Wednesday 28 December 2011

George Pal Jumps to the Big Time

Stop-motion animation didn’t originate with George Pal, but he certainly showcased it to an audience on a regular basis with his Puppetoons through the 1940s. Without Pal, one wonders whether TV viewers would have ever seen the somewhat bizarre Gumby or various quirky Rankin-Bass specials, both with coteries of loyal followers.

Pal was an admirable craftsman and technician, taking Jack Miller’s stories and creating delightful little films.

However, there was only so far one could go in shorts. Walt Disney realised it. Frank Tashlin realised it. And George Pal realised it, too. Because of that, he achieved fame in the science fiction film world.

Here’s an Associated Press article from 1950, outlining why Pal made the jump to features. It also refers to a popular commercial for Lucky Strikes.

New Film To Show Collision Of Worlds To Be Produced By George Pal
HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 23.—(AP)—Not content with having flown to the moon, George Pal is now causing the end of the world.
Pal is no flying saucer pilot or evangelist. He is a miracle worker in another field—motion pictures. Born in Hungary, he studied to be an architect but graduated at a time when there were no jobs. He was fascinated with American cartoon films like Felix and the Cat and went into the cartoon field in Europe.
Soon the ambitious draftsman grew tired of the tedious work of drawing thousands of flat figures. For a novelty, he made a tobacco advertising film that featured marching cigarettes (a forerunner of today’s television ads). He began to make animated films by the use of puppets.
Pal came to America in 1939 to produce puppetoons for Paramount. They achieved success but recently he was forced to abandon them because of rising costs. This year Pal produced a film called “Destination Moon,” a fanciful but seemingly authentic account of what interplanetary flight would be like.
The film was produced for about $600,000 and is expected to bring in $3,000,000 in this country alone. ]t started a cycle of science fiction movies.
This week Pal started filming a new project called “When Worlds Collide.” It will be the ultimate in movie catastrophes, making the “San Francisco” earthquake and “The Last Days of Pompeii” seem minor-league.
“The story starts with the approach of a planet and a star toward the earth,” Pal told me.
“Many people fear that it means the end the the earth, but others do not become alarmed and claim the other worlds will bypass the earth.
“Well, the planet does bypass, although it causes huge tidal waves, earthquakes and volcanoes. After that comes the star and it strikes the earth and destroys it.”
The picture will have a human story about a group of people who believe the worlds will collide and try to make some plans for it. They devise a space ship and select 800 candidates for passengers.
“They are chosen for their mental and physical well-being and because they are best in their fields, such as carpentry, medicine, etc.,” said Pal.
“Would a newspaperman be included?” I asked.
“There might be one among the Et Ceteras,” he added slyly. “Of course there is only room for 40 people aboard, so they are chosen from the 800 by the democratic process of drawing names.”
The survivors will watch the end f the world from their space ship and then zoom on to the nearby planet, which is deemed suitable or human habitation. They carry with them enough animals and needs to start anew.
“When Worlds Collide." has no relation to the recent best seller, “Worlds In Collision,” which attempted to explain Biblical events by planetary phenomena. The Pal story was a piece of science fiction vritten by Philip Wylie and Edwin Palmer in the early 30s’. It was originally planned as a Cecil B. DeMille epic, but he never got around to it.
I asked Pal how he would be able to top “When Worlds Collide.”
“I’m not going to try," he answered. “Next I may do a picture about Tom Thumb.”

The October 1941 edition of Popular Mechanics devoted a page to how the Puppetoons worked. Click on the picture to the right to have a better look.

There are plenty of fans of Pal on the internet. Look HERE for links aplenty.

It seems to me today's computer-generated 3D kids films are attempting to replicate a similar visual effect to the Puppetoons, but without their natural charm. George Pal may not have been a stop-motion pioneer but he was one of a handful of people who was truly adept at using the technique to entertain.

1 comment:

  1. Appropriate timing for posting the article, since Brad Bird has just followed the Disney-Tashlin-Pal route in jumping from animation to live-action, directing MI-4 (one of the few holiday movies drawing customers and one getting praised for its visuals, which is what you'd expect from a director with an animation background).