Friday, July 02, 2010

What Disney Did Best 2: Atmosphere



Color, layout, scene planning, camerawork, special effects and music - and more important than any of those individual elements is the hierarchical coordination of them all.
the cutesy character stuff kind of gets in the way of the atmosphere, but I guess you gotta put something in there for the Moms and pantywaists in the audience.

My favorite parts of classic Disney movies are the sequences that evoke haunting moods and atmosphere: The witches defeat in Snow White, Maleficent's appearance through the wall in Sleeping Beauty, April Showers in Bambi - the fire

No one could touch Disney for those kinds of scenes, then or now.

Again, if you say out loud (or write) what's actually happening you can see how pedestrian the ideas are: "The reeds break in half and whistle like a chorus of angels". It makes me wonder why they even needed a story staff.

I think Disney's real magic - what separated him from everyone else in animation - was in his ability to build elaborate solid structures. Huge monolithic structures that could support the most fragile core ideas. - Like building a huge decorative skyscraper to support a colony of flatworms.

21 comments:

Cali-4nia said...

This was a great piece. I remember studying this short in school specifically to understand how to create atmosphere, mood, and tension in our animated projects. Brings back memories...
another great one I remember was "One Froggy Evening."

Austin Papageorge said...

Hey John, this post really got me thinking about what I see in animation and how the atmosphere affects me.

I dedicated a post on my blog to it. I hope you don't mind be linking to it.

Here it is.

Roberto Severino said...

I think Harman-Ising came pretty close to capturing those type of scenes Disney did in the cartoons they made at MGM, or at least the intricate details that these cartoons had. After all, at one point, Harman, Ising, and Friz Freleng had all worked with Walt, so his influence was obviously going to be heavily present in their cartoons. I don't know if you've seen any of them, but go watch any of them from the 30s, and you can see what I mean. They even made a Silly Symphony for Disney called "Merbabies" in the late 30s.

Thanks for analyzing these Disney cartoons in such a positive, constructive way. There are a lot of people who believe that you hate classic Disney cartoons, when that seems to be far from the truth.

Elana Pritchard said...

You are right about this.

JohnK said...

I don't hate classic Disney cartoons. I find them boring but full of brilliant visual ideas.

I think the people who worship the stuff have damaged the art form though by copying the most superficial aspects of it and not daring to venture into any other cartoon styles.

It's barred the possibility of any variety or progress, especially in American animated features.

We copy the dumb parts of classic Disney and ignore the good stuff.

Roberto Severino said...

"I think the people who worship the stuff have damaged the art form though by copying the most superficial aspects of it and not daring to venture into any other cartoon styles."

That's the danger of having only one influence to refer to in general, no matter what it is, especially something like Disney. There was this really good post you did a few years ago where you talked about the importance of influences, once you're actually able to draw with skill and ability.

I'm afraid for tomorrow's cartoonists because television is saturated and full of these badly written and drawn pseudo flat UPA cartoons, fake anime, fake Spumco, wiggly cartoons, Disney wanna-be stuff, and even cartoons that look worse than all of those styles. Pretty much most cartoons today are a derivative form of other styles. The newspaper comics aren't any better either. Amazing how just a few years ago, the Looney Tunes, Tex Avery, and a lot of other classic cartoon essentials were on television all the time, and I used to watch those programs all the time as a child, so already, I was pretty lucky to even pay attention to all those gems.

"It's barred the possibility of any variety or progress, especially in American animated features."

I'd sure love to see an animated feature look like this, but I think that since these companies are so used to recycling old ideas out of fear and just because they're so used to making such arbitrary choices, that they fear of trying something new or even letting people with original ideas make their films.

"We copy the dumb parts of classic Disney and ignore the good stuff."

Same thing with the mistakes with Ren and Stimpy, which is where those fake Spumco cartoons I mentioned come from in the first place. I hope I'm not sounding like a sycophant or anything with my comment. It's honestly what I think.

C said...

The chase in the Headless Horseman cartoon was great as well. I'm always a sucker for scenery and atmosphere.

In the present, everything goes too quickly, to fit in jokes. Studio Ghibli still gives scenery, but Americans seem to want jokes, jokes jokes, and 3D

Disney should have made more like these instead of that waterbabies thing. I couldn't even get through that. I had to turn it off.

SparkyMK3 said...

Well John, if you wanted an animated feature made, you would want it to be something like the Popeye color specials right? No filler, all entertainment in everything, including the characterization, with great animation and art as the cherry on top?

Also, i'd like to see you rip on Don Bluth films at some point in the future-i want all of the problems of those films exposed to the people who don't realize them. (especially the first four he did-even before his fans think he "jumped the shark") Who knows-you might just save a person or two.

Iron maiden said...

I really loved the scene in snow white when shes running in the dark woods and every thing looks like there staring at her even the trees ,this scene frightened me when I was little

Scrawnypumpkinseed said...

If I may tinker off topic briefly, http://api.ning.com/files/aS4W5b14VLWxsXnu63fX4nn9SXXnNspf7CEDesBe-OWMMi2gauUIozPykDtlQDnO8hZNDZCwikmXPICk3m65VjEvVKXyDy03/megamind_poster_new.jpg its funny that no one notices they're making the exact same face.

On topic: I found the cartoon kind of boring because nothing really happened but it did look and feel very nice.

Martin Juneau said...

"I'm afraid for tomorrow's cartoonists because television is saturated and full of these badly written and drawn pseudo flat UPA cartoons, fake anime, fake Spumco, wiggly cartoons, Disney wanna-be stuff, and even cartoons that look worse than all of those styles. Pretty much most cartoons today are a derivative form of other styles. The newspaper comics aren't any better either. Amazing how just a few years ago, the Looney Tunes, Tex Avery, and a lot of other classic cartoon essentials were on television all the time, and I used to watch those programs all the time as a child, so already, I was pretty lucky to even pay attention to all those gems. "

I think that too Roberto. Tough the only modern cartoons series i give some attentions is Xilam's The New Adventures of Lucky Luke. Despite the comic style and the humor used at this series compared to the original comic, it's a instantaned classic today mostly because Morris worked on this series before his death in july 2001 (9 years already). The first episodes was shown in prime-time in fall 2001. Morris will never see the actual result tough.

But that wasn't repeated correctly at those post-Morris re-incarnations as the awful live-action Dalton movie, the Rintindumb cartoon with horrible Spumco-ish style, the Go West movie which disappointed me (Again for the Spumco look) and finally the original comics series is printed to a new adventures name which it didn't give appeals to read.

The best Lucky Luke period at my opinion was when Morris was at Dupuis between 1946 and 1968. Some comics made by Dargaud was fun too but mostly for the Gosciny's formulations.

Isaak said...

What did you think about Johnson and Thompsons's cameos in The Incredibles? In light of your evidence, Bird was not fulfiling the "old school" in terms of craft.

Even if it was false, it was still interesting to have two men who worked for Walt Disney from Snow White on.

AdamLore said...

The Old Mill is great!

It seems that all of the Disney stuff that Gustaf Tenggren worked on is especially well done.

It's my guess that this is not a coincidence.

kurtwil said...

I showed this Disney clip to my testing associates, both gen Z'rs in their mid 20's. They thought it, and the "classic" features, were over-animated ("too much stuff moving").

On other hand, they liked Adult Swim's VENTURE BROTHERS and similar style animes: a lot of stills, 2-position mouths, quivering eyes,... Sad, really.

Kudos for those still striving for animated life in their projects!

Trevor G. said...

Sound goes a long way to set up an atmosphere too John. Like the 'ooh's' being both musical and mimicking the howl of wind.

Actually, I'd even bet that sound has the biggest role in setting up atmospheres.

Diablo II, Tristram. The blue background might say, "Calm Village" if it wasn't for the song playing.

Forrest Gump; The music says, 'something magical is happening' without it the feather falling wouldn't seem to have so much significance.

Music fills in the repetition that would be found in writing as well. For example: Star Wars, a theme plays every time you see Darth reminding you of your previous feelings about him and the Dark Side.

In a book the reminders are often cascading text. So pretend I knew what was written in Forrest Gump. lol Perhaps the opening scene would mention the feather falling like blah and blah and so blah.

And then at the end if I wanted to trigger the reader's memory I could write it the same way at the beginning of the sentence: And so the feather fell like blah and blah..

This is a silly 'symphony' and I'll bet you crazy sound effects and proper music accompanied all your favorite moments of atmospheric, and atmospheric settings.

Without it, with just SFX and visuals its quite plain. Although I can't say silence doesn't work sometimes too in setting an atmosphere. Especially where certain kinds of dialogue is concerned. Or a specific effect is required.

Isaak said...

An earlier blog talked about six character types for Disney.

What are they, beside the bland lead?

Thank you

Also, are you going to examine Scrub me Mama with a Boogie Beat anytime.

Martin Juneau said...

About "The Old Mill", i remember watching for the first time last year and this is very true. They have great atmosphere who can creating a real thrill through the entire film itself. The real Disney was really capable to do that. I wish to find that in modern cartoons and comics but this is often elaborate by a insignificant joke or panels without substance.

Matt said...

are you going to post more of these?

RooniMan said...

I agree fully.

John said...

Why doesn't the bird on the cog wheel that keeps almost getting squashed just fly away?

Even so, a top cartoon for mood and drama. It's like a living painting.

A kind of circle-of-life story a la Bambi / Lion King - that Old Mill just keeps on getting older with each storm, but with the morning comes a new day and new life.. aahh

James Dalby said...

Maybe the bird was simply panicking and tried to prevent her eggs from being squished.

This is such a fantastic short to watch, especially with no strong defying characters.

I thought the pigeons 'twitterpating' in the storm was an interesting shot, how love continues to prevail so strong between the two lovebirds in the darkest of hours.