Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Dueling Disney: Disney Mountain Range–Part One

Yodelayheehoo! After a recent viewing of Third Man on the Mountain, we here at Dueling Disney feel it may be time to scale a few mountains of our own. And what better place to do it than at Disney? But, which one do we choose? Each resort has their own unique “mountain range” to choose from. So while we’re deciding which one to scale, let’s chat about which one is better…

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mortimer Mouse

November 18, 1928 officially marks the debut of Mickey Mouse. From day one, he was given a nemesis to contend with. He was not given a rival, however, until 1936.

The short Mickey’s Rival introduced the world to the character of Mortimer Mouse, Mickey’s would-be namesake. Mortimer had little in common with Walt’s alter ego, with two exceptions: his last name, and a romantic interest in Minnie Mouse.

Check out the complete article here: 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dueling Disney: Downtown Disney

Here we are, five columns into Dueling Disney! Don’t you think it’s time for a little break? I mean, we’ve been going at it for a while now. I think it’s high time that we kick back, relax, and maybe head on down to Downtown Disney to unwind a bit.

But wait! What’s this? There are TWO Downtown Disney locations we can choose from? Well, heck, it certainly looks like we’re not going to get the rest we’ve been looking for. Might as well jump right back into the fray, and fight to the death about which coast has the best Downtown Disney!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Bringing Frankenweenie to Life

On Saturday, March 2, I attended a presentation at The Walt Disney Family Museum titled Bringing Frankenweenie to Life, hosted by legendary Disney Producer Don Hahn. Known for producing new Disney classics like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King (as well as outstanding documentaries like Waking Sleeping Beauty and Christmas with Walt Disney), Don executive-produced Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie in 2012. Originally a live-action black and white short, Frankenweenie (1984) was reimagined by Burton as a stop-motion animated feature nearly three decades later. Don was on hand not only to talk about that film, but to share a little stop-motion history with us as well.

Don Hahn delighting the audience - check out the dork in the center, grey shirt
Photo courtesy of The Walt Disney Family Museum

The program began with the image(s) that started it all. In the late 19th century, photographer Eadweard Muybridge was approached by industrialist Leland Stanford with an assignment: to see if a galloping horse was ever completely airborne. Muybridge set up fifty cameras side-by-side along a racetrack, complete with electrically controlled shutters that were connected to a series of tripwires. The end result was the world’s first stop-motion.

Horse in Motion (1882)

Next up was a clip from the 1908 film La Maison EnsorcelĂ©e. In it, a dinner actually prepares itself through the wonders of stop-motion. Don followed that by showing us an amazing stop-motion piece titled An Optical Poem (1937), composed to Franz Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2." Poem, created by German abstract filmmaker Oskar Fischinger, consisted entirely of paper cutout shapes “dancing” to music. Walt Disney, so impressed with Fischinger’s work, hired him to work at the Disney Studios. Fischinger was a solo artist at heart, however, and only stayed with the Studio for nine months (while there he did work on a little film called Fantasia).

Don then shared his favorite piece of stop-motion animation with the audience: the famous skeleton battle from Jason and the Argonauts. Special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen considers that film his best work. In a 2003 interview with UK’s the guardian, Harryhausen remarked, “I had three men fighting seven skeletons, and each skeleton had five appendages to move in each separate frame of film. This meant at least 35 animation movements, each synchronized to the actors' movements. Some days I was producing less than one second of screen time; in the end the whole sequence took a record four and a half months.”

The famous Skeleton scene from Jason and the Argonauts
Photo courtesy of

Another piece that Don is particularly fond of is Dragon, a stop-motion animated commercial for United Airlines by Jamie Caliri. The 60-second spot took many months to complete, and was created using hinged paper puppets in upright miniature sets. They positioned the cutouts, took digital stills, and finished with Adobe After Effects for compositing. It was really good. So good in fact, it won the 2006 Annie Award for Best Animated Television Commercial.

After a few more random clips of stop-motion animation examples, Don began talking about the program’s title film… sort of. He started off with a little history behind the original Frankenweenie (1984). For those who don’t know, its story revolves around a young boy who uses science (and a little lightning) to bring his dead dog back to life. It’s a very good short, but Disney didn’t quite know what to do with it when it was first made. Originally it was planned to be released on the same bill as the 1984 re-release of Pinocchio, but that idea was scrapped when the short upset children in test audiences.

Frankenweenie (1984)
Photo courtesy of

Soon Don moved on to the meat of the program, 2012’s Frankenweenie. The audience was delighted to see many behind-the-scenes photos during the film’s long and meticulous production. Amongst the photos shown were artists building little set pieces, like a tiny etch-a-sketch, or a miniature toaster. The puppets in the film were given actual human hair, each strand individually inserted. The detail that went into virtually every aspect of the on-screen puppets and props is nothing short of astounding. The bicycles built for the characters in the film actually worked; when you turned the pedals the gears moved the rear wheel. One of the largest and most beautiful sets created for Frankenweenie was the pet cemetery. People who worked on the film were asked to submit the names of their favorite pets to fill the headstones.

On the Frankenweenie (2012) set
Photo courtesy of

During the production of a stop-motion feature, the studio keeps a full-time puppet hospital on hand for quick repairs and replacements parts. One of the video clips Don shared with us featured a puppet hospital from Tim Burton’s first stop-motion feature, The Nightmare Before Christmas. In it, we learned that the character of Sally Skellington had a plethora of spare parts ready to go at a moment’s notice, from eyebrows to entire heads. After watching the short video, Don brought out one of the stars of Frankenweenie: the Edgar puppet. His assistant carried it throughout the audience, allowing us to see its great detail up-close. Don then shared a clip from the film that featured Edgar, and said afterward, “That’s the exact same puppet you’re looking at now.” We then watched some time-lapse footage of scenes being filmed, which gave us a sense of just how much work can go into a single shot.

Don wrapped up the program by sharing some really neat photos of his friend, Tim Burton. Apparently Tim actually is “big in Japan,” as evidenced by the picture of the talk show hosts who all dressed up as characters from his films. We also got to see a great picture of Tim on the floor at Comic-Con, signing autographs for kids. The finale of the afternoon came when Don had the star of Frankenweenie brought out, Sparky himself!

Hangin' with Edgar and Sparky
Photo courtesy of The Walt Disney Family Museum

Don’s presentation blended the perfect amount of humor, insight, and information. Instead of rattling off a list of facts, Don put together a brief history of stop-motion that not only included landmarks in the field, but personal favorites. He was funny, engaging, and went above and beyond by giving out gifts to the occasional audience member! I had the pleasure of interviewing him after the program (the interview will air on The Disney Project Podcast in early April), and his knowledge was only surpassed by his affability. If you ever get the chance to attend a Don Hahn presentation, do not miss it.

Me with Don
Photo courtesy of The Walt Disney Family Museum

Thank you Don Hahn for the wonderful presentation, as well as the fun post-game interview!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow 50th Anniversary

March 6, 2013, marks an anniversary of sorts for fans of the Carousel of Progress. According to Disney Historian Paul F. Anderson, many of the tracks for “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” were recorded on March 6, 1963. The Sherman Brothers wrote the lyrics in a matter of days, and handed them over to staff composer Buddy Baker. Baker not only had to make each musical transition match the era (Waltz, Swing, etc.), he also had to ensure both the length of time and key were spot on. The Sherman Brothers have always stated that “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” is Walt’s song, because he so embodied progress. In fact the lyric, “Man has a dream, and that’s the start,” was inspired by an actual conversation the brothers had on the walk back to their car, moments after Walt assigned them the project. According to Richard Sherman, one of the brothers said to the other, “Well Walt has a dream, and that’s a start.”

The Carousel of Progress debuted in the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and audiences immediately fell in love with both the show and the song. “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” can still be heard to this day in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, to the delight of audiences both young and old.

On a personal note, the Carousel of Progress is far and away my favorite attraction, just as “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” is my favorite Disney song. In February of 2013 (just weeks ago at the time of posting) I was incredibly fortunate enough to be able to speak with Richard Sherman at his home. Before leaving I asked him for a rather large favor. I asked him if I could sing “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” with him. To my great joy, he said, “Sure!” And yes, I remembered to bring my camera. We here at The Disney Project would like to share that with you now, as well as wish “Walt’s Song” a very happy 50th anniversary!

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Disney Project Podcast--Episode 5: A Podcast, Within a Podcast, Within a Podcast

In this episode, Keith talks to Jeff Heimbuch and George Taylor of Communicore Weekly fame. Early on the three have to fight their way out of getting Inceptioned, and escape just in time to have a hilarious conversation about what goes into the production of the greatest online show.

Your listening options are: iTunes, the direct podcast’s page, or via the window below. Enjoy!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Dueling Disney: Tomorrowland

Welcome to the fourth edition of Dueling Disney. This time around, we are writing to you from the future! Thankfully, all of our futuristic technology allows us to beam content directly back to your present time, for you to enjoy as if we just wrote it last week. But in fact, we didn’t. This was written 50 years in the future. Oh, time travel! You make my head hurt.

Speaking of the future, let’s take a little trip to two Tomorrowlands...