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ClassicStop Motion

Philips Broadcast of 1938 by George Pal

Philips Broadcast of 1938

There is a beautiful copy of George Pal’s advertising short Philips Broadast of 1938 currently available on the Europa Film Treasures site. It’s almost overwhelming to see animation that’s so fun, so colorful, so individualistic and so stylish. This was produced exactly seventy years ago, yes, SEVENTY years ago, and yet it feels as fresh and contemporary as anything being produced today. Case in point: a musician on YouTube put one of his tracks over the film. While the music isn’t timed to the animation beats, this simple experiment drives home how well the animation holds up in contemporary times.

What is most amazing is that George Pal managed to achieve these wondrous results through an archaic replacement animation technique that involved carving thousands of individuals puppets. One could well assume that today’s vastly superior and powerful technologies would be capable of producing even more spectacular imagery, and yet we end up swimming in gobs of the insipid and uninspired. At the end of the day, tools are besides the point. Animation such as Pal’s requires something more…it requires elements that have been largely absent from mainstream animation for many years: the imagination of an artist and an understanding of the possibilities of the medium.

(via Mark Mayerson)

  • Brian O.

    I’m glad Amid pointed this George Pal classic out. It really does POP.
    Everything was pre-planned and pre-built before the cameras rolled. Animators weren’t able to inject much in the way of custom acting during the filming process. Some films had anywhere from 6,000 to 9,000 individual parts (limbs, heads, hands, etc) prepared that were meticulously organized for the animator to utilize for their given scene. Despite this highly planned and structured system the Pal puppet films never felt like soulless cookie-cutter endeavors. They were pure joy.
    Snowball chance in Hell of having more of these come out on DVD (other than The Puppetoon Movie with extras). Honestly, today’s artists would learn a lot from how Pal brought color, music and craftsmanship together.

  • Frank

    A print this good (the original was shot in 3 strip Tech) makes all the difference.

  • Joe

    There’s also an excellent print on the DVD set “Saved From the Flames”

  • Ryan

    The DVD of the Puppetoon movie includes this as an extra, as well as nine other shorts. Highly recommended.

  • The same site has the equally excellent Tulips Shall Grow. Which are the two Pal films I show in my animation class.

    A seller is offering a bunch of Puppetoons, mostly Jasper (including the very rare Jasper and the Watermelons on a site caller

    The quality varies, but very watchable and well worth the $10 asking price.

    Amid, I agree with you about the improved technologies not bringing improved films. As a sometime film festival judge, it can be mind numbing how much crap can be created. It used to be that the immense amount of work that animation demanded weeded out all but the most dedicated, but now huge amounts of animation can be cranked out quickly. But we all know excellent work can come from new technology, like Ryan, I Met the Walrus and all the Pixar films.

  • OK, while we are on the subject of George Pal, has anyone ever really spelled out just HOW the Pal Puppetoons were animated? I know they pre-animated the characters on paper first, and when the action was approved, wood carvers made series of puppets that reflected accurately what was on the paper animation frame by frame. How did they make the wooden carvings so precisely, so everything stays relatively in register and does not gain or lose volume by very much? I have never seen any explanation of this part of the process, it seems to be a deep, dark secret. Yet, this is the heart of the process, and is what gives the Puppetoon characters the squash and stretch that is so characteristic of good drawn animation. Can anybody explain this process or link to a good explanation?

  • I don’t know if this has been posted here before, but another Dutch stop motion film sponsored by Philips is Jozsef Misik’s Kermesse Fantastique from 1948. The animation isn’t as abstract or expressive as Pal’s, but still lots of detail and life in this bizarre trip to a carnival with a fun haunted house ride sequence.

  • Brian O.

    No, I’ve never seen anything that spells the process out in great 1-2-3 depth. Good blueprints and highly skilled woodworkers are the key to the process. The word “carvings” has been used often but that almost insinuates a guy sitting around with a jacknife whittling away at a 2×4. Precision cutting and sanding equipment, in addition to hand tools, had to have been used for the cutting and forming process. After that, measurements were kept in check with accurate instruments such as calipers and other gages.

  • Doug Drown

    There aren’t enough superlatives for this. What a treasure. I had known about this film for years, but this is the first time I have seen it.

    While we’re on the subject of the mystery as to how Pal and his crew animated the wooden characters, I have an even more probing question. Both in this cartoon and in the Puppetoons, the characters are occasionally seen stretching and, for lack of a better word, quaking — vibrating, as it were, while singing out a musical note, for example, or expressing fear. I can’t imagine how on earth that was animated. Does anyone have any idea?

  • John A

    Doug- for animation cycles, or figures that squash and stretch, a new figure was created for that frame. Through the process of “Replacement Animation” a head, an arm, or sometimes an entire body is photographed, the film is advanced to the next frame, the figurine is taken away and a completely new figure is placed in the same exact space (vibrating effects are caused by alternating two different sized figures from frame to frame) It’s a lot of work, but there are some time saving tricks that you couldn’t do with traditional 2-D animation.

    For instance, back in college I made 3 12-figure walk cycle poses. (36 ‘identical’ characters) I mapped out all of the figures’ paths on a tabletop set and then kept replacing figures from one spot and replacing them with another walking pose. When I was done, I had a roomful of figures walking through a scene, coming and going, walking towards the camera, away from the camera, walking in circles, things you couldn’t do with 36 cels.

  • Another stop motion film deserving of mention is this “Fima Noveck” badged cartoon “The Concertina”