he had to have imagination, patience, drive, diplomacy, and endless creative ideas.
The director's office was called the Music Room in the early days of sound because the musician had his desk and piano there. Later, when music acquired a broader role and the musician got a room of his own, the name not only persisted but came to suggest the whole function of preparing the work for animation— even after there were more directors and "Music Rooms" than there were musicians.
The easiest times for the director were when he was told exactly what he was supposed to do. His most difficult moments came when his instructions had been vague or he had misinterpreted Walt's remarks at a meeting. The latter was easy to do, since Walt had a way of avoiding a positive commitment when he was not quite sure in his own mind. His usual method at such limes was to bolster the director's confidence, sell him on the glories of the sequence, fill the air with exciting generalities, then duck out while everyone was still elated. It was not until hours later that anyone would realize there had been no real resolution. The stronger directors, such as Dave Hand and Wilfred Jackson, would not let Walt leave the room that way, but they would push him to the point of annoyance until they were positive that Walt knew and approved of exactly what they were going to do. Another director might simply work ahead stoically, hoping that Walt would drop in later with clearer instructions, but realizing all the time that his position was precarious and his responsibilities enormous.
The animator received his scenes from the director in a special session called "the handout" (or "pickup"). This meeting could stretch out over several days as the director explained how he wanted the scene done, ideally in a way that captured the animator's imagination and excited him about the scene's potential—while keeping him on the right track. In the days when scenes were only gags, a description of the action typed on the bottom of a story sketch was all that was needed, and the handout consisted of dealing these out like playing cards to whichever animator was free to work. But when the scenes were expected to build character and utilize personalities to tell the story, printed instructions failed to convey the message. Without wide-ranging discussions with the director and per
sonal involvement, the animator would only illustrate another person's ideas, and that is as barren an assignment as anyone ever had. Walt had been most explicit about the necessity for "getting the animators into the spirit of the picture, and not making them feel outsiders just executing something worked out by someone else."
Dave Hand explained the whole business of the handout this way: "Our entire medium is transference of thought. The thought is created first in the mind of the storyman . . . then transferred to the director, who attempts to transfer it to the animator. This is where the big problem of transference comes, because the animator then attempts to transfer it pictorially. He takes it out of the intangible, and places it in tangible form, in picture, for transference back to the mind of the audience . . . and picture presentation is clearer than any other means of transferring thought from one person to another."
At another time, Dave was not so poetic. "We can talk until we are blue in the face in the Music Room, but the animator thinks entirely a different picture." No one really knows what another person's understanding is, and the difference in conception can be unbelievably wide. A director on a live-action picture can work with the actor and see what he is going to do. The actions can be altered, refined, changed, or questioned, and the results judged on the spot. In animation, there is no way of knowing ahead of time how the scene will look. Perhaps the animator has a clear picture, but he can be fooled, too.
As more and more animators were added to the staff, there was an increased need for training on one hand and control on the other. Many systems were tried, and for a while there was a category of "junior animator" to denote someone making a contribution but limited in what he could do. The problem was how-to go about teaching those who still had much to learn. With several sequence directors on the same picture it was already difficult to maintain either the quality or the characterization that Walt was seeking. The answer seemed to lie in giving more responsibility to the stronger animators, and the job of Directing or Supervising Animator was invented. Walt never liked titles, so these men were never sure of what they were, only what they had to do. (Continued on page 84)
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