JC: What did the rough version say?
RW: It just had the drawings with the backgrounds sketched in and the soundtrack. There were two drawings a second at least, sometimes three, click click click into the different positions.
JC: And these drawings would say: we see him, and in fifteen seconds we learn that he’s a well-meaning disaster area. That was actually worked out?
RW: Yes, it was a fully planned piece of direction so I could leave it and someone else could animate it.
JC: So it was actually like that from the first?
RW: In rough, yes, but then when I did the animation it became totally different. I kept all of my sketches, they’re all in, changed slightly to make it move better. But the essence of the thing is in the animation. When you see that Rabbit now, he really is alive. It’s that element which transcends the planning.
JC: What mannerisms or what movements was it you finally hit upon that made this scene work properly?
RW: It’s in the technique. The woman has gone out and shut the door, he is rambling on about how great he’s going to look after the child, and he turns as if she’s there and he smashes into the door and he just keeps talking as he goes “ow” while using his hands to figure out his relatives. I animated it that way and tested it, and it looked fine —everybody laughed. Then I grabbed the drawings and just for six frames I had him touch his nose. Because when you’ve just hurt yourself you always touch yourself don’t you?
I only had six frames to play with because he’s back into counting about his brother’s sister, and sister’s brother and all this stuff. I just whipped the hand over very lightly to the nose knowing technically that it is going to read. He just touches his nose and you feel so sorry for the silly bastard, and it’s just long enough to let you know it really hurts him. And yet he’s so well meaning that he’s straight back to what he is going to do. Meanwhile, the baby has crawled back to the kitchen and is starting to play with knives and things, and terrible things are going to happen.
JC: After the opening cartoon the film moves into live action. Was the live action inspired by a film noirlWarner’s gangster movie?
RW: It’s exactly that – I called it Hip Rehash. Funnily enough when I was fifteen years old in 1948 I got a Greyhound Bus from Toronto to California to try and get into the Disney Studio. I spent the summer living in the tough part of town near the YMCA on South Hope Street. Although most of the Live action was shot in England some exterior location filming was shot in L.A. 90% of the location work was done right near the old Y. Back in 1948 I was crazy about cartoons. I managed to get into Disney’s, and they did this big article on me for general release because I could draw most of the characters.
But, it was weird to end up doing that period because I knew it terribly well. In fact I feel that I could draw the stuff better than I do now. They had reconstructed the streets with the trains and the cars, and everything was exactly as it had been. It was an odd feeling right through the picture. I had been there, living on no money at all, eating at 50c restaurants. There was one place you could eat a giant sundae, you’d just keep eating, but of course nobody could. I’d save up for two or three days and get enough ice cream to live for three days.
JC: Do you do any cameos in the live action?
RW: No. I do the voice of Droopy. He’s an elevator operator. Hoskins runs into this cartoon elevator. “Going up, Sir.” “Your floor, Sir.” But I couldn’t get that “ooo” that Droopy has, “Hello you.” I wanted to animate him in the movie, but in the end Mark Causler did it. He did it differently from the way I would have but he did a good job. I was going to do Droopy from one year; he did the character from about two years later.
JC: Could you enlarge upon the method you used to add the animation to live action?
RW: We had a photostat print of every frame of the live action film. It was shot in a widescreen format. We had two sizes, one about thirteen inches in width, and the other one was about twenty inches, so we could work quite small in this big area for accuracy. We’d shoot numerous video tests, of course. Then we’d shoot it as black and white line tests with the pencil drawings superimposed on the photostats and lit from below. They’d then be cut into the movie.
Then, when we’d painted the cels, we’d do the same thing but on video, we’d shoot the colour cels on the black and white photostats of the live action frame by frame and see how that was. (We didn’t have colour for the backgrounds because we didn’t need it.) When we had that right we would shoot it in Vista Vision 70mm which we would never see because we’d send the undeveloped film straight to ILM in Hollywood, and they would then do their stuff. The footage we sent had various optical elements. We did these backlit mattes and tone mattes which made the whole thing look round. We would also test these on video or film, well, mostly on video.
JC: Would the mattes be airbrushed to give a soft edge?
RW: No, not airbrushed – we’d give ILM hard edged mattes, usually three or four sets, and then they’d soften them in the optical printer. The rushes of these combined shots would be sent to us every two or three weeks, just to keep our morale up. They were so good we wouldn’t even recognise our own animation. For instance there’s a scene where Hoskins and his girlfriend are in a backroom with a hanging light. He’s got the Rabbit by the ears and he’s bawling it out. He keeps banging his head on the light causing it to swing round and as it swings the Rabbit goes from darkness into light. It looks totally real. When the guys here did the effects mattes, we’d light it correctly – we had the photos to tell us where the light was, so we’d make it as good as we could – but ILM would keep plussing it, they would keep doing more. When they got through with it some of those shots were hair-raisingly good.