6 Behind-The-Scenes Shots From Disney Movies That Are Magic
A lot of us grew up loving Disney movies. And while we might assume that these films were simply the result of cheerful animators diligently working to ensure bedraggled parents could at least get 90 minutes of peace and quiet, the truth is that the Disney creative process was far more insane than you might imagine. Take a look at how ...
The Early Disney Classics Involved Real Actors Dressing Up And Acting Like Crazy People
The Walt Disney Company was often ahead of its time. In the 1930s, when every other animation studio was content with simply making shorts, they decided to start producing feature-length cartoons. And to help forge ahead in uncharted cinematic waters, early Disney productions would get actors to first act out "difficult to draw" scenes as a reference for the animators. This eventually led to "rotoscoping" -- meaning they'd literally trace over the live-action footage.
Not only did this advance the field, but more importantly, it means there are a bunch of crazy images of old-timey actors behaving like lunatics in familiar costumes.
We've mentioned how for some scenes in Sleeping Beauty, the live-action footage featured fully costumed actors and was staged in real sets. This allowed the animators to bring the evil Maleficent to life, or learn how to properly draw an awkward kiss devoid of any inkling of romance.
Other times, scenes were hilariously stripped down, with an enchanted woodland forest comprised of some discarded bits of lumber with signs reading "owl" and "tree," like a children's playground built by Lars von Trier.
How did they nail those flying scenes in Peter Pan? Easy: fairy dust, remembering your happiest thought, and awkwardly straddling a couple of empty liquor crates.
To approximate the magic of Wonderland, meanwhile, the child actress playing poor Alice had to be shoved into and hung from elaborate contraptions:
And the magic of Cinderella is ruined just a touch when you find out that the closest we get to a fairy godmother in real life is a teamster in an old plaid shirt working a crank.
Behold, The Real Ariel From The Little Mermaid
To fully realize the story of the mermaid princess Ariel, animators again turned to the old-school methods, and brought in a model to act out some scenes. This time, Disney recruited not the voice actress, but a Sherri Stoner, a member of the improv comedy group the Groundlings.
Since hanging around with fish is pretty much Ariel's jam, Stoner acted out scenes with puppets. Instead of the adorable Flounder, for instance, Stoner had to chat with a character straight out of a puppet show about meth-addicted velociraptors.
Weirder still, for some reason, this step in the process took place after the voice acting was recorded. In the making-of footage, you can see Stoner lip-syncing to the dialogue, not unlike an episode of Baywatch that inexplicably takes place on the Star Trek Holodeck.
Here Are The Real Kids From Monsters Inc. And Up
Pixar really excels at getting great performances from legendary actors voicing some kind of inanimate object, which is why we can look forward to someday seeing a movie in which Michael Douglas plays a sassy roll of scotch tape. But what about the parts played by children?
When Pixar started including human children in their movies, they went to painstaking lengths to make them sound authentic. Ever wondered how they got such a good performance for the character of Boo in Monsters Inc.? Well, for starters, they didn't hire an actor. They roped one of the storyboard artists into bringing his daughter into the studio and following her around with microphones. Then they recorded her voice as they played with puppets, tickled her feet, or gave her candy then took it away.
In Up, there was the character of Russell, the loquacious Wilderness Explorer whose job is to distract you from the fact that you spent the first ten minutes of this movie openly weeping in a movie theater full of children. Once again, the filmmakers wanted a non-actor, hopefully to get that authentic feel in the performance and not to dodge a bunch of union rules. To get the overly energetic tone of the character, they had the kid do things like dart out of the studio and run as fast as he could "around the Foosball table three times," then back in front of the mic to say the line.
And for the scene in which he's precariously dangling for a rope? They had him dangling from the director's arm to get a naturalistic reading:
They Brought Real Lions Into The Disney Offices For The Lion King
When you're making a movie about animals going around the African Savannah belting out Elton John tunes, obviously you're gonna want it to be as realistic as possible. To that end, the animators on The Lion King sketched actual lions. No, the company didn't send them to a zoo or distribute back issues of National Geographic. As seen in the documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty, Disney brought real lions into their offices. They brought in cute, Jonathan-Taylor-Thomas-like lion cubs:
And full-grown, James-Earl-Jones-like beasts:
The only safety precaution was apparently some yellow "caution" tape placed on the ground ... which exec Jeffrey Katzenberg seemingly didn't give a fig about.
Katzenberg may have gotten a little too relaxed with the lions, and started to use the animals in public appearances to promote the movie. This backfired big time when, at an event in Las Vegas, one lion went full Scar and nearly mauled Katzenberg in front of a live audience:
Walt Disney Had To Create A School To Make Snow White
Snow White And The Seven Dwarves was made way back in 1937, when making an animated movie was a risky artistic venture, and not just an electronic babysitter to distract kids while their parents drink wine and scroll through Facebook. Because the Disney team had really only been tasked with making wacky shorts, they lacked the skills to fully animate more realistic images.
At first, Walt Disney sent his animators to art school, but he decided that wasn't sufficient. So he created his own "Disney Art School," where animators could study not only static realism, but more importantly for animation, the "flow of movement." Like waving flags ...
... crazy long beards ...
... and of course, heavyset men angrily tap-dancing:
This meant that animators were pulling double duty, working on the movie during the day, taking classes at night, and then falling asleep at their desks. The fact that some classes featured nude models may have helped attendance.
But the Snow White production wasn't all setting up art schools and naked women. Disney had some misguided notion that it would somehow ruin the "mystery" if he credited the voice actress playing Snow White, so he basically torpedoed her entire career.
With no credit in the movie, Snow White's voice actress, Adriana Caselotti, along with the actor playing Prince Charming, had to sneak into their own premiere after being turned away at the door. Even worse, when she was invited to sing on The Jack Benny Show, Disney objected because "he thought it would ruin the Snow White illusion." And because no one knew who she was, anyone wanting to hire Caselotti had to go through Disney, which he "would have stopped right there." It kinda makes you wonder if Disney thought the Witch was the hero of the movie.
Mary Poppins' Crazy Effects Were Decidedly Less Magical In Real Life
Mary Poppins is the timeless story of a magical nanny who teaches children about how working-class chimney sweeps are fun-loving dancers and rich bankers are shadowy monster people. Amazingly, this movie came out during the Cold War and Julie Andrews wasn't hauled in by the CIA.
Of course, it turns out that making Mary Poppins wasn't quite as enchanting as watching it. Karen Dotrice, who played the young Jane Banks, recalled that "Uncle Walt" assured her she'd have a "magical time" -- only to be "startled" that her first day on the production consisted of getting a plaster cast made of her butt for the scene wherein she slides down the banister. That is the opposite of magical, Uncle Walt.
Similarly, for all those scenes of the kids playing with happy cartoon animals, they were in actuality dancing with "sweaty prop guys" holding cardboard cutouts and trying really hard not to drop F-bombs in front of the little kids.
Dotrice was also "shocked" to see Julie Andrews, in full Mary Poppins costume, smoking on set, which must have been a little like running into Winnie the Pooh at a dog track. The whimsical scene where the characters laugh so hard that they fly up to the ceiling, meanwhile, involved a lot of wire work and a healthy dose of imagination. Since the little boy playing Michael was afraid of heights, the crew had to bribe him, paying him a dime for every time he had to go up on the wires.
To fulfill the illusion that they were flying, multiple versions of the set were built: one right side up, one on its side, one completely upside-down, and a "truncated" version where the ceiling was but a few feet above the ground. All of this to recreate the simple of experience of getting hammered in your grandpa's living room.
The multiple sets, combined with the wire work and giant teeter totters, all contributed to the illusion that they were truly floating. As for the robin that flies through the window and tweets along with Mary ...
It was the first animatronic puppet used in a movie. But because this was before these things could be radio-controlled, it necessitated running a ton of wires underneath Julie Andrews' clothes. Which she was kind of irked about.
It may have been uncomfortable, but it was way ahead of its time, paving the way for future cinematic creations such as the Gremlins, the T-Rex in Jurassic Park, and Vin Diesel.
Think you could do better? Learn to animate yourself with this introductory guide to animation.
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