Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Souvenirs: The Magic of Disney Animation

Roy Disney's introduction to the magic of Disney animation souvenir brochure, circa 1989:

Welcome to Walt Disney Animation in Florida!

Can you imagine an American childhood without the magic moments of Disney animation? No Mickey Mouse...or Minnie. No sputtering, rasping Donald Duck, tossing and turning through a nightmarish night on an unruly mattress. No "Whistle While You Work." No epic, comic, cliff-hanging mouse-eyeview up a mammoth stairway to Cinderella's bedroom. Will they make it in time for her to try on the magic slipper?

Suspense, slapstick, imagination, heart, gentle humor and a happy ending—all are part of the tradition of Disney animation. Audiences of kids and grown-ups have delighted in sixty years of silliness and storytelling, sentimentality and terror. Dumbo flies. Snow White runs from the scary eyes in the forest. Lady and Tramp fall in love over a plate of spaghetti. Tito tries to hot-wire a limousine—instead, he hot-wires himself. Fairy godmothers appear on cue. Mickey Mouse leads a band, battles a giant, falls in love.

Disney animation provides a generous sprinkle of pixie dust. With it, you can fly up, up and away, over the rooftops of London to Never Land—or into the past, to darkened theaters, vivid images and the plaintive voices of kids asking, "Where's Bambi's mother?"

Disney animation pleases the eye and warms the heart. It makes you cry and it makes you laugh. As the foundation and wellspring of The Walt Disney Company, animation is celebrated in the Animation Building at the Disney-MGM Studios.

The Animation Building is a working studio. Inside, more than 80 artists and technicians are creating new animated films for theatrical and video release. A unique behind-the-scenes tour includes films starring animators—and animated characters—who tell the insiders' story of animation. Strolling through soundproof corridors, guests watch as animators bring classic Disney characters to life.

The magical world of animation is introduced by The Disney Animation Collection. The Collection, a changing exhibition of the best of animation art, is drawn from The Walt Disney Company Animation Research Library and the Walt Disney Archives. Some pieces are classics, and have appeared in museums and publications. Others have never before been seen by the public. The paintings and sketches, sculptures and drawings are more than just works of art ... they are basic to the lives of three generations of Americans.

The Collection begins at the point in the animation process when pen, paintbrush or crayon is first put to paper. A storyline has been crafted, the dialogue is in its final stages—enter the artists with concept sketches and paintings. Silly, scary, impressionistic or harshly detailed, these drawings provide inspiration for a scene, character or mood. Layout drawings indicate camera movements and serve as set designs. Next, detailed backgrounds are painted to provide characters with a house to live in, a forest to wander in or a corner pocket on a pool table, from a cricket's point of view.

Once the set is in place, the focus shifts to the characters. Animation drawings are produced by animators— "actors with a pencil" —who come equipped with rampant imaginations and plenty of technical know-how. Character movement springs from long days at the drawing table, fierce story sessions and plenty of foolishness (like the eager assistant who demonstrated how Pluto ought to eat—by getting down on all fours and dining from a dog dish). How do you animate a hat brim? Grab that three-dimensional study model on the desk. Turn it. Twist it. Draw it. Or take advantage of technology and computerize it—everything becomes a tool for getting the best movement to express a character's emotion.

Finally, after perhaps years of work, a single frame of animation is ready for the camera. A set-up—inked and painted animation cels laid over a background—has been honed and perfected, checked, assembled and charted. Special effects have been added. One twenty-fourth of a second of glory is committed to film—then captured on the wall of the Disney Animation Building for you to wonder at and admire.

Six decades of Disney animation have left posterity with surprisingly few examples of artwork. Paper is fragile; pastel rubs off. And in the early years, cels were reused for economy (remember "The Dip" in Who Framed Roger Rabbit). Now collectors' items, pieces of Disney animation art evoke childhood memories and weave together a rich tapestry of fairy tales, children's books, original stories and pure movement and motion.

From Steamboat Willie to The Little Mermaid, with over a hundred Dalmatians, a few handsome princes and various woodland beasts thrown in, Disney animation has been synonymous with quality, innovation, and fun. This proud tradition, celebrated in the Disney Animation Collection, continues in the Animation Building at the Disney-MGM Studios.

The current Disney Animation attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios is but a very faint shadow of what was easily one of the premiere attractions of Walt Disney World. The shuttering of the Florida studio was certainly one of the saddest moments in the histories of both Walt Disney World and Disney Animation.


Anonymous said...

So, my dear Jeff. You never cease to impress me with your seemingly endless knowledge re: all things Disney. Keep it up! I love it.

OhioDave said...

I remember my first trip to Disney-MGM Studios back in the summer of 1989. Upon stepping into the viewing gallery that looked into the "fishbowl," this became my hands-down favorite Disney theme park attraction of all time. I remember thinking then and on visits during the 1990s, that I could spend all day there, studying all the artists as they worked.

The place was dripping with wonderful nostalgia, and the animated interstitials featuring Walter Cronkite and Robin Williams were masterfully done.

But the attraction aside, the fact that such a facility was built in the first place -- and later expanded -- conveyed a tremendously optimistic statement about Disney's commitment to its tradition hand-drawn animation.

A sad day indeed when it all closed.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone ever watcher "Dream On Silly Dreamer"? I have always debated viewing it and the post made it come to mind again.

Anonymous said...

It has been a dark spot in the park since Michael Eisne and his henchman David Stainton shut down the Walt Disney Feature Animation (Florida) animation studio in 2004 . It is so depressing to go through that area and remember what was there in the glory days.

While it will probably never be staffed-up back to the level it was during the years of full feature film production on Mulan, Lilo & Stitch, and Brother Bear , it seems that NOW would be a good time for Disney to re-open the original "fishbowl" part of the animation studio with a staff of about 60 - 80 animation artists which could handle overflow work on the new hand-drawn animated features being done at the main studio in Burbank (Princess & The Frog and whatever hand-drawn features follow it ) and also work on shorts and special animation projects for the parks . It would basically be a return to the roots of that attraction/working studio as it was when it opened in 1989. It would be a win-win : the park would get back one of it's most popular , interesting attractions and the animation community in Orlando,FL could get back to full time work on quality animation projects (a large number of the former WDFAF artists who worked at the Orlando animation studio are still in the area scratching out a living on freelance animation/illustration jobs or working on video game animation, or teaching at area art schools, and we would absolutely love to go back to work at Disney. Is anyone listening ? )

Anonymous said...

I used to work on the tour in 1989-1990 and it was such a great thing to see the animators working daily. I even had a backstage pass to go back into the "other side" of the glass. They wanted the guides to know the animators and know the process. I miss those days.