Bob Zemeckis thought of a split-screen device to remove a character from the screen. In the scene in the ‘Ink and Paint’ nightclub, Jessica (Roger Rabbit’s cartoon wife) walks up behind Stubby Kaye, grips his cheeks and shakes them. An actress was used in the live shoot. Bob, knowing what ILM can do, found a way to obliterate the woman so you see right through her without any visible matte lines or edges, removing the woman but keeping her hands on Kaye’s head. There’s a Motion Control way they can shoot a split even when the camera is moving. Then we rotoscope over the hands – draw cartoon hands over the top of the actresses’ hands. Then we draw an impossible woman with a waist an inch wide, where the live woman has been removed.
When you see it you think, “what?” because you cannot spot the trick, it doesn’t look rotoscoped. There’s a look to rotoscope work, you can spot it instantly. And by the way, in the Tex Avery Wolf cartoons, when Preston Blair says he didn’t rotoscope the dancing girl, that’s not so. He definitely has because there’s a look to it. What he did was depart from the rotoscope…
JC: And animate around the rotoscope…
RW: Yes, and change a few things. We all do that if it is rotoscoped. It’s not made up out of the blue. So we were able to make up the body out of the blue or use the live action as a reference, but in this case we threw the live action away. You’ve got these hands which if you look you can tell they are rotoscoped, but then the rest of the body isn’t.
Bob is brilliant at playing variations on things. I told him I’d noticed that in Mary Poppins when they are flying around the room Disney changed the trick from shot to shot. That was the way he got over a lot of impossible things. Whether you have a shot in slow motion, the camera upside down, or it is matted each shot used a different device. The brain can’t follow it, so you fool the audience.
JC: I get the feeling that in London there are a lot of companies – and I don’t mean Richard Williams Animation – which try to ape the Disney style. I wondered what your thoughts were on that.
RW: There wasn’t an intentional Disney style. Frank Thomas told me that while Disney was making Bambi, Walt went to Frank’s desk and he threw a fit, jumped up and down and said, “Goddammit, Frank, why is it that no matter who I get to design these films, the animation always comes out looking the same?” And Frank said something like, “I guess that’s just the way we draw, Walt.” And Walt said, “Goddammit, why can’t you change?”