Walt Disney is not the inventor of imagination, but his imagination led to the invention of many innovations.
Walt wanted sound to accompany his cartoons, but the symphony director had trouble keeping time with the pictures. Walt’s solution? Print a ball on the sound track and on the film and bounce it to the beat. The result? The first sound animation ever produced, Steamboat Willie, set a precedent for all animated films.
Walt wanted color features, but the process was pricey and he was short-funded. Walt’s solution? Reuse cels, use watercolor paint, and partner with Technicolor. The result? His first color animation, Flowers and Trees, won an Academy Award for animated short subject.
Walt wanted realistic scenery, but despite lessons for his artists, backdrops remained static. Walt’s solution? Mount layers of animation within a vertical box and film it from above while moving each layer independently. The result? The mulitplane camera provided viewers of Snow White real perspective and the illusion of depth.
Walt Disney was granted the United States patent 2,201,689 for his “art of animation” camera on May 1, 1940, an invention on which he collaborated with Roger Broggie and William Garrity. Animation cells had previously been placed in layers directly on top of a background and changed as each frame of film was exposed. Live theater staging techniques inspired Walt and his friends to shoot down through varied layers of backdrop, thus eliminating the dimensionality challenges of lighting and shadow effects, color shifts, and perception of distance, especially when a character moved through the scene.
Walt Disney Studios generated numerous animated pictures during the 1930s and 40s using this mulitplane camera, though the contraption was quite bulky and shooting with it was painfully slow. Four to eight men were required to operate it, each clambering around on the twelve-foot tall machine in order to crank a plate one-hundredth of an inch forward or shift a plate up or down. Each of the four levels was separately lit by eight five-hundred-watt bulbs, generating unbearable heat in the closed filming darkroom.
Despite the camera’s difficulties, Walt regarded it the ultimate toy and “[got] a kick out of just watching the boys operate it.” Critics complimented its effects, noting how an audience could be “swept up by sheer subtlety and could become deeply involved” in films that “give you the beauty of the wind.” They observed “soft and moving” clouds that produced “the real feeling of rain,” and in fact, worried the multiplane might exhibit too much dynamic.
Although today’s technology obscures the extinct multiplane camera, its innovative approach to animation presentation set the standard for all subsequent works.Share