Friday
Jan252013

A Very Youthful Julie Andrews

Her voice was crisp, clear and resonated in the hallway of the Animation Building. Still a very young woman, Julie Andrews could easily be mistaken for royalty. That's simply the way she carried herself as she moved about the Walt Disney Studio back in the sixties.

Principal photography had already wrapped on Walt Disney's “Mary Poppins.” However, those of us in the animation department were still working diligently to complete the cartoon footage that would be composited with the live-action. The Animation Building was the main facility on the Disney Studio lot and Miss Andrews had to deal with business matters in our building. Even though I had already seen a good deal of her scenes in the film, I was struck by the sight of the talented actress in person. She had red hair, freckles and appeared so much younger than her screen persona. The actress, accompanied by a handful of business types stepped into the elevator on the building's first floor. With the motion picture beginning to wind down, I wondered if I would ever see the actress again.

Of course, I did see Julie Andrews in a number of motion pictures over the next few decades and the movies ranged from sweet to not so sweet. Being a dedicated fan I watched everything from “The Sound of Music” to “SOB,” an edgy Hollywood comedy directed by husband, Blake Edwards. However, the film that continued to define the talented actress was “Mary Poppins.”

I'm lucky to work in a magical business and a bit of magic happened last year when I was able to chat with my favorite actress in my hometown of Pasadena. The two of us were kids in our twenties when we made the classic motion picture for Walt Disney back in the sixties. We joked about the outdoor rehearsal facility the Disney carpenters built for the dance numbers and how the shooting schedule took the better part of a year. And, who could forget the delightful cast that included Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns. And, what a thrill to be on Stage A for the recording sessions. Naturally, the Sherman Brothers were in attendance as well. Finally, if you take a close look at the photograph below you'll see the young Julie Andrews with her boss, Walt Disney. She looks like a kid, doesn't she? Of course, we were all kids back then, weren't we?

 

Thursday
Jan242013

Computer Animation, Old School

Okay, we've been down this road before but it's a fun ride. Let's remind ourselves how primitive things were only a few decades ago. I worked on this sequence in Walt Disney's “101 Damatians.” It seems we were making the movie pretty much in sequence. This was the final act where the evil Cruella DeVille get's hers. The movie ends on a high note when the family gathers together to sing, “We'll have a Dalmatian Plantation.”

But, let's go back to the road and the final chase sequence near the end of the movie. If you remember, Cruella is roaring around the snowy mountain highway in her roadster. We didn't have the luxury of digital technology in the old days and animating vehicles was always a daunting task. The clever guys in Woolie's layout department came up with the idea of filming scale models as guides for our animation. We painted the vehicles white with a black outline. This would make our use of the printed out rotoscopes a lot easier to read. In this shot you see layout artist, Basil Davidovich on the left. That's our cameraman in the center. Unfortunately, I can't remember his name. Animator, story man, Dick Lucas is on the right in the photograph.

Clearly what we were doing was pretty low tech when you consider the tools we have today. Yet, that's the cool thing about working, “Old School.” You do what you have to do with the tools you have. Computers were still amazing devices regarded for science fiction movies. We could not even imagine the way animation would be created in the years ahead. This was still 1959-1960. A date that almost seems like the stone age when it comes to technology. In spite of all this, we managed to craft a pretty effective sequence that provided the cap for movie's finale. It was a wild mountain chase that gave the audience a few chills and thrills. Having a computer would have been a big help. However, I honestly think we had more fun doing it this way.

Wednesday
Jan232013

The Job of Writing

I was approached by a young man while at lunch today. He's an aspiring writer and was looking for tips on how to break into the industry writing scripts. I know the young writer is eager and passionate about his craft. I wish I had some easy advice I could pass on. However, in this business there are no easy answers.

My number one advice to any young writer is to continue to write. You can't call yourself a writer if you're not writing and completing what you write. It really doesn't matter what you write as long as you're doing the job. That's a work ethic you must have.

Secondly, and this is not easy - but you've got to know people. Yeah, it's the old Hollywood thing of, “Who You Know,” but it's really true. I've gotten any number of jobs during my career because people knew me and remembered me. So, during those tough times when I couldn't find work, my phone would suddenly ring and a producer or director would begin the conversation with, “what are you doing or are you busy?” So, I told the young man to get to know people. How do you do that, one might ask? That's up to you. You'll have to do it anyway you can. The jobs won't come looking for you because nobody will know you or what you can do. It's going to be your job to get them to know you - and know your work.

Of course, you'd best be ready when opportunity comes knocking. I didn't think I had the chops for television writing when I began writing scripts but I stuck with it. One day, a producer approached me out of the blue with a scripting opportunity. I had been honing my craft, so at least I was somewhat ready to tackle the assignment.

Of course, there are those far more qualified than myself to be providing writing advice. However, there are some things that never change. A good writer has to continue to write. Short stories, scripts, whatever. You've got to get your work into the right hands and how you do that will take some skill and imagination. As I told the young man, there's no right way or wrong way of breaking into the business. You get in anyway you can.

 

Tuesday
Jan222013

Revisiting Song of the South

Thank heavens for Disney historians and the historians in particular who refuse to participate in revisionist history. These are the men and women who are compelled to tell the story as it should be told. No pandering to corporate interests or the companies' desire to whitewash events and present their own sanitized versions of the past. Naturally such books will not be “blessed” by the big corporation and that's all well and good. Yet, it's a pretty clear sign that the book is one of substance and not just another corporate puff piece.

This new book authored by my pal, Jim Korkis details the creating of the Disney motion picture, “Song of the South.” This is a story I've wanted someone to tell, and good for Jim to step up to the plate. Naturally, I was delighted when Jim requested I write the forward for the book. I've always given this rather controversial motion picture special attention and I've even done my own research concerning the Disney film. I've no personal agenda, either with the Disney Company or Walt Disney in particular. I've always loved this delightful film and began supporting it even as a ten year old kid. Years later, I even pushed my own experiment by screening unofficial showings of Song of the South to black audiences to test Disney's assessment of the motion picture. Not surprisingly, audiences of color loved the motion picture and even requested a second viewing. Of course, there were always civil rights activists with their own personal agenda. They found traction in continually painting Walt Disney as a racist and the movie as an insult to black people. None of this is true, of course. However, risk adverse corporate interests are always eager to avoid controversy of any kind. I suppose we shouldn't be surprised.

So, if you're a fan of Disney and Disney history in particular I encourage you to pick up a copy of Jim Korkis' new book “Who's Afraid of the Song of the South.” Animation historian and author, Jerry Beck got it right when he said, “Everything the Disney Company did in its Golden Age is worth watching and discussing.” I guess it's too much to expect the Disney Company to respect its own legacy. I'm just glad we have dedicated historians like Jim Korkis who do.