Saturday, April 9, 2011
In their classic book Disney Animation, The Illusion of Life, veteran animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston discuss how the Walt Disney studio shot live action film of actors to use as reference for the animation.
In the early years of the studio, film technology made it difficult to study reference footage frame by frame. Disney figured out a way to print “photostats” of each frame of a sequence so that they could be flipped through like animation drawings.
It was a mind-blowing revelation. Finally the animators could really study overlapping action and squash and stretch. They were amazed by the nuances that had completely eluded the early gag cartoon animators.
At first they brought in actors to help with a few sequences of each film. Vaudeville actors helped to work out gags and staging for Pinocchio (The recent DVD has special features showing the footage). The practice became more and more central to the process, particularly with films that used realistic characters.
When it came to producing Cinderella, money was tight after Fantasia, Bambi, and Pinocchio proved disappointing at the box office. Thomas and Johnston remember that “a new less expensive way to make the projected Cinderella as a full-fledged animated feature had to be found.”
The solution: live action footage was shot as a template for the entire film.
“All of Cinderella was shot very carefully with live actors, testing the cutting, the continuity, the staging, the characterizations, and the play between the characters. Only the animals were left as drawings, and story reels were made of those sketches to find the balance with the rest of the picture. Economically, we could not experiment....but the inventiveness and special touches in the acting that had made our animation so popular were lacking.”
Next month, ImagineFX magazine will include an article that I wrote called “My Preference for Reference,” about different kinds of reference and their pros and cons for illustrators. Watch for it.
Posted by James Gurney at Saturday, April 09, 2011