Disney is always on the cutting edge of technological breakthroughs, even when it comes to something as simple as a press junket. I've been on a number of these virtual junkets that Disney has put on, and it's always been a unique and entertaining experience. I was recently in on a virtual junket for one of Disney's biggest releases ever: the 50th Anniversary Edition of the timeless classic, Sleeping Beauty, which comes back to DVD and to Blu-ray for the first time on October 7. I participated in a virtual junket with Burny Mattinson, the assistant to one of Disney's "Nine Old Men" classic animators, Marc Davis, who created the evil Maleficent for this film. Here's what Burny had to say about this classic villain and film.
How much of Maleficent's onscreen personality comes from Eleanor Audley's rich performance and how much is classic Marc Davis?
Burny Mattinson: I'd say 60% of it was Eleanor's and Marc followed up with the rest of it! He was highly influenced by her - she set the tone for how the character should act.
What design features make Maleficient a great villain?
Burny Mattinson: The head-dress certainly made a strong statement...her being tall and overpowering the frame and her bombastic acting where she kept everything controlled and would explode suddenly - that created a strong character.
When you create a charachter there are a lot of designs. Can you tell us about the "elimination" process? How do you get to the pick the final design, who has "the last word" etc?
Burny Mattinson: In this case, Walt had the last word on the design and as it passes between different designers and Marc Davis, it afforded them a chance to take a little bit of everybod's design and mix it together, but Walt made the last decision on each character - and on every aspect of the picture. He wouldn't let everything go unless he saw it and that's why it took so long to make this picture as he wanted to pass on everything, since at the time he was so involved with Disneyland.
When you were working on this film, did you have any sort of idea that it would be as timeless and remain so popular 50 years later?
Burny Mattinson: No! We were pleasantly surprised when everybody saw the final print and I think we all felt we made something classic. But at the time, we didn't realize that this would become such a beloved classic - we were too close to the working problems of it...just getting the work done, but then, when it was all together and we saw it for the first time, we realized we had something!
How has animation at Disney changed since you first worked on Sleeping Beauty?
Burny Mattinson: When we first worked on Sleeping Beauty we were trying to do a more classic approach to our animation. We were trying to be more exacting in the design aspects - that was strongly influenced. We were trying to learn our 'straights' against 'curves' to fit within Eyvind Earle's stylized backgrounds. This was a slow process. Later on we went to a looser approach on 101 Dalmatians, where we could speed up the process but we were also trying to get back into the classic style of animation. Even today, we still try to keep a classic approach - perhaps not as designed as on Sleeping Beauty, but we still try to keep a classic approach to our contemporary titles.
Why did Eyvind chose purple for the flames of her dress - and what was his title?
Burny Mattinson: Eyvind Earle's title was production designer. His choice of purple was a creative choice to fit his backgrounds.
What's the best piece of advice you received from Walt?
Burny Mattinson: When I first met him, it was in the elevator (we only had one elevator on the lot) and I said 'Good Morning, Mr. Disney.' And he said, "No son, it's Walt.' He later added another elevator because the first one was so slow!
How was working with one of the legendary Nine Old Men of animation?
Burny Mattinson: It was wonderful! Marc was an absolute gentleman with total confidence in what he did. He took an interest in a very naive, young aspiring artists (me). He took me under his wing and taught me practically everything I know in animation. In fact, he looked at my work early on and he said I should go down to Chaunard's Art School and he'd let me sit in his classes. He taught me how to draw the human figure.
What was the deciding factor on settling for the final look of the character?
Burny Mattinson: Again, it would be Walt - Walt had several designs put before him and he made the choice going through these designs and he chose the final design - with the horns and so forth. That's why Marc made a variety of designs to show to Walt and to let him make the choices. Marc spent a lot of time with his designs and he spent a lot of time with Eyvind checking his designs - which is why he made her (Maleficent) such an elongated figure to work with the horizontal and vertical backgrounds that Eyvind designed.
What's the one scene or sequence in Sleeping Beauty that you worked on that you are the most proud of?
Burny Mattinson: The first scene in sequence 8 which was in the forest and it was Aurora beginning to sing the song to the birds as she was picking the berries. That was actually the first scene that was animated in the film and I had to do it over 4 times. Once with her, once with the birds and then we had to clean it up twice and then Marc gave me a cake that said 'Happy 31' which was the number of the scene to celebrate that it finally went in to color and Walt bought off on it!
Why did you decide to film Sleeping Beauty on 70mm?
Burny Mattinson: Cinemascope was the new wave at the time and we had just done Lady and the Tramp which was originally to be done in standard 35mm frame. Walt said 'let's capitalize on Cinemascope' and we added the wider aspect into the designs. So, when it came to Sleeping Beauty he wanted to make it bigger and better and said 'let's go with 70mm' because he was trying to make a true classic. In fact he asked that we design this design as a moving tapestry.
The dragon into which she metamorphoses - am I right in thinking that one of the earliest sequences to use the Xerox machine? What was your experience of the change in process?
Burny Mattinson: Actually, Woolie Reitherman was directing the sequence of the dragon fight and he used the Xerox process for the first time on the dragon. I think they went back over the Xerox line with the ink & paint, but he did use the Xerox process for enlarging and reducing her in the frame as an experiment. That actually was the start of Disney using the Xerox process in animation. It was a very crude process - we used an omega 8x10 enlarger as our camera and we had these old aluminum inking boards. We coated those w/ the Xerox material. It was very crude, but by the next picture, we had a first class operation with Xerox.
What made Maleficient so different from villains previously made by Disney?
Burny Mattinson: One thing that got me was the fact that her reaction at not being invited to the party was a bit over the top - which is pretty darn cruel for no reason...
Were there problems during the production of the movie or did everything happen like the plan?
Burny Mattinson: No there were problems all the time through the picture. Namely, it was a very slow process because we were trying to make it such a classic and we were using more abstract design elements which created a lot of problems. The very fact that we had to animate every frame instead of shooting each frame twice. If we didn't the animation would strobe against Eyvind's backgrounds. We were working on 3 field paper and when you're doing inbetweens and every drawing, you're flipping back and forth with very wide paper which slowed the process down dramatically.
The Blu-ray presentation of Sleeping Beauty is marvelous, showcasing more background detail than we've ever seen before. Is high definition worrisome to animators since even the smallest design flaws may now become much more apparent?
Burny Mattinson: No - I think quite the contrary - we want to see the image as beautiful as it was originally intended to be. Blu-ray -- I love it!
Can you see any elements of Maleficent in subsequent Disney villains?
Burny Mattinson: Cruella was again, Marc Davis and I believe the voice was Betty Lou Gerson and she was a classic radio actress and she had the same things that Eleanor had in her voice and Marc really had a lot of fun with that character. She was bombastic all the time. Every animator loves to have a character move - not be very stilted. Again, Marc wanted a more controlled character in Maleficent that was very close with very little movement. He wanted to save the shock value for when she suddenly exploded. Her movement was used for shock value.
How many animated features did Walt have in development at any given time? Were there any that didn't get made you would have loved to be a part of?
Burny Mattinson: About 1940, Walt was starting to do four features at one time (Pinocchio, Bambi, Fantasia and Dumbo) and they were all in work status. At the same time he had stories that were in development like Cinderella and Peter Pan in which development hit a wall so they were put on the shelf and revisited later. Walt was disappointed in Pinocchio and Fantasia not doing as well as they should because of the overseas market disappearing during World War II, that he was going to go on a long vacation. Someone sent a little series of pictures of an elephant character and he gave it to Joe Grant and said 'See what you can do with it.' So, Joe and Dick Humor developed the story of Dumbo while Walt was away which was done very fast because it was so simple and it was very successful.
Who is a great modern day villain?
Burny Mattinson: The villain in The Dark Knight - The joker - Heath Ledger! As for modern Disney Villain's, Skar, from The Lion King was a good 'stinker' Jeremy Irons was great - I did a lot of storyboard work on that character and listening to his voice was so great! Medusa from The Rescuers - Milt Kahl did all the animation on her -- Geraldine Page was so great! He had more fun drawing her since Milt always did all the princes -- so he had a ball when he got ahold of that character.
What is your favorite Disney animation that you didn't work on?
Burny Mattinson:Pinocchio. I wasn't able to work on it since I was just a little kid, but it had the biggest impact on me because it's why I wanted to work here at Disney.
Is there a story or a fairy tale that you would really love to adopt or see adopted as an animated movie?
Burny Mattinson: Paul Galico's 'The Abandoned' - in fact, the studio owns the book and many of the Nine Old Men went to Walt and said this is a story they really want to do. They were saying it was the one picture that got away from them and they all wanted to make.
Malificent is one of the most famous villains in the animation history. She became even more notorious with the successful game "Kingdom Hearts". What do you think it made her so famous?
Burny Mattinson: She was in such a classic picture that she stood out probably more strongly than other characters. Her thinking process is very quiet and cunning and you're anticipating the next moment and then suddenly she blows...she comes on so sweetly and then suddenly you have this evilness bursting out of her - it resulted in such a strong, memorable character. For me it was a joy working with Marc - he made everything so fun and easy - he was such a strong designer. I learned so much from him. Everything was so well worked out with Marc. He was such a calm fellow and really knew his craft and it was easily conveyed in his work. So no wonder she was such a memorable character.
What's your advice to a someone who dreams of becoming an animator?
Burny Mattinson: Do lots of quick sketching and watch people in restaurants or wherever, and just do quick drawings of their poses. Make them very expressive. I didn't go to art school I came to Disney with desire to draw. I drew all my life and when I came to the studio I was lucky enough to work with Marc and he taught me so much, but I would encourage anyone to focus on getting as much art education as you possibly can get.
What's the one thing you think nobody notices in Sleeping Beauty that they should pay attention to?
Burny Mattinson: Watch the beautiful backgrounds - the animation is so well done, especially the fairies when they're little miniature fairies. The restored aspect ratio now includes so much more imagery that has never been seen before and the forest sequences are fantastic in Blu-ray.
You've worked in many unforgettable movies. Which one is your favourite?
Burny Mattinson: I have a very strong feeling for The Great Mouse Detective, beyond that Beauty and the Beast was one of my favorites to work on. Lady and the Tramp was my first film with the studio, and, of course, Sleeping Beauty has a very soft spot in my heart.
You can see Maleficent in all her evil splendor when Sleeping Beauty comes back in a 50th Anniversary Edition on DVD and Blu-ray on October 7.