From the memoirs of Dorse A. Lanpher “Flyin’ Chunks and Other Things To Duck”
Dorse Lanpher 1975 Walt Disney Animation
(Photo care of Dorse Lanpher)
In1975 I was re-employed by Walt Disney Feature Animation after having spent 12 years living the artist life in the outer world. I had resigned from Disney’s in 1962 thinking animated cartoons just didn’t serve the world. I had an opportunity to go into technical films which I thought would help instruct the world rather than just entertain. Most of the films I worked on in this period were military films which served a wealth of information on how to fight wars, break things and hurt people severely. I eventually came to conclude that contributing art to animated cartoons was a more useful worldly uplifting endeavor. At this time I had become involved in my own company, a partnership with four partners and myself. It was like being married to four people, all guys with too much testosterone. I decided to sell my share in our little concern and seek another job. Fortunately the other guys wanted my shares and Disney’s wanted me back. Well, Disney’s wanted me back after a lengthy interview. At that interview I tried very hard to convince them that I could animate special effects but I had to settle for a position as an assistant animator in the special effects department.
Back at the Mouse House I was assigned to work as Jack Buckley’s assistant animator on The Rescuers. I had worked on Sleeping Beauty as Jack’s assistant during my first period with the studio from 1956 to 1958. Jack had been working at the studio since the early 40’s and here I was working with Jack again. Jack was now the effects supervisor. Wolfgang Reitherman was producer. Reitherman was also credited as director along with John Lounsbery and Art Stevens. Wolfgang, who everyone called Woolie, was one of the nine old men, Walt’s most talented artists from the early days of the animation studio. Woolie’s Disney career had been interrupted by World War II. He had been an ace pilot in the war and returned to Disney’s when it was over. I had never worked directly with any of those guys before working on The Rescuers but knew enough about them to greatly respect them to the point of feeling intimidated when in their presence.
In high school I had become aware of a successful Dixieland jazz band called The Firehouse Five Plus Two. Two of the nine old men played in that band. Ward Kimbal, a self taught trombonist, had formed the band in the 40’s and Frank Thomas played piano. All of the seven musicians were Disney artist or associated with the studio in other capacities
After I had worked for a few months as an assistant animator I was promoted to special effects animator. I was having a great time animating the effects on The Rescuers. It was a fun movie to work on and great fun working with Jack Buckley. One day Jack assigned a scene to me that was only five feet long, a scene where the paddle steamer is sinking in the swamp, a short but complex scene. The alligators have been trapped in the elevator cage of the paddle steamer as the fireworks are lighting up the sky. The old boat explodes in a ball of flame as the elevator cage and the alligators are blown sky high. As the boat’s smoke stacks flail about debris is blown into the air and rains down around the boat as it splashes into the swamp. It wasn’t a character scene with the importance of one of the film’s stars but it was going to be fun. I set to work and decided I would do a pose test, rendering the drawings with pastels so the test could be shot in color. To shoot a pose test in color was against the rules but I thought this scene needed to be storyboarded and presented in all its blazing color.
I finally finished the renderings of each pose and sent my scene to camera. In those non-digital film days we would have to wait three or four days for our scenes to come back from processing before we would know whether we had a hit or a miss. I busied myself with other work while waiting for my scene to come back from camera. Joe Morris, a lovable fixture at the studio and an administrative assistant always delivered the filmed scenes. I was always excited to see if a scene was working when I viewed the film so I thanked Joe, closed the door to my room to insure that my first viewing would be a private affair and excitedly threaded the moviola. I carefully pressed the slow peddle to make sure the film was threaded properly and then moved my foot over to the peddle which would send the film though the moviola at ninety feet per minute, a speed which could chew up the best of scenes if the film was not properly on the sprockets. The frames of my pose test flew by, projected on the little moviola screen, and I liked what I saw. I decided to show the scene to Jack. He didn’t make a fuss about the test being in color, he liked what he saw. Sometimes he would show our scenes to Woolie without the animators present, but this time he said “Let’s show it to Woolie.” Gulp
My scene was cut into a reel with other scenes that needed to be shown to Woolie that day. Jack and I, with our reel of film, headed up to the second floor offices of the director, Wolfgang Reitherman. I got the job of threading the film in the moviola as Jack chatted with Woolie. I didn’t have a chance to try the slow pedal for Woolie was now ready for the show. Waving his cigar in the air, we could smoke in the studio in those days and many people did, he sat down in a chair and rolled up to the moviola as Jack and I gathered around behind him. Being the straight forward, no holds barred kind of guy that he was, he slammed his foot down on the fast pedal and away we went. I was relieved that the film was threaded properly and the film was flying through the machine at twenty four frames a second without being shredded.
The Final Scene in Color at the end of this clip)
As the black and white pencil test scenes whizzed by Woolie intently studied them, without comment, as Jack and I watched over his shoulder. Suddenly the tiny moviola screen exploded with color as my short posed test flashed by in about three point three seconds. Woolie reared back with a loud, “Whoa !” Taking his foot off the pedal, the machine stopped. He slowly turned, waving his cigar in the air, craning his neck around so he could look me in the eye. As a master of timing he paused for an intimidating moment as our eyes united. Just before the silence became fatal for me he said with confident emphasis “You’ll never get that in final.” I choked on the challenge ready to quote The Little Engine That Could, “I think I can, I think I can” but Woolie didn’t need to hear it. Without giving me a chance to comment he turned back to the moviola to view the rest of the pencil tests. Of course my brain was whirling with wonder at what Woolie meant by his terse statement. I had other moments with Woolie but that one made me wonder if Woolie’s response was a way to get the best out of people. Maybe he liked my rough pose test and wanted to make sure that I would succeed with the final scene and fear would motivate me to do that. Woolie had so much studio history behind him, so many years of experience in animation, it was a serious jolt to my ego to hear him say “You’ll never get that in final.”
With Woolie’s words ringing in my ears I set to work hoping to prove Woolie wrong. After animating all of the scenes elements on paper, 2D you know, I sent the scene out for a pencil test. While waiting for the test to come back from camera I rendered the animated fireball drawings on paper with colored pencil, cut them out and glued them on cells. The pencil test was approved so I sent the scene out, along with my rendered fireball drawings glued to the cells, to be put through the system to end up in the final color reel. Woolie approved the final color take without ceremony and I was happy and relieved. That scene was just a very, very, tiny part of the many successful Walt Disney animated films but the memory of Woolie waving his cigar about still hangs in my head.
The Rescuers reported budget was under two million dollars and the domestic gross was just under fifty million. Not a blockbuster but I think the studio was happy and I was happy to have been a part of it.
Dorse A. Lanpher
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