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MichaelBarrier.com Exploring the World of Animation and Comic Art

"What's New" Archives: June 2011

 

June 27, 2011:

Inking at Disney, circa 1931

 

June 12, 2011:

Déjà Vu All Over Again

 

June 6, 2011:

Interviews: Fred Kopietz

 

June 27, 2011:

Inking at Disney, circa 1931

Ink and Paint at Hyperion Studio

Since circumstances are conspiring to make it difficult for me to post much these days, it seems like a good time to make use of some of the many photos I've accumulated. To start, here's a photo of the Disney inking department circa 1931. It comes from Marcellite Garner, the original voice of Minnie Mouse, via Bob Clampett, who sent me a copy in 1973. Marcellite's identifications: at the desks against the rear wall, Dot Smith, Margaret Walters, unidentified, and, standing, Hazel Sewell, Lillian Disney's sister and the head of the department. The other three women are, from left, Doris de Trémaudan (who was, according to Don Peri's new book Working with Disney, married briefly to Gilles "Frenchy" de Trémaudan, an early Disney animator), Marcellite Garner, and Margie Norton. Bob Clampett identified the Mickey Mouse doll at the left as one of those he made himself for his aunt, Charlotte Clark, when she was producing such dolls for Disney. Garner wrote about this photo in a 1971 letter to Clampett:

The picture of the inking department was taken after the new addition was built on the Hyperion studio. It is the front part, and was about 1931. When I started working there the end of 1929 or first of 1930 [Garner's official start date was February 17, 1930] the studio was just a small square building with a partial partition running through the middle of it. This divided the animators from the inkers (the things that used to go on over and under the partition!). It was really a fun place to work and so relaxed...so different from what it became in later years. When the addition was put on the partition was removed and that whole [original] building became the Inking and Painting Dept. One night when I was working late we heard a terrible squealing...looked down where the noise was coming from and I had caught a poor little mouse by the tail under my inking board, everyone called it my cousin!

Comments

From Vincent Randle: It isn't everyday that we get a behind-the-scenes look at the Ink and Paint Department; let alone in 1931! It's amazing to think a time like this ever existed at the Disney Studio. To be a fly on the wall! A very interesting fact about Clampett and his relation to Charlotte Clark too. Thanks for your refreshing post!

[Posted June 30, 2011]

From Ralph Daniel:I found your article on Marcellite Garner to be interesting. I have attached a write-up I did on her for the never-to-be-published book "Who's Speaking, Please?"

MB replies: With Ralph's permission, I'm posting the bulk of his Marcellite Garner entry below.

Picture                                               Character
Shorts (1929-1941)*                       Minnie Mouse
Robber Kitten, The  (1935)             [unspecified]
Three Orphan Kittens  (1935)        [meows]
Mickey’s Rival  (1936)                    Minnie Mouse
Lend a Paw  (1941)                          [meows]
Little Whirlwind, The  (1941)         Minnie Mouse
Nifty Nineties  (1941)                      Minnie Mouse
*Note:  although production cards only list three shorts in which Marcellite performed Minnie Mouse, she was known to perform that role in virtually all shorts between The Cactus Kid and Nifty Nineties.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Born:     July 3, 1910        Redlands, California
Died:     July 26, 1993      Grass Valley, California

Marcellite GarnerMarcellite (pronounced Mar-sell-eet) Garner was 19 when she started work for Disney studios.  She started as a cel painter, but quickly advanced to the higher labor grade of inking the animator’s pictures onto the cels.  After about six months on the job, the studio began production on The Cactus Kid.  They asked for anyone who could speak some Spanish to come to the sound stage.  Marcellite and another woman responded, but when they arrived at the sound stage, Walt said they needed someone to also sing for Minnie.  The other woman replied that she did not sing, whereas Marcellite said she would try it.  After all, what did she have to lose?  She was such a success that she remained the voice of Minnie Mouse until mid-1941.  In that year, she gave up her work at Disney to become a full-time mother.  She was then Mrs. Richard B. Wall, and she and her family moved to Los Gatos, California.  While there, she produced a comic strip, “El Gato”, for the Los Gatos Times-Observer.  Throughout the years, as a creative hobby, she continued to broaden her skills, taking courses in watercolor, oils, ceramics, clowning, and advance painting.  Most of her paintings were gifts for family and friends, or donations to church bazaars and other charities.  Some were sold in art galleries, banks, restaurants, and hospital corridors.  Marcellite had no other acting or voice roles in films or television. (Photos and biography provided by her son, Camden C. Wall)

© Ralph Daniel

[Posted July 2, 2011]

June 12, 2011:

Déjà Vu All Over Again

I've accumulated a variety of items related to earlier posts, some of them dating back to the earliest days of the site, in 2003. Obviously, they'd get lost if I just appended them to the original posts, so here they are.

* THE LOGIC POLICE: It has been a while since I added anything to my Feedback page devoted to Pixar, DreamWorks, and the other CGI studios (which is now just about all animation studios), but Brendan Loundz has broken that lull with a blast that he titled in his message's subject line "Logic Police." You can read his highly skeptical comments about my reviews, and my response, by clicking on this link.

* WALT AT ZERMATT: Back in 2004, I posted a page based on my visit to Zermatt, a lovely Swiss village that Walt Disney visited several times. Zermatt inspired the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland (Zermatt sits at the base of the Matterhorn) and was the setting for one of Walt's best live-action films, Third Man on the Mountain. Curiously, I couldn't find any traces of Walt at Zermatt, but Michael Loeb, a German visitor to this site, has written to tell me that a 1959 photo of Walt at Zermatt is now displayed at the Matterhorn museum there. You can go to Michael's blog post about Walt and Zermatt (in German), and see the photo, at this link.

100 Animated Feature Films* ANDREW OSMOND'S 100 ANIMATED FEATURE FILMS: I mentioned this British Film Institute "screen guide" last January, before it was published in the United States, and it seems appropriate to say something more about it now that it's available stateside and especially now that I've spent some time with it. This is not a book you should read from cover to cover. You should instead dip into it and move from one entry to another as the mood strikes you. The hundred animated films are listed alphabetically, and Osmond doesn't present them as the "hundred best" or anything of the sort. His book is, he says in his introduction, "a skewed and partial appreciation of the medium."

As I've dipped into the book, sampling a few two- or three-page entries at a time, I've been reminded of books by film critics like Pauline Kael, whose Kiss Kiss Bang Bang devotes a large part of its pages to brief considerations of dozens of live-action features. Kael's book doesn't pretend to be comprehensive, and Osmond's doesn't, either. In both cases, the films chosen are there because the author had something to say about them. Such seriousness isn't a guarantee that the author's response will be of great interest in itself, of course, only that what we read will be more than dutiful, but so far I've found Osmond's critiques much more often illuminating than superfluous. Roughly half the book's entries are devoted to non-American features, and those entries benefit especially from Osmond's catholic taste and broad sympathies.

*AND SPEAKING OF ANDREW OSMOND: He wrote to share a curious discovery:

I recently turned up a comics curio that I thought might interest you. Here are some images from Japanese comic adaptations of Disney's Pinocchio and Bambi. What makes the comics especially notable is that they were drawn by Osamu Tezuka (1928-89), Japan's so-called "God of Manga," whose influence on Japan's comics and cartoons is incalcuable. Tezuka was a huge fan of Disney (and also the Fleischer brothers), which influenced the cartoonish style of his strips. He created an estimated 170,000 comic pages in his lifetime, albeit with teams of assistants; his best-known creations are Astro Boy (Mighty Atom in Japan) and Kimba the White Lion (Jungle Emperor). The latter is at the centre of an unending fan argument about whether it influenced Disney's Lion King. I'm not sure when these Disney strips were drawn, although Wikipedia claims they were early Tezuka strips, so perhaps from the '50s.

My thought, looking at Tezuka's drawings, is that Tezuka's adaptations of the Disney films seem to have had a lot more vitality than many of the American versions in the Dell comics of the '50s.

* DUSTIN GRELLA: I wrote on April 29 about Dustin Grella and his film Prayers for Peace, and encouraged visitors to this site to vote for that film for the Next Great Filmmaker Award. Dustin wrote a few days ago:

Good news! I found out this weekend that Prayers for Peace won the Next Great Filmmaker Award. There is no way the film could have won without the support of family and friends. Thank you!!!

This summer my plan is to do five new micro-animations per week and have my 100th video finished by mid-August. That means I'm going to need fifty new messages, so if you haven't left one yet, now's the time. If you have left one, then now is the time to leave another! Seriously the more messages the better. I've used Thatcher Keats and Lotte Meijer three times each already, but it's because they were leaving messages almost every day! The project is only as good as the messages I receive.

To see the 20 most recent animations go to Animation Hotline and to watch the entire archive go to vimeo.

Art Babbitt* ART BABBITT: If you share my taste for animation history, and especially for the history of the Disney studio in its golden age of the '30s and early '40s, you'll certainly want to read Jake Friedman's essay on Art Babbitt as student and teacher of animation on the Animation World Network site. This is not a comprehensive biographical essay—Friedman says nothing about large parts of Babbitt's life and work—and I can't help but feel a little leery of some of the details, which may or may not be correct but also may not mean much. (Don Graham smoked a lot? Maybe so, but who didn't, seventy-five years ago?) And then there's my oft-repeated skepticism about the hazards involved in spotlighting individuals who worked in a highly collaborative medium. Still: Friedman writes well, he avoids mistakes (although, as David Nethery points out in a comment, it's ridiculous, even if not strictly inaccurate, to identify Les Novros as "an ex-Disney in-betweener"), and as "the authorized biographer of Art Babbitt" he presumably will be in a position to tell us much more about Babbitt than anyone else. If, as I hope, his biography materializes as a book, I will certainly buy it.

In the meantime, if you haven't read my 1986 interview with Babbit, which I posted in 2003, you'll find it at this link.

Comments

From Paul Reiter: Interesting discovery on Osamu Tezuka (or Tezuka Osamu as in the proper Japanese way of name writing), I had heard that he wanted to do some comic adaptation of Disney's Bambi but I didn't know he actually did it. I don't really know when they were done but the '50s could be right but so could the '60s. It would have been after Tezuka met Walt Disney, that's for certain, which I can't pinpoint off the top of my head (supposedly, Disney knew about Astro Boy and I think liked it enough to want to do something just like it??). I do know that he met Kimball again later in 1978, as seen through this link, the other person in the photo is Fred Schodt, who has written about Tezuka, manga in general and was a translator for oneof his works.

I don't agree with Osmond when he says that Astro Boy/ Mighty Atom and Kimba / Jungle Emperor Leo are Tezuka's best known works. In America certainly, but that's because they were brought over to America in the '60s as anime to show on TV. In Japan, he's better known for his comics and I think that Hina no Tori (Bird of Fire or Phoenix as its known abroad), BlackJack, or maybe even Buddha are better known than Kimba. Kimba is interesting because it was inspired by Disney's Bambi and a complaint that he had about the film. He felt that the animals were too self-aware (I forget the exact words), that they wouldn't fear "man" but instead try to communicate with them, which he did in Kimba. Personally, I don't agree with that. The animals in Bambi trying to communicate with "man" makes about as much sense as trying to communicate with a guy that comes into your neighborhood every once in awhile and starts shooting at its inhabitants. Your first instinct is to run and hide, not talk.

Speaking of manga overall, I've been reading far more non-newspaper comics since 2010 than I have my whole life. Recently, I just finished Tezuka's Adolf. This got me curious about your overall viewpoint of manga. You don't talk about on your site. Is because you haven't read much or you just don't care for it? While I don't think a lot of manga is good (this is true of comics in general), I do think there are some that are worth reading (the aforementioned Adolf being one).

MB replies: I've read very little manga, unfortunately, not enough to offer even a tentative opinion of the genre.

[Posted June 13, 2011]

From Vincent Alexander: I've really been enjoying all of the interviews you have been posting on the site recently. I also found your debate with Brendan Loundz to be an interesting read and I thought I might share some thoughts on it:

As far as Buzz Lightyear is concerned, the original film never explains why Buzz would freeze whenever Andy comes in the room, but in the second film I believe the “other Buzz” refers to the inertia as “hyper-sleep,” suggesting that Buzz may have had some kind of delusional space ranger-related reason for freezing up. Buzz apparently rationalized being stuck in a box in a department store alongside many other Buzz Lightyears and being sold to Andy’s mother without ever suspecting he was a plastic doll, so I guess the filmmakers expected us to believe that he would go through the motions of being a toy while still deluding himself into thinking he was a spaceman, leaving the specifics to our imaginations. I don’t think there was anything wrong with you pointing this out, whether or not it is actually a flaw in the film. I think we can all agree that inserting tedious exposition to try and explain away all of the fantasy elements in a film is not the right way to go, but that doesn’t necessarily give filmmakers the right to throw in plot twists that defy the film’s own logic without any explanation.

Still, this discussion does bring up a topic I’ve always had trouble with, which is what qualifies as a fair suspension of disbelief in a fantasy and what is simply a plot hole. For instance, a stickler about facts could complain of Toy Story that toys are unable to talk, but that would be missing the point of the movie and taking away the fantasy element to begin with. I guess the best way to think of it is that a fantasy shouldn’t make sense in our world, but should stay consistent with the rules it establishes in its own world. But that’s not always true, either. For instance, you would have a hard time arguing that Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland follows any kind of logic, even its own. Another example would be James Thurber’s The White Deer, which begins by describing a place where smoke goes down instead of up and nearby things sound far away and far things near, and also contains a fragrance that you can never quite forget and never quite remember. The entire book plays around with internal logic (very cleverly, in my opinion) and makes defense of its fantasy world on a practical level nearly impossible. I think the intentionally nonsensical nature of those books excuses them from having to follow any kind of rules, but there is a fine line between fantasies that should maintain some kind of stability and fantasies that really do function under a sort of “anything goes” anti-logic.

Plot consistency seems even less important in comedies of the Tex Avery type. I’m thinking of the finale of Northwest Hounded Police, where we find out that there is more than one Droopy (does the fact that there are multiple Droopys explain how they happen to appear wherever the wolf runs off to?), but any Tex Avery gag would probably serve as a good example. Those cartoons are full of logic flaws, but I doubt if anyone would view that as a problem. I suppose the difference in this case would be that a straight fantasy requires a suspension of disbelief, whereas in a Tex Avery cartoon we’re supposed to be laughing at the sheer impossibility of what we’re being presented with (incidentally, you could make a similar case about the rain and running faucets that infrequently appear in the undersea world of Spongebob Squarepants). I’m not sure what any of this proves, but I would like to see more attention devoted to what people consider a fair bending of logic in a fantasy and a violation of the fantasy’s own laws.

I think it's interesting that you brought up Tim Burton, because his film Big Fish is largely concerned with suspension of disbelief in the sense that our lead character keeps trying to rationalize his father's fairy tales. Have you seen that film? I'd be curious to hear what you thought of it.

Comments: I haven't seen Big Fish, unfortunately.

It seems to me that there's a big difference between a dream world like that of Alice and a fantasy world like that of Toy Story. There's no reason to expect consistency in a dream world; the test is whether there's a high enough level of invention to compensate for the inevitable aimlessness, and Carroll's books pass that test easily.

As for Avery's cartoons, it's true that laughter was the test; I don't think anything else mattered to Tex, who was certainly not interested in building a fantasy world on the Disney model.

[Posted June 14, 2011]

June 6, 2011:

Universal cartoon group

The staff of the Universal cartoon studio, June 18, 1932 (Manuel Moreno's wedding day, which is why he's not in the picture). From left, Fred Kopietz, George Cannata, George Grandpre, Walter Lantz, Cal Howard, Don Williams, Les Kline, Ray Abrams, Gene Metillie, Tex Avery, Cecil Surry, Charles "Tex" Hastings, Sid Sutherland, Leo Salkin, and Bill Weber. Courtesy of Cal Howard, whose identifications I've adopted.The one that puzzles me is Gene Metillie, an odd name if Cal's spelling is accurate, and one I can't locate otherwise. It seems likely the name was French and the true spelling was something like "Jean Metilly," but I can't verify that spelling, either.

Interviews: Fred Kopietz

You can read my interview with Fred Kopietz, whose animation career (at Iwerks, Universal, and Disney, among other places) spanned the decades from the 1930s through the 1960s, by clicking on this link.

Comments

From Thad Komorowski: I read the Kopietz interview, and I think it's one of the absolute best you've ever posted. Kopietz is a prime example of how beneficial interviewing the "little guys" is, and why I spare no expense in my own work, and don't give up when an interviewee says, "Oh, are you sure you want to talk with me?"

What you have from Kopietz is gold, a transcription of the sort of "shop talk" I've experienced with animation people over the years (and only rarely have ever been able to record). In most interviews, you certainly don't get the stories Kopietz tells about the volatile personalities of Walt Disney, Bob Clampett, Milt Kahl, and others on the job (though I wish more about Chuck Jones's personality was in the transcript). And it's a nice, long one with lots of history too, so I hope your less mature, passerby readers aren't scared off and actually read, learn, and shut up once and for all about lack your lack of "sharing."

MB replies: I haven't listened to the Kopietz tapes since I transcribed them, twenty years ago, but I'm pretty sure our discussion of the changes in Chuck's personality had to do largely with my own unpleasant experiences with the latterday Chuck, which I've described in a piece on this site. I don't think I would have seen any reason to incorporate my expressions of disappointment and frustration in the Kopietz transcript.

[Posted June 7, 2011]

From Michael Sporn: Your interview with Fred Kopietz is just the sort of perfect piece that was made for the internet. It doesn't focus on Disney enough for book editors to be interested, but says so much about the industry that it needed to be posted. I really enjoyed reading it. As a matter of fact, I've read it twice before sending this note.

His work at so many studios and for so many producers seems to echo how most of animation was done in the sixties and seventies (no long-term affiliation to one studio), at least in New York. He really made the best of the situation he had and seemed to avoid all the difficult positions he might've faced. It's interesting to read that he stayed away from Milt Kahl, tried to avoid working with/for Woolie Reitherman, left Bob Clampett's studio and kept moving forward regardless.

There's an honesty behind his comments that gives you a realistic version of so many of the personalities. I'd known Gerry Geronimi irritated people, but Kopietz makes it clear why, yet shows no dislike of the director.

He comments several times that he'd learned so much doing things the Disney way, and he seems to regret not having spent more time there rather than at Lantz's studio. This raised my curiosity and had me wondering if I've missed something in my career by not going to that Mecca at least once. (Somehow I don't think so.)

I also like how you seem able to continually put the interview on track every time he goes off on a tangent. The interview jumps around a bit, but makes perfect sense in the bigger picture and gives the whole a mood that seems consistent with the artist's life.

From Didier Ghez: In his comment Michael Sporn says "It doesn't focus on Disney enough for book editors to be interested..." Not all editors. I will definitely want to include it in a future issue of Walt's People if you allow me to. Same thing with the interview of Dick Lundy by Joe Adamson on which I was working a few minutes ago (or the one with Ed Love which will appear in Volume 11). By giving the wider picture, by opening things up beyond the Disney universe, those interviews help reinforce our understanding of Disney, help connect the dots together, give us a much more complete understaning of the animation world at the time, etc. This is why I also hope to complete Bugs' Buddies at some point (a book similar to the Walt's People series but focusing on interviews with Warner Bros. animators). Again, there is no way anyone could thank you enough for having preserved those memories and being willing to share them with all of us.

[Posted June 8, 2011]

From Keith Scott: Great that you shared the Fred Kopietz interview, thanks. I agree with the other comments: it’s often the lesser knowns (without such fragile egos and insecurities) who have the best recall and the healthier perspective, which adds much more to our overall sense of the history of “what it was like back then to be in the animation industry.”

I similarly enjoyed your recent posting of Roger Armstrong for illuminating what it was like day-to-day at the Lantz studio in the 40s.

Your efforts as always are much appreciated.

[Posted June 11, 2011]

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