You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘effect animation’ tag.

Director: Svend Noldan
Release Date:
 1930
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Hein Priembacke in Afrika © Svend NoldanHein Priembacke was a cartoon character conceived and animated by Svend Noldan. Noldan had his origins in the German dadaist avant-garde scene, something that is not visible in this cartoon.

‘Hein Priembacke in Afrika’ is a silent film and uses German title cards in rhyme. Hein Priembacke is a sailor who’s washed ashore an African desert. Being hungry he first tries to retrieve a coconut, which turns out to be a wallaby. Later he goes to a settlement (which was visible in the background all the time), where he pulls two turnips, which turn out to be Negroes (forgive me the word – it’s used as such in the film itself). The angered cannibals soon chase our hero (“Jetzt wird’s bedenklich, lieber Christ. Der Neger ist kein Pazifist” reads the title card, which translates as “Now it becomes questionable, dear Christ, for the negro is no pacifist“), but he manages to escape to his homeland, hanging on the legs of a stork.

The animation is surprisingly well done, although the action is at times ridiculously slow. The film’s highlight are the animation of the waves and of the landscape on Priembacke’s flight back home. Done with cut outs, the landscape moves stunningly realistically under our hero, creating a great sense of depth, predating Disney’s multi-plane camera by seven years.

Indeed, special effects turned out to be Noldan’s expertise. His star rose when the National Socialists came to power in 1933, and many film makers left Germany. He later provided special effects for German propaganda films, like Leni Riefenstahl’s ‘Triumf des Willens’ (1935), and ‘Der ewige Jude’ (1939). During World War II he worked for the German war industry. Although his role in Nazi Germany is dubious to say the least, he survived the war unscathed, and returned to making films, which he kept on doing until the end of the 1960s.

Watch ‘Hein Priembacke in Afrika’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Hein Priembacke in Afrika’ is available on the DVD ‘Uncensored Animation 2: Cannibals!’

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Director: Dave Fleischer
Release Date: July 17, 1942
Stars: Superman
Rating:
 ★★★
Review:

Volcano © ParamountIn the aptly titled short ‘Volcano’, a dormant volcano is starting to erupt again on the island of Monokoa.

Daily Planet reporters Lois and Clarke are present, but Lois steals Clark’s press pass to work alone. She sneaks away to visit the volcano by herself, but when she’s up on the volcano, it suddenly erupts. Superman saves her and the village below by redirecting the lava to the other side.

Together with ‘The Arctic Giant’ and ‘Terror on the Midway‘, ‘Volcano’ is noteworthy for featuring no villain, let alone an evil scientist. Moreover, this Superman short probably contains the most spectacular effect animation within the series in its terrifying depiction of floating lava.

Watch ‘Volcano’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Superman film No. 8
To the previous Superman film: Electric Earthquake
To the next Superman film: Terror on the Midway

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: February 27, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Pete, Pluto
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Still from 'The Mad Dog' featuring Mickey protecting Pluto against a dogcatcherWhen Mickey is washing Pluto, Pluto accidentally swallows a piece of soap.

He runs into the street where he’s seen as a mad dog. There he confronts Pete (with peg leg), who is a dog catcher and who wants to shoot Pluto…

‘The Mad dog’ is a fast gag cartoon with a clear story from the beginning to the end. By now, the Disney studio could produce amazingly consistent stories. Moreover, effect animation had fully penetrated the Mickey Mouse cartoons. The washing scene, for example, is full of difficult and extraordinarily lifelike animation of splashing water.

Watch ‘The Mad Dog’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 39
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: The Grocery Boy
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Barnyard Olympics

Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: May 23, 1930
Rating: ★★
Review:

Still from 'Frolicking Fish' featuring three fish dancingFrolicking fish indeed. Even oysters, starfish and a lobster join in the dance routines, oh so typical of early Silly Symphonies. Nevertheless, this cartoon ends with some kind of story, when an evil octopus follows a small fish, who gets rid of the villain by dropping an anchor on him.

There’s not much to enjoy in ‘Frolicking Fish’ despite its merry premise. However, like ‘Autumn‘ this cartoon contains early and to many rivaling studios undoubtedly ‘unnecessary’ effect animation, this time loads and loads of bubbles.

It has entered animation history, however, by featuring the first example of  ‘overlapping action’ in animation. Overlapping action acknowledges that different (body) parts move with different speeds. So one part can already start moving, before another comes to an end, and animation cycles can overlap each other in imperfect ways. This opposed to the then normal type of animation, which was based on poses, which led to straightforward animation cycles. This new type of animation was developed by animator Norm Ferguson, who had been hired by Disney in August 1929. It was a milestone at that time, a piece of animation marveled at by Ferguson’s colleagues, including Walt Disney himself. It led to the development of full animation, which would slowly replace the ‘rubber hose animation’ of the early thirties.

Overlapping Action can be seen in the three fish dancing at 2:07. Compare it to the stiff stop-and-go movements of the fish musicians following this scene, and the difference may become clear.

From ‘Frolicking Fish’ on Norm Ferguson would become one of Disney’s greatest and most influential animators of the 1930s, and he was responsible for another breakthrough piece of animation: ‘Playful Pluto‘ (1934), the first convincing piece of animation of a character thinking. He was a great influence on future Nine Old Man John Lounsberry, whom he trained as an assistant animator. Unfortunately, Ferguson’s star diminished in the 1940s, and by the 1950s his style had become old-fashioned…

Watch ‘Frolicking Fish’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 10
To the previous Silly Symphony: Night
To the next Silly Symphony: Arctic Antics

Director: Ub Iwerks
Release Date: February 15, 1930
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Still from 'Autumn' featuring a freezing skunkAutumn is the third entry in the season series, and it shows a small improvement in story development on the first two entries, Springtime and Summer. This time we don’t see animals just dancing, but collecting food for the winter in rhythmical fashion on Carl Stalling’s music.

We watch squirrels, crows, a skunk, a porcupine and some beavers collecting food (Disney would return to the latter species one year later in ‘The Busy Beavers‘). Then a cold winter wind make the ducks fly south and the other animals seek for shelter. At that point the cartoon suddenly ends.

Besides the tiny story element, notice the numerous falling leaves and elaborate reflections in the water, proof of Disney’s efforts to use ‘superfluous’ animation to give the cartoons more atmosphere and quality.

Watch ‘Autumn’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 7
To the previous Silly Symphony: Summer
To the next Silly Symphony: Cannibal Capers

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: November 5, 1937
Rating: ★★★★½
Review:

The Old Mill © Walt Disney‘The Old Mill’ is a milestone in effect animation.

From the first scene on special effects seem to be the sole raison d’être of the film. The cartoon is literally stuffed with them: dew on a cobweb, ripples in the water, light beams, fireflies, wind, rain and a thunderstorm.

Disney’s famous multiplane camera, with which the feeling of depth could be realized, makes its debut here. Together these effects create an astonishing level of realism, necessary for the upcoming first animated feature, ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’. In ‘The Old Mill’ even the animal characters are more or less realistic, a rare feat in Disney cartoons until then.

All this realism leads to awe-inspiring images, based on concept art by Danish illustrator Gustaf Tenggren, who had joined the studio in 1936. Unfortunately, the images do not lead to much of a story. The film is more of a series of moods from dusk to dawn. Despite its clever pacing, reaching a climax in the thunderstorm sequence, ‘The Old Mill’ is an overly romantic depiction of nature, and less enjoyable as a cartoon than as a showcase of Disney animation.

Watch ‘The Old Mill’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 68
To the previous Silly Symphony: Little Hiawatha
To the next Silly Symphony: Moth and the Flame

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: March 13, 1937
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Woodland Café © Walt Disney‘Woodland Café’ returns to the origin of the Silly Symphony series: music.

This enjoyable gem depicts a Harlem-like nightclub for bugs, in which blackface grasshoppers perform hot jazz, led by a Cab Calloway-like bandleader. All bugs swing to it as soon as they enter the club.

After a remarkably erotic act played by a spider and a fly the cartoon climaxes in the jazz song ‘Truckin’, recorded by both the Mills Blue Rhythm Band and Duke Ellington in 1935, and celebrating a dance style that was fashionable around ca. 1935-1938. The main feature of trucking is the shoulders which rise and fall as the dancers move towards each other while the fore finger points up and wiggles back and forth like a windshield wiper. At this point in the short even some astonishing effect animation joins in, delivering totally convincing glitter ball effects and beautiful descending fluffy flowers.

Both charming and entertaining, the whole mood of this delightful cartoon is one of sheer joy.

Watch ‘Woodland Café’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 66
To the previous Silly Symphony: More Kittens
To the next Silly Symphony: Little Hiawatha

Director: Graham Heid
Release Date: May 27, 1938
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Wynken, Blynken and Nod © Walt Disney‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ is one of the last, and certainly one of the most spectacular Silly Symphonies ever made.

There is hardly any story: at the start of the cartoon we hear the poem being sung by a sugary soprano, then we watch Wynken, Blynken and Nod sailing the Milky Way and fishing ‘starfish’ and being at the mercy of some clouds.

The three babies are very alike, with Nod being the ‘Dopey’ of the three, and the humor is mild. But, boy, the looks of this cartoon! Like two other Silly Symphonies obsessed with babies and their bare behinds (‘Lullaby Land’ from 1933 and ‘Water Babies’ from 1935), ‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ is a showcase of Disney Animation. The cartoon features extraordinarily beautiful backgrounds, and literally bursts with effect animation, rendering astonishingly beautiful stars, comets, clouds and lightnings. The fantasy is enhanced by a wonderful score, which makes clever use of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’. All this gives one the feeling of watching a mini-Fantasia.

Certainly, no animated cartoon would ever show such lushness again. As such, in a sense ‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ forms the end and culmination of an era, which had started in the end of 1933, in which the Disney studio combined ever growing ambitions with childish and sugary material.

‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ was the only cartoon directed by Graham Heid. Remarkably little is known about this artist, who also contributed to ‘Pinocchio‘, ‘Fantasia’ and ‘Bambi‘. In fact, I can only find a birth date (November 14, 1909). This is rather surprising, for one can have worse seven minutes of fame than this delightful short. Luckily, animation historians Jerry Beck & Michael Barrier help us out on the Cartoon Research F.A.Q. page.

One trivial remark: ‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ is based on the 1889 published poem ‘Dutch Lullaby’ by Eugene Field. Indeed, the words Wynken and Blynken seem to suggest some Dutch origin, but there are no such verbs in the Dutch language, which would translate ‘to wink’ and ‘to blink’ as ‘knipogen’ and ‘knipperen’, respectively.

Watch ‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 70
To the previous Silly Symphony: Moth and the Flame
To the next Silly Symphony: Farmyard Symphony

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: May 11, 1935
Rating:
★★★
Review:

Water Babies © Walt Disney‘Water Babies’ is sugary cute, contains a lot of repetitive animation and is one of those Silly Symphonies obsessed with babies and their bare behinds (other examples are ‘Lullaby Land’ (1933) and ‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ (1938)).

There is not much of a story either: the sexless water babies wake up, make fun and go to bed again (apparently a day only lasts seven minutes in their world).

And yet, this is undoubtedly one of Disney’s most impressive efforts of the era. It feels like a showcase cartoon of the Disney studio, excelling in lush pictures, great effect animation and beautiful theme music by Leigh Harline. Especially the opening scene (dawn) and the last shot (night) are stunningly beautiful. The Disney staff had reached yet another peak, and more was still to come.

‘Water Babies’ itself at least must have been a success, for it was followed by the similar ‘Merbabies’ in 1938, featuring more or less girl characters instead of the boy-like babies in ‘Water Babies’.

Watch ‘Water Babies’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No.52
To the previous Silly Symphony: The Robber Kitten
To the next Silly Symphony: The Cookie Carnival

Director: Ben Sharpsteen
Release Date: August 3, 1935
Stars: Clarabelle Cow, Donald Duck, Goofy, Mickey Mouse
Rating: ★★★★★
Review:

Mickey's Fire Brigade © Walt Disney‘Mickey’s Fire Brigade’ is the second of the classic trio cartoons featuring Mickey, Donald and Goofy, and the first of its kind in color.

When one compares this cartoon to the similar ‘The Fire Fighters’ from 1930, one can see what stunning progress the Disney studio had made in a mere five years: the backgrounds, the camera angles, the character animation, the effect animation: everything has improved considerably.

What’s more, its gags are faster, more clever and better constructed, and they build up to a wonderful finale. Among the numerous brilliant ideas are a burning title card, water splashing against ‘the camera’ and a bathing Clarabelle Cow who is not amused when saved by our heroes.

This cartoon is both Goofy’s first color appearance as the last time he’s seen in the design he got in ‘The Whoopee Party’ about three years before. In this film he’s got a particularly goofy cuckoo theme song, while some of the anthropomorphized flames play ‘who’s afraid of the big bad wolf’ from ‘Three Little Pigs‘ on the piano.

Watch ‘Mickey’s Fire Brigade’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 77
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Mickey’s Garden
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Pluto’s Judgement Day

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: September 17, 1932
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar
Rating: ★★★
Review:

The Whoopee Party © Walt DisneyAfter three  years of musical cartoons, consistent story lines where reintroduced to the Mickey cartoons with a remarkable success in 1932 (good examples are ‘Barnyard Olympics‘ and ‘Touchdown Mickey’). In this era the musical cartoon ‘The Whoopee Party’ with its total lack of story seems to be quite old-fashioned.

The short contains numerous elements that were used many times earlier: a public dancing, Minnie singing behind the piano and alive inanimate objects (although the latter feature was much more common practice in the Fleischer and Iwerks cartoons of that time – yet no other Disney cartoon celebrates the secret dancing life of inanimate objects as much as ‘The Whoopee Party’ does). The short also contains some nice effect animation of confetti and flying feathers. Despite being anything but new, the sheer fun with which everything is executed, makes this cartoon a delight to watch.

‘The Whoopee Party’ marks Goofy’s second appearance after his debut in ‘Mickey’s Revue‘ earlier that year. It’s in this cartoon he gets the looks he would maintain until Art Babbitt redesigned him for ‘On Ice’ (1935). He’s more than just a silly laugh now; he now has a rudimentary character of being some kind of silly person, and we hear him speak for the first time. Clearly, he now is one of the gang, making sandwiches with Horace and Mickey, and showing to be a character here to stay. Yet, he’s still more weird than likable – and when he made his debut as ‘Dippy Dawg’ in Floyd Gottfredson’s comic strip in January, 1933, he’s introduced as a pest. In fact, Goofy’s character would remain rather vague until 1935. Only with ‘Mickey’s Service Station’ from that year he would become the likable Goof we know today.

It may be interesting to note that Goofy arguably is the first cartoon character built on a funny voice. His success is proof that, although a unique voice is not necessary (Tom and Jerry for instance could do perfectly without one), it certainly helps to build a character. This must have been an inspiration to later voice-based characters like Donald Duck, Porky Pig and Daffy Duck.

Ironically, Goofy himself would eventually lose his voice in the early forties when voice artist Pinto Colvig left Disney for Fleischer.

Watch ‘The Whoopee Party’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Mickey Mouse cartoon No. 46
To the previous Mickey Mouse cartoon: Trader Mickey
To the next Mickey Mouse cartoon: Touchdown Mickey

Director: Wilfred Jackson
Release Date: February 10
, 1934
Rating:
★★★★★ ♕
Review:

The Grasshopper and the Ants © Walt Disney‘The Grasshopper and the Ants’ is easily one of the best Silly Symphonies: it has a catchy song, great use of color and beautiful effect animation. Notice, for instance, the realism of the leaves blowing away during the autumn scene. One can even recognize which trees they’re from!

The grasshopper, too, is a wonderfully designed character, based on concept art by the great Albert Hurter. In contrast, the design of the ants looks a little primitive, still belonging to the black and white era. But, by now, the Disney staff has fully mastered the idea of character animation. This is best shown in the final dance scene: even in a crowd of lookalikes one easily recognizes the joyful ant the Grasshopper had tempted earlier.

Note that morality notwithstanding, the grasshopper is allowed to do what he does best: singing and playing. An encouragement to view art as an important contribution to society. Even so, the way the queen finally invites him is a real cliff-hanger.

This cartoon’s theme song, ‘the world owes me a living’ was composed by Leigh Harline, who would also compose the catchy songs of ‘Pinocchio‘. the grasshopper’s catchy song would become Goofy’s theme song. No wonder, for he and the Grasshopper share the same voice, by Pinto Colvig.

Watch ‘The Grasshopper and the Ants’ yourself and tell me what you think:

This is Silly Symphony No. 42
To the previous Silly Symphony: The China Shop
To the next Silly Symphony: Funny Little Bunnies

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