When I was 11, I wrote to Richard Williams who invited me up to 13 Soho square and I never looked back. We met a few more times after that and I know personally of his kindness, his drive and his immense talent. He is the author of the bible of animation, a signed copy of which is in my bathroom, and another two copies on my desk and in my briefcase. He is also the director of “A Christmas carol” (1972 oscar winner), “Who framed Roger Rabbit?” (another 2 oscars) and the unfinished film “the Thief and the Cobbler”
First episode of Lucy Worsley’s new programme screened tonight. Very pleased to have done the illustrations and animation throughout. This is a picture with a few images and quotes that I drew watching the broadcast.
From Bambi to Frozen: The Deeper Meaning of Disney with Prof Tim Wilson
The British animator and politician, Professor Tim Wilson, was the Temple Society’s December guest speaker.
Prof Wilson started his animation career after seeing Richard Williams’ Oscar-winning ‘A Christmas Carol’ in 1972; then, after a year spent goat-herding in Greece, he contacted the director in hope of a job.
His love of animation took foreground for a couple of years when he helped in various animation studios in London. However, Wilson switched back to teaching as a Theology professor, with the occasional animation on the side, winning a best animation award a few years’ ago with a film called ‘How to be Boss’, an animated lecture about Plato.
The Professor’s talk reflected his life in the sense that it left almost no stone untouched: from the historical importance to the moral significance of animation, we finished the lecture with a much-enriched understanding of one of the most complex and labour-intensive entertainment forms.
We heard how animation started, in a way, with the invention of Faraday’s Wheel in the 19th Century: from this came the zoetrope (1834) – the spinning wheel with slots, through which one looks to see a galloping horse or a man on a trapeze. Whilst still, the wheel shows only single images, yet when in motion the pictures pasted inside the wheel flow into one moving scene. This concept was taken (to great effect) to the camera upon its invention – Muybridge was the first, setting up a line of cameras each with their individual tripwires. Upon walking across his tripwires, each camera would photograph that split-second of his walk – when these pictures are all placed in series, a walking scene has been created or a person’s walk minutely examined.
This concept was played with in true artistic fashion by George Méliès, the creator of various silent films featured in Hugo in 1890 – by fiddling with the sequence, Méliès could make a character disappear and re-appear ten steps away, creating the illusion of magic and demonstrating a primitive form of animation. As such, animation is as focused on timing as it is on drawing.
However, it was McCay, from across the pond, who introduced the portrayal of emotion through animation: the task of the animator is to portray characteristics in a purely visual sense, and McCay’s Gertie the Trained Dinosaur was one of the first to achieve this characterisation showing a drawing that seemed to be thinking as well as moving.
It is with these foundations laid down, said the Professor, that we come to Walt Disney who introduced believability and genuine emotion into animation with feature films. Budget was a big deal for Disney, as shown by their first production of Alice, which was a mix of live-action (cheaper) and animation (more expensive).
Continuing on to the famous Steamboat Willie, Disney tied a musical soundtrack directly the animation – the same formula for Fantasia. The first film to release a soundtrack and related merchandise was Snow White. It also promoted a clear morality: most animation that Disney creates holds a didactic function – though Disney initially denied this “We like to have a point of view, not an obvious moral…” The feature-length Disney films tell stories that reward good behaviour and punish the bad. There are five Disney virtues: the first is Kindness (such as Cinderella’s kindness to the animals), the second is Perseverance (the prince in Cinderella, for example). The third is Faith, or wish-fulfilment with its obvious connotations of religion – the only overtly religious piece of Disney, (overlooking Christian imagery at the end of Fantasia) is Hunchback of Notre Dame, but this pushes kindness combined with faith, and if Disney is interested in Belief, it is belief itself- and not a belief in a specific person or thing. Belief in self is allied to belief in a higher power. The final one is Family: Aristocats and 101 Dalmatians, for instance, display the ethos that the meaning of family can still be extended, and is not just about blood relatives.
There is, moreover, a heavy Protestant work ethic that is present in Disney films, and the most recent Frozen emphasises the dimension of not trusting appearances, first glimpsed in Gaston in Beauty and the Beast but maybe hinted at in the magical witches of both Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, who promote family values and patch together relationships that have gone wrong.
Recently, Mary Beard gave a lecture which some of my friends attended. The report I received from them was rapturous – she was controversial and authoritative. Actually, she was more than that. She was right.
Recently, Professor Beard was attacked by AA Gill. It is part of the same story- that people can be judged today more for whether they conform than whether they have something important to say.
The two issues Professor Beard specifically raised in the Listener talk were the abuse she suffered when her presentation in “CIVILIZATIONS” was cut when it was broadcast in the US, and the second was to make a firm stand against re-enactments or recreations in History documentaries. These are all over the internet, and particularly noticeable on PBS.
It would, however, be wrong to suppose that America is only to blame.
I was once engaged by a UK company to play the part of Socrates for one such history documentary, so I know from the other side how silly and absurd such recreations can be. More than that, we were filming not in a genuinely Attic setting but in the 19th Century Zappeion, a bit of the modern Greek parliament complex built specifically to celebrate the first modern Olympic games in 1869. It looked pretty and it might have been appropriate in a hollywood “swords and sandals” epic, but it is not “history” and nor does it actually tell the viewer anything useful. The reason is simple- because it dodges the issue of interpretation. All art is interpretative but because live-action film feels like ‘reality”, that is exactly how the viewer accepts it. The viewer is plunged into a magic realm and is the passive recipient of the director’s agendum. The viewer is a willing party to deceit.
Fine in a film like “Gladiator”, but not fine in a serious documentary about history. We need to know what is real and what is recreated.
This is frankly where my own work slots in: 2d animation can never masquerade as reality, but it can offer something more than “live-action recreation” to the documentary medium. If supported by the proper research, it can provide an insight into the way history has already interpreted events, much as quoting a specific writer as an authority can do. This is most beautifully illustrated by Richard Williams’ animated sequences in the CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE.
Here, Williams shows us exactly how British newspapers peddled propaganda and half-truths to a gullible public, showing the glory of the empire in contrast to the gore and disaster that unfolded on the battlefield itself. The greatest moment is the Victory sequence which is brought to a sudden close by a canon firing. There was no victory- just a squalid collapse of authority and a chain of misunderstanding.
Williams’ animation tells us something valuable in its own right. And because we can never pretend what we are watching is anything other than a drawing, we cannot be bewitched into thinking that this is “reality”. But it might very well be a way to access Truth.
Because we often associate animation with Disney, we can get confused, but because 2d animation remains ostentatiously artificial, we can be sure we never forget that we are watching an interpretation. The Disney technique means we can do almost anything with animation that we could do with live-action. More maybe! Though it takes time.
Of course, I nurse a desire to bring the stories of Greek mythology to life through the red/ black figure images on greek vases- who would not immediately see the potential in this! But even more interesting would be to animate Flaxman’s illustrations for the Iliad and Odyssey which informed the way we have understood classical texts since the early 19th Century. His work led to the development of the blue and white jasperware that even today is in most of our houses. This is not about recreating or re-enacting events but about making a conscious decision to give us an insight into the way we now view these stories.
I am terribly proud of the work we did in the two Lucy Worsley programmes, the second of which is due to air in January- we used the device of turning the pages of a book, and of capturing images from framed pictures to comment, introduce and develop the ideas that were being presented.
When we forget that we are examining what people have said and recorded in the past, we simply enter a world of make-believe. It might be entertaining but it is not history.
Animation started, in a way, with the invention of Faraday’s Wheel in the 19th Century: from this came the zoetrope (1834) – the spinning wheel with slots, through which one looks to see a galloping horse or a man on a trapeze. Whilst still, the wheel shows only single images, yet when in motion the pictures pasted inside the wheel flow into one moving scene. This concept was taken (to great effect) to the camera upon its invention – Muybridge was the first, setting up a line of cameras each with their individual tripwires. Upon walking across his tripwires, each camera would photograph that split-second of his walk – when these pictures are all placed in series, a walking scene has been created or a person’s walk minutely examined. This concept was played with in true artistic fashion by George Méliès, the creator of various silent films featured in Hugo in 1890 – by fiddling with the sequence, Méliès could make a character disappear and re-appear ten steps away, creating the illusion of magic and demonstrating a primitive form of animation. As such, animation is as focused on timing as it is on drawing.
However, it was McCay, from across the pond, who introduced the portrayal of emotion through animation: the task of the animator is to portray characteristics in a purely visual sense, and McCay’s Gertie the Trained Dinosaur was one of the first to achieve this characterisation showing a drawing that seemed to be thinking as well as moving. The animator, drawing in 2D, must think in 3D – it is here Wilson introduces the concept of the hyper-cube. When we think of 2D, we think of the square; 3D the cube, and 4D is the melding of two cubes into one amalgamation and another dimension. In a way, the animator must switch between different dimensions, and the example given was one of punching: though the animator draws the effect in 2D, the punch is thought of in circles or arcs due to the punch’s path of motion.
It is with these foundations laid down that we come to Walt Disney who introduced believability and genuine emotion into animation with feature films. Budget was a big deal for Disney, as shown by their first production of Alice, which was a mix of live-action (cheaper) and animation (more expensive). In today’s film, there are 24 frames per second, and to reduce the cost and time of animation Disney decided to reduce the drawings to 12 per second. The iconic character of Mickey Mouse was introduced first in Plane Crazy, a silent movie. It is here Wilson claims that the design of Mickey was taken from Ub Iwerks not Disney. Continuing on to the famous Steamboat Willie, Disney tied a musical soundtrack directly the animation – the same formula for Fantasia. With the intersection of music and motion one can look at tap dancing. Fred Astaire was notorious for dancing off-beat, only to occasionally switch onto the beat to great effect. Disney tended to do the visual image on the beat (less exciting, and called “mickey mousing”), using music as both characterisation and aesthetic. There is also the fact that every action in Disney has a corresponding sound: the pulling of Clarabelle the Cow’s tail resulted in a musical ‘moo’. Today, lip-syncing in Disney is often relaxed, as the animators keep the lines of the lips and face vague – both the economise and allow easier dubbing into other languages.
There is, of course, the question of Mickey’s gloves – they held a practical reason (during black and white films, if an object was black Mickey’s hand would disappear upon holding it) but they also link to Mickey’s function as a public figure. It is with this that one could claim Mickey a problematic figure – his gloves and mannerisms mimic the characteristics of the minstrels, last seen in the 70s BBC; minstrels would wear white gloves and often tap dance and sing for entertainment. It was a staple of American Vaudeville entertainment. This characteristic is the only one that Disney cannot sanitise today, as the white gloves are iconic to the character. In other areas, however, there is (and always has been) ongoing sanitisation – potentially offensive sections of Fantasia, for instance, have been quietly redrawn to remove the offending sections, though not the crows in Dumbo. Films like Song of the south have all but disappeared from the Disney canon. As a business, family entertainment is the goal of Disney- and this explains both the sanitisation and the fact that the character of Mickey has changed from the troublemaker in Steamboat Willie to the wholesome soul in modern day films. This was the goal as it (along with another factor) would guarantee Disney success and money. The first way was shown by Snow White: it was the first film to release a soundtrack and related merchandise. The second method is one of morality: most animation that Disney creates holds a didactic function – the films tell stories that reward good behaviour and punish the bad, though Disney claimed he was not in the business of “preaching a message”. There are 5 Disney virtues: the first is kindness (such as Cinderella’s kindness to the animals), the second is perseverance (the prince in Cinderella, for example). The third is faith, with its obvious connotations of religion – the only overtly religious piece of Disney, (overlooking Christian imagery at the end of Fantasia) is Hunchback of Notre Dame but this pushes kindness combined with faith, and if Disney is interested in Belief, it is belief itself- and not a belief in a specific person or thing. Belief in self is allied to belief in a higher power. The final one is family: Aristocats and 101 Dalmatians, for instance, display the ethos that the meaning of family can still be extended, and is not just about blood relatives. There is, moreover, a heavy Protestant work ethic that is present in Disney films, and the most recent Frozen emphasises the dimension of not trusting appearances, first glimpsed in Gaston in Beauty and the Beast but maybe hinted at in the magical witches of both Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks who promote family values and patch together relationships that have gone wrong.
The gospel according to walt.
So just to kick off, is there a reference to adam and eve in the fact that snow white eats a poisoned apple?
Is there a reference to Christ in the initials of Jiminy Cricket?
Jonah and the whale. (Pinocchio)
The Disney gospel is part of most chidren’s earliest teachings.
Young impressionable minds
The amount of time children spend in church or synagogues of temples is dwarfed by the amount of time children spend in front of Disney films.
“One of the most significant shaping forces in the 20th Century.”
“A sacred destination of the first trip to the movies.”
Calvinist paradigm of hard work- rewarded with upward solical mobility/ walt’s rise to prosperity
Disney boycotted by the Washington DC Traditional values Coalition in 1990s (“they’re not fair to the Christian message of life death and eternal life” Revd Clark Whitten of the Calvary Assembly church in Orlando. “they have a gospel- it’s to make money”)
Humanism: when Disneyland opened in Anaheim in 1954 Time magazine called Disney “the poet of the new American Humanism” and says the common symbol of humanity in the struggle against the forces of evil is Mickey Mouse”
It’s not what you believe that is important, but the fact of believing itself is important.
Disney is the perfect example of the protestant work ethic divorced from religious moorings.
Disney choice of magic over religion
VALUES: Good triumphs over evil a consistent set of moral values throughout the movies. Disney personal values and commercial goals
Optimism as a creed (pinoccho)
Miracles (Pinocchio as Jesus: the puppet comes to life and resurrected as boy,)
WALT: didn’t want to single out any single religion . But always designed as a “message” He tells reporter: “we like to have a point of view in our stories not an obvious moral but a worthwhile theme” in 1962: Children are people and they should have to reach to learn about things, to understand things just as adults have to reach if they are to grow in mental statue. Life is composed of lights and shadows and we have to be untruthful, insincere aand saccharine if we are to pretenbd there were no shadows. Most things are good and they are the strongest things; but there are evil things too and you are not doing a child a favour by trying to shield him from reality. The important thing is to teach a child that good can always triumph over evil and that is what our pictures attempt to do.”
Sam Goldwyn: Pictures are for entertainment- messages should be sent by western union.
FAITH: Faith in something greater than self? Combined with faith in self
Magic allows you to see a better life and apply the vision to real life.
An agent of transformation. The ordinary becomes extraordinary
The little mermaid: challenge of intermarriage
The lion king:the hindu circle of life
MECCA: Disneyland: a place of pilgrimage (parents reconnecting with their childhood) a cartoon fantasy mecca?
RACISM: Racist representation esp in DUMBO and fantasia (censored in Fantasia but not in Dumbo) song of the south and the three caballeros
DEUS EX MACHINA: No obvious judeo-christian iconography but Greek magic: universal device from ancient greece
Censorship: note the general anxiety about racism: song of the south, dumbo fantasia- cleaning up of Aladdin’s anti-muslim jokes and the toning down of homophobia (see the beginning of Der Fuhrer’s face) to the extent that the remake of Beauty and the beast contains a genuine gay subplot.
The akedah: snow white dispatched to be killed in the forest. Sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham
The huntsman returns with the heart of a boar. (Abraham sacrifices a ram)
Whistle while you work: the work ethic during the great depression
The dwarfs are also hard workees, singing while the work.\snow white- just like an angel. See Rhapsody in Blue in Fantasia 2000
Cleanliness- next to godliness?
There was a sequence where Snow white teaches the dwarves how to pray- abandoned. But snow white prays- she asks for blessings on the seven little men who have been so kind to me and please make grumpy like me” next day when grumpy gets a kiss, she says” why grumpy you DO care”
Escapist and androcentric.
PINOCCHIO- fate not god steps in when things get bad: the blue fairy
As reward to Gepetto for bringing happiness to others
But the outcome will be entirely up to you. (Good works)
Jiminy cricket became an alternative exclamation to Jesus Christ in the US.
He is the still small voice.
The blue fairy as the Virgin mary?
Her appearance in the film is like the appearance of Mary at Fatima and La Salette BLUE and WHITE!
It’ll take a mira le to get out of here (says Jiminy in Stromboli’s caravan, then the blue fairy arrives. (A lie keeps growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face”
Jiminy Cricket defines temptation as The wrong things that seem right at the time.
They like him he’s a success. Gosh. Maybe I was wrong. I guess he won’t need me anymore. What does an actor need with a conscience?”
“Give a bad boy enough rope and hell soon make a jackass of himself.”
The essence of the Disney religion is not theology but morality: prove yourself brave truthful and unselfish and someday you will be a real boy. Resurrection. Awake Pinocchio awake!
NB: difference between snow white and Pinocchio is that Pinocchio is active in his salvation and snow white is entirely passive.
FANTASIA: Dancing toadstools- racist presentation of chinese figures probably intended to be amiable not malevolent. It is still a brilliant piece of animation
The sorcerer’s apprentice: work-shy mickey gets his comeuppance. (work ethic)
The image has been taken by Disney and turned mickey into a high priest of magic in the Disney kingdom. (Disney’s mecca)
Ave maria; the most explicit reference to religion until hunchback of notre dame
The text is an odd interperattion of the latin: the prince of peace your arms embrace while hosts ofdarkness fade and cover, Oh save us mother full of grace in life, and in our dying hour ave maria.
DUMBO: Mother love
Note the workers putting up te circus sing while they work: they “slave until we’re almost dead”
In the parade, dumbo slips and a boy laughs at him. The boy ALSO has improbably big ears.
BAMBI: man in the forest song at the beginning: “love is a song that never ends”
Carefree childhood and dependence on mother is finished with the greatest tear-jerker in the history of cinema:
Your mother cannot be with you anymore. Earlier they had been told of “Man in the forest”now it seems there is a man shooting out of season. Two shots and the second one is fatal.
It is man.. he is here again. There man be many this time. We must go deep into the forest. Hurry. Follow me”
An unspoilt eden is destroyed by man.
Cinderella: if you keep on believing, the dream you wish for will come true.
Cinderella has friends- birds mice etc.. her kindness in helping small rodents explains why the animals are so keen to help her wit housework
Elsa in FROZEN, BEDKNOBS and POPPINS- all autonomous witches, (perhaps it’s a witch. Don’t be sily witches have brooms) and spinsters. establishing world order rather than destroying it. Actually both Poppins and Eglantine are outsiders reestablish family values. And the sisters in Frozen are estranged …
A magical nanny and a reluctant nanny
(above: Milt Kahl images from Mary Poppins)
Religious iconography in Mary poppins;
1)mary poppins is Mary the mother of jesus, practically perfect. The immaculate conception. Above all other women etc.
2) 2) a spoonful of sugar: the Franciscan nod: Mary talks to the birds (feed the birds song with encircling chorus of doves)
3) 3) George banks gives tuppence to the bank chairman- render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s- capitalist banker to family man/ charity… the widow’s mite
4)Alternative view: a scurrilous interpretation
nanny shows up and changes a married man’s life but has to leave because she is pregnant. And no, she doesn’t change “the family” since the wife and kids are still the mindless dimwits at the end of the movie that they were in the beginning. And how do we know that Mary is pregnant? Because of the way she hold hers hands folded over her stomach [at the top of the staircase] when Mr. Banks finally emerges from the basement with the mended kite. So, while most of us think that Mary is misty eyed over Jane & Michael as she stands on the doorstep, the truth is: she is affected by having to say goodbye to Mr. Banks.
Other religious imagery in Disney:
Fantasia ending (ave maria triumphs over Chernabog. But it is nature that is triumphant as also in the end of Fantasia 2000)
Bambi and the Lion King– the role of the father figure, in the Lion king is actually a voice from the dead.
Self sacrifice as a form of redemption: – Baloo, the great dane in lady and the tramp, King Triton in The little mermaid, the beast in Beauty and the beast, and Pinocchio
Here are some videos showing progress on the Matilda song
In the “Harmony system” used here, I am inbetweening drawings by drawing between the red (the previous drawing in the sequence) and green (the next drawing in the sequence) In this song, because there is so much action, I am drawing every frame (25 frames/ second) whereas many Disney films rely on 12 frames/ second with every frame exposed twice. This more labour-intensive approach should guarantee much smoother action.
The upper body is sketched in with rough lipsynch in blue
here the arms are encased in jacket sleeves and the whole jacket is added to the figure. Matilda is sketches roughly in blue. For a fuller image, see the end of the previous post (Showreel)