Disney-Multiplane-camera

Today’s shot marks the first inclusion of an animated film.  This one from the earlier days of Walt Disney. I tell you, these early films of his are brilliant. (By way of comparison, i feel this era of the 30s/40s was to Disney what the 70’s & early 80’s were to Spielberg.)  You could never make them today, what with their ambiguity and occasional darkness.  Poetic meditations, with a taste of Walt’s whimsy (instead of a smothering), that aren’t afraid of the shadows. (How about the visually-arresting scene in the dense snow fall, when Bambi is confronted with being alone?)

Walt Disney, director?

To my surprise, naming the ‘director’ of this film is complicated because there are so many credited – none of which are Walt Disney!  That really blew my mind.  While each sequence’s director received a credit (at least on imdb), no one can deny that Walt, like David O. Selznick, was the author of his passion projects.

I recently got to watch this film on blu-ray, by way of high-def projection. It looked magnificent. The opening shot jumped out immediately as something to post about. It’s bold; it introduces us beautifully to setting, theme, and tone; and it’s ground-breaking for its time (see the featurette in second youtube player below).

The films of this period at Disney mark a breakthrough in animated camera work with the invention of the multi-plane camera, but I feel this film utilizes it best.  (Other films included Snow White, Fantasia, Pinocchio, and a short called The Old Mill.) Depth is everything in photography and the opening shot of Bambi is a wonderful example of the charming, amazing depth this system created, and, boy, does this shot go on and on.  (Can you imagine how long the background paintings must have been?)  This shot surely was awe-inspriring for movie-goers back in 1942, like nothing they’d seen before, even in the other Disney movies.

The opening credits end and the shot begins at 1:20:

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Here is the piece on the multi-plane camera, or as Walt referred to it, a “super-cartoon camera.”  It even shows the elements used for today’s shot. Apparently it was a miserable experience to animate on this thing – there were so many lightbulbs and the thing had to be housed in a small room to keep light pollution out, so it was swelteringly hot in addition to being labor intensive to operate.  According to Walt’s biography, one multi-plane shot for Pinnocchio cost $50,000 – in 1940.

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I snapped a pic on a recent visit to the Disney Studios, where the multilane camera is on display in the lobby.  (Ironically, the art displayed on the set up is what I consider to be the sloppiest shot in all of an otherwise perfect film, Pinocchio, but more on that soon.)

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