Tuesday, February 26, 2008

How Did They Do That?

A few posts back I put up three videos showing Dorothy Dandridge, Ella Mae Morse, and some cows singing (not all together) Cow Cow Boogie. At the time I wondered just how the animation for the cows singing was done. I found the answer in Saturday Morning TV by Gary H. Grossman. For the book Grossman interviewed Jerry Fairbanks, a movie producer, about his Academy Award winning comedy shorts, Speaking of Animals, that were shown on early television:

Fairbanks, who took an Oscar in the early 1940's for his short, Cow Cow Boogie, says that the process of combining the live action of the animals on film with their animated mouths was a staggering technical challenge. To accomplish the impossible mission, Fairbanks use a modified rear-screen projection process in tandem with a rotoscope system. "Rotoscoping," Fairbanks explained, "is a method by which the mouths of the animals were replaced by semi-animated human mouths. We would film live actors such as Mel Blanc and Sterling Holloway in black face with their lips painted white. That way we could have just their lip movements visible on film. The images were then traced frame by frame, reshot as animation that in turn was matted into the actual animal footage.

"It was a rather tedious and long operation." Fairbanks remembers. "We wanted it to look realistic, not just like some of the talking animal shorts, where a voice is simply dubbed in while the animal is chewing his cud. We had a credo. When the rotoscope was finished, we had to be able to read the words without sound."

What I find just as interesting is that rotoscoping is still used today.

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