Posts tagged Video
Elaborate Train Sets, Sadness, And The Compulsion To Create
All of his zest for invention, for creating fantasies, seemed to be going into this plaything. I came away feeling sad
— Bosley Crowther
I hope I don’t offend any of our listeners. The men who have the elaborate miniature train sets always they are sad.
— Michial Farmer

I’m not sure what to make of this sadness, and again no offense to the man himself, bu the first person I though of was Bruce Zaccagnino.

Now, this could be our own cultural reacting. When I was in Germany I visited many elaborate model villages and experienced a sense of joy and whimsy. Likewise, I have fond memories of visiting model train installations with my dad as a kid. It was a shared interest and there is something magical about the amount of effort that goes into those things.

My dad had a model train that has stayed mostly in a box. There was a short time when he had it out and started working on it. I asked for one for Christmas and loved going to the model train shop in town to look at all the possibilities. Nothing much ever came of it, which is why I floundered around in my response during the podcast. Again, I have fond memories: bonding with my dad, looking at plans and engines, day dreaming. That’s obviously not what Michial was talking about.

Those with elaborate sets have neccesarily taken things to a whole new level. I suppose they could be bonding experiences as well, but I wonder if more often they aren’t more akin to the way “Lord Business” from The Lego Movie acts. Using the toy not as a way to see his son, but as a way to not see him. Compelled to fill some sort of emptiness. I suppose you could say that about any creative endeavor. Which is probably why I feel uncomfortable casting any judgement. It’s like Ian Morgan Cron says (I’m paraphrasing): People make the most beautiful and destructive things out of their wounds. Sometimes both.

Jason Kottke asks in relation to Bruce:

What compels people to do things? Especially things that don’t make sense to other people?

Somehow I think the compulsion must have a bit of the divine in it. No matter if it’s twisted or redeemed we all have the spark of the Creator in us and reflect His image. Therefore we create. It makes me think of Flannery O’Connor.

“Whether the work itself is completely successful, or whether you ever get any worldly success out of it, is a matter of no concern to you. It is like the Japanese swordsmen who are indifferent to getting slain in the duel… You do not write the best you can for the sake of art but for the sake of returning your talent increased to the invisible God to use or not use as he sees fit. Resignation to the will of God does not mean that you stop resisting evil or obstacles, it means that you leave the outcome out of your personal considerations. It is the most concern coupled with the least concern.”
— Flannery O'Connor

May we all find joy in resigning ourselves to the will of God.

Walt Disney's Alice Comedies And The First Faltering Steps To Blending Live Action And Animation

This is from the failed Laugh-O-Gram studios in Kansas City, a catalyst of sorts for what later became Walt Disney Studios. After making this movie the studio went bankrupt before ever getting it distributed, prompting Walt to leave Missouri and head to California. To borrow a cliché, the rest is history.

Perhaps Walt losing interest in the animation side of his studio shouldn’t be all that surprising; he was always practicing the art of pushing technology into the adjacent possible. He’s certainly doing that here. And, there is a joy in seeing him doing that. Even watching this nearly 100 years on (!) there’s a palpable sense of wonder and energy in those “rubber hose” animations. The Look-What-We-Can-Do playfulness still stirs the imagination, in many ways more effectively than what we see in The Three Caballeros.

Documenting the Recycling of Scenes in Disney Animated Films

What I love in here is the argument presented that the films were never really meant to be watched the way that we watch them now, where we can take the time to slow down and really analyze them, and create books, podcasts, youtube documentaries, essays, and more around them. I like that ecosystem of art: where once it’s in the world, it can support whole other endeavors that weren’t in the mind or even the imagination of the creator; all these Odes to Grecian Urns that we undertake. Yet the films can withstand it.

I was surprised to learn that this copying of previous work was happening prior to the use of xerography, although the xerography certainly seems to have provided an uptick in how much the technique was used; however there were several other factors involved there as well.

This video does the side by side comparisons, but also gives another overview of the history of Disney Animation Studios.

The Eras Of The Disney Canon
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As we converse through the Disney Animated Canon in chronological order sometimes we refer to the Silver Age, or the Dark Age (in the image above more charitably called the Bronze Age). Other than the wartime/package films era being a pretty clear line between the Golden Age and the Silver age, the rest of the eras are more debatable. For example Michial said during our 101 Dalmatians episode that he thought we were entering the First Dark Age, although many people put the start of the Dark Age after Jungle Book and Walt Disney’s death. Although honestly, Walt had definitely lost interest in the animation for several years before his death, and it may be a better delineator to call this the xerography era. Those debates are all part of the fun of looking at these movies. Either way, this graphic from Network 1901 is a pretty good one, and the video I grabbed it out of ain’t bad either if you’re looking for a nice overview of the entire canon. I disagree with a few of the narratives presented in the video, but it’s an overview so there’s not a ton of room for nuance.

And, if you’re just looking for a list of the films in the canon - Wikipedia is your friend : )

The Adjacent Possible and Xerography

On the show Michial and I spent a fair amount of time discussing the new technology, xerography, that both allowed animation to be cost effective at Disney, and ushered in a new aesthetic that perfectly matched the Dalmatians.

Steven Johnson is the popularizer of an idea called the adjacent possible. As he puts it:

The phrase captures both the limits and the creative potential of change and innovation.
— Steven Johnson

It’s a particularly apt idea to describe what happened with 101 Dalmatians because of the convergence of so many limits and potentials. The combinations of technologies that makes xerography as an animation tool an adjacent possible. (I’d love to know more of that story - Ub Iwerks, the guy who first animated Mickey Mouse, is a key player.) The xerography itself that makes animating 99 puppies an adjacent possible. Choosing to adapt that story makes the other modern art style decisions adjacently possible. And of course all these ideas are smashing into one another at the same time, which is another big idea in Johnson’s book: Where Good Ideas Come From. Very nicely illustrated in the trailer for the book below.

Matt Draper has a nice video that further explores some of those smashing together limits and potentials. If you listened to our episode you already know them: Walt Disney’s losing interest in animation, the financial struggles after Sleeping Beauty, etc. If you’re only interested in the actual technology of Xerography, skip to about 3:40 for a nice visual explainer.

Back to Johnson:

The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore them. Each new combination opens up the possibility of other new combinations. Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open. You begin in a room with four doors, each leading to a new room that you haven’t visited yet. Once you open one of those doors and stroll into that room, three new doors appear, each leading to a brand-new room that you couldn’t have reached from your original starting point. Keep opening new doors and eventually you’ll have built a palace.
— Steven Johnson

There’s no doubt that Disney already had a palace by the time 101 Dalmatians was released in 1961. However a whole new wing was opened through the use of the Xerography, not only to allow animation to continue at the studio, and to expand the types of stories that were told.

If you read all of Johnson’s Wall Street Journal article adapted from his book he gives one more example of the adjacent possible from the Apollo 13 movie. And as this has to be one of my favorite scenes in cinema, I couldn’t resist sticking it in here as well.

The space gear on the table defines the adjacent possible for the problem of building a working carbon scrubber on a lunar module...They are the building blocks that create—and limit—the space of possibility for a specific problem.
— Steven Johnson

The 1986 Disney DTV Valentine
Recorded Feb. 14, 1986 in all its grainy ELP VHS glory.

Michial and I sometimes talk about parts of the movies that were cut up and repackaged. This was one such package that I watched regularly.

So far the memories from this special that we mentioned in the show have included:

  • The twitterpated scene from Bambi cut to Stevie Wonder's I Just Called To Say I Love You. (Although I think I was conflating it in my mind with the Lionel Richie's Hello which is a little later in the program)

  • The animation from All The Cats Join In with the music replaced by Stray Cats' Rock This Town.

  • Ludwig Von Drake hosts

Hat tip to my mom for finding this on YouTube.