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(Credit: MGM)

Film

The fascinating rotoscoping animation of 'Anchors Aweigh'

@Russellisation

When Toy Story was released by Pixar animations in 1995, it was unclear just how much of an impact the film would have on the future of the industry. Made entirely using digital computer effects, the film transformed the way in which animated films were created, with artists no longer having to painstakingly draw each and every frame to create a vibrant Disney feature film. Cutting the cost of materials and necessary handiwork, Pixar made commercial hand-drawn animation a thing of the past, with most company’s now preferring the ease of digital animation. 

Before the release of this revolutionary animated classic the world of cinematic artform looked a lot different, with the process of hand drawing each and every frame meaning that, often, films were restricted to certain boundaries. Though Walt Disney had taken viewers to grand, fantastical worlds through the mid-20th century, such films are rudimentary when compared to modern leaps in animation, with the dawn of digital in the 1980s and ‘90s. 

In search of innovative ways to tell animated tales, the technique of rotoscoping was utilised by animation companies across Hollywood, with the painstaking technique originating as far back in the century as 1902. Describing a process that involves tracing an object (or person) to create a silhouette that can be lifted for use on other backgrounds, the technique was the earliest form of such blue screen technologies that are seen in the contemporary industry. 

This was utilised throughout the films of Walt Disney as animators used real-life models to pose as the characters before their likeness was sketched over, coloured and eventually animated into any respective character. Used in everything from Alice in Wonderland to Peter Pan, the technique also had another use, with filmmakers using rotoscoping in a contrasting method, bringing animated characters into the live-action world of the living. 

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This version of the technique was famously used in the making of Mary Poppins in 1964, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, with several wonderous animated moments being infused into the live-action film. Whilst Mary Poppins may have popularised the technique, it was Anchors Aweigh 19-years earlier that would pioneer the technology, with Tom and Jerry from the popular cartoon appearing alongside Gene Kelly, Kathryn Grayson, Frank Sinatra and Dean Stockwell. 

Dancing seamlessly alongside Gene Kelly, the moment in which Jerry the mouse leaps into the real live-action world is an incredible moment for animation that represents an innovation decades ahead of its time. Originally wanting to use Mickey Mouse for this segment, Walt Disney Pictures turned down the offer, wishing to focus on their own projects after suffering greatly from the devastating effects of WWII. 

Badgering the office of Hanna and Barbera, it was Gene Kelly who managed to convince the company to use Tom and Jerry, condemning the animators of Anchors Aweigh to a meticulous storyboarding process that involved rotoscoping the actor to match the cartoon mouse’s movements down to the finest details. 

Take a look at the behind-the-scenes video below that details how this incredible sequence was brought to life.