The making of Snow white and the seven dwarfs
Introduction to Snow white
The history of animation is fragmentary without mentioning the name of Walt Disney. Disney’s cartoons have been an integral part of our childhood. Even today, whenever the word ‘cartoon’ is mentioned, ‘Disney’ is the first name that comes to one’s mind. Though many others created characters that might have been much better than those that came from the Disney’s studio, there are few immortal one’s that are still etched in our mind. One such character is SNOW WHITE, a nineteenth-century German fairy tale. This character first appeared in the 1812 edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales written by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Apart from Snow white, there were other characters like the seven dwarfs the evil stepmother, a huntsman and a prince. Added to these were other props such as a magic mirror, a poisoned apple and a coffin! It can be said that Snow White changed not only the face of animation but the entire history of film making! It was a precursor to many other animated films that Disney and others produced later on.
Introduction to Walt Disney
If anybody has been enthralled by cartoons, the credit for it should surely go to Walt Disney. Though he needs no introduction, a brief account of the struggles behind the making of the first animated film is necessary. He was responsible for giving a wide range of lovable characters to the world. Apart from the many animated feature films he produced in his studio, he is also credited as being the forerunner of many of modern theme parks. Almost everyone would have heard of Disneyland apart from the characters that he created.
Walter Elias Disney, popularly known as Walt Disney, was born in Chicago on December 5, 1901 to Flora Call and Elias Disney. He had three brothers and a sister. His eldest brother Roy later became the CEO of the company that they founded together. Because of financial problems, his family had to keep on moving to different cities. Young Walt was forced to take up hard chores to help the family. Despite all the challenges that were there on the home front, he was always interested in drawing and theatre. However, it was in 1923 that he set out to Hollywood. Along with his brother Roy, he started a small studio at Hyperion Avenue.
Walt Disney’s most famous creation ‘Mickey Mouse’ made his debut in 1928 through the movie ‘Steamboat Willie’. In less than two years, it had become an international celebrity along with Disney’s ‘Silly Symphonies’. The success of the cartoon films made Disney to think about producing feature length animated films. After years of hard work, ‘Snow white and the seven dwarfs,’ was released in 1937 about which we will read in subsequent paragraphs. This was Disney’s first full-length Technicolor animated musical feature film, based on the Grimm Brothers’ work by the same name. During World War II (1939-1945), Disney stopped production of cartoons and movies. Instead, the studio started to produce training and propaganda material for the US army.
Walt Disney’s work lay beyond animated movies. He had the dream of an amusement park. And in 1952, he set up an organization WED enterprises to work on this idea. When ‘Disney Land’ opened on July 17, 1955 at Anaheim, California, it is said that over twenty five thousand guests thronged through the park. Before his demise on December 15, 1966, through his persistence and hard work he had turned all of his dreams into reality. All this was possible by having respect for tradition and willingness to take risks for the new. In short, it was the ability to dream, to endure hardships and persist till achievement of perfection that made Disney stand apart from his contemporaries.
Making of Snow white and the seven dwarfs
The story of Snow White and the seven dwarfs by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm, revolves around a paragon of beauty young girl, who takes refuge in the forest where seven dwarfs lived, to hide from her savage stepmother, the Queen. The wicked Queen is jealous on Snow White, because the former wants to be the fairest one around, but Snow White’s beauty outshines her. The dwarfs started to love their stranger guest, who proved to be efficient to household work as well. She cleaned the house, cooked food and so on. One day, while the dwarfs were working in their diamond mine, away from the cottage, the Queen in disguise of an old peddler reaches there, and persuades Snow White to bite into an apple, which was poisoned by the witch. The forest animals intimated the dwarfs of the mishap. They rush home only to realize that it’s too late. They place her in a glass coffin in the woods. The Prince, who fell in love with Snow White, grieved by her apparent death, kisses her. To everybody’s surprise this breaks the spell casted by the witch Queen and awakens Snow White. The mood of the story taken a sudden shift for good, and the dwarfs and animals all rejoice, as the Prince takes Snow White to his castle.
It was in June 1934 that Walt Disney announced that his studio would be making its first film. The story development, however, had started earlier that year itself. At that time, the estimated budget for producing it was US$ 2,50,000. This was almost ten times the budget of the Silly Symphonies that Disney had produced earlier. The reason for choosing to make a movie on Snow White is indeed interesting. It is said that it was a live action movie of the same name that Disney had watched in 1916 which was one of the first films he had watched. Also, in Disney’s opinion, dwarfs would make the best cartoon characters and that any forest setting would give a realistic opportunity to animate appealing little birds and animals.
Since it was known at that instant itself that Snow White would be the first cel-animated film, Disney wanted to ensure that each picture had a soft-focus effect on the backgrounds. Also, he wanted the levels of every scene to be properly illuminated.
It took four years to produce and was often ridiculed by one and all as Disney folly. Hollywood pundits were sure that this film would fail and add to the financial woes of the Disney studio. Infact, his older brother Roy and wife Lillian tried to dissuade him from embarking what they felt was a futile and a Herculean task.
But Disney threw all caution to winds and pushed ahead with his dream film. It was a mammoth job. Many techniques like the use of Multiplane camera were developed and tested.
Yet, there were a lot of teething troubles – staff had to be trained, each of the characters had to be drawn and re-drawn, voices had to be synced to the characters etc. The only plus point during this phase was that the popularity of Mickey Mouse grew exponentially.
As 1937 dawned, the budget earmarked for Snow white was blowing out of proportions. Disney himself was forced to take help of the Bank of America so that his dream could materialize. The final cost that Disney incurred was a whopping US$ $14, 88,422.74!! Yet, all waited for that Tuesday evening on the 21st December that year when ‘Snow white and the seven dwarfs’ premiered at the Carthay Circle Theater in Los Angeles.
It is said that as people watched the movie, they sobbed and cheered as they saw the trials and tribulations of Snow White. Interestingly, this film never won any OSCAR! Disney was instead given a honorary one for what was described as ‘A significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field for the motion picture cartoon’.
How was this ordinary boy from Chicago in Illinois able to achieve so much?
In the case of ‘Snow white’, the crew toiled hard to achieve the desired results. The device had four vertical steel posts, each carrying a rack along which as many as eight carriages had to be shifted both horizontally and vertically. Animators worked tirelessly for six months, drawing innumerable pictures so that they could get into the spirit of the various characters they were expected to portray. Sound technicians experimented with odd devices, crashing glass, tumbling boxes to the floor etc. so that the noises could fit the action sequences.
As this was done entirely in cel-animation, an average of twenty-two individual painted cels for each foot of completed picture, a stupendous amount of 1, 66,352 finished paintings were exposed to the camera. They were moved at the rate of ninety feet of film daily through the camera, which required 1,960 paintings every day and thereby represented the world’s biggest and most exacting job of traditional painting and colouring!
Now, as we marvel the tremendous contribution that Disney did for making this film, it is necessary to understand the contributions of those voice artists who struggled hard to get the intonation of the characters. Also, must be mentioned, the roles that each of the animators played so that a film of this stature could be produced that, till this day, is enjoyed by young and old alike.
Thank You for reading!
A team of animation aspirants, studying at Animaster College– the No.1 animation degree training institute in India, cumulated data to bring forth this interesting article to the readers. You may also like INTRO TO VISUAL ARTS, authored by the same team.