Saturday, April 9, 2011

Cinderella’s Live Action Reference

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.


Jon Hrubesch said...

I'll be watching for it. And thanks for all your advice on the subject of reference. Both you and ImagineFX have been an important source of information on this subject for me. My art has improved immensely because of it.

r8r said...

rotoscoping: not my favorite.

but I certainly get how it can keep a production on budget.

Arkeyana said...

I read that book awhile ago :D so fascinating to learn how they did everything!

Erin said...

Wow, I was unaware of how that process was used! My favourite movie as a kid was Cinderella - I'll be sure to watch for the ImagineFX article about refs you mentioned :)

Great post!

Alex said...

This made Cinderella look realistic, especially Lady Tremaine's movements.

Roca said...

More recently, the animated film Rango has bucked the CG trend of using actors in motion capture suits. Instead they had the voice actors all together on a small set in costume, and used the videotapes as reference footage. It was refreshingly different and an improvement over mo-cap in my humble opinion!