Thursday, February 26, 2009

The devil's in the acting

Michael Sporn in a recent post on his blog highlights some really beautiful drawings by Bill Tytla. He was the key animator for the devil character in Disney's Fantasia, the Night on Bald Mountain sequence that I have embedded above. Watch the clip. Definitely go see the drawings. Sporn's admiration is well founded. Michael has this to say about the Night on Bald Mountain sequence-
Art. What else need be said?
The individual drawings are stunning, and they’re
in service to a brilliantly acted sequence.
It will never get better.
The drawings are masterful. It's an amazing bit of animation, the motion is great and the imagination regarding the devil's hands conjuring the flames into different forms is second to none. There are some awe inspiring poses and timing- it's all thrillingly well done. I'm not sure I'd say the piece is 'brilliantly acted', though. Just my opinion. The devil is a cypher to me. Like so many Disney characters over the years, this devil character leaves me cold. I'm not saying it sucks, I'm not saying I can do better (obviously I can't and I never will) and I'm not even saying it's old fashioned or whatever. I see it as a beautiful dance, as well animated as anything ever put on screen, but not necessarily great acting. Perhaps that's a distinction in semantics. I dunno.
Call me an uncultured swine. *shrug*


Bobby Pontillas said...

Hmmmm.. I don't agree that it will never get better (I'm going to assume he's suggesting that this is the pinnacle of hand-drawn animation.) Not to take anything away from Bill Tytla who was a powerful artist, but it HAS gotten better. It has grown, evolved, been refined, and the best animators today are doing things that Mr. Tytla would flip out over.

It always disheartens me when a particular generation will claim that "it will never be as good as this or that period." Of course it will! That just the nature of the mentorship system. Even the older guys like Ollie Johnston knew it.

Mark Mayerson said...

I agree with you, Keith. I admire Tytla enormously, but I feel that his work in Snow White, Pinocchio and Dumbo is superior to his work in Fantasia.

It's not his fault, it's how the character was conceived in the story department. The devil is a one note character no matter how brilliantly he was drawn and animated.

Tim said...

I go back and forth on this one.
Tytla's drawings are absolutely incredible - like sculptures. The animation is solid, more "real" than practically anything that had been done up to that time. Yeah, he had lots of photo reference - the unused Bela Lugosi stuff and his own acting in front of the camera. But even without that, he was arguably the best draftsman at the studio (at the time).
I would love to see the pencil tests. I have a feeling that the inkers (as good as they were) took a little bit away from his drawing. (By the way, I had a friend who inked some of the little demons. It was her first job in animation, so they put her on background characters - rest her soul).

However, I wouldn't call this performance "acting". It's more like watching a ballet. The movements are overly dramatic and choreographed. The poses are romantic and unnatural (Though beautiful).

I think of acting as crawling into another being's skin... or better yet, their soul, and making the decisions they would make. Chernobog, isn't a character in that sense. He is an opera singer (metaphor).

Not to say that the performance doesn't move me, or thrill me, even scare me at times. It's great art!

Is it the best the studio ever put out, or ever will? That's a big fat arguable leap. That's like saying the Mona Lisa is the greatest painting that will ever be done. Sure it's the most famous, and it's really, really really good. But putting a work of art behind bullet-proof glass doesn't make it un-toppable.

(I just made up a word, according to spell-check)

I will say that I don't think that traditional animation as an art form will ever make such incredible leaps in such a short amount of time as they did in the late 30s. That's a period of artistic growth that was unequaled, and in all probability always will be.

Anonymous said...

Great point Keith! Some people allways seem to look back. It's like some Metallica fans they allways say that 'Kill em all' is the best album. You hear them and think well if that is they're best album why are you still getting angry that the black album was'ntlike Kill em all. People are weird!

Raf Anzovin said...

On the subject of "never get better," I think both sides are right in a way. It will never be this good in this particular way again--it will be good in other ways. I'm not sure that you can usefully measure art on a linear ruler. To use another musical metaphor, Pete Townsend could not have written Ode to Joy, but Beethoven could not have written Behind Blue Eyes. Most of us, of course, couldn't have done either.

Bobby Pontillas said...

Well said Raf, being "better" in this case is all subjective. I guess I just take issue with proclamations that the pinnacle has already happened. It goes right along with what Tim was saying; no work of art, no matter how great, is untouchable. Which is great news for us! Should we have the ambition to expand on the foundation luminaries like Tytla layed out for us.

Anonymous said...

I agree with what RAF said. Anyways I don't understand why some people tend to be so sentimental when it comes to the old masters. They keep looking back. They seem to look at everything that happened then and say that it's superior. Which it is not. Even with other art it's the same esspecially since the computer an artist now can do what Rembrandt did then in like weeks in days. Same is true for animation I know Brad Bird looks at animation at a micro level and i know what him and his peers mean with good animation but still artists now can bridge that wow gap alot faster. Plus the fact that people are wowed very easily. That is something that no one seems to talk about. The audience nine out of ten times gets the movie they want to see. I know we as artists don't want to be mediocre but nine out of ten times we are. Nine out of ten times we don't push for several reasons sometimes it's the money, other times it's lack of skill and other times it's time itself that holds us back. There's just so much you can do as an artist. Have a life have a coke have a smile.

Raf Anzovin said...

Well....I'm glad you agree with me Lars but that isn't quite what I meant. I don't think it's accurate to say that "an artist now can do what Rembrandt did then in like weeks in days." It's very probable that there are no artists living today who could do what Rembrandt could do at all, in any amount of time.

My point is, rather, that we can't reproduce the greatness of previous ages--but we can strive for greatness of our own.

FleaCircusDirector said...

My criteria for judging "acting" is to watch the clip without the sound and see if I can tell what is going on and what the characters are thinking and feeling. It's a little hard in this clip as there's lots of other things going on but the devil is still menacing and you can see his intent for controlling people without it looking hammed up.