The following article was written by our pal JK Riki. Go check out his site at Animator Island for more awesome articles!
JK Riki- As any animation enthusiast will tell you, Disney’s Pinocchio remains one of the best animated films ever created, from both a technical and artistic standpoint. It continues to enthrall audiences even today, more than 75 years after release. Still, you might not know everything about this classic 2D animated feature…
#5 The Final Hurrah of Rotoscoping
It’s no secret that Disney Animation Studios used live action reference throughout their history in film making. There are many examples of animated shots inspired by footage of actors on stage. In the case of Pinocchio, The Blue Fairy represents the last time it is believed direct rotoscoping was used. Actress Evelyn Venable was both the physical model and voice actor for the character.
Rotoscoping, unlike live-action referencing, is a technique of drawing directly over frames of film. When using footage only for reference, animators take bits and pieces of movements and acting to incorporate into their final animation. Starting with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, many shots were created by doing tracings for key frame drawings for the more realistic characters. This is very apparent on both Snow White and the Prince. Pinocchio was the final time this technique was used for an animated feature from Disney. From that point on, animators relied only on live action reference to guide them, instead of direct copies. (Which was for the best, in my opinion.)
#4 Models Everywhere
Rotoscoping wasn’t just used for the Blue Fairy. The studio had many physical models constructed for animators to use, from the wall of cuckoo clocks in Geppetto’s workshop to Stromboli’s cage where Pinocchio is imprisoned. Of the scene where the little wooden puppet is rattling around inside the hanging crate, animator Frank Thomas recalled how much of a chore it was to sync up the movements of the character with the swinging wooden model. Today computers would make the process a snap, but in the 1930s it was done entirely (and painstakingly) by hand.
#3 Who Knew Making a Puppet Was So Hard?
No matter what animated film you’re watching, you can bet a huge amount of time went into character design. Artists work diligently to make sure the final models are as beautifully crafted as possible. For Pinocchio, this design process took more than a year and a half.
Each time animators brought ideas to Walt, he brushed them aside and demanded the design be more appealing to the audience. It wasn’t until the legendary Milt Kahl gave up trying to make an appealing puppet that Pinocchio started to take shape. He solved the problem by starting with a human character and adding puppet-like features, such as the squared off limbs and peg joints. Walt Disney finally approved.
#2 Second? Or Third?
Pinocchio was originally intended to be the third animated feature film from Walt Disney Studios. Bambi was slated for release after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It wasn’t until work began on Bambi that the artists and animators fully realized how unbelievably difficult it was to animate the film’s deer star. To give his artists more time to adjust, Walt swapped the order and pushed Pinocchio forward. Even so, early production began in 1937, long before the final release on February 23rd, 1940.
#1 It Was Never About the Money
Walt Disney is quoted as saying “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make movies.” This applies more so to Pinocchio than many other of Walt’s projects! Originally intended to cost somewhere around $500,000, the film ended up with a budget well over 2 million. At the time, such a cost was unheard of.
Due to both the dark nature of many of the film’s scenes and World War 2, Pinocchio ended up bringing in a return of less than two million dollars. Snow White, by comparison, cost less to produce and made nearly $8 million. In spite of Pinocchio’s initial commercial failure, Walt and his team kept striving forward to make more films. Thankfully!