From King of the Mardi Gras, a 1935 Popeye cartoon. Max Fleischer was one of the great innovators of early animation. As far as I am concerned, he kicked Disney's ass. His stuff was extremely goofy and almost surreal, busting out of Disney's ultra-conventional mold. In this cartoon, the rides of the fairground are eerily realistic in the background, almost as if. . . as if they were really there.
And they were.
The whole thing was done on a turntable with miniatures. I think that's brilliant. I can't explain it as well as this paragraph I found on an animation site:
The setback rig consists of a forced-perspective, miniature set mounted on a turntable, serving as background to the cel art held in a vertical glass platen, and a horizontal animation camera. The turntable is rotated incrementally behind the cels, creating the effect of a “tracking shot” — the 2D animated character, in a side-view walk cycle, traverses a realistically proportioned (but still recognizably Fleischeresque) 3D environment which moves perspectivally across the background.
Take that, Mickey bleeping Mouse.
BUT WAIT - there's more! Information on this process isn't that easy to find, as I keep getting sidetracked by people using the term "rotoscope" (including in the comments under the original YouTube video). This is another process entirely, involving painting over live-action images.
But here it is, an actual photograph of Dave Fleischer at work with his "set-back" animation method.
How 3-D Animation Was Made Seventy Years Ago
In 1941, the Fleischer Studio constructed this elaborate three-dimensional distorted perspective set for the feature Mr. Bug Goes to Town.
Built of balsa wood and plastics, it required architect-artists four months to construct. The entire set rests on a steel turntable which can both revolve and move up and down. Drawings will be photographed a full six feet in front of the set and the combination of the “set-back” photography and the “distorted perspective” of the set will provide the illusion of third dimension, according to director Dave Fleischer, who is seen moving the set.
Blogger's reflections. From what I've picked up, Mr. Bug was watered-down Fleischer that didn't do so well at the box office, having been released on Pearl Harbour Day in 1941. Americans had more pressing things on their minds than animated bugs.
When I look at this, I see someone trying to copy Disney. Maybe it was called survival. At any rate, the one-line review I found in Rotten Tomatoes kind of shocked me.
Oh, and. As a P. S. to the P. S., here's a snippet of gold: from Ali Baba and his Forty Thieves, one of those "feature-length" Popeye cartoons that lasted seventeen minutes. Beautiful, they were, and very three-dimensional.
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