September 1, 2016 posted by

Behind the Scenes at Various Studios, including the First Motion Picture Unit (1943)


Hi folks. It’s a simple one this week; I’m still working on a longer article for next week’s post. For now though, I’ll get back to packing and sending Flip the Frog sneak preview disc and other things!

I’m always fascinated by films that show a ‘behind the scenes’ look into the animation process. A little while back we even put together a disc of just these types of films, called Making ‘Em Move. In more recent times, I found a film at the National Archives that includes a segment of the First Motion Picture Unit. We transferred it, and it appears on the More Cartoons for Victory DVD. Here is the brief sequence showing animators working on training films, in HD. This sequence and the film it is from remain a mystery to me – does anyone know what film it was produced for, or if it was actually just produced for the film about the FMPU? Either way, it looks like it may be one of the films under the direction of the Velvet Knife himself, Frank Thomas.

Can anyone identify any of the animators working here?

Another film I really like about making animated films is the French-produced Animated Cartoons- the Toy that Grew Up. It’s a well produced and researched short.

Later, Disney used some of the sequences in the above film for his Disneyland television show – in “The Story of the Animated Drawing”:

A promotional film for Snow White also has some fantastic behind the scenes footage. Some of this footage made it into at least two other films, both newsreel stories about the studio:

I’ve also always loved this Popular Science short from 1938. One of these days I’m going to pull out the recording that Lenny Kohl made of Gordan Sheehan watching this, naming all the animators:

Drawing Account was a film created by Jam Handy to show their process. There’s some fun Jim Tyer animation in this little film (with lots of staggers!) and I’m pretty sure this animation was done *just* for this short:

Have a good week everyone!


  • I recall watching the various Disney programs on Sunday night TV, and I was fascinated with those episodes that dealt with how cartoons are made. It really is a fascinating process and one that frustrated me when I tried to “make a drawing move” with just my own limited faculties, but in those days, we all had so many bits of animation history to watch and observe, didn’t we? I’m referring to the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Ooh, and you know I’m looking forward to any further news on the FLIP THE FROG project, especially after enjoying my copy of THE COMPLETE ADVENTURES OF CUBBY BEAR with bonus disk. If I thought such bonus disks meant looking into full restoration of those studios’ work, the excitement would probably be too much! FLIP should be beyond spectacular!

    • The FMPU – wasn’t that Frank Capra’s doing? – reminds me that a bunch of animators were stationed at Fort Monmouth, a now-defunct army base in Eatontown, NJ (not far from where I grew up) during WWII. A bunch of Schlesinger staffers were there. Anyone know anything more about this unit & what they produced?

  • I posted the FMPU short on my blog in 2008, and there are frame blow ups with some identifications.

  • The character designs on that clip look like Freddy Moore, but there is also a similarity to Snafu so it could be from a WB director like Jones. The Disney behind the scenes shows were great, but it was Walter Lantz going into great detail about the process on The syndicated Woody Woodpecker Show that fascinated me. Here is a pre-TV Lantz behind the scenes film:

    And also there’s this tounge-in-cheek classic from the Van Beuren studio (which is on twoThunderbean DVD/BluRay):

  • “Drawing Account” was really odd; didn’t seem to teach much — or even know much — about animation OR engines.

    Was this in fact a “making of” piece about a separate film?

    • Actually there are some accurate things shown for a basic understanding and entertainment for the general public. I do find the guy with the glasses chomping on the gum to be annoying and overacted in the name of seeming like a “colorful” Animator. It is also interesting that they show a form of The Beater, which was a mechanical tempo device that photographed a type of baton in the area of the film occupied by the soundtrack on Release Prints Projected at “full aperture,” this indicator gave a visual tempo to be followed by the orchestra. This technique was patented by Animator, George Ruffle, and was used on the east coast by studios including Fleischer until the formal procedure of pre-recording was eventually adapted at the end of the 1930s. Since this was early 1940s, it is odd seeing this still in use. I saw such a device in the compound of a Portman Animation Stand that was at Ford Motor Company back in the 1970s..

  • Don’t forget “Makin’ ‘Em Move” from the Terrytoons studio, which has some sort of home-made charm and repeating soundtrack…

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