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Friday, October 18, 2013

Sleeping Beauty: “The Sweeping Wonder of Super Technirama 70”

“The Sweeping Wonder of Super Technirama 70”     
Image Source: http://www.widescreenmuseum.com

Image Source: http://disneyscreencaps.com

In June of 1955, Lady and the Tramp premiered as the first animated feature utilizing the Cinemascope widescreen process that was taking the film world by storm.  Walt Disney and his team had not originally planned to shoot on widescreen, but the growing popularity swayed them to make the change. It wasn’t flawless however; many theaters did not yet possess the projection capabilities for such a frame size and artists on the production had to re-adapt long developed processes of animation and layout. Their world was larger now, and truly more cinematic. Still newer challenges and technologies would be found on the next feature, Sleeping Beauty (1959).
         “The startling clarity and depth of the Super Technirama 70 image on the giant screen marks a major step forward in motion picture presentation.” So claims a souvenir program for the new “roadshow style” presentation. It was meant to outdo even the range of a Cinemascope presentation. It’s formal presentation featured an inwardly curved screen, with a 2.25:1 aspect ratio, slightly larger than normal Cinemascope.
Aspect ratios compared to Cinemascope

        Sleeping Beauty was one of the first films to use the new Technirama system. It was shot on 70mm film that ran horizontally through the projector, letting Eyvind Earle’s backgrounds expand across a panoramic screen, with a six-track stereo soundtrack, fitting George Bruns’ score adapted from the Tchaikovsky ballet perfectly. This combined with some of the earliest uses of the new Xerox printing process on an animated film put Sleeping Beauty on the technological cutting edge. 
Walt Disney comparing traditional 35mm from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) to 70mm
Photo Source: Sleeping Beauty DVD http://www.amazon.com     

“They really used the screen to advantage,” says historian John Canemaker. “There’s a wonderful scene where Maleficent is up in the castle, and she’s over on the left side of the screen, and she shoots her lightning bolt straight across the screen, you follow the action. It’s quite dynamically laid out and staged.”
         “I remember reading something at a film festival in Los Angeles,” recalls Imagineer Tony Baxter, “in which they listed the battle with Maleficent as the dragon as probably the greatest achievement graphically on 70mm film that had ever been done to that point and probably would ever be done in the future.”
“Technirama 70 made every one of our production problems new, different, and bigger,” says Walt Disney in his introduction to the film on the Disneyland television program. The challenges of widescreen, however, did not necessarily translate directly to how the animators drew. “Whatever it was, it didn’t seem to affect me too much,” remembered Iwao Takamoto, who worked as quality control animator for Aurora. I had the opportunity of asking Floyd Norman if he experienced any issues during his work as an inbetweener, to which he gave these insights:
         Because of the wide screen format, all the cels used in production on Sleeping Beauty would have to be much larger and wider. However, this did not necessarily require us to use paper that size. Most work on the film was done on the Disney standard 6.5 field sized animation paper. On occasion, we would have to use wide paper because of the demands of a particular scene. In such cases, it was somewhat awkward to draw on paper this size because it became so unwieldy and cumbersome. Fortunately, this was rare and most of our work was done on standard size paper. So, there was no issue adapting to the widescreen format because we rarely had to use wide paper.
So, as Iwao said, there was really no problem with the wide screen format. It was all about the quality of the drawings and that's really all that mattered.”
Floyd Norman at his desk.
Photo Source: “Floyd Norman: Animated Life” http://www.amazon.com

Camera Operators handle the widescreen size cels.

Al Dempster, Dick Anthony, Ralph Hulett, and Eyvind Earle inspect a test cel.
Photo Sources: Sleeping Beauty DVD http://www.amazon.com
          Issues did arise for veteran animator Eric Larson, who stepped into his first directing role on Sleeping Beauty. “Walt had called him up and was totally taken with the idea of this wide screen and those beautiful panoramas, the dimensional feeling that the (Technirama) format would give it,” remembered Takamoto. After Wilfred Jackson was taken off the film after suffering from a coronary, Larson was the first director to dive into story development and test animation. He had been inspired by Walt’s vision, “Walt threw a challenge at us…it was going to be a moving illustration, the ultimate in animation, with full use of the Cinemascope (Technirama) screen.”
Your Host, Walt Disney
Photo Source: Sleeping Beauty DVD http://www.amazon.com
         “Eric took him at his word,” Takamoto remembered, “and really gave a tremendous amount of footage to these wonderful long shots.” Sequence 8, “Boy Meets Girl,” in particular went over budget as a result of Larson’s devotion to this vision. Takamoto again, “When Walt viewed the sequence after it was finished to the point where it made sense to him, his only comment was, ‘You guys ever heard of a close up?’ He wasn’t going to say that it was his fault or anything like that. He just simply made that statement. Poor Eric came down and we had to do a little changing around on that.”
Walt Disney and Eric Larson look at Sleeping Beauty production art in the halls of D-Wing.
Iwao Takamoto in the 1940's, one of Disney's more unsung animation masters, who would later find great success at Hanna-Barbera Productions.

        As has been recounted many times, Walt Disney’s attention was spread thin during this period between Disneyland, television, live action features, and animation. His priorities no doubt changed a little over the years from his first visionary ideas for Sleeping Beauty. As Floyd Norman has written, Walt’s attitude toward Sleeping Beauty in the later years of production was more like “Just finish the darned thing!” Eric Larson did step down from his primary position as Director and others moved up. Still many of the original shots survived the final film. In the beginning of Sequence 8, we see beautiful panoramas of the forest as Briar Rose’s voice echoes throughout, making full use of the Technirama screen.


        Sleeping Beauty however, would prove to be both at the beginning and the end of an era in Disney feature presentation. It’s sound and visuals were magically impressive, but far too expensive and time consuming. Another animated feature on Sleeping Beauty’s artistic level would not be attempted for decades, namely Pocahontas (1995)

-My most sincerest of thanks to Floyd Norman for answering my questions on this subject. Stay tuned for more of Floyd's thoughts and stories in future posts! 

And check out Floyd, he's awesome!
     -His book: http://www.amazon.com
     -His Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/floydnorman      

- Ghez, Didier. Walt's People. Talking Disney with the Artists Who Knew Him. Vol. 6. [United States]: Xlibris Corporation, 2008. Print.
-Kurti, Jeff. "Wonderful World of WALT: Walt and Animation Innovation." Disney Blogs. N.p., 12 Feb. 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2013. <http://blogs.disney.com/insider/articles/2013/02/12/wonderful-world-of-walt-walt-and-animation-innovation/>.
- Picture Perfect: The Making of Sleeping Beauty. Walt Disney Studios, 2009. DVD.
-Sleeping Beauty. Dir. Clyde Geronimi, Les Clark, Eric Larson, and Wolfgang Reitherman. Walt Disney Productions, 1959. DVD.
- Takamoto, Iwao, and Michael Mallory. Iwao Takamoto: My Life with a Thousand Characters. Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2009. Print.
-"Widescreen Museum - The Technirama Wing - Page 3." Widescreen Museum. N.p., 2005. Web. 15 Oct. 2013. <http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/widescreen/wingtr3.htm>.

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