Shot Analysis: Jungle Book Sequence Part 1

The first 3 shots of this 16 scene sequence where Baloo and Mowgli meet for the first time in Walt Disney’s 1967 classic, The Jungle Book.

Let’s begin our 5 Part analysis of Frank Thomas’ and Ollie Johnston’s marvelous work in this portion of The Jungle Book:

Scene 1: A Lesson in broken rhythm and natural action.

I love the unplanned feeling of this shot even though it’s clearly well-designed in terms of layout, camera move and action choreography. Notice how he comes into screen with a beautiful line of action that helps “open up” the layout and action:

Throughout this shot Baloo moves from screen right to left, but does so in an uninhibited fashion — moving forward, then back and changing his gait and gestures as he flows with the musical tempo inside his head. You get a sense of a character totally “gone” in his own mind, living completely present, happy and harmoniously allowing his body to “do its thing.”

Ollie’s work (at least it looks like it’s his) is often very intuitive; his characters behave in a far more sincere and natural manner than other animators. It’s not as aesthetically designed as say Milt Kahl’s work but the sacrifice in the visual dominance of the posing actually lends itself more suitably to this kind of shot. That said, it still carries with it it’s own imaginative appeal as can be seen here (with the main key poses highlighted):

When the shot ends, your attention halts and flows along with Baloo’s. It’s as if your discovery of the man-cub aligns with his. (We don’t really notice Mowgli prior to this moment.)

Shot 2: A lesson in simplicity and clarity

This shot, despite being only 3 seconds long, displays remarkable clarity in terms of acting, movement and appeal. It’s deceptively simple and effective — the kind of result all top artists aim for.

Centrally located in frame we know exactly where to look right from the start. The pose has charm, perfect sense of visual weight and a clear sense of having come from somewhere and about to go somewhere else:

Now let’s look at the rhythm There’s great balance in timing here; poses hold and move for just the right amount of time, syncing perfectly with the dialogue — neither head nor body stay locked nor is there continuous movement “all over the place.” Using the nose as a simple marker, we can see the wonderfully clear variation of movement:

The shot ends with a body movement downwards and towards screen right leading us where Baloo eyes have been directing us all along — right at Mowgli’s position. This transitions to the perfectly executed match cut in scene 3.

Scene 3: A lesson in personality animation and texture

I love this shot. It reveals the directness of the character. He’s curious, unafraid and unpretentious. Interested in what’s in front of him, Baloo dives right in Mowgli’s personal space — analyzing, sniffing and commenting openly about the subject before him. You get a sense of a guy (in this case a bear) that you just like because he’s so honest and friendly. This is revealed by the playfulness on display, both in the character’s attitude and the contrasting actions:

Take the wonderful moment when his eyes look as if he’s totally gone, drunken by the aroma of his discovery. This is a character (and animator) having fun.

A marvelous control of tempo is on display; the euphoric moment Baloo experiences for a brief moment followed by his deeper intrusion into Mowgli’s personal space sets up the contrasting action that follows. The slap across the nose may come across as brash and sudden but it beautifully parallels the sniffy nose action earlier — “nosiness” punished (again we’ll track the nose to follow the beats):

Despite the seemingly violent behavior by Mowgli towards a seemingly innocent soul, it’s clear by Baloo’s reaction that he’s neither hurt physically nor offended. He’s more surprised than anything else. It’s an expression of “oooohh” rather than “ouch!”

The scene ends as Baloo retracts from Mowgli and the boy telling him to buzz off. The little guy has some fight in him and is unafraid of a creature much larger than him (at this point he’s clearly never seen a bear before, so he’s also naive about the whole thing). His forward gesture and Baloo’s retreat directs you perfectly towards the next bit of business; scene direction is carefully adhered to here in creating good consistency and continuity:

Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of our analysis!

Film Analysis: A Jungle Book Sequence

Walt Disney’s 1967 film The Jungle Book feature three most unlikely companions in Baloo, Mowgli and Bagheera.

Disney’s 1967 animated classic remains to this day one of the most beloved of the 2D era of animated films. Despite its rather basic plot and unspectacular visuals (I’m talking about the budget-constrained sets and level of polish and not the level of artistry) it continues to charm animators and general audiences alike.

Baloo and King Louie sing “I wanna be like you.” Sparse on story, layouts, design and effects, The Jungle Book still shines with charming characters, great voice acting and wonderful songs.

The reason for its success is clearly the high level of character-based animation that, to this day, still stands without parallel in terms of acting, charm and personality displayed scene in and scene out throughout the film. Despite being a film with a paltry budget of only $4 million — which is well below that of comparable films that came before and after it — it was both successfully received by critics and at the box office grossing over $142 million which is nearly 35 times its cost of production, a nearly unfathomable today. (In contrast, the spectacular success of Disney’s 2013 hit Frozen, costing $150 million, grossed just over $1.2 billion, an 8-fold return.)

Screen grab from BoxOfficeMojo indicating tickets sold and inflation-adjusted box office totals shows Disney’s 1967 The Jungle Book sitting at 32nd of all-time,  just below Christopher Nolan’s 2008 live-action thriller, The Dark Knight and just above Sleeping Beauty, another Disney Classic (1959) that has also held its own over the years.

To me, this film is a testament to the work of Disney’s four key animation figures at the time, most notably Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and John Lounsbery as well as legendary story artists like Ken Anderson and Bill Peet. This was the industry’s best at their best.

Shere Khan and Kaa are two of the many colorful and memorable characters in Disney’s The Jungle Book.

As a tribute to these great artists and the film itself, I’m gonna be doing a 5 part breakdown of an extended sequence of the film and analyze in detail what I think are some of the many wonderful things about it — including but not limited to the screen choreography, body mechanics, posing, timing and acting — all of which make the performances so great.

Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston’s The Illusion of Life features loads of wonderful animation drawings like this series of Baloo and many great lessons on how to animate. I still remember how it was near impossible to get a copy of this book when it was out of circulation. The underground market price hit as high as a half a term of my school tuition when I began my studies at Sheridan College. In my opinion, the book is mandatory education for any animator.

The sequence in discussion is where Baloo the Bear first encounters the man-cub Mowgli after he’s run away. It’s a sequence entirely animated by two animators, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, the two best personality animators at Disney. The sequence contains 16 shots (scenes) in total and reveal everything that’s true and wonderful about the characters. In summary, it’s a sequence animated by two best friends at the studio of two best friends in the story. This kind of circumstance — and the magic that comes from it — is so rare that it’s unlikely to be repeated ever again.

The initial meeting between Baloo and Mowgli is not only a great character introduction but one that gives rise to one of the most charming duos in animated film history. This sequence of 16 shots will be broken up into 5 parts for detailed analysis.

Stay tuned for upcoming Part 1 of my analysis. It should be educational and inspiring for even the most established of animators.

Adversity

Director Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump is a colorful story of a character who, guided by the principles of faith, perseverance and simplicity, keeps moving forward regardless of expectations or circumstances.

“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” — C.S. Lewis

As many of you are no doubt aware, this blog has faced its longest hiatus since its very inception. But it has happened for good reason; a recent personal disaster has literally brought all my routines and activities completely to a halt. Due to a freak incident, I’ve lost most of my home, belongings and, worst of all, my art. Like a stake through the heart, the pain that accompanies the sudden shock lingers, leaving one to question things, almost everything.

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” — Henry David Thoreau

As someone who is no stranger to despair — having endured immeasurable pain with numerous medical procedures and significant loss of family members and the dearest of friends  — one would think that I would be used to it, but it always hurts, no matter what. Such is the definition of pain.

Yet, as part of a human species conditioned to deal with adversity, I (we) must carry on, hoping to learn from the past rather than live in it.

“We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell

There is often no specific rhyme or reason for events or predicaments (especially tragic or unjust ones), which is why we’re so often confused about what to do or how to react to unexpected (or even expected) difficulty. But at some point as artists, we begin to realize that this quagmire of drama, distress and seeming unfairness is what gives our work the fertile ground on which to spring forth our ideas, our drive and our talents. It gives us meaning and a story to build on. It’s the reason why mythology is as relevant today as it has been throughout human history — its parables serve to guide us on how to live. In such light, setbacks become springboards to jump towards greater and more meaningful heights. Like the animation principle of anticipation, before we can go up, we must first go down.

Prometheus Bound by Peter-Paul Rubens. The symbolism behind the myth of Prometheus is profound. A Titan God entrusted with the task of forming man out of clay, he defies Zeus by giving mortals the gift of creative fire to help end human misery and suffering. Although he is punished by being tied to a rock and having an eagle eat at his liver, he remains for eternity man’s greatest friend .

When I teach, I often hear from my students about their troubles both creative and personal. I remind them that their unique challenges (which are tied directly to their unfulfilled talents) are what make them who they are and how they handle those challenges will ultimately determine the success of their art and the meaning in their lives. We need to take comfort in the fact that what we think about and how we think about it matters because our lives and our artistry is heavily dependent on the narrative that we choose for ourselves. What the world thinks, matters much less.

“There are only two powers in the world: the sword and the mind. In the end, the sword is always conquered by the mind.” — Napoleon

Whenever we’re faced with serious challenge and pain, we are forced in the loudest and grandest way possible to respond — and that is the key word respond — as opposed to react. Response is conscious choice. Reaction, on the other hand, is thoughtless and absent of the benefit that time, perspective and contemplation brings to the table. It’s why it’s so beneficial to just slow things down and keeping things simple. Our lives today are far too complicated. The benefits of a globally and electronically connected world has brought with it the obsession with time, expectation and material focus. It’s all too easy to lose ourselves into surface living and losing all sense of presence.

Drawing by Maurice Sendak. When was the last time you looked deeply into someone’s eyes? Or listen to every word that is spoken? Have you forgotten what the surface of objects really feel like in your hand? Or the smell of the ocean? The true taste of things unadulterated?

Pain is a reminder to stop. I learned this a while a go when I was left disabled after a multitude of operations in a short period of eight months. It took a long time to get back to being functional and even longer to understand the purpose of the suffering that I had to endure. The mere material loss from recent events is just another reminder to me to remain humble and respectful of the ways of this universe. We actually gain “ourselves” when we lose “things.” We become wiser. But it’s so easy to forget that. Only setbacks have the power to make us look within ourselves, and then, with a greater and stronger heart, to look outside of ourselves to connect with the greater universe. It’s one of the reasons why this blog was formed in the first place.

Everybody’s hurt. What is important, what corrals you, what bullwhips you, what drives you, torments you, is that you must find some way of using this to connect you with everyone else alive. This is all you have to do it with. You must understand that your pain is trivial except insofar as you can use it to connect with other people’s pain; and insofar as you can do that with your pain, you can be released from it, and then hopefully it works the other way around too; insofar as I can tell you what it is to suffer, perhaps I can help you to suffer less. — James Baldwin

The story of Rocky, written by and starring Sylvestor Stallone is one of my favorite American stories. It’s a classic tale of redemption, resilience and the power of the will. It reminds us that when we get knocked down, we must always get back up.

I don’t wish for pain or suffering — no one in their right mind would — but I no longer dread it. If my right arm hurts, I’ll use my left. If I lose another loved one, I’ll bring his/her spirit with me to new relationships. Art lost can be created anew. Life is, after all, a continued process of renewal. We cannot let the pettiness of life or, more accurately, our petty view of life get in the way of our art or our becoming.

“We have not overcome our condition, and yet we know it better. We know we live in a contradiction, but we also know that we must refuse this contradiction and do what is needed to reduce it.  Our task as men is to find the few principles that will calm the infinite anguish of free souls. We must mend what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable again in a world so obviously unjust, give happiness meaning once more to peoples poisoned by the misery of the century. Naturally, it is a superhuman task. But superhuman is the term for tasks men take a long time to accomplish, that’s all.”  — Albert Camus