Wednesday, March 12, 2014

1930 Stop-Motion Film: "The Tale of the Fox"

(Link to short teaser video "Miaou Song")
One of the landmark early stop-motion films was called "The Tale of the Fox" (Le Roman de Renard) by Ladislas Starevitch, a Russian immigrant of Polish descent, living in France after the Soviet revolution. This teaser gives a sampling of the style of animation (note the lioness breathing at 1:57). The technique uses posable animal puppets in elaborately constructed sets, shot on film one frame at a time, with no ability to review footage until it was processed.

The feature-length film is usually listed with three different release dates: 1930, 1937, and 1941. This is because various versions of the soundtrack were added and changed during the thirties. By the time the full fledged version was available in wartime, its reception was overwhelmed by events in Europe. The film took ten years to make, and was mostly created by Starevitch and his wife.

The basic animation was completed three years before King Kong and seven years before Disney's Snow White, which often gets wrongly credited as the first animated feature. According to Steven Cavalier in The World History of Animation, it was “more fluid than the more celebrated King Kong released three years later."

(Direct link to video, part 1)
Here's the first part of the full feature on YouTube. The stop motion puppets are beautifully constructed. I presume they used fur and fabric and latex skins over what must be fairly sophisticated metal armatures. He also used some real animal bones and feathers—not surprising, since some of his first stop motion work was done with dead insects.

I'm struck by the skillful timing and personality of the character animation, considering that there was little precedent for such artistry at the time.

(Continuing with Part 2 of 6)
(Part 3 of 6) Don't miss the "angel rabbits" at 1:22, and the hand-held camera effects during a dance sequence at 7:05.


Pierre Fontaine said...

I don't have time to watch the entire film but did watch the first clip and noticed something remarkable. The scene with the lioness sewing uses motion blur to smooth out the quick upward pull of her arm. I'm not certain how this could have been achieved in stop motion.

Either the model was manipulated in real time for the brief moments that the arm blurs, they used multiple exposures to blur the arm on a single frame or they used vaseline on glass mounted in front of the lens to blur the arm motion.

I look forward to watching the rest of this later today when I'm back at home.

Thanks for posting. I looks truly remarkable!

Salty Pumpkin Studio said...

Thank you
Fascinating videos. The movement is more sophisticated than I expected.

Ana said...

thanks so much for posting. huge stop motion fan.

Brett W. McCoy said...

"Prince Achmed" is an animated feature even older than this one! It was done with cutout silhouettes, a variety of stop-motion, and is very beautiful also.

Joel Fletcher said...

Thanks for sharing this story James. The stop-motion animation of Starevitch was amazingly sophisticated for its time. The actual stop-motion technique was being invented by genius artists like Starevitch, literally making it up as they went along. As has been noted here and by other animation historians, he even went the extra mile by using breathing mechanisms and blurring techniques. The Tale of the Fox, and his other films, were truly an astounding blend of art and science.