Television Cricket

Okay, you Disney geeks. Can you identify this finished production cel? If you said, it’s from Walt Disney’s “Pinocchio” you’d be dead wrong. Yes, this is a hand inked, hand painted production animation cel but it’s not from the Disney classic we all know and love. First of all, look at the hand inking. The work is well done of course. But, it’s not the delicate lyrical line of the Disney masterpiece. And, there’s little evidence of the labor intensive task required of a Disney inker. Take a closer look at the Cricket’s colors. The colors are not muted and soft. As a matter of fact it looks like paint out of the bottle. Of course, we’re not looking at Disney’s unique water based paints. What you see here are acrylics that can probably be purchased at any art store. Okay, now you know you’re not looking at a gorgeous animation cel from “Pinocchio.” This cartoon cel is from a seventies television commercial featuring the Walt Disney characters.

I’ve worked on my share of Disney television projects over the years. Everything from TV commercials to shows slated for the small screen. Even as a kid in training I was always aware of the difference between the work being done for the big screen and the rather lackluster stuff being created for the small. Back in the fifties we thought of television as a second rate display platform and the studio made its product accordingly. Animation being produced for analog, black&white television was usually considered less than the stellar work being done for the big screen. Consequently, animation drawings were inked with a thicker line and the colors chosen were hardly subtle. Should you visit Phyllis Hurrell’s television commercial unit in 2-G wing on the second floor of the Animation Building you might be surprised to see Disney background artists painting their scenics in greyscale not color. Of course, the Disney artwork was no less masterful, and I loved watching the small team of background artists at work. One of the background artist was a talented woman named, Barbara Begg. I mention this for all those who insist Walt Disney did not provide opportunities for women back in the fifties.

Character designer, Tom Oreb created a number of, “TV ready” Disney characters to be used in commercials. Usually, the characters were stylized and simplified for the scruffy, lackluster television transmission of decades past. Naturally, the pencil animation was inked by Disney’s ink&paint department. Larger pen quills were used to create a broad, bolder outline and on occasion, the artists resorted to using a brush for their inking. It may seem odd that so much special attention was given to television production. However, fifties television never even came close to the high definition images we take for granted today. On occasion, a commercial might be produced in color. The “Alice in Wonderland” animation featuring the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle are a good example. Though years would past before Walt Disney would make his “Wonderful World of Color” deal with NBC, the Alice commercials were never broadcast in color. However, I’m certain Walt had something in mind when he decided to go with color. That was the nature of the Old Maestro, of course. Walt was always thinking ahead. And, in doing so, he continued to confound his critics.

This scruffy animation cel from the seventies is still in pretty good shape. That’s because the paint is acrylic and not water based. That, sadly was the downside of the Disney water based paints. The pigments were gorgeous, but they were never meant to last. I confess I know this from first hand experience. The few Disney cels I took home to add to my collection failed to survive. Over time, the water based pigments literally fell off the cel and my treasures were lost. In any case, this Jiminy Cricket will probably out last me, and I’ve no problem with that.

Yes, it's Jiminy Cricket, but this animated cel is not from the Walt Disney classic motion picture.

Yes, it's Jiminy Cricket, but this animated cel is not from the Walt Disney classic motion picture.