|Ghost of Christmas Past models Mike Peraza|
I worked with Disney Feature animator and model maker Dick Lucas
|Ken stops by Christmas Carol to check out my model sets|
Dick (and Muriel) lived two doors down from me, and Don (and wife Kay) were 2 streets over so I could bug them about these kinds of things which I did frequently. Besides using models as vehicles, we also referred to them for props. The Disney Lot Prop Master gave me one of the door knockers used in "Mary Poppins" (Bank of England set
|Patty Peraza live on Good Morning America Interview during Xmas Carol|
For "Mickey's Christmas Carol", I built various sets including the counting house, Mickey's desk, Scrooges' desk, the stairway and the bedroom. I also created sculptures, some even articulated versions of the key characters like Mickey along with cutouts of drawings to place them into the sets for study and discussion.
These model sets and sculptures were available for loan out to anyone on the crew to aid with staging their scenes. Since the pieces were primarily paper and balsa wood, when Patty and Ted wanted to borrow the Ghost of Christmas Past set to study light patterns they asked me, "Is it OK to light the candle?" "Sure" I answered. When Patty returned the candle stick with the rest of the set at the end of production I wondered if they had used it as the sole means of lighting and warmth for the effects department as there was a veritable mound of candle wax collected at the stem!
I was honored though when one of my setups with Jimminy on the candle stick was recently used by
|John Lasseter and Mike Peraza check scene on Ub Iwerks moviola|
As I mentioned earlier, we unfortunately didn't have the ability to create computer graphics in 3D at the time which is today considered mainstream for "animated" feature films. I was hoping to push the boundaries of 2D if not into 3D, than at least 2 1/2 D. One morning I found a scene depicting a quick flight through an alley and over some rooftops needing attention. Now you have to understand that this was a featurette and not a feature and although we all lavished every bit of quality we were allowed, deadlines and quotas had to be met. I had about an hour to think of a way to handle forward motion and while pondering the problem, John Lasseter, who was 2 rooms down came in to see what I was up to.
He was going to animate Scrooge hanging onto Jimminy with his tiny umbrella for the trip to the past and had just gone over the scene in storyboards next door with Burny. He was as excited as I was about various ways we might re-stage the scenes and after we brainstormed it for a bit, I roughed out some layouts and gave them to him to follow. I had really wanted to involve the audience in a roller-coaster ride over London rooftops. I did a few crazy tests that were kind of fun and full of potential but only one scene was actually cut into the reel and unfortunately what you see on film is our first only take of that action. John added some creative personality bits having Scrooge attempt to crawl ON TOP of the slippery umbrella during their flight which definitely added to the sequence. But oh, If we could only go back and redo it with the resources and experience we have now, ... sigh.
|Me at Bill Peet's old desk working away|
Animation production was directed in a very organized yet enjoyable manner by Burny with superb detailed model sheets constructed for animators to follow. I went down to the morgue to gather additional reference for characters we were "borrowing" from previous features like Willie the Giant, Ratty, Moley, etc.. On Mickey's Christmas Carol we used model sheets that demonstrated key poses as well as others that specifically detailed, scale, proportions and the final cleanup process notes.
Even with that kind of foresight to guide the production, pressure builds trying to create day after day. Gags both practical and drawn were always a great way to relieve that tension at Disney. We constantly exchanged gag drawings with each other lampooning everyone on the crew as well as the film itself, all in fun of course.
|The talented crew hanging out with "Santa"|
One gag resulted with an early snow in our hallways at Disney. Yes, I said SNOW, and IN our hallway. You see at the same time as Christmas Carol, the studio was working on a futuristic film called "TRON". Well that crew was working incredibly long hours at the end of its production and during one late night escapade, a few Tronites entered our dark and deserted Christmas Carol hallways and emptied studio fire extinguishers into a few rooms and covered the hallway. The stuff looked like snow, if you were a bit tipsy, which is most likely what the "volunteer firemen" from TRON were that evening. Unfortunately you just couldn't make a decent snowman out of that sticky goop (I tried) so it didn't endear itself to the unlucky victims. Luckily my door and Burny's were locked but they had a hell of a blizzard in Mark Henn's room as well as a couple of others. The studio management was definitely not laughing at our early White Christmas as evidenced by the interoffice mails we received (which I kept) but most thought it was pretty hilarious.
|Warm watercolor, wrinkled paper and ink - Mike Peraza|
Luckily a co-worker and utterly amazing story guy, Vance Gerry used to drop by my room to check up on me as he had requested me for the story department when I first came to the studio based on my reel at Cal Arts which was more story boards than animation. He got really excited about the little pencil sketches I had mocked up for the title sequence and the next day brought over some beautiful little ink sketches in the same vein he had done for some little Dicken's books to show me. Let me explain that Vance had his own printing press in those days and would hand out these beautiful little hand made books of selected works by Dickens for Christmas presents, of which I'm lucky to have a complete set courtesy of Vance. Vance then gave me a very special edition he had done that was reserved for retirees. I won't go into much detail about it here except to mention the long dark stairway and the small paper bag. Those of you who know what I'm talking about are probably cracking up right now. Anyway Burny could hear us laughing next door and came over to see what we were doing and in no time, with Vance's support, Burny consented to let me do the title art. The only trouble doing titles I now faced was that the crew got wind of it and started coming down to see the pieces.
|A Couple of Crickets|
She was a pro and took it like a er... woman, but there were more than a few very disenchanted crew members to put it mildly. Those kinds of things though unpleasant have always been and will always be a part of film production and is a very difficult decision for producers to contend with. You can't always tell what a person did of didn't do on a film or series by just reading the credits.
|One of my lost NBC "bumpers" drawings|
|Patty documented every aspect of the film|
Everyone was wearing their golden crew T-shirts and it was a warm reunion to celebrate what we had all achieved together, not to mention the food was mighty tasty too. In the end it was a very good experience made better by the talent and integrity of the entire crew and a supportive management team. "Mickey's Christmas Carol" was received enthusiastically at the box office when issued in movie theaters as a double bill in a re-release of "The Rescuers" which ironically also featured animation by then brand new "Mickey's Christmas Carol" alum animators Dale Baer, Ed Gombert and Randy Cartwright.
When the NBC network carried it in subsequent years, the studio contacted me through special Projects head Mark Sturdivant to create a dozen more title cards in the same sepia ink style I done for the original which was a treat for me. Mark was a pleasure to deal with as he was an unusual combination of creativity AND management. Yeah, you don't come across that animal often in what we laughingly refer to as the Entertainment Biz. I was in the middle of
|Mike (Santa) and Burny Christmas Eve|
I then sent them to Bill Brazner who supervised the Xerox Department in Ink and Paint and he would xerox them on cels to be shot over distressed warm watercolor boards I would sponge. They used these for what is referred to as "bumpers" in the business. These are the little title cards that in essence say to the home audience, "don't go away, we'll be right back after these messages
|The Release Poster|
Walt Disney Studios built up the fact that this was Mickey's first official return to the motion picture screen in 30 years. The Disney take on the Dicken's story was translated into comics, records, collectable figurines and if you happened to vists the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World last Christmas, simply gorgeous window displays.
After "The Black Cauldron", we were the last Disney animated film to actually enjoy complete production in the old original animation studio in Burbank that Walt Disney had built with the profits of his classic "Snow White" so in hindsite it was made even more special for those of us that toiled for old Ebenezer. Even though we had been told the move to Glendale would be temporary and that we'd soon return to the original animation building, it never came about.
The film went on to be nominated for an Academy Award as Best Animated Short (pretty long short ), the first nomination for our Mickey since "Mickey and the Seal" in 1948. What has made it even more special like so many films we have been fortunate to work on is the happy looks one sees when some one brings up "Mickey's Christmas Carol." Over the years it has become a perennial holiday favorite for families to gather around and enjoy with each new generation. To paraphrase Tiny Tim's last line, we were all blessed to have worked on this merry little ornament of a film, yes blessed every one.