Sunday, 29 May 2011

Animation Casting on Dumbo and Bambi

A few days ago, while I was at school. I was looking through the book Hollywood Cartoons by Michael Barrier, and I was reading bits through pages, on what I find interesting. There was one section that really interests me which is about the way animators and people were cast on films like Dumbo and Bambi.
I'll start off and explain on what I mean, in this extract from the book by Walt Disney on a story meeting in Bambi.

Dumbo, he said at a 27 February meeting on Bambi was "an obvious straight cartoon," and so a natural fit for certain kings of animators. It's caricature all the way through," he said. "I've got the men for it"-animators, he said, who "don't fit here," on Bambi. "Tytla, I'm afraid of, on these things. I'm afraid he is going to get tied up to a knot...He's a caricaturist. Fergy [Norm Ferguson] is a caricaturist, too. Other familiar names - Art Babbitt, Ward Kimball - floated into conversations, categorized in the same way. These were not animators, Disney was saying, whose work could rise to the elevated level that Bambi required. "Caricature" - the banner he he had raised in his December 1935 memo to Don Graham - had acquired a slight but unmistakable shabbiness in his eyes, compared with "straight drawing."

What I find interesting is what Walt Disney is describing and judging on the animator's work. Of course, Dumbo is a very cartoonie film, and it maybe easy to animate. But the scenes like the roustabouts in the tent building sequence are not caricatured at all - and that it was perfect casting even to Jack Campbell. It seemed that Walt Disney was fearing the worst for Bill Tytla, and thinks that he couldn't handle a project like Bambi. Ward Kimball and Norm Ferguson were caricaturists, but that doesn't mean that they are not animators. If they are not animators, then how come they are animators for the films. I believe that what Walt Disney is saying that he only wants his best and real animators working on Bambi, not caricature artists. The most talented ones that are considered as too good to work on Dumbo.

It often appears that Walt Disney wasn't too enthusiastic about Dumbo, and often pressured the animators to finish their work - while on Bambi he patiently let the animators take their time and remarked, "The stuff is pure gold."

Of course, the film Dumbo has a lot of cartoonish stuff into it - like Ward Kimball's crows, Berny Wolf or Ray Patterson's clowns, or Woolie Reitherman and Fred Moore's Timothy Mouse. They've all got a lot of cartoon feel to it. But yet again, there was artistic sequences that would suit to Bambi's taste like the Mr. Stork sequence and the Roustabouts song. Harvey Toombs' animation of the animals with their cute baby animals are not too much caricature - and it's more realistically drawn that Claude Smith's animals in the Casey Junior sequence.

However, when you come across a beautiful picture like Bambi. You'll find that there are a few bits of caricature in there. Thumper and the rabbits are a bit cartoonie and cute, but they are believable to an audience. A good use of caricature is used in the "Twitterpated" sequence, with some funny animation of Thumper being easily flattered by a female bunny. That's some great caricature into it - although I'm not sure who the animator is on that. I do know that Marc Davis did some beautiful conceptual designs to those scenes.

Of course, there were animators who were very good with realism in their drawings like Frank Thomas, Milt Kahl, Ollie Johnston and Eric Larson who were the Animation Directors of Bambi. But, it's supposedly true that if they worked on Dumbo they would make their animation much more realistic in their scenes. That's why Walt probably cast a lot of second-rate animators onto the film - so they get to show what they are good at. To me, I feel that if an animator like Frank Thomas worked on the clowns - it wouldn't work as he probably would focus too much on it, while Grant Simmons and Ray Patterson don't need to do much with the animation and they makes it good animation when it was appropriate.

There is also another bit of judgment on the animators from Dumbo and Bambi in the famous Bill Peet interview by John Province, and yes I'm going to say it again:
I was one of the "poor boys." [on Dumbo] They put all the rich boys, the top animators making the big salaries, working on Bambi. They wanted to make it a gem. Originally Dumbo was going to be only a half-hour, sort of a special. When Walt saw what we were doing with it, he said it might make a good feature. Well, Dumbo made money. In fact, it was the only Disney film to make money until Cinderella.
 JP: Were budgets monitored closely?
 Walt got a little stingy with us on Dumbo because they had a showpiece with Bambi. They could play around with the little things like the raindrops: beautiful, but slow and expensive. We weren't allowed any trimmings. Bambi was a wedding cake. Dumbo was one layer with a little bit of icing. Ours was more successful because it had the common appeal, even though the animation was crude in some places. Dumbo didn't make big money. It had only cost $800,000, so all it had to do to make its cost back was to go a little over $1 million. The features had cost $3 million, plus the cost of the prints, and with no foreign market because of the war.
Here the interview makes things more interesting. What Bill said about the top animators on Bambi could be true - although there were already top people at the time like Art Babbitt, Norm Ferguson, Bill Tytla or Fred Moore that all worked on Dumbo. The animators with the biggest salaries was wrong, since Babbitt and Tytla were the highest paid animators at the time worked on Dumbo and not on Bambi. Even though there was probably a good amount of well-paid animators on Bambi.

I agree with Bill Peet that Dumbo did have more common appeal than Bambi did. Dumbo just had a simple story line and it wasn't supposed to be difficult - it just had to be finished. While on Bambi there was more than a story to it and that it didn't matter to the animators if they made a mistake on a scene - they could just redo it. While on Dumbo the animators had to do their real best on the film and try not make mistakes, and maybe that ended up with a few crudeness or so.

Bill Peet says that Walt Disney wanted to make Bambi a "real gem". Of course, Bambi is a gem in many ways. But, I still consider Dumbo as a real artistic film. I've always felt that the most famous animators and crewman worked on Dumbo than on Bambi, maybe there was a difference with talent. Walt Disney used his great directors to work on Dumbo while Walt Disney had cast new directors to do the Bambi sequences, and new talents. Dumbo had the usual animators working on the film - the ones who knew what to do.

Of course, Dumbo proved to be a popular successful film that has appealed to many worldwide audiences, and the same with Bambi - despite the fact that it didn't do very well at the box office to begin with.

I could probably go on forever talking about this, but I'm afraid that I've got to put a stop somewhere, and I feel I've analyzed enough in the history and casting to the animators in both films. I hope to talk a bit more about these.


Zartok-35 said...

I'm pretty sure Art Babbitt's 'Highest paid artist' phase had passed by the time he was working on Dumbo.

You strike a good point with your directors argument. Jack Kinney, Wilfred Jackson, and Norman Ferguson were geniuses, more than capable of creating the 'common appeal'.

Steven Hartley said...

Zartok, I suppose you are right about other animators surpassing Babbitt's salary payment, but Bill Tytla was also very well paid.

By these directors that were capable of creating "more than the common appeal". I suppose that Walt wanted his old directors to be working on the film - the ones that were directors on "Snow White", "Pinocchio", "Fantasia" and such. Whilst on "Bambi" it appears that he has hired new directors, and even using Bill Roberts and Sam Armstrong (both directors that worked on Dumbo).

Eric Noble said...

Bambi is a beautiful film, but it seemed very slow, never really holding my interest. It's been awhile since I've seen it. I'll have to revisit it. Dumbo was always the one I preferred.

It's a shame that animators like Babbitt and Tytla were referred to in a way that makes them seem lesser than others like Milt Kahl and Frank Thomas. They're all fien animators, but just because the former employ caricature in their work does not make them inferior to more illustrative types. Okay, rant over.

Steven Hartley said...

I've always felt that way for Bambi. It's a very artistic picture, and wonderful - but Dumbo was "the common appeal to me".