When the animator has film on two or three of his scenes, he wants to see how they play in continuity. By themselves, they may look just great, having life and sparkle and clarity, or they may be a complete disappointment. All of this can change completely when the scene is viewed as part of an overall continuity. After all, they have been planned to work in sequence and that is the way they should be seen. The dull scene may have just the subdued feeling needed for that spot, and the active one may be entirely too violent. The only way to be sure is to cut them into the story reel, replacing the story sketches that are occupying the sequence \ it was, the re entertaining a point in the this spot in tl the suggestio: just precedin As each ar reel gradually since it cont Coupled wit! stantly chanj and scene cu usually a req shift in posi work reels, sequence and show whether the anticipated entertainment is actually there.
Everyone can learn something from them, even in this rough form. The layout man might discover the mood and design is not as evident as he had hoped, or the background man can find out how long a certain background will be on the screen and how much of it will be covered by the figures. The director wants the work reels for his sweatboxing, the animator needs them to study his changes, and the assistant animator must check the scenes he is to clean up. Throughout the day, the assistant director will be trying to grab the reels so he can make all the changes that were requested yesterday. They are a popular and necessary item.
How Does it Look?
We never made a picture starting at the beginning and working straight through to the end. We began with the section that gave the best opportunity to get hold of the characters, then moved on to a sequence that either had the greatest entertainment potential, or was needed most for the development of other phases of the picture. There was no possibility of establishing a flow this way and very little chance of finding a balance of fast to slow, excitement to serenity, pathos to comedy. The individual sequences were not handled like a short, but they were complete in themselves and high in interest. We were curious about how it would look all cut together.
We knew it was fairly easy to make an interesting picture that would run only ten minutes. Most people will watch almost anything that is fresh or funny or surprising for that long. Twenty minutes is an ideal length for an animated film, and even a half-hour show offers few real difficulties. The audience can be kept dazzled or persuaded or laughing, maybe even crying a little, in that amount of time. But beyond a half hour, troubles start mounting. A feature-length film requires very special considerations. It is important that it be seen in some kind of running form as soon as possible.
Eventually, the day comes when this can happen. However, there may be blank film on the picture track with newly recorded dialogue carrying the intent, and there will be many areas with only still, inspirational sketches giving just the barest suggestion of what is to come. But between the story reels and the work reels, and the bits of completed animation, perhaps even some in color, the staff can follow the story, and for the first time see what their picture is going to be.
There was enormous excitement when that point was reached in the production of Snow White and a special evening showing was arranged out on the sound stage, the building then doubling as a theater. Everyone wanted to see the film, but there was only room for the key personnel in the four rows of seats at the end of the stage. Getting ready at home, Walt was nervous, anxious, critical, tense, eager. He suddenly called to his wife, "Hurry up, Lilly, or we won't get a seat!" Lilly, who had a much more pragmatic view of life than her intense husband, turned in disbelief. t4Do you mean to tell me that in your own studio they won't even save you a seat?" Walt was flustered and tried to cover up, muttering about how late it was and wanting to get there early and you never could tell what might happen, and it was a very important occasion! We had saved them two seats right in the middle; as a matter of fact, there were four seats there, since no one was sure he wanted to be sitting right next to Walt at such a crucial screening.
Seeing the picture all together for the first time is always a startling experience. Somehow it has picked up a life of its own. In some ways it is like one of your children. It may not be what you expected or what you told your friends you would have, but there it is, and it is yours. Up until now you have been living on dreams, believing that the picture would be a certain way and would tell a certain story and have these wonderful characters that everyone would really love. Now your hopes and dreams are over; this is what you have, and this is what you have to continue molding and shaping on a very practical basis. The picture probably has some fairly good moments here and there, but it will never look just right all the way through. If it is sup-
posed to be exciting and is not, now you must do what you can to make it exciting. If it needs suspense, put it in. If it is too long, trim it, and if it is too short, add—but add very judiciously. If it is redundant, or fails to make its points—whatever the problem—you must work with these pieces of film until they become the best picture you can make of them.
Too often the money is all spent by this time and someone is screaming that the picture must be completed in any form, "Just get it done!" But that is a sad decision. This is the very time when the most creative work must be done. Famed film director Blake Edwards said in an interview,9 "It's nothing to bring a picture in on schedule or under budget. The hard part is making a good picture—I don't care what your schedule or budget is!"
When making Snow White, we thought that our main entertainment would be with the dwarfs and the funny things they would do in trying to solve the problems
Layout for the entertaining hed-building sequence in Snow White. The dwarfs wanted to make a speciai gift for their guest, but the sequence slowed down the movement of the story ana had to be cut out just as the animation was started.
Walt quickly realized thai the relationship betweer the jealous Queen and the unsuspecting Snow White was the main thrust of the story.
In The Rescuers, it was not the conniving of the wild, unpredictable Medusa that gripped the audience but the poignant predicament of the lonely, little girl.
d dragonfly ^he Rescuers n incidental )r role in the dogs in Arisen and La-so successful sequence that to be changed vme in again.
Volunteers in rs were cut a dedicated } that drilled incessantly to c helpful little the bayou.
brought about in their lives by an unexpected visitor. The queen and the girl were necessary parts of the story, but we would not dwell on them. When we saw the whole picture in a very rough form that exciting night, it was immediately evident that the tension between the vain queen and the girl she was determined to kill was the main drive of the picture, and anything that interfered with this story progression seemed extraneous. As a result, two whole sequences featuring the dwarfs were cut out as well as a comic fight between Doc and Grumpy; the sequences that carried our main story points were strengthened and made even more dramatic. Partly through luck, but
mffflyilw t f i largely through keeping our procedure flexible, we ended up with the best balance of story-character-sequence relationship we ever achieved.
While working on The Rescuers, we thought that the greatest interest would be with the two mice and their overwhelming problem. We worked to make them small and inept, but determined. Medusa, we felt, would be a spectacular villain, slightly mad, powerful, and a constant threat. The crocodiles would be invincible, stupid, and chilling. They would be the scary part of the film. The little girl would have to be done very carefully because she was presented as a real girl, not a caricature, and since she would be difficult to do we tried to keep to a minimum the scenes she was in. We believed our big entertainment would be in Medusa and Snoops trying to outsmart each other in their attempts to get the diamond for themselves, and in the mice trying to outsmart the crocodiles.
Instead, when we saw all the pieces put together, the only thing anyone cared about was the predicament of the little girl. Medusa was a wonderful, flamboyant clown, Snoops a bumbling, ineffective partner, the crocs only dim-witted louts, and the mice just cute little characters trying to do their best. But the girl! Your heart went out to the girl and the terrible situation she was in. It was not the villains surrounding her who built the anxiety, but the predicament itself. So we strengthened the sequences that featured her, paying special attention to anything that would create more pathos. We staged her scenes for the most impact we could get, and used the sad and quiet moments featuring her for a balance to the madcap activities of the rest of the cast. We used less of Medusa than we had planned, cutting out one whole sequence and trimming others, so that she would have a brisk, crazy tempo whenever she was on the screen. The crocs were cut down to relatively minor parts. The climax was now centered on the situation down in the cave, with the heroes facing the mindless force of nature rather than any direct confrontation with the bad guys. At the time, it seemed we would never be able to make the film come off with the proper balance, spirit, texture, fun, heart, and tempo we needed, yet the public acceptance, once the film was released, proves that it was worth every headache and extra dollar spent. ,
Some directors stubbornly hold onto their beliefs of what the picture is saying and cannot detach themselves enough to see what they actually have up there on the screen. Woolie Reitherman has an amazing ability, as a director, to pull himself back and view the product impartially. He readily admits the weaknesses and the strengths of what he sees just as if he had nothing to do with the film up to that point. As he commented with a sigh, "You've got to find what's working—not what you thought would work, and not what's in your heart, but what's up on the screen!"
Among the things up on that screen that are working might be an incidental character who, because of an unusual voice or special animation or even sound effects, is starting to click with the audience. The farm dogs, Napoleon and Lafayette, in Aristocats and little Evinrude in The Rescuers are examples. We always tried to build on the scenes with such characters and even considered bringing them back into the picture in another sequence. Often we found that some clumsy story point could be told in a fresh and interesting way simply by telling it through this new personality.
Our best advice, at this point, is to develop and strengthen what is good; edit out and shift emphasis on what is not coming off; stay away from the commonplace and the hackneyed; constantly search for new things the audience has never seen before—but tell it all with the same old values and fundamentals of communication.
No one can say that any one of these steps in our way of making a film is more important than any other. They are all needed. The two most important procedures are certainly (1) to involve the whole staff in the production, and (2) to keep the picture growing and improving, constantly, right up to the moment of release. Many ideas that sounded great in those story meetings become sodden and lifeless when seen on the screen in relation to the rest of the business, and the sooner these elements can be discovered the sooner they can be corrected. Many other story ideas that were only ''touches" will come to life in animation with so much entertainment that it is foolish not to get the full value from them, even if it means adding considerable footage.
Someone outside the studio once stated that it probably was easy for us to make a film now that we had done so many; we must have found the formula. Woolie retorted, "On every picture, you're in a learning process! It's not so much an application of professional knowledge as constantly learning!" He went on to say, "It is always new, or it had better be. On each film, you start from scratch, make the mistakes, pick yourself up time and time again, yet never give up. You must keep your belief in the picture and your faith in yourself. For a picture to end up good, it must be treated like it was the very first one you ever made."
Animating at Disney's was exciting, but it was also extremely difficult. We were under great pressure and had tight restrictions on time and money, although seldom were they both imposed at the same time. If an animator was doing excellent work, he was told not to worry about the budget, but "could he work overtime to get more of that kind of footage in the picture?" The demand for sheer perfection in execution, along with the constant search for top entertainment values, creates far greater pressure than the requirement to complete a job by a certain deadline.
When an outstanding scene of animation was done, everyone somehow expected the animator to do that well from then on, and even thought, hopefully, that he would continue to improve, as well. A few weak scenes in a row and the animator could be considered to be "in a slump" or, worse, "slipping"! There was a cliched remark in Hollywood during the thirties about actors and directors: "You're only as good as your last picture." One of the top animators at that time adapted it to animation, claiming, "You're only as good as your last scene!" It was a joke with an uncomfortable twinge of truth in it, and we all felt a compulsion to do our best constantly and try to keep moving that standard ever higher.
Munro Leaf, who has written considerable fantasy and magic himself, wrote these words after he had seen Snow White. "If you come right down to it, there isn't a live thing in the picture. Technicians can tell you how it is all done with ink, paint, photographs hooked one on to another and garnished up with sound effects. I'd hate to call a technician a liar, but somebody is going to have a tough time telling me that good, beautiful Snow White, her prince, the wicked queen (who is really wicked when she settled down to it), and all seven dwarfs, and the hundreds of birds and animals came out of any ink or paint pots."10
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