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It's the question that most animation professionals ask
immediately after they've seen "Get A Horse!" How did Walt Disney
Animation Studios actually pull that short off? How'd they first replicate the
exact look & feel of a Mickey Mouse cartoon of late 1928 / early 1929 and
then (SPOILER AHEAD) send a CG version of Mickey & Horace Horsecollar
hurtling out through the screen into today's world?
Well, director Lauren MacMullan & producer Dorothy McKim
were obviously working with a talented team at WDAS. But a key player on this
project was animation legend Eric Goldberg.
(L to R) Eric Goldberg, head of hand-drawn animation on Disney's "Get A Horse!";Lauren MacMullan, director of this Academy Award-nominated short; Dorothy McKim, producer of this Walt Disney Animation Studios production; and Adam Green, the head of CG on this acclaimed project. CopyrightDisney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
Goldberg -- who's probably best known to animation
enthusiasts as the genius behind the Genie in Disney's "Aladdin
was the guy who led the hand-drawn team who crafted those crucial first two
minutes of "Get A Horse!" The portion of this short that really sells
the idea that this black & white cartoon is something that Walt Disney
& Ub Iwerks
actually created back in the late 1920s.
"Mind you, in order to make 'Get A Horse!' really look
like it was something that it had been produced during that specific era in
Hollywood history, the animators who worked on this short had to set their
mental clocks back to before they were born. Because a lot of the animation
techniques that we use now hadn't even been invented back in 1928," Eric
explained during a recent phone interview.
Take -- for example -- how Goldberg and his team had to
evolve Mickey Mouse backwards. Take the version of this beloved film icon
that's known around the globe today and then remove 85 years worth of refinements & improvements. Turn him back
into the somewhat clunky version of this character that debuted at NYC's Colony
Theater back on November 18, 1928.
As the video below shows, making an authentic looking, old school Mickey sometimes
involves some pretty odd design choices.
"Then there were those very specific ways that Ub
animated Mickey in those early shorts. Some of the stuff that he did back then was
pretty direct. Ub didn't do a lot of in-betweening. Sometimes it was just two
frames and then a hold. And if you really paid attention to Ub's work on those
early, early shorts, you then noticed that there wasn't a whole lot of rubber
hose-style animation being used either. Mickey's movement would only get
rubbery when Walt & Ub needed this character's movement to get rubbery.
When this style of animation could be used for the greatest comic effect,"
"Plus the animation that Ub did of Mickey back then had
this real sense of spontaneity & directness & freshness. And he'd
really go for broke with all of this crazy stuff wherever it was warranted. So
in order to get that sort of performance out of Mickey today, you really had to
try and get inside of Ub & Walt's heads. Think about what they might do
with this character back in the day, back when Mickey was just starting out,"
And then to make "Get A Horse!" look like it had
actually be produced back in late 1920s ... Well, that meant that Lauren,
Dorothy & Eric had to recruit the help of WDAS's scene planning department.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
"We actually had what we called our mistakes pass.
These moments in the beginning of this short where -- once we got a particular
scene in 'Get A Horse!' looking the way we wanted it to -- Lauren would then
deliberately insert a mistake. Like having Mickey's shoe suddenly pop off. Or
making it look like a cel had briefly gotten stuck on the camera stand's
platant during the animation process," Goldberg laughed. "Or better
yet, creating some artificial bloom around one of the characters. Because
that's what used to happen when you used high contrast film back in the 1920s.
If that film accidentally got over-exposed, you then wound up with a little bit
of black bloom around the black areas of that cel."
So after all of the extra effort to create an
authentic-looking early Mickey Mouse short, what was Eric's favorite part of
working on "Get A Horse!" ? When he, Lauren and Dorothy journeyed
over to France
last Summer to screen this "lost" film to all of the animation
professionals at the 2013 edition of the Annecy Animated Film Festival.
"And Lauren ... She did a brilliant job of selling the
audience there on the idea that 'Get A Horse!' was authentic. She came out
onstage wearing a white lab coat & gloves and then placed this aged-looking
artwork under the downshooter. And at this point, you could actually hear gasps
coming from the audience. Because they were so startled to see that there
actually appears to be artwork from this long lost Disney short," Goldberg
snorted. "But what the audience at Annecy
doesn't realize is that -- just before Lauren had come out onstage -- she had
artificially aged all of this 'Get A Horse!' artwork by staining it with tea
& soy sauce."
The audience at Annecy Animated Film Festival watches "Get A Horse!" Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved
And the crowd in that auditorium at the Annecy Animated Film
Festival bought that this WDAS production was the real thing right up until the
moment that Mickey & Horace came bursting through the screen. And after that,
the audience there was so charmed by "Get A Horse!" that they bore no
ill will towards Lauren, Dorothy & Eric. In fact, this roomful of animation
professionals gave this trio a standing ovation as soon as the lights came back
And that's pretty much the reaction that "Get A
Horse!" has gotten from folks in the industry ever seen. Earlier this
month, this Lauren MacMullan film was honored with this year's Annie Award for
Best Animated Short. And hopes are high that this WDAS production will also be singled
out for recognition when the Academy Awards get underway next month.
But as for Mr. Goldberg, while all of the awards &
recognition that "Get A Horse!" has received to date has been great,
it's the fun house mirror quality of this WDAS production that made working on
this particular project so much fun for him.
"I mean, when I was doing model sheets for the
characters in 'Get A Horse!', people would walk into my office and say 'Those
are old, right?' And I would then say 'No, I just finished them, ' " he
smiled. "You know, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of
flattery. But what's great about working on an animated short like this is that
-- while you're honoring Mickey's legacy at the Studio -- you're not also giving
the audience the exact same thing that they've seen over & over again for
the past 50, 60 years. Here, Lauren found a way to bring this character into
the modern world in a fun new way. By having a 1920s Mickey come bursting
through the screen in 3D. And I'm so glad that she & Dorothy invited me to
come work on 'Get A Horse!' Because this project has been a complete