|We "Dickenized" the iconic Mickey title|
Storyman Burny Mattinson happened to hear the record and liked the concept of taking the Dicken's classic tale and inserting the classic Disney characters into the celebrated roles. He took the incentive to send the record up to Studio head honcho Ron Miller but when he didn't hear back, was suddenly worried he might have over stepped his authority by doing so. He needn't have given it a second thought though.
At Disney Studios around that time there were a few of us that were just not satisfied with a prevailing lack of the classic quality and just good old fashioned entertainment that seemed to be filtering out of the current animation projects and were also especially not happy with the growing dark and uneven direction "Black Cauldron" seemed to be taking. Ron MIller had given quite a few people like Tim Burton and many others a chance to create their own projects at the Disney Studio of the 1970s and 80s. So he shared the potential of the Christmas Carol record and in that same spirit gave Burny the greenlight to develop the project into an animated featurette although the way Burny tells it, Ron scared the beegeebers out of him at the meeting before giving the nod. Now all that Captain Burny needed was a full crew to sign on, arrrgh.
Burny asked me down to meet with him and told me Don Griffith had mentioned that I would be a good fit for his new crew. So upon that wonderful recommendation I immediately moved into the large empty room adjoining his director's room down on the first floor and quickly started in doing concept art. Our crew at that point was Burny, his wife Slvia Mattinson, Don, Mark Henn, myself and Tim O'Donnel. We soon had two possible directions that were done as visual presentations.
One was Don Griffith's which used the xerox CL or "clean line". This technique incorprated a clean ink drawing that was xeroxed on a cel and at the same time printed onto Cresent 100 Heavy Weight board within a ziptone to break up the line slightly. The board was painted expertly with washes of guoache by background head Jim Coleman, which somewhat subdued the line until the overlaid xerox was placed directly above it in camera.
|Example of Disney team work to create concept art.|
|Beautiful color palette by Coleman|
ONE -We wanted pixie dust and candle flame animation (Patty Peraza animated the effects) to read well against the BG.
TWO - The characters needed to "pop" against the setting as they did in the old classic films.
THREE - This was Technicolor/RGB which not only boosted saturation and contrast but did little tricks with hues.
As I said there were two stylistic approaches. The other style was mine which was employed a colorful watercolor/guoache but was in the whimsical style more like Disney's "Alice in Wonderland" rendering meets UPA design
|An early Griffith/Peraza styling concept|
Don's approach was chosen which I believe was actually much better for this classic subject matter than what I had cobbled together. I'm not saying I thought my style would have been wrong, and I have to admit I was more than a little disappointed, but I truly loved what Don had done and more importantly so did Burny and since he was in charge, that is what counted. So we used Don's inspiring concepts to guide us throughout the entire pre-production of "Mickey's Christmas Carol". It was the right decision.
|The record that started it all|
Of course some roles from the record version just begged to be re-cast. I mean come on... using Fergy's Wicked Witch from "Snow White" and Milt's Merlin from "Sword in the Stone" as two of the spirits of Christmas? That's just a lot of Humbug! I liked those two in their own design domains, especially Milt's Merlin, however mixing those somewhat realistically contemplated characters with shorts types looked bad enough within the record album pages and one would only assume it might very well worsen in animation.
Thank goodness Burny was open to re-casting some of the roles including those two fish out of water. We discussed it and came up with characters more copacetic in personality and composition including JImminy Cricket from "Pinocchio" to villainous Pete. Yes I know "Pinocchio" was a feature but the older "rubber-hose" styling of Jimminy Cricket especially made use of rounder simpler shapes found abundantly in the realm of shorts character design and in addition Ward Kimball's animation of Pinoke's little conscience certainly set a standard for us to try to follow. In fact we all visited the "morgue" (now called Animation Research) frequently in those days to get inspiration whether from animation to original layouts and Background paintings. It was as easy back then as a simple call to Leroy Anderson to see almost anything that had ever been created from the golden past of Disney. Nowadays one needs to make an appointment far in advance and wear white gloves while handling the valuable material. With so much security, I'm sure the retina scan is on the horizon too. Though I remember taking the entire collection of "Snow White" BGs home on weekends to study the technique and composition and that is something you just won't be doing these days.
|A few snapshots from the Pete Family Album|
|Breakfast table lamp, Peraza kitchen|
|One of my favorite Christmas Confections|
Burny scheduled sweatbox room screenings so we could review Christmas films such as "Scrooge" as well as UPA's "Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol" and other films. Don Griffith, Eric Larson, myself and our tiny crew gathered to discuss and review how others had handled the same story in a musical format. During those screenings we discussed various versions at length, sharing what we thought was working in those films and the scenes or sequences we didn't like and why. Eric Larson and Don Griffith in particular offered delightful insights from their own long histories of Disney Feature experience. Eric at this time was sheparding a new group of talent into the studio.
Like most of the Disney veterans, he was a reassuring and warm voice that not only provided mentoring for the new kids on the block but offered advice to anyone who asked including Burny during production of Christmas Carol. Burny was Eric's assistant in recent years and so had access to Eric's counsel whenever needed. I would also sometimes seek out Eric's advice over a pose or even staging of a scene and like Don, he always took time out to help me. And before I forget, Disney Director Darrell Van Citters has published an excellent book on "Mister Maggo's Christmas Carol" that is an essential piece detailing animation history for anyone who is a fan of great animation entertainment and UPA artistry and no I don't get a kick-back for saying that.
|Donald's Christmas Carol 1949|