Saturday 6 October 2012

How They Make Mickey, 1930

You’d be hard-pressed to find Walt Disney’s name in the popular press very often before 1930. Mickey Mouse was quite a different matter. Mickey’s fame garnered him publicity, and one wonders if Walt, the voice of Mickey, wondered why he shouldn’t share in the fame, too.

A few newspaper stories emerged in 1930 outlining how Mickey Mouse cartoons were made. And Walt got his name in print, too. It started happening more and more.

This isn’t the first story of its kind about the Disney studio but it may have been the longest. It’s from a syndication service and accompanied by photos. This was in a paper dated November 2, 1930.

Art and Science in Complicated Studio Teamwork Draw And Photograph 7,000 Movie-Talkie Figures for Single Reel
Requires Six Weeks to Complete 600 Feet of Film, Which Also Has a Musical Side.

WITH the introduction of sound and speech in motion pictures, no department of production has increased in popularity more than that of the animated cartoons. Those weird like-like, little figures in black and white which skip across the screen in short subjects supplementing the feature picture have become so favored a part of the exhibitors’ programs that no bill is considered complete unless it has its Mickey Mouse, its Frolicking Fish or its Cannibal Capers.
So closely do these comical creatures approximate the movement and the manner of human beings that one wonders by what process they are evolved. Walt Disney, whose Silly Symphonies are among the most widely applauded subjects, has taken time off to explain.
In order to understand the method of producing the animated cartoons it must be realized that all motion pictures are, in the last analysis, merely a series of small still photographs whizzing past a shutter. It would be impossible [sic] to gain the identical effect of animated cartoons if one were to flip rapidly the pages of a book containing drawings in black and white. The basis of making these cartoons in the films is the drawings by artists of thousands of separate little figures, each figure graduated slightly, with the idea in mind of presenting definite movements when these separate figures are flashed before a camera, photographed, and later projected upon a screen. As an example, if Mickey Mouse’s tail is to move but slightly, that movement may represent as many as a hundred drawings, all leading up to the complete shifting of the tail.
It requires from 6,000 to 7,000 drawings, Mr. Disney tells us, to make one reel of Silly Symphonies. A reel is some 600 feet long. An animated subject is not created overnight. From two to three weeks’ work goes into each of them.
The process of actual production differs little from that of production in the feature film studios where real men and women act before the camera. Preparations are made in Mr. Disney’s comparatively miniature studio for the making of a subject exactly as they are made at the Paramount, the Fox or the United Artists’ studio. The idea is the same, but it is a fact that the method differs.
In the animated cartoon, to begin, there is the necessity of capturing an idea or a story. This is written into scenario form. The scenario is broken up into scenes and sequences with the usual “long shots,” “medium close-ups” and “close-ups.” The sets, or backgrounds, are designed and roughly drawn and these are turned over to the scenic department to be painted. These are prepared, of course, to fit the action. The action of the various characters moves and plays against these stationary backgrounds or sets.
A “gag” meeting is held, attended by the studio staff, and everyone submits ideas for comedy actions. The musical director suggests tunes for the running picture. The idea is born. From this nebulous idea the story in detail is written into a scenario. This is broken down into sequences and scenes and each scene is handed to the various artists, with instructions as to the action to be drawn. As each scene is plotted and laid out for the animating artists, the musical accompaniment for that scene is arranged, so that the artist knows not only what he is to draw but what the music will be.
As each frame, or small one-inch square, of film must account for a certain position of action, the music and the action synchronize perfectly, and along with the music and sound, interpolated speech (used in many of the animated subjects) is recorded also on the edge of the film, precisely as is done in the regular pictures plays.
When an artist has completed the drawing of a scene, which is done with pencil on white sheets of paper, these are in turn handed to the inking and painting department, where each line is traced upon a transparent celluloid sheet. This is done with India ink. These tracings are painted In various shades of white, black and gray and are then ready for the camera. Along the edge of the film containing the images are recorded, in terms of light the music, and the speech and the sound effects. The speech, of course, is supplied by one of the studio staff, and the record of the speech is grafted upon the picture film.
Mr. Disney explains that the cameraman’s job is perhaps the most monotonous of all. He can only click, or photograph, one frame, or square inch, of film at a time. At this rate he cannot exceed 50 feet a day.
After the photograph is completed the film is developed and printed, and there you have an animated cartoon.
We learn that the musical director, under ordinary circumstances, completes his score after the action picture has been made. He then has his orchestra play the score, which is made to synchronize perfectly with the passing events of the story, and this score is recorded upon the film electrically with light. From the picture negative and the music and sound negative there is then taken what is termed acomposite print, which is to say the action, the music and the sound, and this is the end of a day’s work in making the animated cartoons with sound effects.
Naturally, the artists employed in this highly technical field must possess a keen understanding of the movement and mannerism of persons and animals. Every angle, every situation in which the human, animal or insect body can find itself must be known to them.
Mr. Disney adds that his artists are trained to cause their characters to move and react to a rhythm timed to the second.
In the production of animated cartoons, we are given to understand, there is little waste, practically no lost motion. When a picture is finished there is no cutting to be done on it.
(Copyright, Press Publishing Co.)

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