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Monday Mouse Watch: How the team behind Disney's "Get A Horse!" uses breakthrough technology to create the look of a 1928 short

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Monday Mouse Watch: How the team behind Disney's "Get A Horse!" uses breakthrough technology to create the look of a 1928 short

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When a forger is trying to make a document look older than it actually is, they'll sometimes use tea or tobacco to stain the paper that this item is printed on. And when a furniture maker is trying to make a table or a dresser look like an authentic antique, they'll sometimes beat on that item with a length of chain in order to weather the wood.

But when it comes to making a brand-new animated shot look as though it had been produced 85 years ago ... Well, no one in Hollywood had ever done anything like that before. So it was up to the effects wizards who work at Walt Disney Animation Studios to come up with ways to artificially age "Get A Horse!" Make this modern day Mickey Mouse cartoon look like it had actually been made back in Walt's time.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"That was the real challenge with this project. Making the first two minutes of 'Get A Horse!' look like this cartoon really was some sort of long-lost Mickey Mouse short that Disney had just been pulled out of its vault," explained Lauren MacMullan, the director of this new WDAS production. "I mean, when you look at the Mickey cartoons that Disney Studios actually produced back in the late 1920s, there are all of these visual cues -- scratches on the film, gate weave, emulsion flicker, dust & cel damage -- up there on screen that then tell your brain that this animated short really is 80-something years-old. So in order to get the audience to buy into the idea that 'Get A Horse!' actually was made back in 1928 or 1929, we had to create a bunch of ways to digitally simulate film damage."

And one of the main ways that Lauren & her production team did this was by going frame-by-frame through "Get A Horse!" and then deliberately picking a moment where they could then insert a pretty obvious mistake.

"You have to remember that -- back when Disney Studios was originally making that first round of Mickey Mouse shorts -- they didn't have a whole lot of time or money to spare. So sometimes shorts with animation mistakes in them just went out the door," MacMullan continued. "So in order to make 'Get A Horse!' look like the sort of short that Disney Studios made back when Walt & his animators were still rushing, we actually had to tell our clean-up ladies to occasionally mis-register a foot on a character."

(L to R) "Get A Horse!" director Lauren MacMullan and producer Dorothy McKim.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Lauren and her "Get A Horse!" crew also adjusted the brightness level in individual frames of this animated short to replicate that flickering quality which you often see in  black & white films that were produced during this period in Hollywood history.

"And there's kind of an interesting story behind that flickering effect. You see, this was supposedly because -- back in 1928 --  the current flowing through Southern California's power grid wasn't really all that steady. So when these animation cells were placed under electrical lights in front of a camera so that each individual frame could then be shot ... Well, because the current wasn't steady, the light levels between individual frames would then go up & down," MacMullan stated. "So in order to make 'Get A Horse!" look as though it had actually been produced during this exact same period in Hollywood history, we then had to go through and adjust the light level on thousands of individual frames of film. Just so our faux 1928 production would then look like the real thing."

Another way that Lauren & "Get A Horse!" producer Dorothy McKim tried to trick audiences into thinking that this 2013 production was actually made back in 1928 was by pulling authentic audio off of Mickey Mouse cartoons from this same period and then dropping these sound effects into this short's soundtrack.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"We found this company that could pull the original sound effects off of those old Mickey Mouse shorts and clean them up, though not too much," MacMullan stated. "You see, we wanted audiences to hear some hiss & pop as they watched 'Get A Horse!' So that the audio & the image came together to really sell the idea that this brand-new black & white animated cartoon footage was actually something that had been created back in the 1920s."

And when they couldn't find just the sound effect from that period to drop into their new animated short, Lauren & Dorothy turned to the Imagineers. Who -- as it turns out -- still have many of the sound effects tools that Disney Legend Jimmy MacDonald used when he was adding many of those distinctly Disney noises that you hear on the soundtracks of Disney animated features & shorts.

"The staff of the Walt Disney Archives also played a big part in getting 'Get A Horse!' just right. They're the ones who provided us with those Walt Disney Studios Christmas Cards from the late 1920s & early 1930s. Which is what told us what the proper colors were to use for Mickey, Minnie, Horace, Clarabelle and Peter," MacMullan continued. "Because you have to remember that it wouldn't be 'til 1935 that Walt produced the first color Mickey Mouse cartoon, 'The Band Concert.' So the only way we knew the appropriate colors to use for these characters for a short that was supposed to have been produced before 'The Band Concert' was by referencing those Christmas cards."

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And Lauren & Dorothy did all this work just so -- when (SPOILER AHEAD) Pete hurls Mickey & Horace through the screen and they then become these full-color 3D CG characters -- "Get A Horse!" would then seem that much magical & startling to the people seated out there in the audience.

"That's the only way that this animated short was going to work. We had to take the time to properly establish our world. Put all of this detail up there on screen that tells you that this animated short really was something from the 1920s," MacMullan concluded. "If we didn't do that, then our 'Purple Rose of Cairo ' moment -- when (SPOILER AHEAD) Mickey comes off the screen and is then stuck outside of the movie in front of  the audience -- never would have worked."

Having seen "Get A Horse!" ( which will be shown in front of "Frozen" when that new Walt Disney Animation Studios production opens in theaters nationwide on November 27th) a couple of times now, I can assure you that this new animated short really does work in a very big way. Thanks -- in large part -- to all of the extra effort that Lauren & Dorothy put into making this WDAS production look & sound as old as possible.

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  • I was fortunate enough to see "Get a Horse" at the animation arena presentation at this year's D23 Expo. It was fantastic. I'm sure that audiences will get a real kick out of it.

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