multiplane

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Animation techniques and effects from the classic era. For more vintage movie geekery, check out my Old Hollywood Special Effects, and my Early Color Film Processes posts! (And while you’re at it, take a look at my art blog, why don’t ya?)

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Walt Disney - The MultiPlane Camera

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Making of ‘the Bear and the Hare’ TV ad

I didn’t know they did it like THIS, it really paid off because the thing is beautiful

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The Animation Archive’s Featured Trivia

The Multiplane Camera System

The Multiplane camera is a motion picture camera used in the traditional animation process. The camera is set up to shoot multiple layers at a time; layers that all moved independently from one another and at different speeds which creates a three-dimensional effect in two-dimensional animation.

There had been predecessors to the multiplane camera used by Lotte Reiniger for her animated feature film The Adventures of Prince Achmed; but the first four layer mutliplane camera system was invented by Ub Iwerks in 1933. Iwerks built the first four layer mutliplane camera out of old Chevrolet automobile parts.

The most famous and commonly used multiplane camera system was later created by William Garity for the Walt Disney Studios to be used in the production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The Little Mermaid was the last Disney film to use the multiplane camera system before it was replaced by CAPS.

Disney put a great video together describing how a multiplane camera is used; which you can watch here.

This is the SE.2a, or Compton-Wing Aeroplane. Developed in 1910 by Sir George Comstock Compton of Sussex, the multiple wings were designed to increase the amount of lifting power, as well as provide the aircraft with “increased manoeuvrability”. Adopted by the Royal Flying Corps as a reconnaissance aircraft in 1912, it served well until the time came for it to actually fly.

Shortly after that, it was relegated to auxiliary duty, and was later used as a target tug.

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Walt Disney explains his invention of the Multiplane Animation Camera in 1957 one the the most advanced tool ever made in the field of animation until the introduction of the computer. 

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Lately I’ve been working on a short multiplane animation about tooth fairies as part of a college project. It was meant to be an opportunity to try new techniques so I opted for the glass multiplane because I love doing everything in-camera! I also really like the idea of having cut-out animation but with extra depth and texture so I used lots of fluffy fabric and textured papers and even a few three-dimensional objects thrown in there too.

I’m hoping to get the last few shots finished this week but in the meantime here are some sneaky peeks of how it’s looking! I’ve included a horrendously blurry photo of the setup so you can see how the different elements are separated. I had three layers in total so I was able to animate the eyes and mouths without disturbing anything underneath. The camera is suspended above the whole thing and hooked up to Dragonframe (a terrific software program for stop motion animation) so I get a better view of how everything is looking. 

Just for fun, and to make the bad fairies look extra scary, I also tried to incorporate some UV lighting. For the shot in the first picture, I used glow in the dark paint for the evil fairy’s teeth and then blasted it with a UV torch before quickly grabbing each frame. The paint is charged briefly by the UV light and glows just long enough to grab the frame!

Popeye Meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves was produced while Fleischer competitor Walt Disney was entering the final months of production on his first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It made full use of Fleischer Studios's multiplane camera, which they had been experimenting with for some time. Disney had just released The Old Mill, their first 3-D cartoon, and were advertising their upcoming Snow White as multiplanal as well. As such, advertising for “Forty Thieves” accented the fact that it was 3-dimensional. It was released just weeks before the seasonal Los Angeles premiere of Snow White and was essentially the only animated competition for the feature.

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Precursor to AE and Photoshop’s ‘Layers’ feature.. pretty incredible