Between Frames – The Magic of Stop Motion Animation at The Walt Disney Family Museum

| October 29, 2012

I have always believed that Disney and non-Disney fans could both enjoy the Walt Disney Family Museum due to its state-of-the-art interactive exhibits that inform and entertain guests on the life of Walt Disney. Recently, the museum has expanded its mission by presenting a series of special exhibitions on artists who inspired Walt Disney and his animators and artists who have been inspired by Walt Disney.

Currently running through April 28, 2013 is the exhibition Between Frames – The Magic of Stop Motion Animation which tells the story of a 100-year-old art form that has been used in special effects, television, and film  and launched Walt Disney’s career in animation. Some of the best known Disney stop-animation can be seen in the Toy Soldier sequence of Babes in Toyland (1961) and the cleaning the playroom scene from Mary Poppins (1964).

The exhibition explores the evolution of stop motion animation in the United States focusing on special effects, television and film. As the curator, Anel Muller, explained, stop motion grew alongside hand-drawn animation, but while stop motion remains most animation is now computerized. Some of the stop motion innovators presented in the exhibit include Willis O’Brien (King Kong), Tim Burton (Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas), Art Clokey (Gumby), Ray Harryhausen (It Came From Beneath the Sea), Henry Selick (Coraline and James and the Giant Peach) and Phil Tippett (Star Wars and Jurassic Park).

Stop motion figure for Jack Skellington.

Stop motion animation was introduced to television in 1948 in a commercial for Lucky Strike cigarettes. Popular stop motion commercial characters were developed, including the Jolly Green Giant, the Pillsbury Doughboy and the California Raisins. In 1953, Art Clokey produced his stop motion film, Gumbasia. In 1956 he introduced the beloved characters of Gumby and Pokey on television which started the era of stop motion animation in children’s television.

Stop Action figures of Gumby morphing from clay ball into full-sized figure.

The exhibit explains how stop motion animation was used in films including, The Lost World, King Kong, It Came From Beneath the Sea and Jason and the Argonauts. Traditional stop motion was very labor-intensive. For example, the classic skeleton fight scene in Jason and the Argonauts lasts 3 minutes and 40 seconds in the film and required 184,800 separate movements. Stop motion animation was the standard for film special effects until Jurassic Park (1993) introduced computer-generated imagery (CGI).

Electronic stop motion Velociraptor figure from Jurassic Park.

I viewed this exhibition as part of the Animate Your Night event. This is a ticketed event held on a Friday evening each month after regular hours and is themed to a special exhibition or holiday season. The museum galleries are open and special activities are presented along with music and a no-host bar with a specialty drink for the evening.  What I enjoyed the most were the open workshops where I attempted to make my own stop motion animation short film. Animate Your Night tickets are $5 for museum members and $10 for the general public.

Stop motion figure of an AT-AT. Lucasfilms is just down the road from The Walt Disney Family Museum.

If you are at Disney California Adventure, be sure to see their stop motion animation exhibition on The Art of Frankenweenie in the Animation building of Hollywood Land. This exhibit showcases extensive props, sets, puppets and original sketches from Tim Burton’s stop motion animated feature film, Disney’s Frankenweenie through November 5, 2012.

Young Victor’s attic from Disney’s Frankenweenie on display at Disney California Adventure.

In my next article, I will write about what has to be the biggest special exhibition the museum has held, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic. The exhibition will feature more than 200 works of art including conceptual drawings, early character studies, detailed story sketches, and animation drawings.

Images: Courtesy of The Walt Disney Family Foundation and Disneyland Resort Public Relations.

The Walt Disney Family Museum

Location: 104 Montgomery Street, The Presidio of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94129

Information: 1-415-345-6800 or waltdisney.org

Hours: The museum is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Wednesdays through Mondays. Early 5 p.m. closure on Animate Your Night Fridays. Closed on Tuesdays, and January 1, Thanksgiving Day, and December 25.

Admission: Admission can be purchased at the door, or at www.waltdisney.org. Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors and students, and $12.00 for children 6 to 17. Admission is free for members and children under 6. Museum memberships, which entitles members to discounts and admission to special programs, are available.


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