Then when I saw it, we all fell around and started to scream because it worked at 100%. I had never before worked on anything where you were trying a new innovative kind of system that worked first time. You always have some bugs to get out, but this Spitfire was perfect first time. It took off and that was it.
JC: Certainly ILM have been honing what they do for the last ten years or so.
RW: Ken Ralston (Visual Effects Supervisor) says this is his biggest thing ever, he couldn’t wait for this because he was a friend of Tex Avery. I rang him at the end of production to say how great the work is, and he said, “Well, after this everything else is going to be a let down, probably.” The amount they must have done. They’ve had something like sixteen hundred effects scenes. They were going round the clock, twenty-four hours a day. We had four of Lucas film’s five optical printers to start with. One was working on Willow, their own production, and when that was completed we had all five.
JC: With special effects, there is an element of buffs seeing the matte line and recognising a special effect as a special effect.
RW: Well, there are very few matte lines in this. No major stuff. The effect is weird. You know it’s a trick, but your mind forgets it’s a trick. Then it starts to play games. There’s one scene where Hoskins looks out on a studio walkway down below and there are all these cartoon characters running around there is a ladder with a guy carrying one end and a lizard the other. This is in Maroon Studios, where they make cartoons. Owned by a guy like Disney who has got a lot of cartoon characters or Toons from Disney on loan. You see all these characters walking past from above. And they are carrying cartoon props, they’re carrying great pieces of cheese painted flat live guys are carrying those and then there’s our cartoons and there’s live action guys carrying cameras and things. You really can’t tell which is which. You begin to think some of the cartoon stuff is live.
JC: It’s a wonderful concept, too. The whole idea of camera crew and big cardboard bits of cheese and cartoon actors going off to shoot an animated film in a studio as if it were live action.
RW: Well, you are supposed to think that’s how they make cartoons. Bob Zemeckis calls it ‘the ultimate crossover movie.
JC: Do you find any conflict between the roles of animator and director?
RW: Historically, animation started the way students do it, they do everything. It’s the natural way. Then it became an industry when Disney developed it into a sophisticated system, the directors were the administrators, the ex-animators who maybe weren’t so good as animators but were very good at following Disney’s wishes. Or good story men who had a feel for direction, good organisers. Primarily, directing is administrative. It’s human contact.
You’re being fed by your producer or whoever whatever they want, and then you feed it out to the animators. On the Rabbit I had thirty-two animators in this country, then I had another seven or eight in Los Angeles, who I didn’t really have much to do with.
JC: Were these Effects Animators or Character Animators?
RW: They were doing just one section of the film, Toontown, where the Toons live, supposedly, in Hollywood. It looked like we couldn’t do the whole thing over here; time was running out. So on the last six months of production we set up the unit in L.A. because Bob Zemeckis was there, and he could direct them. I went in about three or four times. We did some of the animation in those sequences. It was basically a unit, a very good little unit, to do that section of the picture. Dale Baer was in charge of that. He is one of the best ex-Disney people.
I’ve always directed by default. On the Rabbit I didn’t do that much animation on the picture. I did a lot of the opening sequence. It starts off with a cartoon. There is no live action for the first three or four minutes of the movie: its pure animation. It ends up sliding into live action. The opening is very good, I’m pleased with it. I’m hardly ever pleased with anything I’ve done. Just The Light Brigade, which I don’t like now but was the best we could do, we were running at just about 100% of our capability. Then The Return of The Pink Panther, which was the first of those titles we did. That’s the one where he dances like Fred Astaire. Long sequences of dark corridors and doors opening and stuff. I’m pleased with that, and then really nothing else until the Rabbit, most of which I’m very pleased with, which is surprising. Especially the front of the film, which is a knockout. I animated the first scenes myself, then Roy Nesbit did a lot of layout and tricky stuff with me, and then Simon Wells animated an awful lot, then a couple of the Disney guys helped out with little bits.
It starts off with the heads coming up, like the title of a Warners’ cartoon: ‘Roger Rabbit and Baby Herman in Something’s Cooking directed by Raoul J. Raoul.’ It’s done like a composite of Looney Tunes and Popeye and Disney.
Roy and I animated the very first scene in the picture, doing a thing I’ve never seen before. Disney did something slightly like it in Three Orphan Kittens in 1935. There’s this baby in the crib, and the mother walks in with just the legs showing like in 1940s movies.
JC: This is a foot level shot of her feet and legs?
RW: Yes, WASP feet from 1947. She is talking as she is stroking the baby in the crib. Baby Herman is my favourite character, I animated most of him. She says she is going to the beauty parlour and she’s leaving the baby in the care of the Rabbit. She walks over to the Rabbit and the camera turns like a live action camera would so that the crib, with the kid’s balls and toys and things all turn. We call it craning animation, or perspective animation where you’re turning everything as if it were live action. Usually it all wobbles and wiggles around, but this doesn’t wiggle. It’s just bizarre. We thought we’ll hit as hard as we can. We did this very technical thing, which Roy animated; I animated the characters, but Roy did the hard part. The floor is turning, and the table is turning, and you see the Rabbit’s feet coming in, but turning in perspective, and then he pops out, but it’s terribly subtly done. We spent one hell of a lot of time on that scene. We tried to dazzle the audience right away – they won’t notice, they’ll just feel they’re in good hands.
Bob Zemeckis said when I started on the piece, “The brief is, we want Warner Bros characters who move like Disney characters with Tex Avery humour, but slightly less brutal.” You know the films of Tex Avery?