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Frames of Time...

083_04 - Before Computerized Trains...
Lots of folks are talking about POLAR EXPRESS and how the film was created by using sensors on the actors to allow computers and artists to create the final result. It reminded me of an older technique to capture real movement in animation and this photo.

Prior to the digital revolution, animators would use specially filmed models create realistic animation of props. The process consisted of building the actual item (a car, a boat, a space ship). Next the model was painted white. Each edge of the model was then painted with a thin black line. A movie would be taken of the object moving. Prints would be made of the film. Each print would show a line drawing of the prop in motion. The whole process was a variation of rotoscoping, where live action people are filmed. That process dates back to silent cartoons.

Disney used this technical enhancement with Cruella DeVille's car in 101 DALMATIANS. Don Bluth made heavy use of this technique. The cage in THE SECRET OF NIMH. The space ships in SPACE ACE. The ship in AN AMERICAN TAIL and many, many others were filmed by Don and his crew. This photo shows Don and his team at work filming a space ship for the SPACE ACE video game.

The process was very time consuming. It was also not fully successful. Many a viewer will note that the lines on these models will "shimmer" in the film. This effort to recreate total live action realism, was often met with the same critical backlash that POLAR EXPRESS has received.

This photo was taken while working at Don's in the early 1980s. At that time I took lots of photos during the productions. This was mostly because I was constantly writing about the studio. Many of the articles appeared in Don's animation magazine, Exposure Sheet. At one point, I had hoped to do a complete report on every Don Bluth production. Sadly, after an extensive article on BANJO THE WOODPILE CAT, Don decided that he would rather focus on his newer productions, like the upcoming AN AMERICAN TAIL, than 'hash over' old news.

However, not all of my writings appeared under my name. I did a fair amount of 'ghost writing' while at the studio. A number of my articles, interview answers, and opinion pieces went out under the name of various other studio folks. All part of the promotion business. I still chuckle at times when I read in some book are article a quote from someone that I actually wrote.

Eventually, I took all my research and assembled "The Animated Films of Don Bluth". The book was the first release from a new publisher. Unfortunately, they were not very good at book design. They used almost none of my supplied photos. They didn't even typeset the text! The print run was only around 1000 copies. I haven't seen one for sale in years.

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