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MichaelBarrier.com Exploring the World of Animation and Comic Art

"What's New" Archives: June 2016

 

June 4, 2016:

Frame by Frame with Michael Hodous

 

June 3, 2016:

In Brief

 

June 2, 2016:

Moe Gollub, Lost and Found

 

June 4, 2016:

Toad suggestions

For reasons mentioned in the text below, using frame enlargements from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad seemed impractical, so I've illustrated this piece with two model sheets from February 1941, when The Wind in the Willows (released in 1949)was first in production. This Toad sheet is by Jim Bodrero (thanks to Didier Ghez for correcting my earlier misattribution). Courtesy of Eldon Dedini (who worked on the story after World War II with Homer Brightman and Harry Reeves).

Frame by Frame with Michael Hodous

Back about a hundred years ago, in the very earliest days of the Betamax and the laserdisc player—and long before I could afford to buy a machine of either kind—I spent many hours at the Library of Congress' motion picture section hunched over a Steenbeck editing machine, looking at films on a small screen. I had lots of company in the viewing room in those days, academic types and freelance writers who were there for the same reason I was, to see films that in many cases it was difficult or impossible to see any other way. Scheduling time at a Steenbeck then could be as difficult as snagging a table at a hot new restaurant. No more. It has been a few years since I watched films at the LC, and I don't recall that any other viewers were there the last time I did.

One of the small pleasures of watching cartoons on a Steenbeck was the opportunity it offered to watch part of a cartoon frame by frame, repeatedly if I wished to do so (as I sometimes did). I'd want to see just what was happening at some point in a cartoon, how some effect was achieved, and the Steenbeck made that easy. My own frame-by-frame viewing mostly ended after I finished my book Hollywood Cartoons in 1997, but frame-by-frame viewing is easier than ever now, thanks to DVDs and Blu-rays. As Michael Hodous recently told me, such close study can still yield puzzling and amusing surprises:

Back in 1979 when you made a thorough study of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) at the Library of Congress, did you notice that the camera department photographed two cell setups out of sequence?

At approximately 0:32:08 according to my Blu-ray disc player, Mole has just gotten the deed to Toad Hall away from Winky. Mole makes a mad dash down the Long Hall of Toad's ancestral family home, pursued by the entire pack of weasels determined to let Mole experience a close encounter with a bullet, a knife, or a blunt instrument. Then, attempting to pass through an archway halfway down the Long Hall, Mole discovers that the Long Hall isn't as long as it looked as he crashes into a floor-to-ceiling mirror, resulting in considerable destruction of property, not to mention seven years bad luck, which Mole proceeds to use up at an alarming rate.

Just a few frames before Mole hits the mirror, he speeds up slightly, jumps back slightly, then jumps forward again. You won't notice it unless you step through the sequence frame by frame, but those two frames photographed out of order must have been there forever, which makes me wonder why nobody ever noticed it in a sweatbox. Or could that be a more subtle version of some of the effects in Bob Clampett's Kitty Kornered, where the old drunk cat crashes into a door, which suddenly changes shape and color? Just two frames out of order, just enough perhaps to induce a slight feeling of unease a tiny fraction of a second before the payoff when Mole crashes into the mirror?

How often during the course of your work do you end up feeling like the German Kaiser informed that the Russian Czar has just died: "But what could have been his motive?"

And there's more:

In the words of an old public service television commercial from sixty years ago, "This accident should not have happened." If you step through the last ten or twenty frames before impact, both the viewer and Mole should have seen Mole's reflection in the mirror before the mirror became no longer a mirror. But wasn't that the title of a Disneyland TV show first broadcast on October 31st, 1956: "The Plausible Impossible"? The crash happens so fast that you never have a chance to notice that little detail, and after the crash you're laughing too hard to worry about such a mere bagatelle. After all, great art should improve on reality, not be bound by it.

My notes don't show that I picked up on such details, although I must say that I did notice a lot of other stuff. Here again, I must defer to Mike Hodous on what he saw when Mole crashes into the mirror, keyed to the frame captures he sent to me:

The frames named Mole_001 through Mole_064 document Mole's close encounter of the worst kind. Note that 019 and 020 [the frames mentioned above, just before Mole hits the mirror] are shot out of sequence.

Mole crashes into the mirror in frame 032. All this stuff is fast action, so it's animated with a separate drawing for every frame. This continues up to frame 035. From there Mole is still animated one drawing per frame, but the broken glass that's flying in all directions is often exactly the same in two successive frames.

Besides saving time, paper, and money, this may be even better artistically. It gives the viewer more time to make order out of chaos, rather than shards flying too fast to recognize as such if the glass were animated with separate drawings for each frame. Frank and Ollie mentioned this effect on page 65 (and a more extreme case on page 230) of the first edition of Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life.

I've wanted to show some of Mike's frame captures here, although posting enough of them to illutrate the points he makes would consume a lot of pixels, but, in any case, they haven't proved amenable to transfer to my web authoring program. Better, perhaps, that you buy the Blu-ray, if you don't already own it, and explore it on your own. Ichabod and Mr. Toad is not one of the greatest Disney cartoons, but as what Mike Hodous has discovered should suggest to you, it holds much more to enjoy than most contemporary features.

Rat suggestions

This "temporary Rat model" was initialed by Campbell Grant and drawn by him. Courtesy of Gene Hazelton.

 

June 3, 2016:

In Brief

Jungle Book

The Jungle Book: I was warned away from this new Disney feature because, I was told, it simply reproduces the 1967 cartoon in synthetic live action (and with a live boy as Mowgli). Yes and no. I've never much liked the cartoon—too sloppy and jokey for my taste—and although the new movie tracks the old one pretty closely, it's darker and even a little scary. That's an improvement, I think, although Jon Favreau, the director of the new version, would have won more of my tepid applause if he had scrapped King Louie's musical number (or been allowed to scrap it, who knows), since it's now grotesquely incongruous.

What Disney needs to do, to keep this particular ball rolling, is to start making cartoon versions of some of its live-action movies. How about a CGI version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, with seals and porpoises as the lead characters? And then, in cross-pollination with Pixar, there could be a sequel called Finding Captain Nemo. Or how about a slapstick cartoon version of Old Yeller in which the dog sneers to the camera, in Seth MacFarlane fashion, about his owners' cluelessness, and springs back to life after he has supposedly been doomed by rabies. ("Fooled ya! Hey, you know I always get my shots!") Lots of possibilities, all of them dreadful, which should recommend them to Disney's current management.

Muto: No doubt many of the visitors to my site are aware of Muto, summarized on YouTube as "a short film by Blu: an ambiguous animation painted on public walls," apparently in Argentina. I'd missed it until Andrew Keegan called it to my attention. An impressively strange film. Andrew says, "It reminded me a bit of an Out-of-the-Inkwell cartoon—one that escaped the studio and wandered the city. I wonder what the Fleischer brothers would have thought of it."

It reminded me even more of a lot of cold, impersonal, essentially abstract European cartoons, but it somehow made a very different impression on me, I'm sure because it's so fascinating to watch the animation's progression across those public walls. Very much worth a look. This is yet another occasion when I wish Michael Sporn were still with us—I always wish that, but especially when I'd love to know what he thought of a particular film. Muto dates from 2008, six years before Michael's death, but I don't find anything about it on Michael's Splog, which is, happily, still with us even though Michael himself is not.

Bugs Bunny in 1949: When you write books about comics and cartoons and post on a website like this one, it's particularly gratifying to learn that some people read what you write, understand what you're saying, and find your writings useful as launching pads for their own thoughts. That's how I felt when I read Joshua Wilson's blog, F for Films: Essays on the Movies. One of his first offerings is a comparison of four Bugs Bunny cartoons from 1949, one each by Davis, McKimson, Freleng, and Jones. My book Hollywood Cartoons has served Josh as a starting point, but his thoughts are his own. I enjoyed reading his essay, and if you share my intense interest in the Warner Bros. cartoons, I think you will, too.

 

June 2, 2016:

Moe Gollub painting

Moe Gollub, Lost and Found

From Bob Barrett, who shares my admiration for one of the mainstays of Oskar Lebeck's Dell comic books of the 1940s:

Did I ever send you a scan of this Morris Gollub painting? I bought this back in 2008 from two brothers living in Missouri. The brother I dealt with stated that his father, an antique dealer, found the painting in an old theater in St. Louis that was being demolished. His father liked the painting and kept it until he passed away and his sons inherited it.

The sons heard that Antiques Roadshow was going to be doing appraisals for their television show here in Wichita, Kansas. They purchased tickets and brought the painting here to be appraised. The appraisers had no knowledge of who Morris Gollub was and refused to even speculate what it might be worth.

I didn't find out about the painting until a week after Antiques Roadshow had left. The brothers contacted a website on Jesse Marsh to ask if they would happen to know of anyone that would be interested in buying the painting. The website manager emailed me with the brothers' story and I contacted them and negotiated to buy the painting.

Since Moe Gollub left St. Louis in 1937 to join Disney, I have speculated that he painted this before he began working for Disney. He was probably commissioned by the theater manager to execute the painting to hang in the lobby of the theater. But that is only speculation on my part. The painting is signed on the reverse, "Gollub," but it is obvious to me that it is his work.

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