Saturday, 7 September 2013

How to Make a Krazy Kat

The permanent arrival of sound in the motion picture world was a big boon for animated cartoons. Walt Disney figured out how to use sound to its best advantage, coordinating the action on screen to music and adding sound and vocal effects (and, later, more and more dialogue). Other studios followed. Soon, more companies began releasing cartoons—Warner Bros., MGM, 20th Century Fox—and stories began to crop up in print to answer the curious who wondered how cartoons were made.

Here’s a syndicated piece that appeared in a number of papers; this version was in the Buffalo Courier Express of January 19, 1930.

Making of animated sound cartoons is involved and laborious task

Animated cartoons, with sound effects, are one of the most interesting novelties on the screen. They represent an entirely different technique from the motion picture feature. Cartoon and feature film both begin with a scenario, but from that point they diverge into different channels.
One company has been turning out animated cartoons for more than fifteen years. During that period nearly every animator of any importance has worked for the firm at one time or another.
20 Men Make Drawings
Take Krazy Kat, as an example. Those cartoons are the creations of Ben Harrison and Mannie Gould [sic]. The two men work together plotting the antics of the educated cat and after having arranged a complete continuity, turn it over to a staff of twenty animators, who make the separate drawings that go into the film. It takes approximately 9,000 separate drawings made with pen and ink to produce a six-minute cartoon. Twenty men work for four weeks perfecting the extraordinary athletic maneuvering which go into those few minutes.
Introduction of sound has wrought certain changes in the animated cartoon to the way of speech, synchronised scores and sound effects so elaborate that the drawings must be made more carefully in order to fit the music closely.
A ten-piece orchestra prepares and executes the score while four effect men under the direction of an expert in queer and unusual sounds provide the incidental noises. When the drawings are completed, they are filmed, one drawing at a time. The complete animated action film is then synchronized With the speech, effects and music. Now consider those Silly Symphonies. They are made to much the same manner, with perhaps a variation in the number of drawings. In any event, one may be assured that from 5,000 to 9,000 drawings go into the production of cartoon comedies.
Keeps Them Busy
The sound effects expert has a collection of bells, drums, beans in pans, wind machines, glass for clashes, pistols for shots, hoofbeat producers, train whistles, steam machines, and other queer articles. During the making of the audible portion of the film, it is obvious that the effects expert and his crew are busier than a flock of one-armed paperhangers.
Cost of each of those symphonies is about $7,000. The biggest expense it the salary of the artists. A musical director is responsible for the music and the sound effects. He writes all the scores. Those are used not only to produce the sound, but also to guide artists, for under each note is written the action. Orchestras for the symphonies range from eight to twelve pieces.

The still frame you see above is from the 1930 Krazy Kat cartoon “The Apache Kid” from the collection of Milt Knight. He screened it for some people not long ago and posted the screening below. Because a digital camera is taking video of a projected version of the cartoon, you’ll see audience members pop up and hear them in the background. There are some great morphing gags in this, as good as any studio.

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