Ever watch a Disney film and feel “Hey, I think I’ve seen this before”, well most likely you have. There was a time in Disney history, before films could be bought/sold commercially and compared to one another, Disney’s animation department would tend to borrow and reuse scenes/sequences from previous films/animations.
Now why did this happen? Well let’s take a look into that.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Walt Disney was busy expanding the company, growing into television, radio, merchandising, live action films, and most of all theme parks. Walt was preoccupied with all these other projects to take direct control over the animation department, all he would do is make sure the narrative and story fit the “Disney Standards” while other smaller aspects were ignored.
Veteran Disney animator Floyd Norman discussed this in an interview with Cartoon Hangover about reused animation in regards to Walt Disney: “I don’t even think he noticed it. I don’t think he thought much about it, I don’t even think he noticed it. His mind was always on the big picture. His mind was always on the story, not so much the little production things that didn’t interest him all that much.“
Other directors were put in charge of the bigger projects with each one crafting a film their own way. But one particular director named Wolfgang “Woolie” Reithermen, one of Disney’s “Nine Old Men”, was known for thinking “We already made a scene like this from a previous film right? Let’s just reuse the work we already did without wasting effort on a new set of drawings.” Films such as The Jungle Book, 101 Dalmatians, Robin Hood, The Sword in the Stone, The Aristocats and more would all have at least one sequence of reusing older animation.
Whenever the decision was made to go back and reuse a scene or sequence the animators would have to go into “The Morgue” or Disney Archive as its known as today, and locate the scene or sequence they had been instructed to reuse.
The animators would then trace over the old footage with the characters from the new project and place the old footage back in the morgue.
This was most likely used to save time and cut costs as Disney Films at that point didn’t have the best animation quality when compared to previous films. This was likely due to the inking process being phased out in favor of Xeroxing the drawings.
In the same interview Floyd Norman discussed his the process and his thoughts on it: “A lot of time reworking this old material was almost more trouble than it was worth. First of all you had to go dig it out, you had to find it, and then you had to see ‘Well how can I adapt it? How can I reuse it?’ Which meant a lot redrawing, a lot of moving stuff around to make it work. It would’ve been far effective, at least in my opinion, to just animate it from scratch. it was done probably to save time, save money. Although I don’t think it saved much time and I don’t think it saved much money because it was more of a hassle to go dig this old footage out of the archive. It would’ve been easier just to sit down and animate a new scene than to go back and try and retrofit all this old stuff to something new. We’re looking back 1960s and 70s when people wouldn’t think how films would change, how media would change and how people would be able to go back and look at these various films and compare one film against the other.“
The habit of recycling animation at Disney slowly died down until the Disney Renaissance Era where almost everything was all new footage. Every so often you’d see a wink and nod here and there like in Beauty and the Beast with the Ballroom Dance being reused from Sleeping Beauty‘s Ballroom Dance to pay homage to the older film. With the advent of places like YouTube people have been able to compare the shots of various Disney films because they are sold to the home market now where people can re-watch and notice similarities.
Today, with most of Disney’s projects being exclusively CGI, the only reusing of assets would be in large crowds of people where “duplicate models” can be seen with a keen eye.
What do you think of this odd piece of History?
Sources: Cartoon Hangover
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