disney’s – LADY AND THE TRAMP, released july 1955. the first of very few CINEMASCOPE films the studio would produce in the years to come. in the cinemascope format a single background is already impressive, but when you look at the enormous length of pan-BG’s you are speechless. it is very interesting the way the camera was used in this format, the character always leads the camera-action. that means, a character starts to move first, then the camera follows moving in the same direction later. the format is so big that in some of the scenes a camera movement was not even necessary, the characters have enough room for their movements sideways. close-ups are more critical. in a normal head-shot you still have a lot of ‘empty’ space next to the character. it must have been a very intense learning experience for the layout team that was used to deal with 3:4 normal size formats over all these years. cinemascope means a format 1 : 2, you have to compose a scene a lot different in that stretched size.
you have to see the original backgrounds, there are fortunately a lot of them left in the disney archives. they look so loosely painted, created by absolute professionals. the style is close to realism, with a simplified ‘disney’ touch. but the painters were so skillful after all the movies behind them, that their work looks effortless. very rough brushstrokes when you look close, but from a distance all these strokes reveal something new, like in a matte painting. I would want to show you more, but I don’t know where to start. and all my recreations are not even halfway close to what the real, the original painting looks like. hopefully there will be a publication with all these masterpieces in the future… besides the beautiful look of the backgrounds they are just perfect as what they are – the stage. the characters work so well in front of them. the color- balance is incredible. very different from another one of my favorites a few years later – SLEEPING BEAUTY, where the BG.s are such incredible art- pieces by themselves, that you are most of the time overwhelmed by the look and can not follow the most beautiful animation. here in LADY AND THE TRAMP you get just enough detail to know what you need to know, it is never confusing or over- whelming, – until you see the ORIGINALS!
the BG-artists – CLAUDE COATS, DICK ANTHONY, RALPH HULETT, ALBERT DEMPSTER, THELMA WHITMER, EYVIND EARLE, JIMI TROUT, RAY HUFFINE, BRICE MACK. but the layout crew was equally important – KEN ANDERSON, TOM CODRICK, AL ZINNEN, A.KENDALL O’CONNOR, HUGH HENNESSY, LANCE NOLLEY, JAQUES RUPP, MC.LAREN STEWARD, DON GRIFFITH, THOR PUTNAM, COLLIN CAMPBELL, VICTOR NABOUCH, BILL BOSCHE. what a team!
NANCY BEIMANN wrote in her comment – KEN O’CONNOR told me that this was one of the hardest projects he ever did, since LADY was released in SCOPE in only a few theatres; the majority of the prints had standard screen ratio. this meant that all his layouts had to have the main action take place in the centre of the screen, with unimportant stuff on the sides. but he had to keep the sides active and interesting for the widescreen version. the scope-version noticeably slows down the camera moves. if you run the RAT FIGHT sequence at standard ratio, the camera moves are fast and dramatic. they are leisurely, almost a drift, in the widescreen version of the same shots. you also see more of the rat at the beginning of the sequence. with the standard version, suspense is stronger since you see the rat enter the shots much later on. O’CONNOR had characters moving through the frame or toward the camera to help shots work in two formats. and he actually built those victorian houses in the studio woodshop. other sequences of the film are more static and sometimes show their technique when dealing with the two format layout. In the BELLA NOTTE sequence, watch for the cook stepping out the door, then rapidly stepping to screen left so that he doesn’t leave centre frame. It looks a little strange in the widescreen version.
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