“One of the problems we got into when we started Snow White”, remembered Walt, “was how to animate the girl. It was the first time we had gone in for realistic human beings and it was a tough nut to crack. It was easy to animate animals. The audience wasn’t familiar in the finer points of how animals move so we could give a semblance of animal motion and it would be convincing.”
One of the answers to this problem was to film real live actors and transfer their movements frame-by-frame onto photostats for the artists to study. Walt even tried to utilise an idea that is now an accepted part of television chroma-key principles. Having photographed Marge Belcher in the role of Snow White, a highly detailed model of the cottage interior was constructed. Careful continuity ensured that the camera movements were scaled down and resembled the live-action footage. If the depth of field was accurately controlled, the two films could be superimposed and it would appear that Miss Belcher was actually walking around the interior of the model cottage. Unfortunately the concept proved too complicated to give the desired effect. But, the model of the cottage was still put to good use by the story men and the layout department in planning character movement. In the scene where the dwarfs return home and creep into the house unaware of Snow White’s presence, small cardboard figures were placed in the model interior and lit by low level lighting to accentuate the shadows so that artists could study their reflections on the walls and ceiling. This successful principle led to one of the films most satisfying sequences.
But, apart from these innovative techniques, rotoscoping etc., employed to aid the drawings in the film, some critics have still carped at the jerkiness of the humans in Snow White. What they tend to overlook is that in live-action, a human actually moves faster than the speed of the camera shutter. In animation, movement has to be precise, each 24th of a second is a posed static shot. A great deal of mathematics are, therefore, necessary to give the character fluidity and yet retain a natural look. It’s this difference between human movement, which can blur on film, and animation that is drawn in static poses for every frame that can give a slightly wooden look to ‘human’ cartoon characters and not inadequate draughtsmanship.
Another major change that took place with the commencement of the film was the alterations made in the size of the drawing paper. Throughout the Thirties, animated shorts were drawn by artists using sheets of paper measuring 9Y2 by 12 inches. The drawings were traced onto cels of the same dimensions. One problem with Snow White was the story occasionally required numerous characters to appear on-screen simultaneously. A larger field size was introduced, but this also meant expensive alterations to the rostrum camera and other animation equipment at the Studio. Finally, to overcome the need for an even larger size cel, the drawings of some characters were reduced photographically, as are newspaper strips, which allows the artist to work with a more convenient scale.
Apart from the necessity to integrate any number of characters together in one scene, the choice of camera angles was most important. Unlike the cartoon shorts, Disney was determined that Snow White would be filmed in a similar way to a live-action picture, with cross-cutting, fast edits, dissolves, zooms and pans. The study of other films was of vital importance. Animator Ken Anderson, came up with a simple idea to help his colleagues. “I kept a notebook, in those days, of camera angles and camera moves from live-action pictures”, he remarked. “Walt took a look at the notebooks and had others start keeping them too. He was always trying to overcome the limitations of the cartoon medium, though he never expressed it in so many words”.