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In London for “Roger Rabbit” 1988
Words by Dorse Lanpher

Richard Williams got an Oscar for the animation and had a party at The Carriage House Restaurant in Burbank to celebrate.

Vera and I arrived in London during a very chilly and sometimes very wet early January, 1988. We were there to help on Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The movie was directed by Robert Zemeckis and the animation was directed by Richard Williams. Max Howard was the exceptionally friendly efficient and courteous British studio manager who welcomed us to The Forum. The Forum was a nice three story building in a pretty area of London with lots of restaurants and good Greek food. Our townhouse at the corner of Saint George’s Terrace and Regents Park Road wasn’t ready for us so we were housed in a very quaint, very British hotel. We had a car with a driver to cart us to work each day for our first week of work on the film.
After that first week we moved into our townhouse and no longer had a car or driver. We had rented a three and a half story apartment on Saint George’s Terrace one street over from Regents Park Road. Primrose Hill Road ran along side the park and the two streets were separated by a tree lined parkway so we had a nice view of the park from the upper windows of our townhouse. Regents Park had a raised area called Primrose Hill.

Primrose Hill London

In the Disney animated movie, “101 Dalmations,” Primrose Hill was where the dogs gathered for the “Twilight Bark” which was the signal to save the puppies. I worked on that film after I came back from the being in the military in 1960 and now Vera and I were living across the street from Primrose Hill. Our apartment was one in the row of fancy townhouses which had been built in the 1800’s. Once a week the Queen’s horses would be exercised and part of their trip was up Primrose Hill Road , past our town house. There would be several dozen horses clattering up the street, quite impressive. Each townhouse on the street was four stories with what were once stables in the back and a basement where all the original kitchens were. Our apartment was the top three floors with a laundry room and bath room on the first level of the stairway. The living room was on the top floor with a expansive view of north London and large sky light window on the other side of the room for southern lighting. From this room there was a short stairway that led up to an outside terrace that had of view across Regents Park and the south of London . From there we could see the wonderful Mary Poppins chimneys on top of the townhouses, each townhouse sprouting its’ own set. Of course none of the chimneys were functioning because they were remnants of the 1800’s and now were no longer needed with the modern heating systems.

The Primrose Hill Neighborhood of London

Our apartment was owned by a couple of young architects. They had remodeled this 200 year old home into a modern apartment with sconces of halogen lighting, fancy crown molding and high end Italian appliances. Below the living room was the kitchen and dining room and below that the master bedroom and bath. The master bedroom had large windows that looked out on Regents Park . All those stairs were a challenge after working a twelve hour day and walking twenty minutes each way to and from work but we did enjoy living there. Our townhouse was the second unit from the corner of Saint George’s Terrace and next to us on the corner was The Queen Ann’s Pub. On occasion we would stop in the pub for a pint to slack our thirst after a long day at the studio and the long walk home. The pub was usually inhabited by local neighborhood people who smoked cigarettes one after the other and who owned dogs which they would bring into the pub. The smoke filled the air down to about shoulder level and the floor was knee deep in big dogs all laying around waiting for their masters to develop serious lung disease.

Jessica Rabbit Modelsheet ©DISNEY

It was a fun production. We all looked forward to the dailies, which were very entertaining and gave me cause to think we were working on a film which had “hit” potential. If the dailies are entertaining without sound then wouldn’t the film have a good chance of being successful when it had color and sound? I thought so but the effort it took to make all of those entertaining scenes we saw in dailies did make for a long and grueling week so Don Hahn, our associate producer, would make sure we had our Friday night get togethers, beer, wine, cheese and assorted treats. Those parties helped push us through those long weeks. Don always made us feel good about being super human by letting us know that we had an impossible task ahead of us but we were just the ones super human enough to do it and we would do it. It felt good.

* * * * * * * *

The first I had heard of the story “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” was when we were back in Van Nuys with Don Bluth Productions. We were nearing the finish of The American Tail and we were again on the verge of financial ruin. Don Bluth had been contacted by Steven Speilberg about directing the animation for a live action/animated film starring Roger Rabbit. There was good buzz in the studio for awhile. We were going to get very hungry and we needed another picture to do. Working hard to finish The American Tail I didn’t notice the buzz had stopped. One day in 1986 I ask Don what had happened to Roger Rabbit. He said, “It’s been shelved”. End of story. Fortunately Don Bluth Productions had worked out a deal to go to Ireland to do Land Before Time so off we went. Then after finishing that picture here we were in London in 1987 working on Who Framed Roger Rabbit. So I guess it wasn’t the end of story.

Land Before Time ©Sullivan Bluth

My animation on Who Framed Roger Rabbit consisted mostly of tones and shadows with a few “glints” or “sparkles” here and there. For most of the scenes I worked on we would be handed a stack of registered photostats, black and white photographs of each frame of film. We would work over these photos and draw shadows and tones to conform to the lighting in the photostat. I did animate the train which roars through at the end of the picture after the dip machine has crashed through the back wall of the warehouse leaving a hole big enough for a train to drive through. If you stop frame the sequence you can see in the train windows that mayhem was occurring on the train. In each of the train windows I drew silhouettes of people doing all sorts of terrible things to each other. I also did the little railroad handcar with the pig operators that glides through after the train has passed. There was also a sequence I animated which didn’t appear in the final cut of the film. It occurs over tune town with a witch flying on a broom and Hercules in the sky throwing lightning bolts at her. My guess is that it didn’t move the story or it was animated poorly. I like the first guess. That sequence was cut out of the theatrical release but I think did appear in a television release of the film. When we first arrived at the London studio I went to meet the amazing Richard Williams.

Richard Williams

I had heard of him for years. Who hadn’t? Now I had the opportunity to meet him. He had a big office which immediately signaled his importance on the project as director of animation. I walked in and introduced myself and was instantly disarmed by his bowing to me. I was quite surprised. I should have been humbled in his presence but no, he bowed and said something about how amazing the heaving sea looked which I had designed and animated as the “Demon Wave” storm sequence in An American Tail, the Don Bluth film done for Steven Speilberg. I was quite flattered. He is a great fan of visual effects as was shown in his film “The Thief and the Cobbler.” He had spent his spare time working on that film for 25 years. One evening he invited Vera and I to see a couple of reels of the picture. It was visually spectacular. He was hoping Vera and I might find the time to help him and all the other artist involved in finishing the picture. We never got around to helping and a few years later, because of some financial entanglements, he gave up the film to have it finished by Don Bluth et al. It came and went in the theaters, disappeared with very little gasping but it has some remarkable animation, most of it on “ones”.

* * * * * * * *

While living in London we spent a few of our Sundays sight seeing. And we had visitors from Ireland and the U.S. to entertain and of course we toured the famous art museums of London as well as The Museum of Natural History and the British Museum . We went to Stonehenge on a very cold and windy day with our pals Thad and Rachel. We went to the city of Bath and toured the amazing Roman Ruins under that city. Ruins which had been discovered in the 1960’s when a farmer dug up a Roman helmet in his field. Bath was a city that the Romans took over in the first century A.D. and the spring water was still flowing through the baths that the Romans had built when we visited.

* * * * * * * *

After working 12 hour days, six days a week for three months, our work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit was completed. The artists did a remarkable job even though most of them who lived in Europe knew they would be looking for work after their Disney days were done. The impossible was accomplished by the artists, both in London and Burbank . Artists who had spent many hours of hard work on the film would now be saying their good byes and moving on. The studio had been quite concerned about its cost being somewhere in the 50 million-dollar range and there was a time when the completion date looked as if was impossible but we made it.

* * * * * * * *

Near the end of production Peter Schneider’s office called and ask Vera and I to meet with Peter during his next visit to London. Peter was the president of Walt Disney’s Feature Animation. At my first meeting with Peter, after the normal how do you do’s, he said “Your reputation precedes you.” I of course was flattered. In my mind my circle of animation life instantly expanded. Being away from home, and so busy working in Europe for a year it seemed we were outside the California animation world. Peter’s comment was reassuring. Vera and I had separate interviews with Peter to learn that he had offered each of us a job back in Burbank at Walt Disney Feature Animation. Peter ask me to work with Mark Dindal to help finish the effects on “The Little Mermaid”. Mark was supervising the effects on that picture. After that I would supervise the effects department on the upcoming feature “Beauty and the Beast” then move onto supervising the effects on some new sequences for a re-release of “Fantasia”. He wanted Vera to head up the clean up department. We were very pleased and relieved to have an offer from Disney’s and happy to have a job when we returned to California. Vera and I had been so busy in London we hadn’t given much thought to what we would do after Roger Rabbit.

Walt Disney Feature Animation “NEW” building

We had a wrap party in London . During this party all of the animators were ushered into a theatre where Frank Marshall, one of the producers, performed his magic act, which was very entertaining. We had a big chocolate birthday cake for Richard Williams which Frank accidentally on purpose fell on, making a mess of it. Frank, Bob Zemeckis and Robert Watts, a producer of the movie, rehearsed all of the animators in an effort to sing the closing song of the movie, “Smile, Darn Ya, Smile.” The final take of that session was recorded and used as the singing voices of all the animated characters who sing at the close of the show. It turned out quite well and we had much fun doing it. After the sing along, Don Hahn and Bob Zemeckis shared their feelings about how wonderful we all were for working so hard on the picture and for doing such an amazing job. Don of course was very good as usual but when Robert Zemeckis was giving his talk some of the British artists expressed, with rude sounds and gruff talk, their displeasure for being praised so highly knowing they would be out of work after Roger Rabbit’s finish and Disney’s exit from London . Of course they had every reason to be disappointed but the moment put a slightly embarrassed cap on an otherwise wonderful evening.

With our part of Roger Rabbit finished, early April 1988, Vera and I packed our belongings, vacated our fun townhouse, said good bye to our friends in London and took off for that long trip back to Los Angeles to start another exciting slice of life at Walt Disney Feature Animation. When Who Framed Roger Rabbit was released that year it was a big hit.
Richard Williams got an Oscar for the animation and had a party at The Carriage House Restaurant in Burbank to celebrate.

Photo care of Dorse Lanpher

Front Row: Steve Hickner, Joe Haidar, Dick’s Mother, Richard Williams, Dick’s Daughter, Vera Lanpher, Pat Sito
Second Row: Mark Kausler, Jacques Muller, Dave Spafford, Andreas Deja, Carl Bell, Dorse Lanphe
Third Row: Franz Fischer, James Baxter, Stan Green (Milt’s Assistant), Debbie Spafford
Back Row: (?), Hans Bacher, Marc, Roger Chaison, Tom Sito, Nik Renieri, Joe Ranft

Posted by admin at 5.37 AM | 2 Comments
Labels: 1988 Roger Rabbit, Effects Animators

Comments

  1. David Nethery (October 2nd, 2008, 2.05 am)

    Cool photos and memories. Thanks for posting these , Dorse.

    For anyone interested in more ephemera from those long ago days
    I posted the crew photo of the L.A. Roger Rabbit crew on my blog:

    http://inklingstudio.typepad.com/chronicles/

    It’s the post dated Sept. 11, 2008.

    I haven’t posted all the ID’s on the photo yet, but I’m sure many will recognize other familiar faces.

  2. Dorse Lanpher (October 2nd, 2008, 3.37 am)

    Thanks, Tina, for presenting my Roger Rabbit story. You’ve done it again with a big splash of creative aplomb. I do appreciate your efforts to preserve a bit of animation history on the drawn2gether site for the benefit of the animation community. Thanks again…
    Dorse

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