Friday, May 28, 2010

Dumbo Part 5

After the emotional confrontation over Dumbo's ears in the last sequence, the film takes things down a notch by following Casey Jr. as he pulls into town. There's an explicit quote from The Little Engine that Could here.

What follows is one of the most interesting sequences in Disney history, and one thing that makes it interesting is how little discussion it has provoked. While the crows later in the film have been the subject of much debate, the racial overtones of this sequence seem to have escaped notice.

Why is this sequence in the film at all? What follows it is a circle wipe to the circus parading down main street. That could easily have followed Casey Jr. pulling into town. There's a bit of humor in this sequence with Dumbo trying and failing to do the work of the older elephants, but the gags are generic, doing nothing to give us a better idea of who Dumbo is as an individual. This sequence seems to be here to make a comment on race and class. That's relatively unusual for a Disney film (though it does pop up in shorts like Who Killed Cock Robin?). This is the first Disney feature to be set in contemporary times, so this sequence is a reflection of what was on the artists' minds.

The only humans we've seen previously are in sequence 3. They are all white and wearing uniforms that clearly mark them as circus employees. When we get to this sequence, the only humans we see are black. As they are disembarking from a railroad car, we know that they are also employees, but they don't get uniforms. The roustabouts are the ones who do the heavy lifting, regardless of the weather. Why aren't the rest of the employees helping? I guess the work is beneath them. Let's not forget that the circus wintered in Florida, at the time a Jim Crow state.

The lyrics of the song are worth noting:

Hike! Ugh! Hike! Ugh! Hike! Ugh! Hike!
We work all day, we work all night
We never learned to read or write
We're happy-hearted roustabouts

Hike! Ugh! Hike! Ugh! Hike! Ugh! Hike!
When other folks have gone to bed
We slave until we're almost dead
We're happy-hearted roustabouts

Hike! Ugh! Hike! Ugh! Hike! Ugh! Hike!
We don't know when we get our pay
And when we do, we throw our pay away
(When we get our pay, we throw our money all away)
We get our pay when children say
With happy hearts, "It's circus day today"
(Then we get our pay, just watching kids on circus day)

Muscles achin'
Back near breaking
Eggs and bacon what we need (Yes, sir!)
Boss man houndin'
Keep on poundin'
For your bed and feed
There ain't no let up
Must get set up
Pull that canvas! Drive that stake!
Want to doze off
Get them clothes off
But must keep awake
Hep! Heave! Hep! Heave! Hep! Heave!
Hep! Heave! Hep! Heave! Hep! Heave!
Hep! Heave! Hep!

Swing that sledge! Sing that song!
Work and laugh the whole night long
You happy-hearted roustabouts!
Pullin', poundin', tryin', groundin'
Big top roundin' into shape
Keep on working!
Stop that shirking!
Grab that rope, you hairy ape!
Poundin'! poundin'! poundin'! poundin'!

Note the use of the word "slave." Note also that they are illiterate and aren't paid on a regular basis. Happy-hearted? The visuals and the rest of the lyrics seem to dispute that. The song is nothing less than an extension of work songs sung in the fields by black slaves to dull the strain and boredom of work. Once this sequence is over, the roustabouts vanish from the film.

There's also an explicit parallel drawn between the elephants and the black workers. Except for one shot with camels, it appears that the elephants are the only circus animals helping to set up the big top. Shots 25 and 26 explicitly show the tigers lounging in their cage while the elephants exert themselves.

While the film is ostensibly about Dumbo, a freak who is persecuted, this sequence makes it clear that Dumbo is just an extreme case of an ongoing problem. Everyone in this film is judged on the basis of appearance, not as an individual.

One of the most interesting things to me about the early Disney features is how dangerous the environments are for the characters. We're living in a time now when entertainment is routinely made bland to protect children from upset. In 1940, the audience had weathered the greatest economic reversal in memory and was warily following a European war. The audience didn't have to be reminded that life was hard, dangerous and unfair.

Animation-wise, shot 22 by Hugh Fraser has Dumbo descending from the railroad car on a vibrating gangplank. The animation doesn't really work as Dumbo comes off as weightless. I'm sure that a higher budget would have caused the scene to be revised.

Jack Campbell's work on the roustabouts is excellent. Despite the fact that they have no faces, they do have a real presence. You can feel their exertion.

Steve Bosustow, later the head of UPA, has several shots of elephants here.

The effects animation in this sequence is excellent. The rain is well done and Disney always makes it a point to show the drops hitting surfaces. Cheaper animation generally just overlays the rain on the scene without showing the drops making contact with anything. The use of rim lighting on the elephants and the roustabouts is beautiful and the use of aerial perspective on shots like 57 and 57.1 adds a tremendous sense of depth.


CONVICT CONCERTO is the 58th Woody Woodpecker cartoon, released theatrically on November 22, 1954. Woody is the piano tuner at the "Melody Music Shoppe." Check out these very musical pieces of background art, digitally re-assembled.

As the cartoon opens, we see Woody tuning a grand piano in the music store window.

Meanwhile, out in the street, there's a neighborhood bank being robbed.

After an exchange of gunfire, the robber flees, ducking into the music store. This digitally re-assembled pan B/G is the street in front of the "Melody Music Shoppe."

Woody continues tuning until rudely disturbed by the cash-toting gangster. He first confronts Woody here, just inside the front of the store:

Here's the scene of much of the cartoon's activity - the grand piano. Note the cel overlay bag-o-cash at the left!

Meanwhile, a policeman issues a "calling all cars" alert on the police alarm.

This wonderful pan B/G is the musical playground where Woody displays his virtuosity!

Look at the exquisite detail in this harp...

Left side detail, marimba and harp:

Right side detail including a policeman sitting on the stolen loot!

A big truck waits out front, for the get-away - to include the gangster, his mob buddies, the grand piano and the loot!

Here's a very loooooong pan B/G, the scene of a humungous explosion which wreaks obvious havoc on the store's instruments::

Left side detail, complete with euphonium (cel overlay):

Right side detail:

Here's that harp we saw before, far less concert ready:

And here's the remains of a drum set and some band instruments...

The street, scene of the big get-away...

The get-away continues over this gorge...

There's even a silent-movie-style railroad incident...

Ultimately, the bad guys end up where they belong... landing smack dab in the middle of a prison yard!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Toy Story 3:Behind the Scenes

A friend of mine pointed this article out to me from this months Wired Magazine online. It's an quick read on some of the behind the scenes work that goes into a Pixar's film over the life of three years. It has some good examples and breakdowns. Head on over and check it out here.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

ALADDIN - Cave of Wonders Pan Background

Today's art is a magnificent pan B/G from ALADDIN...
with usual left, middle and right sections following, for detail!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Dumbo Part 4

(Revisions down below.)

It's a shame that the Dumbo draft that Hans Perk has posted (and it's all available now on his blog) is missing many animator identifications. We can guess that Art Babbitt handled the stork in this sequence, but it remains just a guess. We're fortunate, however, in knowing what Bill Tytla animated in this sequence.

This sequence keeps the audience in suspense over Mrs. Jumbo's baby until the baby is finally revealed. It's a two stage reveal, first showing us a cute elephant child and once he sneezes, showing us the ears that are his curse and finally his blessing.

The female elephants are never named onscreen, but are named in the draft. They are Matriarch, Prissy, Catty and Giggles. They are successors to the seven dwarfs in that their names describe their personalities and that they look similar, so must be differentiated by the way they move. Needless to say, Tytla is up to the task.

No explanation is ever given as to where Jumbo, Sr. is. The lack of a male role model for Dumbo or a male counterbalance to the female gossips leaves the role open for Timothy when he later enters the film.

Revision: I think that the use of space in this sequence is very important, and my previous writing about it didn't do it justice. All space on film is constructed. Even if a film is a single shot, there's a frame around it that excludes things. Once you add cutting and camera movement, a film maker is either carving up space or implying relationships by connecting things in space.

It's a cliché, and a useful one, to start a sequence with an establishing shot, showing the audience where everything is. It would be unsurprising to follow shot 11 of the stork looking into the elephant's car with a wide shot showing how many elephants are present and what their spatial relationship is. Instead, the sequence director or the layout artist made the decision to keep the space fragmented. At screen left, we have the four elephants. In the center, we have the stork and Dumbo. On the right, we have Mrs. Jumbo. Center stage is logically where the most important action occurs, and we have the stork concerned with procedure, getting a signature, speaking his poems and singing "Happy Birthday."

Once the stork is gone, Dumbo is center stage. At this point, the left and right become two poles of a magnet. At first, they have an equal attraction for Dumbo. Both sides express obvious pride. In shot 60, Dumbo looks from his mother to the others, and is equally pleased. Interestingly, it is the matriarch, not Mrs. Jumbo, who is the first to actually touch the child. Once his ears are revealed, those on screen left radically change their view.

This results in shot 62, the only shot in the entire sequence to show all the characters at once. Mrs. Jumbo slaps one of the others and removes Dumbo to her side of the screen. For the rest of the sequence, Dumbo is always shown with his mother in the frame. The only other shot with Mrs. Jumbo and the four is 77, where she pulls the pin to shut them away.

The cutting communicates the gap between Mrs. Jumbo and the others. Dumbo begins suspended between the elephants but ends connected spatially to his mother with the four excluded from their space.

The cutting is basic. There are no bravura layouts here, but clearly a lot of thought went into how this key moment -- the revelation of Dumbo's ears and the reaction of the community to it -- was to be staged. That's typical of so much of this film. It doesn't dazzle like Pinocchio or Fantasia, but within its tight budget, the creative choices are invariably effective.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Here, digitally re-assembled artwork from a Bugs Bunny classic!

Here's an incredibly long digitally re-created pan B/G:

DETAILS: The left side bedroom:

The left side hall:


Right hall:

and now, on with the show...

This pan B/G is followed by left and right details:

And again, the show continues...