through the clouds

29 07 2011

since I saw disney’s PETER PAN for the first time I was fascinated by one extremely long scene – the flight over london and through the clouds. I was convinced that it was a very complicated multiplane arrangement. the combination of character-animation and camera-moves was never explained in any publication about the film. the whole scene is very well planned with the characters moving from far away to extreme close-ups, they turn around their axes and – to make it even more confusing, the camera moves tilted in and out of the background, towards the end apparently with several cloud-layers, below and on top of the characters. stunning!

well, I found an early layout sketch that showed me the basic planning. then I did what I have done so far with over 600 backgrounds, – patch the single screencaptured puzzle pieces of the whole scene together. in this case I have to admit, it was the most complicated ‘reconstruction’ I ever did. the characters were all over the place, covering a lot of detail in the BG, the camera was constantly moving in and out and tilting… it took a while! but it was worth it – now I can see the genius-work in the planning, what an incredible idea!

and – it is not multiplane. patching it all together I noticed that. and – when you look at the scene you understand why multiplane was no option anyway, with all the moving shadows of the flying characters on top of the clouds and all that on focus. impossible in a multi-layered scene. the simple solution – the clouds were airbrushed on different cels and then moved in different speeds. only in the last seconds of the scene, where the camera moves in close to the star, one cloud-level is multiplane. the difference in that case was, the camera was trucking in and a 3-D effect was only possible with an extra cloud-layer.

you can see below the final re-created BG as well as the whole piece with added camera-fields to indicate the camera moves + corresponding screencaptures. and – the whole extremely long BG in 4 pieces in higher resolution.






© disney enterprises, inc

NOTE on july 31, 2011 -
please be so kind and read the comments about this post below. I have to correct myself – it is a multiplane-scene. the precise movement of every single level in the multiplane camera had to be planned in advance anyway. the shadows were just connected to each of the cloudlevels where they had to appear. the animation was done according to the layout of each cloudlevel and was laid as a cel-overlay on top of each them. a little bit complicated in the planning stage, but the same department had managed more complicated assignments, like the truck through about 12 levels with animation in pinocchio ( the daybreak sequence ). sorry for all the confusion, for me the scene is a masterpiece anyway and I guess that the recreation and discussion about this lost jewel helps to understand the inventive filmmaking of the past.

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18 responses

29 07 2011
Kenny

Absolutely breathtaking!

29 07 2011
Floyd Norman

A truly fascinating scene. I thought sure it was Multiplane but somebody at Disney many years ago told me that it was not.

It remains an amazing job of animation planning and layout. Truly impressive compared to all the CGI crap we see today.

29 07 2011
j.etienne

beautifully ingenious panel

29 07 2011
יוני

thank you for posting that

29 07 2011
Michael Sporn

Your work on this scene is breathtaking. I am in awe.

I did a heavy breakdown, using frame grabs, of this scene recently on my blog and questioned whether the end was done multiplane.

http://www.michaelspornanimation.com/splog/?p=2656

In Bob Thomas’ “The Art of Animation” on pg 125 there is this quote where Thomas is listing a number of special scenes done using the multiplane camera: “Another memorable sequence: the flight over London in “Peter Pan” with the runaways (or flyaways) sailing through the clouds. The scene was painted by Claude Coats.”

This was the only reason I didn’t question that it was multiplane. Someone at the studio – in 1957-58 – must have given Thomas that information.

Multiplane or not it’s an amazing scene, and, if only for the layout alone, there is nothing like it in animation history.

29 07 2011
colinstimpsonlin stimpson

It’s a fantastic example of a well thought out thumbnail. One of my favourite parts of this scene is how Peter Pan’s shadow is cast on to a cloud below him. It’s such an integral part of the scene and it’s interesting to see it there in the thumbnail.
Thanks for posting Hans.

30 07 2011
Faris

Can you speculate on the actual dimensions of the background painting? Has it been preserved in the ARL?

from hans –
if it was still existing I had not recreated it. no, it probably was destroyed or take away and lost. I guess the size was in the middle part around the towerbridge max. 12-field, this means it was about 8.85 inches high ( 22.5 cm ). now you can figure out the possible length of the whole background. I can’t imagine it was much smaller because of the detail in the smaller fields like the start of the flight with st.pauls in the background. another important reason for this size was of course the animation. to animate 4 characters too small is not recommended.

30 07 2011
Nancy Beiman

sorry to disagree, Hans….but my layout teacher at Cal Arts was Ken O’Connor, and he was the layout man on that scene, and he told us very definitely that multiplane was used for the flight over London (but ‘all ten feet’ of the camera were only used for the last bit for the truck up to Neverland.
Your recreation of the camera move is beautiful. Ken was a really brilliant artist.

from hans –
hi nancy – I commented on michael sporn’s blog – “of course I believe what ken o’connor has said. the only thing someone should explain is – how were the shadows of the characters animated? they are following precisely the shape of the clouds below. it would have been a nightmare if they had animated them in a ‘dry run’ directly on the multiplane camera. anyway – to me a much easier way would have been the way I explained. besides that peter pan did not have a very high budget and as far as I remember there is no other fancy camera work. I have seen original pan-BG’s in the ARL normal painted in half, the other part airbrushed looking out of focus, to make camerawork easier.”

31 07 2011
Nancy Beiman

Yes, this is the most elaborate shot in Peter Pan. and possibly the only multiplane. But sometimes they would use multiplanes where we would not think to use them now and where they need not have used them then…the first ones that come to mind are the ones at the beginning of the Fox and Cat sequence in Pinocchio. I was astounded to read that these were multiplane…they could easily have been done with graduated values on the backgrounds and separate levels, since you barely notice the depth. By the time of PETER PAN they had to be a bit more frugal.

31 07 2011
Faris

Thanks for the reply Hans. Based on my (very rough) calculations, the length of the painting, if it was indeed one continuous piece of art, would measure somewhere in the region of 124 inches, (almost ten and a half feet), or 3.15 metres!!! Wow.
Thank-you for creating such a wonderful blog: I especially enjoy your postings on Disney’s beautiful layouts and your magnificent re-constructed backgrounds.

31 07 2011
Nancy Beiman

It’s not all one background. They used overlays to cover the transitions. (once again my source was the artist who did layouts for the scene)

31 07 2011
Nancy Beiman

Bruce Morris took much more extensive notes than me in layout class. If he still has them, he may settle the controversy…

31 07 2011
Michael Sporn

Perhaps the end of the very long scene were shot multiplane. However, maybe the top couple of levels of clouds were shot flat (moving at varied speeds) on a high level of the multiplane so that would allow them to control the shadows on these clouds.

from hans –
michael and nancy, yes, you are right and I was wrong. I have to correct myself – it is absolutely possible. the precise movement of every single level in the multiplane camera had to be planned anyway. the shadows were just connected to each of the cloudlevels where they had to appear. the animation was done according to the layout of each cloudlevel and was laid as a cel-overlay on top of each of them. a little bit complicated in the planning stage, but the same department had managed more complicated assignments, like the truck through about 12 levels with animation in pinocchio ( the daybreak sequence ).

1 08 2011
Nancy Beiman

Yes, you’re right, Michael…only the first two levels of the multiplane camera appear to be used for most of the shot, with the grand ‘reveal’ at the end using all available levels. I’m sorry I did not ask Ken more about how he did it, but he was probably working overtime along with the cameramen!

2 08 2011
Steve

Amazing–thank you for this–very educational.

16 08 2011
Stephen

Going by the Final Draft, Maclaren Stewart was the layout artist for this sequence and it’s down as a multiplane shot of 48′-07 animated by Eric Larson. They did have a device were by they would build a 3 dimensional model of the bg, ie the clouds and use the cels to cast a shadow over complicated shapes and film these and I suppose trace off the shadows from stats? It was used in Snow White when the dwarfs sneak about the cottage and their shadows move over the carved wood work.

from hans –
thank you very much stephen. that is some detail I did not know. where did you get it from?

16 08 2011
Stephen

I have a photo copy of the camera departments, wonder of devices for creating a certain effect. Probably produced for the layout and scene planning dept. I ran off a copy when I was at Amblin, one of the effects guys had it. There’s also a patent for this shadow device on the Google patent downloads.

17 12 2011
Nic

@Stephen,

I would love to see a copy of that manual. Have you digitized it? Would you be willing to send me a copy?

Could you also point me to the Google patent? I couldn’t find the device with my search.

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