SHAPING ANIMATION | 2. Pinocchio

Updated: Jan 13, 2020

Going in order, our next movie to discuss is Pinocchio. I'll be honest and say that it was never a favorite movie of mine. But that's not the point of this series, in fact, it's kind of the opposite. This series is about how every animated movie, even the ones we don't see, cause a ripple that effects the animation industry as a whole. Maybe it's new techniques and technology, maybe it's an overall tone that will be reflected in future movies, maybe it's the mistakes the movie made. Whatever it is, every movie shapes animation. I do want to mention that this review is shorter than Snow White's, and that is simply because there is a bit less to talk about. But I still wanted to touch on this film. Bambi's review should be back to the longer length of reviews.


PINNOCHIO | "The Failure"


It's 1940. Walt Disney Productions releases their second feature length film, Pinocchio, to theaters. After the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the company expects their next film to be well received. And yet, due to the war at the time, it's a box office failure.

Now it's 2019. Pinocchio was voted the best animated film ever made in a 2014 poll full of critics and filmmakers. It was added to the United States film registry. It has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.


So what changed? The movie never changed, but it's audience did. It may have taken Pinocchio 5 more years after it's initial release, but it finally started to earn a profit at it's 1945 reissue. And beyond that, it's now regarded as one of the most beautifully animated films of all time.

If Snow White was a story of immediate success, than Pinocchio is a story of persevering. The company could have become down hearted at their financial failure, but instead they turned themselves around and began work on Bambi. Because despite the movie's reception, they were proud. They still had made something good, whether the world could see it or not.


I know I said Pinocchio is considered one of the best animated films, and based on the votes, it is. But it still feels like a movie few people discuss. Especially the animation journey this movie went through. Which is insane to me, since it introduced so many important things, and people. Think the startup of the 9 old men, think Frank and Ollie, think the first prototype of animation xeroxing.

So let's discuss how Pinocchio shaped the animation industry, and most importantly, how it helped to create the Walt Disney mindset.

ANIMATION


The best place to begin is with the initial designs of Pinocchio, a wooden puppet with dreams of becoming a real boy. The animators who worked on his initial designs were actually Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two names which may sound familiar if you've researched animation before.

Frank and Ollie are names typically heard strung together. The two worked together even before they joined the Walt Disney Company, working on a campus magazine while attending University.

And from there, they were almost always together. They made for a very interesting animation duo as they would work off of each other, always asking one another what they needed to change and improve on. They worked on projects together. They were a real team, and it helped the two to create some amazing scenes together. They co-authored a book together in 1981, titled "Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life". According to Wikipedia, it's widely considered an "animation Bible". The book discussed Disney's 12 basic principles of animation. Last but not least, the two were part of Disney's 9 old men, a group of animators I'll discuss more later.


While I'm sure I'll mention them again, I just want to show the iconic scenes these two helped to create, just to solidify the importance of their work.


Frank Thomas:

• Animated the entire Bambi and Thumper ice skating scene, which was an idea he created

• Worked on animation and character designs for Disney movies, from Snow White, all the way to Fox and the Hound.

• Was a directing animator for multiple Disney Villains


Ollie Johnston:

• Animated along with Frank in the movies mentioned above

• Had his likeness caricatured in the movie "The rescuers" as the cat Character, Rufus.

• Wrote multiple books alongside Frank


Alright, now that I'm done ranting over how amazing these two old men were after seeing the documentary on them recently and becoming lightly obsessed, let's get back on track.


Pinocchio's initial character designs were very similar to that of a real wooden puppet. However, Walt didn't like the design, feeling that the audience would not be able to connect with the character. If we think back to the production of Snow White, we'll see this idea of Walt's again. He felt then that the comedic dwarfs could never touch the hearts of viewers, and now he felt that the wooden look of Pinocchio would make it difficult for viewers to empathize with him. Another animator, Fred Moore, stepped in to redesign Pinocchio. Yet again, Walt was unsatisfied.

So, along came Milt Kahl, who changed Pinocchio to look more and more like a real boy instead of a puppet, which Walt latched onto to. Milt Kahl was a new animator at the time, but he would go onto be one of the biggest names in 2D animation. In years to come, Kahl would design the final appearances of many Disney characters in his signature angular style. If you've heard of "the Milt Kahl head 'swaggle'", this is the guy it's talking about. If you haven't, just look up the term and you'll find videos referencing it. It's a very distinct animation habit used by Kahl in his characters, which you may recognize. I remember watching a documentary, though which I can't remember, where a fellow animator mentioned that Kahl did this as a way to show off. It's funny to think that this simple way of flaunting his own skills became a sort of mark of his work. He also animated a lot of the more "big chinned" Disney characters. Think Sher Khan, Tigger, etc.

This animation change also lead to a change in Pinocchio's personality. He went from a more rambunctious troublemaker, to an innocent naive character, to reflect Kahl's designs. This caused Walt to see the need for a stronger presence with Pinocchio, someone that could keep him from being too helpless. Thus, Jiminy Cricket was born.


Remember Ward Kimball, a member of the 9 old men and an animator I discussed last time? He animated a scene in Snow White where the Dwarfs were meant to sing a song called "Music in your Soup", which was eventually cut from the film. Unfortunately, this was only after Kimball's hard work on the sequence. Kimball was ready to quit, but Walt instead promoted him to the supervising animator for Jiminy. Kimball created the design for Jiminy we now know today. According to Wikipedia, Kimball described Jiminy as "a little man with an egg head and no ears…The only thing that makes him a cricket is because we call him one."


I keep throwing around the term "The 9 Old Men", but not really explaining what that is.

This refers to a group of 9 animators at the Walt Disney company who are held as some of the greatest there ever was, a team of 9 that were the main animators for the company for years.

The reason I don't just sit down and talk about them is because they all did so much work for the company over the years, I think it would be near impossible to discuss it all in just one part of a post. So, i'm not going to discuss them in the way I have some other animators, describing their careers when I first mention them, so that you can know exactly who i'm referencing when I mention them again. I'm just going to discuss the important bits and pieces about each one of them as I talk about each film. So you'll slowly learn more and more about each one of them, which I actually think will be a pretty fun way to introduce them.


These 9 were:

Les Clark

Marc Davis

Ollie Johnston

Frank Thomas

Milt Kahl

Ward Kimball

Eric Larson

John Lounsbery

Wolfgang Reitherman


The reason I bring them up at all is because Pinocchio really brought them together. We call them the 9 old men, but they were still young as they worked on this film, looking up to other popular animators. In a way, Pinocchio was like the birth of this group of animators, the 9 of them working together and being regarded as this strong team.


One technique used in this film was the use of maquettes, or models of characters and props. These maquettes helped animators to visualize characters as three dimensional objects, and to see how characters would look from different angles. Interestingly, models were also made for moving props, such as the cuckoo clocks, Stromboli's wagon, and the Coachman's carriage. You can actually view pictures online of the real life versions created for the many clocks in Gepetto's home, all amazingly detailed and fully functioning. Because of the difficulty of animating vehicles like the wagon and carriage, they actually filmed these maquettes using stop motion. Animators then used the stop motion frames to create their animation cels.

This actually used an early version of xerography, essentially the process of photocopying, which would later be used extensively in films like "101 Dalmatians". I want to wait to talk more about this process until it really begins being used extensively. but it's neat to know it started all the way back in their second picture.

Due to using the props for stop motion and then animating, the animators also used a Rostrum camera. hese types of cameras are made to "animate" something static, adding camera effects like wipes and zooms to create more interest. According to Wikipedia, "It consists of a moving lower platform on which the article to be filmed is placed, while the camera is placed above on a column."


Compared to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the animation techniques of this movie were nearly the same . But the most interesting part of the animation process for Pinocchio was the use of new visual effects, specifically to create more abstract shapes such as water, smoke, and weather.


EFFECTS

The main Animation achievement of Pinocchio is actually in the effects, not the characters. Effects animators create everything that moves, besides characters. This actually spans from inanimate objects like chairs, to things like wind blowing leaves.


So why were visual effects so important in Pinocchio? While there were multiple needs for these effects in the film, it is specifically because of the need to create realistic ocean water in the film. One effects animator, Sandy Strother, worked year long on the animation effects of the water. There is a lot more to animating water then just drawing the body of water itself; for effects animators, they have to think of all the moving parts involved in this. The splash Pinocchio would make when falling in the water, the ripples in the water as he hit it, the bubbles that would rise as he sank to the bottom, and the illusion to the viewer that Pinocchio was underwater. The efforts of these animators didn't go unnoticed, as the water in Pinocchio has been called nearly realism. According to Frank Thomas, "The water looks so real a person can drown in it, and they do."


These realistic effects really helped to establish Pinocchio as this beautiful film its regarded as today. It's high esteem is for it's animation, especially in regard to those effects. This isn't just a film with characters moving around, it's a whole environment. I think that's what is considered so special about it, really. It's the feeling that this world is more alive than animated worlds before.


From Wikipedia, "Pinocchio was a groundbreaking achievement in the area of effects animation, giving realistic movement to vehicles, machinery and natural elements such as rain, lightning, smoke, shadows and water." This movie was brave. It knew what it wanted to do, and it went to it. There was no fear, they weren't held back by thinking "we haven't done it before!" The whole team just went and did it, and they created something spectacular in terms of animation.

Think about it like this - Snow White had no moving vehicles. It had no bodies of water, no extreme weather. Really, it had very little visual effects. Pinocchio is really the start of so many dazzling effects, like the magical glow surrounding the blue fairy, or the puffs of smoke from Lampwick's cigar. This isn't just the act of drawing movement of character, it's learning how to create and represent more abstract visual elements. And that too, took perseverance.


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Those first 5 years may have made it hard for Pinocchio, but it didn't stop it. It persevered and because of that, we have something great. It's not necessarily the movie I'm talking about; it's the resilient spirit of the Walt Disney company. Through all of its ups and downs through out the years, Walt's company has remained strongly working towards their next film, never giving up on Walt's original dream. It's that Disney spirit, the determination to make your vision a reality, and the hope that it will turn out in the end, that had shaped animation as a whole. Things could be different now. It's 1940. Pinocchio hits theaters. It flops big time. Why did they keep going? All the time, effort, money, work, and yet the film was a failure. Why not give up on it?


It's that perseverance. Before I said that Pinocchio as a film had perseverance, and that's true. But Pinocchio didn't give that attitude to the company. Walt gave that attitude to the film. It's Walt that understood the importance of these movies and their trial and error nature. And it's Walt who had many more ideas to express, ideas he couldn't be held back from developing and showing off.


I think that for me, that's what this movie gave me. I really never watched this film. But I saw how it's morals spread throughout Walt and his company, inspiring them to go on and accomplish their dreams. If that's not the most important thing you can learn as an artist, I don't know what is. People will say artists need this, artists need that. But sometimes what they need is to just move on from what everybody else thinks and keep going till they get it right on their own. To believe in themselves that, even if what they are making now isn't working, they'll be able to make something that does work in the future. And it's the passion, to feel that whatever you have to show needs to be shown, needs to be made. It's doing whatever it takes to bring it to fruition, and knowing that if it fails, you just have to try again.


Walt could have listened to his box office failure, but he didn't. He could have listened when people said Snow White would be his downfall, but he didn't. He could have listened when he was fired as a newspaper editor for "lacking imagination". But he didn't.

Neither should you.


"All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” - Walt Disney


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Thanks so much to anyone who read all the way through! If you did, please let me know in the comments below! If you would like to keep up to date with this series, subscribe down below. You can also find my artwork on Instagram @Raineydaydoodles


REFERENCES:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinocchio_(1940_film)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disney%27s_Nine_Old_Men

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Thomas_(animator)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ollie_Johnston

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milt_Kahl

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ward_Kimball

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rostrum_camera

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_and_Ollie

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfTXRyg_v8M&list=PLZ0ZpdxuNAAv5r0at9aZqQRfENXYHcyYY&index=12&t=2143s










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