RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Ink & Paint

February 1

February 1, 1956 – A Day in the Life of Donald Duck Premieres on Disneyland.

“You know something Donald? You’re a big international favorite.”

On February 1, 1956, Disneyland audiences spent A Day in the Life of Donald Duck. As Walt Disney explains in the introduction, there have been so many fan letters to Donald, that he thought the audience might want to spend a day with Donald at the studio. Directed by Jack Hannah, with story by Albert Bertino and Dave Detiege, we see how Donald begins his day, as well as his interactions with Jimmie Dodd, Roy Williams, the Mouseketeers, and the most important person in Donald’s life: his voice, Clarence Nash.

“Donald, like any other average cartoon character, lives a simple, unassuming life in a quiet residential section of Beverly Hills,” Disney tells the audience, showing pictures of the neighborhood. “He resides in a modest little cartoon house. He drives to work in a modest little cartoon car. And if he seems a bit reckless, you must remember that Mr. Duck drives with a cartoon license.” As we see Donald pull into a spot marked “No Parking,” he is immediately confronted by a police officer. Donald, however, folds the car into a tiny packet, tucks it under his hat, and walks to his office.

Donald's "modest" house in Beverly Hills

When he arrives at his office, the intercom sounds, and his secretary greets him respectfully as Mr. Duck. Donald responds with, “Just call me Donald, toots. What’s first on my schedule, tootsie?” in keeping with Donald’s personality as a bit of a wolf. She responds that he has fan mail, which he opens eagerly. The letters, however, are not pleasing in Donald’s opinion. One letter openly says, “Dear Donald, I can’t understand a word you say.” This is the last straw in Donald’s opinion, and he demands to speak with his voice, Clarence Nash. Nash comes in with a cheery attitude, which doesn’t change Donald’s mood in the slightest, no matter what Nash does to cheer him up. They end up arguing, with Nash reverting to his Donald Duck voice, even as he pulls out a coonskin cap and starts signing the Davy Crockett theme song. Donald tells him he’s a horrible singer. Nash leaves, with the two still taunting each other, and Donald vows that he’s got to get himself a new voice.

Donald and his voice, Clarence Nash, as Nash shows him a new trick

The next guest to enter is Jimmie Dodd (host of the Mickey Mouse Club), who has written a new song about Donald, inspired by fan art from children all over the world. “They’re so great, they had to have a song written about them,” Jimmie explains, and begins the song, which Donald immediately loves. There are versions of the song sung in different languages with accompanying pictures, including Spanish, French, Italian, and German. The images and tunes are stereotypical for the fifties, but somewhat sweet and fun all the same.

Donald then leaves for an 11 o’clock appointment at the Story Room, and when the storymen hear Donald coming down the hall, they begin to panic, as they fear his temper more than anything. They try to make Donald comfortable, and when they try to show him storyboards for a short entitled Peaceful Day, Donald asks for more birds and butterflies. The storymen overeagerly agree to his requests, to the point that Donald gets annoyed, and demands that there be a short with just him in it. This gets them to thinking, and the audience is then shown the brainstorm: the short, Drip Dippy Donald (originally released March 5, 1948).

The bewildered story team, trying to acquiesce to Donald's requests

Back in his office, Donald receives a call from Walt, who asks him to show the Mousketeers around the studio, as Mickey has remembered that they had never seen it before. Donald eagerly agrees, and runs to meet the Mouseketeers, who surprise Donald by making him an honorary Mouseketeer and giving him his own set of Mickey Mouse ears. As they run around the studio, the kids slip into the Sound Effects Department, closing the door just as Donald is about to get inside, leaving him on the outside as the kids see how sound effects were added to the Donald Duck short, Fire Chief (originally released December 13, 1940). One example they show is when a building is set on fire, the special effects team uses sparklers and crumpled plastic to create the sound of the burning ceiling.

When the short ends, the door opens, and Donald is ready to step inside, until an effects man empties a bucket of water over him, which causes half of Donald’s paint to run. This necessitates a trip to the Ink & Paint Studio, where the painter quickly re-paints Donald and hangs him up to dry, an experience Donald finds quite humiliating. The painter explains that twenty gallons of paint are usually used for a Donald Duck picture, which surprises the kids and causes Donald to remark that he is “very expensive.” She also explains that in one picture, they used just one pint of paint for Donald; the audience is then shown the short The Vanishing Private (originally released September 25, 1942).

Donald and the Painter, with Donald pointing out how humiliating this is for him

After the short, we see the kids with Jimmie Dodd again, singing the new Donald Duck song he wrote. As Donald tries to sing the last line of quacks, he is cut off by Roy Williams, the other host of the Mickey Mouse Club. The kids are excited to see him, and he tells them that he’s practicing drawing the characters. To prove that anyone can draw, Roy asks one of the Mouseketeers to make a scribble on the easel. From her scribble, Roy is able to draw an ostrich. Donald, jealous of the stolen attention, challenges Roy and scribbles on the easel. Roy accepts, and ends up turning Donald’s scribble into a humorous image of Donald Duck. As Donald throws a tantrum and jumps up and down on the teasing picture, the kids flee the room and head into the projection room. “And now, in Donald’s honor – he really is a good scout,” Roy welcomes the kids, “I’d like to dedicate this picture to all you Mouseketeers.” Donald is touched by the tribute, and the audience is then shown the short, Good Scouts (originally released July 8, 1938).

This episode is a must-see for fans of Donald Duck. There are many wonderful gags, and the interaction of Donald with Clarence Nash is enough of a reason to watch. It’s a perfect example of all the temperaments of Donald, with the added bonus of it being set in the real, rather than the cartoon, world.

January 21

January 21, 1960 – Goliath II is Released to Theaters; First Disney Film Fully Animated with the Xerox Process.

“His name was Goliath the Second, and he was hardly any bigger than one of his father’s toenails.”

Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman, with story by Bill Peet, this 1960 short film is not only an amusing lesson that size isn’t everything, but was a grand experiment by the Disney animators using the new Xerox process, effectively ending an era of old-style romantic animation. The short is narrated by Sterling Holloway, and stars Kevin “Moochie” Corcoran as Goliath II.

Goliath I is the leader of all the elephants, by virtue of being the biggest and the strongest of them all. His only source of disappointment is his son, Goliath II, who is only five inches tall. Try as Goliath II might to make his father proud, he ends up only squeaking when he tries to trumpet, and getting knocked over by the flower he tries to push over. Goliath’s size is also a problem for his mother, who has a hard time keeping an eye on him, especially when the tiger Raja wishes to try the “bite-sized” elephant. Not wanting to be treated like a baby anymore, Goliath runs away from the herd. Although he is saved by his mother when Raja almost eats him, his troubles get worse, as he is marked as a rogue elephant and branded a traitor, disgracing his great father.

Goliath meets a butterfly. This gives the audience a way to see how small he really is.

Goliath gets his chance to prove his worth when he is “left alone to face the terror of all terrors” for elephants – a mouse. Through an epic battle with the pugnacious mouse, with a crocodile hungrily licking its chops to devour the loser, Goliath wins, spares the mouse and wins the respect of the rest of the elephants. He is awarded the highest position in the herd, and a place of honor on his father’s head as the elephants lumber through the jungle.

Goliath and the foe of all foes - a mouse.

Although the Xerox process was used in the dragon scene in Sleeping Beauty, the animators used Goliath II as an experiment to see if it would work on screen. Quite simply, the Xerox process is a way of transferring the animators’ pencil drawings directly to cels, bypassing the inking and painting process. The process, after it had been successfully used in the feature film One Hundred and One Dalmatians, was used in practically every Disney film through The Little Mermaid, when the use of the computer to create the ink lines replicated the old style of inking and painting at a lower cost. The newer process also left more of the feeling that the animator tried to convey before the cleanup began by the inkers and painters.

Sleeping Beauty became the end of a style era, particularly because it had been a very expensive film to create and had not made enough money back, leaving the studio in a dire situation. Ub Iwerks, who had come back to the studio in 1940, had been thinking of ways to lessen the cost of animation. He had been fascinated with the idea of Xerox copying, wondering if he could transfer the animator’s sketch straight to the cel, instead of just a piece of paper. He did a few experiments, and concluded that it was a valid solution for the financially strapped studio.

Ub Iwerks (L) while working on the Xerox Process.

In the early days of the Xerox process, one machine took up three rooms. With a lens and an electrostatically charged plate, the lens took a picture of the drawing, and transferred it to the plate, which would then be dipped in toner. The toner would then be transferred to a clear cel. It dramatically cut costs when it came to animation, but at a price: the beautiful artwork created by the inking and painting department was no more, and the department itself was closed. The style not only replaced the more fairy-tale look of the Disney animated films, but brought in a new modern American art look to the studio.

The Xerox process had mixed reactions from those within the studio. Animator Floyd Norman remarked, “I think we did lose something because the Xerox line lacked the subtlety of the ink line which was incredible…so I guess one could debate those points back and forth. Was Xerox a step forward, or a step backwards?” But animator Andreas Deja argued that “Xerox didn’t cut the quality of the animation. They didn’t do limited animation. It’s still a fully animated film. The acting is still there, it’s still subtle.”

Although there are many opinions of the process, there is no denying the impact it had on the look of Disney films from the 1960s to the 1990s, and it was a good way to save the legacy of animated films. Without Iwerks’ invention, there may not have been The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, or even The Little Mermaid. Goliath II, although most people may not realize it, helped bring about a turning point in animation history, and did it in a delightful way.

January 1

Welcome to 2012, the first post of the year as well as the first post of the blog! Of the many areas I could have spoken about today, I could not decide between these two. Read and enjoy!

January 1, 1904 – Birth of Disney Legend Grace Bailey

Disney Legend Grace Bailey Turner, born Elizabeth Grace Randall, is known for her work in the Ink and Paint department. She began working at Walt Disney Studios in 1932, rising through the ranks of the department to painting supervisor, then inking supervisor, and finally head of the department in 1954. She held this position until she retired in 1972, after 40 years of work with the company. She died on August 23, 1983, and was inducted posthumously into the Disney Legends on October 12, 2000.

After the success of Flowers and Trees, Disney’s first Technicolor animated short, Bailey was tasked with the important duty of expanding the studio’s catalog of colors. Walt had made a deal with Technicolor to have exclusivity of the three-color process in animation for two years, and one can only imagine the challenges Bailey faced when dreaming up new colors. Betty Kimball, former Studio painter, said in an interview that “[e]verything was so unscientific back then. We were just creating, and it was fun.”

I was rather excited that my first post could be on Grace Bailey, for several reasons. Firstly, many people voiced complain that there are no important women in Disney’s history – my answer is that they’re not looking hard enough. Although the Ink and Paint Department was mostly, if not all, women, this does not mean their work was thought of as any less important. After watching scenes from The Reluctant Dragon, it’s easy to see that there was a lot of work that went into mixing and creating the new hues to bring animation to a higher level. The Ink and Paint department was highly important when it came to an animated film: inking could take about 12 months to learn properly, and one had to be very precise to preserve not only the animator’s original drawing, but also the emotion the animator wished to invoke.  To say that women did not have an important role, or that there were hardly any important women, seems to ignore all of the work these women did. Bailey was an important part of Disney history, and I’m proud to put her in the spotlight today.

January 1, 1943 – Release of Der Fuhrer’s Face to Theaters

A prime example of homefront propaganda from World War II, Der Fueher’s Face was released to movie theaters on January 1st and was not only immensely popular, but it also won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film at the 15th Academy Awards. Directed by Jack Kinney, the short, in which Donald Duck has a nightmare that he resides in a country controlled by the Nazis, was originally called Donald Duck in Nutzi Land. The name was changed, however, when the title song for the short, written by Oliver Wallace, became a runaway hit after a record by Spike Jones was released (although the film preceded the record). According to Disney Legend Joe Grant, the short was inspired by the Charlie Chaplin film, Modern Times, especially the scene with Donald working on the belt line.

In this excerpt from the introduction to the short, film critic Leonard Maltin explains:

“It’s easy to see why the film was so popular. It’s very, very funny, reducing the serious tenets of Hitler’s Nazism to slapstick absurdities. And it gave audiences a chance to think, as Donald does, about the freedoms they might have taken for granted.”

As was common of propaganda films of the time, there are caricatures of Hirohito, Mussolini, and Nazi soldiers. This was a common tactic that is still seen today: the enemy is mocked to reduce the public fear and make the enemy less fear-inspiring. It was a good way to allow panicked Americans at that point a chance to laugh in the face of their fears.

One rumor that persisted about the film is that it was banned from being released to the public after the war. While the short was kept out of general circulation for many years because of its propagandistic content, it was released on the DVD set On the Front Lines in the third wave of Walt Disney Treasures, and was released again on the DVD set The Chronological Donald, Volume Two.

I find the work of the Disney Studios during WWII fascinating, from the propaganda shorts to the training films. All of these films helped Americans through their fear with laughter, and encouraged them to buy war bonds and support the troops through other methods. This short in particular conveys the message that Americans needed to be thankful for the freedoms they had and understand why they were fighting. America had been trying to stay out of the war until Pearl Harbor; these films helped rally the American Spirit.

One thing that also interests me about this short is the use of Donald Duck. Donald was an international star at this point, received well all over the world. Donald’s character works well for this kind of satire. His inability to keep from muttering under his breath as he deals with the insanity of Nutzi Land suits the story and creates a more humorous impact than if the usually cheerful, uncomplaining Mickey Mouse had been the main character. Audiences would have been sad to see our favorite mouse in Hitler’s clutches.

With grumpy, grousing Donald as the main character, Der Fueher’s Face allowed audiences to find humor in the face of fear.