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Cool Multiplane Animation in this Pinocchio Clip from 1940

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2019

This is a 45-second clip from Pinocchio, an animated film made by Disney in 1940.

The scene itself isn’t that exciting…until you actually start to wonder, wait, how was this made? The way the camera effortlessly swoops past buildings and through archways like one of Pixar’s infinitely pliable virtual cameras, the depth of field changing as we pan and zoom toward Pinocchio’s door — how did they do that 80 years ago, animating by hand? The film’s animators achieved this effect using a relatively recent invention, the multiplane camera.

The basic idea is that instead of animating characters against a single static background, you can animate several layers of independently moving scenes painted on glass. In a 1957 film, Walt Disney himself explained how the camera worked:

And here’s how Disney used the technique in dozens of scenes from Snow White to Bambi to 101 Dalmatians:

Because we’re seeing the output of an actual camera zooming and panning, many of these scenes feel more grounded in reality than even some of today’s best digital output. Even 80 years later, the effect is impressive, a real testament to the collaborative talent of Disney’s animators & technicians.