Attempting to simulate movements with drawings or paintings has always been one ofthe principal goals of artists of all eras. This fascination with movement starts as early as theprehistoric ages when humans were painting animals in motion on their cavern’s walls. It’s inthe 18s that this quest will truly start to reach new interesting developments that would havenever been thought possible before with the help of several revelations about the human sightand inventions from the Zoetrope to the first camera.Contrarily to many other mediums, theevolution of animation happened extremely quickly, jumping from the primitive look of the firstanimation short, humorous phases of funny faces in 1906 to a beautiful understanding of thecraft in the first fully animated feature film Snow White and the seven dwarves in 1936.However, one of the most impressive leaps of quality in animation happened in about half adecade thanks to the vision of Walt Disney. Of all the studios that took part to the developmentof animation, none did as much for the medium as Walt Disney’s studios which, contrarilytomany other producers,decided to push its animators to improve their artistic abilities in order tobring the craft to new heights. The transition between 1931 and 1936 in term of animation andvisuals at Disney is astonishing. Even though the animated shorts were still heavily influenced bythe early cartoons, they started discovering the true language of animation, figuring out whatworked and what didn’t. An interesting short within that period would be The Flying Mousedirected by David Hand andrealised in 1934 which is a great display of the period of transitionthat was happening at Disney. This cartoon shows amazing improvement of the craft while stillhaving a very clear classical influence over its designs and animations. This essay will point outthe improvements and the difficulties the studio was still dealing with while making this short interm of Animation, Music and Designs to demonstrate how it marks a line between twocompletely different eras of animation.
At the beginning of the 1930s, Walt Disney and his animators were doing intensiveresearches that no one else had attempted before. They tried to decode the language ofanimation and extract the secrets that would be needed in order to achieve a level of realismand believability. These researches led to the discovery of the 12 fundamental principles ofanimation, Squash and Stretch, Anticipation, Staging, Straight Ahead Action and Pose to pose,Follow Through and overlaps, Slow-ins and outs, Arcs, Secondary Action, Timing, Exaggeration,Solid Drawing and Appeal. These discoveries lead Walt Disney studio into an entire new erawhere cartoons would gradually stop being a mere trade like Windsor McCay predicted to finallyreach an artistic level.The flying mouse’s animation reflects very well the influence of thediscovery of these principles but also some of the bad habits of previous years or a few complexmovements that were not yet understood fully. The first element that shows from the very firstscene of the short is their tendency to make actions that repeatsover and over again as shownwith the 3 mice playing with the mushroom. In the old days, such a practice was not uncommon.To make up for the lack of clarity of the drawings and animations, repeating a gag would ensurethat the audience would not be confused by giving them more time to understand what is goingon.Such measures though started becoming unnecessary with the growth of the craft and thequality of the animated shorts. The 3 mice’s loop feels a bit too mechanical since no living beingwould be able to replicate the exact same movements at the very same position continuouslylike the way it is animated. Another habit from the early cartoons is the tendency to rely heavilyon animated lines to try to give more “punch” to an animation or an emotion. A good exampleof this is when the mouse is flying in the air with its leaf wings and he tries to hold on to aflower. A little “explosion” of line can be seen for each petal that the mouse is ripping eventhough the flower has a nice back and forth motion with each pull which was probably enoughto make the impact they were looking for. They also use these moving lines a lot to express the
surprise of a character. They hadn’t noticed yet, but this old animation principle was nowobsolete and their short even contains a passage that proves this. In the scene where the mousehides in the bat’s cave behind a boulder, he is surprised and scared by the sudden apparition ofa bat and presses his back against the boulder. The problem is that the background of the sceneis very dark, so animated lines would not have been visible in such an environment. Eventhough, the emotion of surprise of the character reads very clearly thanks to his posture and hisexpression. They still needed to push the poses and expressions a bit more, but they hadreached a point where these lines simply were no longer needed.However, some aspect of theanimation still needed a bit more improvement such as the flying dream sequence when themouse wishes to have wings. The movements when it is spinning in the air lack a bit ofbelievability. The mouse appears more to be levitating than actually flying and there is a slighterror of continuity with the right wing which does a jerk movement when the mouse flips on itsbelly to land on the branch. Beside these details however, the animation quality is nearlyincomparable to the cartoons done only 4 years ago. The animators now understood the crucialimportance of believable weight, which might explain why they still were a bit puzzled by asituation of weightlessness. Another important achievement is the understanding of the value ofthings such as strong posing, gestures and anticipation.There is a great example of this in thescene just after the mouse fell into the bucket of water. The mouse smiles and fidgets inembarrassment while slowly walking backward, showing us clearly what he is feeling withoutsaying a single word. It became obvious with the huge success of Steamboat Willie that sound would play animportant role in the world of animation. In the firsts cartoons with sound, music is used eitherhas an accompaniment, a way to set a mood or simply made very obvious by the characters.Such shorts such as The Clock Store makes every single movements happening on the screen
follow the intonations of the music.It is not really a problem; however, The Clock Store achievedsynchronism, not harmony. The flying mouse has a much more modern approach to the way ithandles music.It is not just an accompaniment or a synchronism to what is going on the screen,it changes and describes the action. As an example, when the mouse is running with its leafwings in order to try to fly for the first time, the music speeds up to express the movement eventhough the music is not in synchronism with each step. In such a case, both the animation andthe music are linked together without exerting any kind of restrictions on one another. In thescene where the mouse is trying to hold on to the petals of the flower, the music is insynchronism with the movement of pulling the petals, however, the sounds are not directlylinked to what a ripping petal would make, the music simply changes to describe what theaction is on the screen. The change of mentality is subtle, but it makes a whole difference to thestorytelling experience and it’s with such ideas in mind that they, 6 years later, were able tocreate the masterpiece that is Fantasia. Even though the Disney shorts changed immensely in this period, the influences fromthe old days in their design choices were still very obvious. Some character designs in this shorthave a very old-school feel to them such as the spider in the scene where the mouse saves thebutterfly. The spider has rubber-hose like legs and its face with its 2 big eyes nearly mergedtogether looks very much like the usual ones in the older cartoons. Even though the look is verysimilar for this character, they took the care of making it three-dimensional and structured,merging both the old and the new. As for the face however, we can tell that they were stillexperimenting to figure out how to simulate the best acting. Some of the angles or expressionsof the characters lack a bit of structure, especially the eyebrows and are squiggly. An importantmile-stone however is their attempt at animating a realistic, believable, human figure withbones and muscles. Even though the result is not quite sufficient enough to bear the weight of a
feature film like Snow-White needed to, it is still a very impressive accomplishment. Finally, theyalso realised the importance a background has on the mood of a scene. In the short film Babesin the woods of 1932, there are several scary scenes where children are in the house of a witch.However, the colors remain bright and the shape language of the objects contains lots of softcurves which don’t really add to the suspense we are supposed to feel. However, when themouse is scared and runs away into the bats’ nest in The Flying Mouse, the backgroundtransitions from bright colors to shades of grey and de-saturated colors, the shapes of thevegetation goes from curvy and cute looking to distorted and pointy. These little changes intheir layout greatly added to the drama of the scene and furthered the emotional involvementof the audience. To conclude, even though The Flying Mouse does not represent the excellence inanimation we see today, it is far from being something to simply look down upon. It is one ofthose special shorts that combine both the habits of the first cartoons and the recent knowledgeacquired in term of animated film making at the time. Realising these similarities as well as theimprovements made to the animation, the music and the designs is a great way to ensure thatfuture animators will be aware of what makes these elements work in order to keep bringingthe medium forward.