Thursday, May 6, 2010

Dumbo Part 1

(Click any image to enlarge.)

Here we go again. I'm hoping to complete this mosaic by September, before my teaching load increases.

For me, the two crowning achievements of the Disney studio are Pinocchio and Dumbo. That's not to say that I don't admire other films in whole or part, but I don't think that the studio ever bested these two.

I enjoy creating these mosaics because they force me to take a closer look at the film. Rather than get caught up in the story, I'm seeing the cutting continuity and getting a much closer look at the animation, not only learning who animated what but also seeing the poses and the spacing between drawings.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the generosity of Hans Perk, who has collected these studio documents at his own expense and is unselfishly sharing them with us on his blog.

The stories that Disney based his early features on were well known. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a famous fairy tale and Pinocchio and Bambi were well-known novels. Dumbo's origins are murkier. While the film credits a book by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl, nobody knows the book. Animation historian Michael Barrier has researched the authors, the book and how it found its way to the Disney studio in a fascinating article that can be found here.

The film of Dumbo gets off to a rousing start with its credit sequence. In 1941, most movie credit sequences consisted of some kind of background motif and a choice of font. There were exceptions to this (the titles for Preston Sturges' The Lady Eve (1941) include animation), but titles were fairly conservative at this time. Dumbo's titles are a riot of colour and combined with the musical fanfare definitely suggest a trip to the circus.

The opening sequence is heavy on special effects. The rain in the early shots is live action superimposed on painted backgrounds. The multiplane camera was probably used to get a sense of depth in the clouds. The effects animators continue to deal with the parachutes even when character animation is present. For instance, in shot 22, Harvey Toombs takes care of the bears while Miles Pike deals with the parachute. The same is true for shot 27. Bill Tytla animates Mrs. Jumbo while Cy Young animates the falling parachutes.

Storywise, the titles and the opening tell us that we're in Florida, the winter home of the circus and that Spring, with its new offspring, is here. With the exception of the sleeping hippo, all the other mothers are thrilled with their babies. This strengthens the disappointment Mrs. Jumbo feels when her child fails to appear.

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