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A Report from the Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Press Junket for 101 Dalmatians and Tinker Bell

- Part 1 -

By Christopher Disher

Disney has long been praised for excellence in hospitality and accommodation. The government has sought their help in welcoming tourists to the country and guests from around the world
have appreciated the top-notch customer service standards at Disney parks and hotels. I was fortunate enough to see another facet of this ubiquitous nature at the Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment press junket for the Platinum Edition DVD release of 101 Dalmatians, where members of the press were given extensive behind-the-scenes access on the studio lot and in the California parks.

The 3-day program was full of both entertainment and entertaining "business." A sneak peak at Tinker Bell, the upcoming direct-to-video movie, was included on the itinerary, as was an exclusive tour of the Disneyland Dream Suite. A string of articles will follow detailing the new 101 Dalmatians DVD, the Dream Suite, and the upcoming Tinker Bell releases.

The first day began at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, CA. I checked in at the Riverside gate and received my security pass. It was late in the afternoon and things were going at a slow pace. Workers filled cars with fuel on the lot's gas station, a few employees were coming and going, the soundstages towered directly in front of me. I parked in the Zorro deck, checked in at the charter bus, and within minutes we were on our way to Anaheim.

We arrived at the Hilton Hotel in the evening. I could see the Tower of Terror, Space Mountain, and the Matterhorn from my room; the setting sun cast an orange glow on the buildings and the snow-capped California mountains looked warm in the distance. I headed downstairs, grabbed a Starbucks latte and caught one of the two charter buses to the AMC theater in Downtown Disney.

On the ride over, I talked to other members of the press and learned their stories. Many of them attend junkets as a key part of their job, often times traveling over forty weeks out of the year, said Las Vegas critic Jeff Howard. They came from all over the world, as far away as Australia. There were journalists representing print, web, and television media from Belgium, Holland, Germany, Brazil, and many others. Some were staff writers and one was even the Editor in Chief of a film magazine. Many pointed out the uniqueness of this particular junket -- for being so long and so thorough.

We got our tickets and concessions voucher and began our private screening of 101 Dalmatians, digitally projected and with a new 5.1 audio mix. A few words were exchanged at the end of the presentation but most everyone just wanted to get back to the hotel, have dinner, and rest up for the following day. For me, the night ended with a trip to the sushi bar.

An aerial shot of the Anaheim area is marked by the presence of Disneyland peaks the Matterhorn, Space Mountain, and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Balloons celebrating the Platinum Edition DVD release of "101 Dalmatians" set a festive mood in the Disney Animation Building lobby.
Artwork from Walt Disney's first animated feature, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", surrounds a poster of the DVD cover art that's the reason for the junket.
Alice Davis, the widow of legendary Disney animator Marc Davis, and contemporary animator Andreas Deja hold court in the Disney Animation Building on the stylings of "101 Dalmatians."

The next day we were shuttled to Disney's California Adventure. We entered the park before opening and had breakfast in the Disney Animation building. Afterwards, they took us to the Animation Auditorium and showed us clips from the supplemental materials on the Dalmatians DVD. Andreas Deja entered and mused on the challenges in animation and the nature of 101 Dalmatians' style.
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He was later joined by Alice Davis who charmingly and grandmotherly expounded on her memories of Marc Davis, her late husband and one of the legendary "Nine Old Men", and the artistic craftsmanship of the movie, the realistic character movements, and the study of form.

Much of the discussion between Davis and Deja was focused on the style of animation, as 101 Dalmatians was a revolution for its time. Now that computer animation has overshadowed the hand-drawn method in the US, the purpose of animation like that in 101 is called into question.

"We're not going to try and compete [with computer animation]," Deja said. He reasons that CGI is dominated by a different look, defined by the use of shadows and highlights for instance. With the new move towards hand-drawn animation, the craft may keep re-inventing itself. The demand is back, so if you're looking for a job in hand-drawn animation, Disney's now hiring!

The camera crew arranged an interview set on stage for all of the broadcast journalists. The print members waited until after the TV interviews were finished to have a "round table" with Davis and Deja. Consequently, we had a few hours to burn. A PR representative took our group of six around the park to visit the attractions. I was the only English speaker in the bunch; the rest of them spoke Dutch. We walked out the back door of the Animation building and stepped over to Tower of Terror. The park had just opened and a flood of guests stormed the entrance. We waited until a large number had entered before we slid into the FastPass line, zipped through the queue, and plummeted 13 stories in the darkness, laughing and screaming all the time. One man, a journalist from Holland, instinctively grabbed my hand out of fright as we took the first drop. They really enjoyed it.

It was overcast that day and a bit chilly, so the park was relatively empty. No ride, besides the new Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, had a wait longer than ten minutes. We visited a few other attractions and headed back for our interview with the two Disney legends.

The next stop was a tour of the enchanting Dream Suite in Disneyland. We were given rare access to the suite and all of its special features, which will be detailed in an upcoming article.

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Cels from "One Hundred and One Dalmatians" and a Goofy short are displayed.
The world is a carousel of color / wonderful, wonderful color!
A Disney employee shows off a hand-made cel reproduction of Tinker Bell in the Ink and Paint building.
Sherri Vandoli, Assistant Supervisor of Ink & Paint, demonstrates the xerography technique with a selenium plate. With guidance from Disney animator Andreas Deja, UltimateDisney.com's Christopher Disher tries his hand at painting in a Pongo cel at a master painting class in the Hyperion Bungalow.

Day Three began with a visit to the Ink and Paint building on the lot in Burbank. Here, artists reproduce cels from the film by hand. A limited number of reproductions are produced and sold to employees of the Walt Disney Company. The cels differ from the originals in a few ways because they are not mass produced with a computer or machine. Fifty percent end up damaged in some slight way and are trashed; only the flawless copies are sold.
Originally, the artists used a powder to mix the pigments and an oil gum resin paint to fill in the cells. This paint applied nicely but sometimes took eight hours to dry. With lead and other materials considered toxic, the paint became a modern health hazard and is no longer used. Instead, ordinary acrylic based paints are currently the mainstay.

Ink and Paint was established in 1923 and moved from its LA location to the Disney Hyperion Studio and later to the Burbank lot. In the beginning, the facilities were used for inking cells for the animated films. The staff of over 250 dwindled to the present five employees making hand-drawn reproductions. Their most ambitious project was an anniversary print that sold for $11,000. Only seventy-six copies were made and whenever the cell was damaged, trashing it was a painful experience. Nothing as large or complicated has since been made.

Up next was the camera room where the Xerox machine was demonstrated -- a device that ultimately saved Disney animation with its efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Developed by innovator Ub Iwerks in conjunction with the Xerox Corporation, the device was created to mechanically transfer artists' original drawings directly onto the final cell. Five people in three rooms ran the machine in its day. Sherri Vandoli, Assistant Supervisor of Ink & Paint, demonstrated the process with the original machine, though there were six at one time. The selenium plates they use in the process can no longer be manufactured, so they're left with a limited few, though they do take good care of them. To compensate for differences in artist style, the exposure could be altered in the darkroom if the lines were lighter than the other drawings, for instance. The last film to use this process was 1990's The Prince and the Pauper.

I joined the other journalists for the master painting class in the Hyperion Bungalow. Andreas Deja and others from Ink and Paint were present to aid the struggling artists with a medium they're otherwise not accustomed to. The process was simple: lay down a thick layer of paint in the sections that corresponded with the numbers on a guide sheet. We all painted Pongo's face -- some turned out better than others but all of us received a certificate signed by Deja, declaring our new talent.

To conclude the junket was a "Behind-the-Leaf Sneak Peek" at Tinker Bell. A small reception was followed by a look at some working footage, a music video, and a question and answer session with director Bradley Raymond and producer Jeannine Roussel. Check back at UltimateDisney.com for the report on this and other events that took place throughout the junket.

101 Dalmatians: Platinum Edition DVD cover art
More on 101 Dalmatians: Platinum Edition:
Read our full DVD review
Read our interview with Lisa Davis, voice/model for Anita Radcliff
Read our interview with Alice Davis, Disney costume designer and Marc Davis' wife
Buy the DVD from Amazon.com

Article published March 6, 2008. Except for #9, all images copyright Christopher Disher.