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47 Years, 101 Dalmatians

Almost half a century ago, the Disney studio released 101 Dalmatians. The tale of Pongo, his mate Perdita, and the fate of their puppies, the film was a smash success upon its release, and has since passed into the realm of all-time Disney classics. The film's design would have been impractical for Disney's tried and true inking and painting process, prompting innovator Ub Iwerks to partner with Xerox to create an early photocopier that would turn an animator's drawing directly into an animation cell. While the Xerographic process has been replaced by computers, Disney wanted to honor the great work done almost five decades ago in celebration of their Platinum Edition release of 101 Dalmatians.

The event started at Downtown Disney. Writers from all over the world were brought in to view 101 Dalmatians at the Disney AMC. The film looked superb, with vivid colors and a lot of detail. So much detail, in fact, that at times you could make out the rough drawings underneath the finished work, a byproduct of the Xerographic process. The soundtrack was also remixed in 5.1 and sounded full without feeling like they had wiped away the original tracks. Nicely done. Prior to the screening, we were also informed that Sleeping Beauty was Disney's next Platinum Edition title, and would be the first Platinum Blu-ray release. We were also told that the restoration team had uncovered the original recordings of the London Philharmonic playing the score. Something to look forward to, to be sure.

The next day, on a cold and foggy Anaheim morning, we were led to California Adventure, and to the Animation Hall. There, we were treated to a presentation by Disney Master Animator Andreas Deja and Imagineer Alice Davis, wife of the legendary animator Marc Davis. Davis was responsible for such varied creations as Sleeping Beauty's Maleficent, Peter Pan's Tinker Bell, and of course, Cruella De Vil. We were treated to never before seen sketches of De Vil, drawn by Davis as he developed the character. Alice introduced each sketch and photo, while Deja gave an explanation of the technical aspects of Davis' work.

Afterwards, Andreas Deja led us in a drawing exercise. The subject? None other than Cruella De Vil herself! While Deja effortlessly drew a perfect De Vil, the rest of us struggled to keep up (some more than others). While I don't have a scan of it, my sketch ended up looking like a Far Side comic gone horribly, tragically wrong. Disney had a surprise for us. Those drawings, as great or awful as they may be, were to be turned into actual animation cells using the original Xerographic process first developed for 101 Dalmatians! Now, if only I had been able to draw a straight line, I might relish the opportunity a little more.

Taken back to the Disney lot, we were then given a tour of the Ink and Paint studio. We got to see where the paints are mixed (by hand, no less), and were given a first-hand example of how cells are painted. We saw a cell of Pongo the Dalmatian, along with the airbrushing of Tinker Bell's wings. This all culminated in a visit to the Xerox camera, where we saw one of the Cruella drawings from earlier turned into an animation cell right before our very eyes. It was awe-inspiring to witness the process that was used in every Disney film from 101 Dalmatians through The Little Mermaid.

The day culminated in another animation exercise. This time, the drawing was supplied for us. It was Pongo, the lovable Dalmatian we saw painted earlier. Well, now we were going to get the chance to find out just how well we paid attention, because we were going to paint him ourselves. With Disney painters coaching us and guiding us, we painted our own Pongos. I took a liking to it, and if Disney ever needs a painter, all they need to do is drop me an email.

101 Dalmatians is a bona fide cinema classic, and an innovative film in animation history. Disney celebrated the Platinum Edition release in high style, bringing out some of their brightest animation stars to commemorate the event. We can only hope that future Platinum releases get such lavish treatment, including my all-time favorite Disney film, Sleeping Beauty. Want more Dalmatians? Check out our Platinum Edition Review.

-Daniel Hirshleifer


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