Storyboarding the Caballeros
by Todd James Pierce
I realize that I've been off-line for the past couple weeks. I've been on vacation and setting up the kids for another year of school But like some of you, I was able to attend the Destination D event in Anaheim earlier this month. While watching Jerry Beck and Eric Goldberg's presentation on the history of inventive animation--specifically the "You Belong to my Heart" sequence from The Three Caballeros--I recalled that somewhere, in a three-ring binder, I had a rare publicity still that captured the storyboards for this same sequence. And then--with a guilt twinge--I also recalled that one of the many things I've been meaning to do this year was to scan the storyboards from this and other old photos. So up on the blog today are storyboard images from "You Belong to my Heart."
The full shot features three story men: Roy Williams (of course) on the left, followed by (I'm pretty sure) Homer Brightman and Ted Sears. But behind them are the real treasures: one full board as well as some other drawings. With the help of PhotoShop, I've pulled out some of the images and cleaned them up a little. I've always felt that The Three Caballeros--or at least sections of it--showcased the most inventive animation to bow out of the studio during the 1940s. (Sorry, Fantasia.) In ways, these storyboards show the process--that is, the work of imagination--behind the animation.
Eric Goldberg politely called this sequence Donald's fever dream--though Jerry Beck suggested that it might be better identified as Donald's sex dream, as Donald is haunted by the images of attractive women throughout. (And I'm sure Freud would have something to offer on the images of the flowers and stamens.) But I think that Salvador Dali, the artist, best identified this type of animation as a dreamy expression of unconscious desires. In 1937, when Dali landed in Hollywood he wrote a postcard to Andre Breton, the godfather of Surrealism, to explain that he had "made contact with the three American surrealists, Harpo Marx, Disney and Cecil B. DeMille.” For me the "You Belong" sequence--as well as the film's title sequence--isn't so much a fever dream or a sex dream as much as a mercurial and surreal presentation of Donald's desires. Now for the surprising part: though this sequence plays with the improvisational inventiveness of "straight-ahead" (or loosely planned) animation, you can see in these storyboards that it was metered out, pose-by-pose-by-pose.
It is this quality that showcases the beauty of The Three Caballeros. This sequence was meticulously planned in the story department yet animated with the freshness of a new dream. Moreover, the timing in these scenes was keyed to resemble that in the more famous title sequence of the film, which was largely animated by Ward Kimball. But here the animation is primarily accomplished by John Lounsbery (Donald admiring the singer, as well as the later Donald fantasy scenes) and Les Clark (Donald during the instrumental section). But, for me, the most impressive animation comes from an effects animator whose work I've admired for years: Josh Meador. Here, you can see his handiwork in many scenes: Neon Donald winging his way through flowers, Donald as rocket, and Donald as blush outline surrounded by silhouettes of the girls. For me, it's the integration of the character and effects animation that makes this sequence so memorable.
In case you haven't seen "You Belong to my Heart" in a while, I've linked to a YouTube clip of the entire sequence. Also, all of the photos on the blog today can be enlarged. Just click; check out the detail. I'll be back in a couple of days with another Destination-D-related story.