I worked with Joe Herrington when I was at WDI from 1989 to 1994. Joe saved some of the old Jimmy Macdonald contraptions from being thrown out. I was designer of video systems but worked closely with the audio department doing post production sound. Here are some audio and video clips showing how theme park sound is done.
Theme parks have a way of transporting us to magical places, and sound is crucial in maintaining the illusion. From the most action-packed attractions to the background music playing between park areas, theme park sound designers have thought of it all. In this episode, we speak to Joe Herrington and Mike Fracassi, two Disney Imagineers who work to maintain the magic for guests of Disney Parks.
The SoundWorks Collection pulls back the curtain on the talented Imagineers who are responsible for the sounds and music of the Walt Disney theme park properties. In our exclusive video profile we explore the history and role of the audio team as they share their stories and creative challenges. We also take a visit through the original John James “Jimmy” MacDonald sound effects collection, which explores some of the classic Disney sound effects.
“Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” – Walt Disney
Jimmy Macdonald was a one-man sound effects wizard. Over his 48-year career with Disney, he created and assembled one of the largest and most impressive sound effects libraries in motion picture history. Beginning in 1934, he added extra dimension to all of Disney’s animated shorts and features including even more current offerings such as the Mouseworks television series. He also worked on the soundtracks for most of the Studio’s live-action films up through the mid-1980s. But perhaps most notable to fans was his greatest role: that of Mickey Mouse, to whom Jimmy gave voice from 1946 until 1977.
Born John James Macdonald in Dundee, Scotland, on May 19, 1906, Jimmy came to the United States when he was only a month old. He grew up in the Philadelphia area and received a correspondence school degree in engineering before moving to California in 1927. His first job was with the Burbank Engineering Department.
In 1934, he was playing drums and percussion for the Dollar Steamship Lines when the band, in between cruises, was called to the Disney Studios to record for a Mickey Mouse short. Jimmy stayed on to work in the newly formed Disney Sound Effects Department, doing vocal effects and cartoon voices.
His voice repertoire included yodeling, whistling, and sneezing for the Dwarfs in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, barks for Pluto, and, on many occasions, the excitable, high-pitched voices of Chip and Dale.
Rarely was there a sound Jimmy could not make with one of the more than 500 innovative Rube Goldberg-like contraptions that he built from scratch. He could create sounds as obscure as a spider web shimmering or a friendly bumblebee washing up before supper. Animator and Disney Legend Xavier Atencio once recalled, “If he couldn’t get a particular sound he wanted from one of those gizmos, Jimmy would do it with his mouth.”
In 1946, Walt Disney handpicked Jimmy to be his successor as the official voice of Mickey Mouse, beginning with the “Mickey and the Beanstalk” segment of Fun and Fancy Free. Jimmy provided the famed mouse’s familiar falsetto on all film and television projects up until the late 1970s.
On screen, Jimmy was the silhouetted figure of a timpani player in Fantasia. Four decades later, in 1982, he assisted conductor and Disney Legend Irwin Kostal in the digital re-recording of that film. As an original member of the popular jazz group, “The Firehouse Five Plus Two,” Jimmy played drums and made several Disney television appearances in the 1950s. In the live-action film arena, he supplied sound effects for everything from the Academy Award®-wining True-Life Adventures series up through The Black Hole in 1979. For the 1977 animated feature The Rescuers, he came out of retirement to provide sounds for the feisty dragonfly, Evinrude.
Jimmy Macdonald passed away on February 1, 1991, in Los Angeles.
In an excerpt from a video included in his career retrospective at the Museum of Chinese in America, artist Tyrus Wong and others discuss the visual style Mr. Wong brought to Disney’s “Bambi.” Photo/Video: Disney Enterprises, Inc.
Tyrus Wong, the Chinese-American artist who was the production designer of Disney’s classic feature Bambi (1942), passed away today at the age of 106.
Wong had a brief career in animation, working at Disney only between 1938 and 1941, but made an outsized contribution to animation history with his innovative production design of Bambi. He was working as an entry-level inbetweener at Disney when he showed art director Tom Codrick his atmospheric pastel ideas for Bambi. that provided a solution to Bambi’s backgrounds by suggesting the atmosphere of a forest without describing every leaf and branch.
Codrick showed them to Walt Disney, who was equally excited by the approach. “Looks like we put you in the wrong department,” Codrick told the young artist. Wong was offered the opportunity to “key the whole picture from beginning to end, to make a painting that sets the mood.”
Wong received credit on the film only as a background painter, but wasn’t recognized for his role as the production designer of the film until many years later. Despite the low pay he received, Wong stayed inside the studio with all the veteran artists during the 1941 strike—”I was being a good boy”—but that didn’t matter. He was let go from the studio a year before Bambi was released. “I don’t feel bitter toward Disney at all, except for a few guys who I know to this day kinda resent me,” he told historian John Canemaker.Reflecting on his work on Bambi, Wong said, “The script would say, ‘Early morning: the deer goes out onto the meadow.’ I would try to create the atmosphere of that meadow, the fog on it and so forth . . . mood sketches. My painting has always been very poetic—that’s the Chinese influence. In Chinese art, the poet is a painter and the painter is a poet. The object isn’t to reproduce photographic reality, as it is in Western painting, but to capture a feeling.”
Wong himself considered animation to be “a minor, very small part” of his artistic life, which also included twenty-six years as a live-action production designer at Warner Bros. where he worked on classic films like Rebel Without a Cause, Around the World in Eighty Days, and The Wild Bunch. He also enjoyed a long career as a greeting card designer, and in his spare time, created murals, ceramics, lithographs, and kites.
Born in Guangzhou, China, Wong came to the United States at the age of 9, where he lived with his father, a laborer. A surprisingly in-depth New York Times obituary offers some fascinating details on Wong’s early years.
Wong’s father encouraged him to practice calligraphy every night, but they were so poor that they couldn’t afford ink. “We can’t afford ink or rice paper,” Wong once said. “But he made me do it with water. That’s a good training.”
In the final decades of his life, Wong received significant attention, starting with a chapter in John Canemaker’s book Before the Animation Begins (1996). More recently, in 2014, Wong had a major retrospective “Water to Paper, Paint to Sky: The Art of Tyrus Wong” at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco.
A feature-length documentary about Wong’s life, Tyrus, was recently completed by Pamela Tom. Here is the trailer:
Wong is survived by his daughters Kim, Kay, and Tai-Ling.
Tributes have been pouring in from around the industry, including from Frozen’s head of story Paul Briggs, Zootopia director Rich Moore, Inside Out co-director Ronnie del Carmen, and visual development artist Claire Keane, among others:
Here are a few of Wong’s iconic pastel concepts for Bambi:
Beginning in the 1960s, Wong started creating kites that he would fly on weekends at Los Angeles area beaches. Here are a few examples:
From CBS Sunday Morning. Tracy Smith learned all about his life story firsthand:
Here is a Walt Disney Family Museum exhibition from a few years ago.
From August 15, 2013 to February 3, 2014, The Walt Disney Family Museum will present the exhibition Water to Paper, Paint to Sky: The Art of Tyrus Wong. Organized by Michael Labrie, the museum’s director of collections, the exhibition will focus on the life and work of Chinese-American artist Tyrus Wong—a celebrated painter, muralist, kite maker, lithographer, Hollywood sketch artist, calligrapher, ceramicist, and Disney Legend. At age 102, Wong is still a practicing artist today.
This retrospective features more than 150 works including paintings, sculptures, works on paper, painted scarves, kites, and more. Although he never met Walt Disney, it was the ethereal beauty of Wong’s Eastern influenced paintings that caught Walt’s eye and became the inspiration for the animated feature Bambi, which changed the way animation art was presented, and continues to be an inspiration to contemporary artists.Overcoming adversity, poverty, and racial discrimination, Wong used his passion and interpretation of the bold art of the Sung dynasty, and his experience working as a Depression- era muralist, California watercolorist, and film production illustrator, to become one of the bohemian artists whose creativity and drive helped shape the cultural, artistic life of Los Angeles during the 1930s and 40s
In 1938, Wong took a job at the Walt Disney Studios as an inbetweener, one who goes through the tedious process of making “in-between” drawings that filled out the movement of the characters between the animators’ key drawings. He recalled “At the end of the day, I thought my eyes were going to pop out,” as he flipped through countless drawings of Mickey Mouse and stared at the light in the drawing board. When he heard that Disney’s next feature-length film was going to be Bambi, he saw an opportunity to present his work.
Wong read Felix Salten’s Bambi and “thought the story was very, very nice—the feeling—you could almost smell the pine,” and made sample sketches creating the lush mountain and forest settings, inspired by Sung dynasty landscape paintings. He had a different approach and one that had never been seen before in an animated film. He explained, “I tried to keep it very, very simple and create the atmosphere, the feeling of the forest.” Tom Codrick, the film’s art director, was impressed with his sensitive style, which was vastly different from the more ornate style of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which preceded it. Tyrus’s Chinese-inspired sketches and paintings set the look and tone for Bambi, and were some of the most strikingly beautiful art ever produced at the Walt Disney Studios.
In 2001, Wong was named a Disney Legend, and his work continues to inspire and influence the leading animators of today.
The exhibition also includes paintings, hand painted ceramics and silk scarves, original greeting cards, works on paper, and his latest work including handmade and hand-painted kites, which range in size from six inches to 100 feet.
About Tyrus Wong
Wong was born in Canton (now Guangzhou), China in 1910. In 1919, he and his father immigrated to America leaving behind Wong’s mother and sister, whom they never saw again. Arriving in the United States, they were initially held on Angel Island because of the Chinese Exclusion Act. After their release from Angel Island, they settled in Sacramento, later moving to Los Angeles’s Chinatown neighborhood.
Wong’s interest in painting and drawing emerged at an early age. Though they were poor, his father encouraged his talents by having him practice calligraphy by dipping his brushes in water and “painting” on newspaper. Indifferent to school, he dropped out of Benjamin Franklin Junior High in Pasadena, CA to attend the Otis Art Institute on a full scholarship. There he received formal western art training while studying the art of the Sung Dynasty at the Los Angeles Central Library in his free time.
Despite graduating in the midst of the Depression, Wong led an active life as an artist. He exhibited work throughout the country, including a 1932 group exhibition at the Chicago Art Institute that featured Pablo Picasso. Wong and other young Asian artists including Hideo Date and Benji Okubo gained recognition by exhibiting as the “Orientalists.” Wong was also hired as part of the Federal Arts Project, a branch of the New Deal-era Works Progress Administration (WPA). His work during this period was heavily influenced by his friend, the highly regarded modernist painter Stanton MacDonald-Wright, best known for his use of rich harmonious colors (a style referred to as “synchrony”) and his integration of Chinese compositions.
The Dragon’s Den
Though he exhibited regularly, Wong and his fellow artists struggled to survive. Their answer was the Dragon’s Den, a subterranean, trendy, Chinatown restaurant that attracted Hollywood stars such as Peter Lorre, Anna Mae Wong, and Sydney Greenstreet. It stood out among the chop suey joints of Chinatown and was the brainchild of close friend Eddy See. It boasted wall to wall to murals and hand painted menus by Wong and his fellow artists. It was there that he met Ruth Kim, his future wife.
Walt Disney Studios
In 1938, following his marriage and birth of his first daughter, Wong said he “needed a job.” It was at that time he began at Disney as an “inbetweener,” drawing hundreds of sketches of Mickey Mouse. He found the work tedious and numbing. When he heard that the studio was in pre-production on the feature film Bambi, he went home and painted several pictures of a deer in a forest. These small, but evocative sketches captured the attention of Walt Disney and became the basis for the film’s visual style.
From Disney, Wong headed to nearby Warner Brothers, where he switched from fantasy to realism. He was hired as a production illustrator and sketch artist where he painted and sketched concept art for hundreds of live-action films, including Rebel Without A Cause, Calamity Jane, Harper, The Wild Bunch, Sands of Iwo Jima, Auntie Mame, April in Paris, and PT 109. He was frequently loaned out to Republic Pictures where he worked on many John Wayne westerns, a genre that would become a favorite of his. He stayed at Warner Bros. for the next 26 years until his retirement in 1968.
Throughout his years at the studio, Wong continued to paint and exhibit his fine art. In 1954, he was featured in a short film produced by Eliot O’Hara demonstrating Oriental brushwork techniques. His commercial work included designing greeting cards for over 20 years, illustrating magazine covers and children’s books, and painting calligraphic style designs on Winfield ceramic ware that sold in high-end department stores.
After retiring, he turned his attention to designing and building hand-made kites. His dozens of designs include multi-colored 100-foot centipedes, flocks of swallow, butterflies, and panda bears. In 1990, he and his kites were featured in the short film, Flights of Fancy. To this day, Wong flies his kites every month in Santa Monica.
I recently saw Hitchcock/Truffaut on HBO. It is a great documentary about two great filmmakers. It is highly recommended. Here are some background videos and the original audio interviews. I read the book in film school, where it is still required reading.
In 1962, French New Wave auteur François Truffaut, aided by translator Helen Scott, spent a week in Hollywood with his idol, Alfred Hitchcock, discussing the director’s rich and extensive body of work, including Psycho and Vertigo. The resulting 1966 book of interviews, Hitchcock, became a celebrated bible of cinema for generations of filmmakers.
Fifty years after its publication, Hitchcock/Truffaut brings this historic summit to life by combining rare original audio recordings and behind-the-scenes photos from the historic exchange. The film offers an eye-opening study of Hitchcock’s enduring genius and legacy, as the two men explore the technical, narrative and aesthetic questions at the heart of his work. The documentary also includes new observations from such acclaimed filmmakers as Wes Anderson, Olivier Assayas, Peter Bogdanovich, David Fincher, Richard Linklater, Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader. Bob Balaban narrates.
Hitchcock/Truffaut is directed by Kent Jones; written by Kent Jones and Serge Toubiana; co-produced and edited by Rachel Reichman; produced by Charles S. Cohen and Olivier Mille; associate producers, John Kochman and Daniel Battsek.
Director Kent Jones on Hitchcock, Truffaut and the Evolution of Cinema
In Hitchcock/Truffaut, director Kent Jones (My Voyage to Italy, Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows) explores the landmark series of interviews between French New Wave director François Truffaut and the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. These conversations were later published and helped position Hitchcock as a film artist and inspired a new generation of filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese, Richard Linklater, David Fincher and Wes Anderson—each of whom appear in the film to discuss Hitchcock’s artistry and the impact of the book. Jones, who programs the New York Film Festival, took some time to share his views on Alfred Hitchcock and his secrets as a filmmaker.
HBO: The film offers a rare glimpse into Alfred Hitchcock the artist—one that clashes with his public image as an entertainer. Was that a conscious misdirection on Hitchcock’s part?
Kent Jones: The public persona was a way of protecting himself. John Ford had a public persona. So did Howard Hawks. They didn’t go around waving the flag of artistry in front of the studio heads. If they had, their careers would have been over in milliseconds. And in Hitchcock’s case it was a brilliant idea to turn himself into a personality.
HBO: Toward the end of the film, Hitchcock’s standing has risen in the critical community—yet he still seems troubled about his role as a filmmaker. At one point he sends a telegram to Truffaut saying he wished he could do anything he wanted to do. Couldn’t he have?
Kent Jones: There’s always this illusion that some people can do whatever they want. People say that about Steven Spielberg—there was this question about whether Lincoln would actually be released theatrically, and someone asked how this was possible, can’t Steven Spielberg do whatever he wants? The answer is no, he can’t. Nobody can. Neither can James Cameron or Michael Bay.
HBO: Why do you think Hitchcock doubted himself as an artist?
Kent Jones: An artist that great is going to be examining themselves and their work closely; they’re always going to be calling things into question. Couple that with the fact that he was working in a genre—actually created a genre—that was “disreputable,” and had gone unloved by critics and people who give awards. All those factors come into play. I was very moved when I came across that telegram because it’s a very basic expression of something common to all of us.
HBO: Do you have any thoughts on the third act of Hitchcock’s career? Did he fade away?
Kent Jones: I would think quite to the contrary. Brian De Palma has one assessment in which he says directors do their best work in their forties and fifties, and then in their sixties they start losing energy.
HBO: Some would say that Topaz (1969) is perhaps not his best work.
Kent Jones: We’re talking about a moment when all those guys from that generation were struggling. Hawks, Ford. For me, Hitchcock is the guy who easily came out on top. Topaz is the way it is, for various reasons. He wanted to make a different movie and he couldn’t. So he winded up doing this adaptation of this Leon Uris novel. But right in the middle of Topaz is one of the greatest sequences he ever directed, at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem. Frenzy (1972) is a great movie. It’s just a great, great movie. And Family Plot (1976), you can talk about the Disney-ish aspects of it, but the last time I saw it I found it a very rich experience. So I can’t really agree.
HBO: I remember being very impressed by the energy of Frenzy, particularly at that time in his life.
Kent Jones: Frenzy’s an incredible film, and deeply, deeply uncomfortable. And it’s a movie
that remains absolutely shocking, I have to say. That rape-murder scene is almost unbearable to watch.
HBO: Did you have any other films that are particular touchstones for you?
Kent Jones: Over the years I’ve come to love Saboteur (1942) more and more. I have a special love for I Confess (1953). He goes so deep into the emotion of this guy who cannot share what he knows with anyone. The loneliness of Montgomery Clift’s character is really, really powerful.
HBO: Coming from the silent era, Hitchcock had an almost purely visual approach to storytelling. Is it even possible for a filmmaker like that to exist today?
Kent Jones: James Gray brings that up in the film; he’s very hard on himself and says, “We’re not that good.” But really, what you’re talking about is a different orientation. Arnaud Desplechin talks about it as the “lost secret.” Truffaut said the same thing. And it’s true, to a certain extent. Hitchcock thought that cinema didn’t have to evolve the way that it did. But the fact is, it did. So now we have people who are masters of a completely different kind, like Martin Scorsese, or Paul Thomas Anderson.
Telling the story of Van Gogh’s life through fictional interviews with the characters in the artist’s works, Loving Vincent will use a new oil painting for each shot, with movement added from one frame to the next by a painter’s brush. Producer and co-director Hugh Welchman, who won an Academy Award six years ago for Peter and the Wolf, plans to employ 42 painters to make the animation, recreating Van Gogh’s life using workstations designed for ‘stop-motion painting’.
The painters will be allocated landscapes or portraits to work on in a process that the studio has created from scratch. “No one had set up an infrastructure to make painting animation at scale,” says Welchman. “Disney did this for 2D, Pixar for 3D, and Aardman for stop motion – but no one has done it for painting animation.”
Using an approach that mirrors the master-apprentice workshops of Michelangelo, Rubens – and, today, Damien Hirst – the workshop will have a prolific output, producing each frame in just 40 minutes. But it won’t be a canvas sweatshop. “Some painters will be part-time because of personal limits of concentration,” says Welchman. “Some of our best painters find that five hours of intense painting is enough for one day.”
Welchman is keen to use the technique again, and says that the studio’s painters will be showing animations on giant screens in London this June. After the film is completed, a quarter of the paintings will be selected for a touring exhibition; the rest will be sold off.
Drawing its plot from 800 letters written by the painter, Loving Vincent is a fresh take on someone whose life has been well documented – and it might be more fitting than a conventional biography. In his last letter, Van Gogh said: “Well, the truth is, we cannot speak other than by our paintings.”
“All Things Must Pass,” the upcoming documentary about Tower Records by Colin Hanks and Sean Stuart, features Robert Landau’s 1980 nighttime photo of the iconic record store from his book, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Billboards.”
Established in 1960, Tower Records was once a retail powerhouse with two hundred stores, in thirty countries, on five continents. From humble beginnings in a small-town drugstore, Tower Records eventually became the heart and soul of the music world, and a powerful force in the music industry. In 1999, Tower Records made $1 billion. In 2006, the company filed for bankruptcy. What went wrong? Everyone thinks they know what killed Tower Records: The Internet. But that’s not the story. ‘All Things Must Pass’ is a feature documentary film examining this iconic company’s explosive trajectory, tragic demise, and legacy forged by its rebellious founder Russ Solomon.
Tower Records Founder Russ Solomon at Tower Sunset (1980)
A Q&A with Colin Hanks about his new documentary, All Things Must Pass
It’s impossible not to think of Tower Records when referring to the Sunset Strip. It’s even more impossible to accept that the beloved store once located at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Horn Avenue is no longer in business.
I recently had dinner with a friend not too far from the old Tower location. As we were paying our bill, we discussed what we should do next. I joked that we should walk down to Tower Records and browse through rows and rows of LPs and cassettes, then head across the street to Tower Video to rent the latest release (most likely on VHS).
I wish it wasn’t just a fantasy. You see, Tower Records was more then just a record store, It was a musical rite of passage. It’s where kids graduated to die-hard music fans. I spent my very first allowance money on Blondie and Devo records. I’ll never forget the anticipation of rushing home to get them on the turntable! My friends and I would remove the cellophane from new records before we even got to the car. Even the store’s parking lot had its own identity. On weekends, there was so much pandemonium that fistfights broke out over available parking spots. It was the hub of the Strip, located directly across from the original Spago and a few blocks east of the Rainbow Bar and Grill and the Whisky a Go Go. It’s where rock stars mingled with locals and tourists; it wasn’t uncommon to bump into Robert Plant, Stevie Wonder, Robert Stigwood, Ella Fitzgerald, Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Elvis Costello, Robert Evans, Smokey Robinson or even George Burns in the aisles. I once witnessed Valerie Bertinelli (who had just married guitarist Eddie Van Halen) turn Van Halen’s “JUMP” record around to reveal her hubby’s photo, and I eavesdropped on David Bowie discussing English imports at the info booth that doubled as a DJ station at the center of the store. John Lennon even recorded a voiceover for this Tower Records commercial:
Tower Records was a music business melting pot. But the employees (some of which were in soon-to-be-famous bands themselves) were the main attraction. They knew everyone’s name, what music they liked, and what car they pulled up in. Axl Rose, a Tower Video employee, once shoved a flyer for his new band Guns & Roses, which was playing down the block at Gazzarri’s, into my bag. In 1976 Elton John told Playboy that if he weren’t a rock star, he would have wanted to be a Tower Records alumni.
Some of us teenagers dropped by five times a week since the store couldn’t keep the latest singles in stock. Prince’s “Purple Rain” was consistently sold out, but if you were in with one of the employees, they would hold a copy for you.
Tower Records, which stayed open until 1 a.m. on weekends, was a music venue, too. Hundreds of musicians including Rod Stewart, Randy Newman, and XTC performed live inside the store, and thousands of fans wrapped around the L-shaped parking lot to get in when Aerosmith, Keith Richards, Dolly Parton, James Brown, Duran Duran, and Brian Wilson stopped by to sign records. David Lee Roth shut the Strip down for several hours when he rappelled down a replica of the Matterhorn built on the record store’s roof to deliver his album “Skyscraper.” Alice Cooper drove up in a huge trash truck to deliver “Trash.”
The music mecca shaped my youth and will always be a part of my soul. It’s hard not to get misty-eyed thinking back on it now. (Thankfully, I saved a dozen of my Tower Records red and yellow vinyl bags. Today they are about as desirable as collectible records.) That’s why I am personally relieved and thankful to Colin Hanks for raising enough funds via Kickstarter to make his latest passion project: a feature documentary that will keep Tower Records’ legend alive.
All Things Must Pass examines the iconic company’s rise and fall and profiles its rebellious founder, Russ Solomon. After watching an exclusive cut of the film, I can say it’s the closet thing to a time machine. The images and archival footage are spellbinding. I could almost smell the vinyl through my screen. In addition to bringing the store back to life, the documentary taught me its backstory: Tower Records began in a Sacramento drugstore owned by Russ Solomon’s father, and Solomon opened his second outpost on Columbus Avenue in San Francisco in 1968. Two years later Tower Records opened on the Sunset Strip, taking over the site where “Madman” Muntz had sold the very first car stereos. Solomon eventually opened 189 stores around the world, and the franchise made $1 billion dollars by 1999. Then things took a dramatic turn: In 2006, the company filed for bankruptcy.
People blame the Internet for, among other things, Tower’s demise. iTunes, the illegal downloading of music, and YouTube may have contributed to the chain’s closing, but that’s not the full story. Hanks—who will premier All Things Must Pass at SXSW in Austin, Texas on March 17 before screening the film at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles on March 25—filled me in:
Every time I post photos of Tower Records on my Vintage Los AngelesFacebook page I receive an emotional response. Why do you think that is? Everybody has his or her own emotional connection to music. At its height Tower was a place you bonded with friends over music, and people’s fond recollections are the residue of those relationships. It was one of those places that transcended being a normal record store. They accepted everyone. It didn’t’ matter how you looked. It didn’t matter how you dressed. It didn’t matter what you sounded like or what music you liked. Everyone was welcome.
How did the documentary get started? I had a very similar emotional response [to the store’s demise] since I grew up in Sacramento and Tower originated there. I was having dinner with a family friend in 2006 when the stores were closing and I was living in New York at the time. My friend walked by the Lincoln Center store on the way to meet me and we got on the subject of Tower Records closing. At the end of the conversation she said, “Hard to believe it all started in that tiny little drug store,” and I said, “Excuse me? What are you talking about?” She filled me in on Russ Solomon and how he started selling used 78’s out of his father’s drugstore in the ‘40s and ‘50s and a light bulb went off. The story starts there and ends with him closing all his stores four decades later. That’s a pretty amazing journey for one guy. I’m also a huge music fan and have my own personal recollections of going into Tower and applying to work there and not getting the job. I remember seeing 50 applications in front of mine.
It just seemed like an interesting story for a documentary. I didn’t know who the characters were, I didn’t know what the real story was, but it seemed like a place to start.
Tell us about the process of getting this film off the ground and your seven-year journey making it. It’s been a long journey, that’s for sure. We started gathering money to shoot stuff in 2008. I went up to Sacramento on a lark to talk with Russ and asked him if he would tell us his story, and I drove by the old Tower Records store at the corner of Watt Avenue and El Camino Avenue. The sign was still up and all the racks were still inside. It was basically still intact, just without the records! I frantically gathered as much money as I could so that we could at least shoot the store and the first round of interviews. Then I spent a great deal of time trying to raise funds to finish the film. We were politely laughed out of rooms—well, not really—but we did have a few pitch meetings with production companies and financiers. Companies like Lehman Brothers and were going under because the recession had just hit, so nobody wanted to make a documentary about a business that declared bankruptcy when pretty much everyone was going bankrupt. So I put the project on hold until Kickstarter came around. That really saved us!
I can’t wait to hear about the stories you documented. We spoke to so many people—former employees, musicians, artists. What’s a bit unfortunate is a lot of these great anecdotes you hear about Tower Records are personal stories, and you can’t make a movie of just hundreds of those. You have to find the narrative. You have to find your characters. The film is about the family that came together around Russ to help make Tower what it was.
Last year a few friends of mine were on a crusade to turn the Sunset Strip location into a Sunset Strip museum while you were filming. We were there! We even filmed the City Hall meeting. But we couldn’t work that footage into the movie. I think Gibson [which will be over Tower Records’ old Sunset Strip site] is going to be really great torchbearers for that location. We have been speaking to them quite a bit and they’ve been very helpful. Having them take over that scared space is exciting and makes sense.
How do you think younger generations, who aren’t growing up in record stores, will respond to your film? I don’t know, because I think this is the moment were the rubber meets the road. I have to embrace the fact that I’m of an older generation now. But there’s always going to be those “cool kids” that collect records and pass them along. Good music always finds its way into the hands of the people that want it. There are some really awesome records stores out there like Amoeba and some smaller boutique ones around town. I think as long as people support record stores, that’s the key.
How does it feel to be premiering your movie at South By Southwest? SXSW was always where we wanted to premiere the film. They had a popular Tower Records [in Austin], and I’ve always dug the festival. We saw a window of opportunity and knew we needed to finish the film so we could get it there in time. I just can’t wait for the film to finally be seen!
The Grammy Museum screening in Los Angeles is really going to be fun. We have some very cool things planned for that. I want fans of music to be able to see this movie. I hope that everyone who went to Tower and has their own connection with it enjoys it. And I hope that everyone who worked there is reminded of good memories. Hopefully we were able to capture the essence of what Tower was really like.
Alison Martino is a writer, television producer and personality, and L.A. pop culture historian. She founded the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles in 2010. In addition to CityThink and VLA, Martino muses on L.A’s. past and present on Twitter and Instagram
Expo 67, like the 1964 World’s Fair was a hot bed of film technology innovation. I already did one post on Charles and Ray Eames at the 1964 World’s Fair, now here is a story about Christopher Chapman. His film A Place to Stand was a big influence on many filmmakers including Norman Jewison director of The Thomas Crown Affair. Along with Haskell Wexler ASC (top right with me) and Pablo Ferro they created some memorable sequences. Art of the Title has great videos from this film. Pablo Ferro designed these five split screen sequences to highlight simultaneous actions and precise synchronization of a heist. Click here for more.
Ontario is Canada’s most populous region, covering an area bigger than France and Great Britain combined, but when IMAX was introduced at Expo 67, Christopher Chapman fit the province into just 18 minutes.
He made some 40 films for television, the National Film Board, movie theatres, tourism organizations, science centres and international expositions. But none proved as unforgettable or as influential as A Place to Stand, which he made without a script for the Ontario government to showcase the splendours of his native province. At Expo 67, in Montreal, it was projected in 70 mm on a screen measuring 20 metres by 9 metres, using nine synchronized projectors – the beginning of Imax technology.
Every part of the giant screen was alive with moving images of the landmarks, industry, waterways, wildlife, culture and people of the province, seen through what appeared to be shifting windows of varying sizes against a black background. Mr. Chapman, who died in a long-term care facility in Uxbridge, Ont., on Oct. 24, called his technique multiple dynamic imaging.
At Expo, where it was screened continuously, A Place to Stand was seen by two million viewers; after the fair, the film ran in the United States, Europe and in other Canadian cities, seen by 100 million people. Today it is being rediscovered by a new generation on YouTube.
People of a certain age can still sing its earworm title song, composed by Dolores Claman with lyrics by Richard Morris:
Give us a place to stand
And a place to grow
And call this land
A place to stand!
A place to grow!
The film collected dozens of awards, including the 1968 Academy Award for best live-action short subject, and an Etrog, the equivalent Canadian prize.
Fame never went to Mr. Chapman’s head; he said all he had wanted was to make people feel good. Visitors to his Uxbridge home in later years report seeing his Oscar statuette used as a doorstop.
“As a young filmmaker, I was inspired by Christopher Chapman,” says Michael Hirsh, who went on to co-found the Toronto animation company Nelvana and is now vice-chairman of DHX Media. “He was a great visual storyteller and made excellent use of the screen. Many of my friends at the time were also inspired by him to enter the film industry.”
He points out that Mr. Chapman was not a true documentarian but a maker of “very successful promotional films” using nature, comparable to the uplifting mountain films of 1930s German director Leni Riefenstahl.
Christopher Martin Chapman was born into a tumultuous household in Toronto on Jan. 24, 1927, along with his fraternal twin, Francis. Their mother, Doris Chapman, was a concert pianist and their father, Alfred Chapman, an architect who designed the city’s central public library at the corner of Beverley and College streets, now part of the University of Toronto. The twins were preceded by four elder siblings, Philippa, Howard, Robert and Sally. Another brother, named Julian, did not survive infancy.
The twins wanted only to be together, but Francis was soon judged to have a brilliant intellect and put into a special class, then sent to the elite University of Toronto Schools; eventually he studied at the Sorbonne. Christopher’s giftedness was harder to classify and he ended up in a vocational stream that did not lead to university. He learned paper engineering, a craft that produces paper models used for advertising and pop-up books.
Always interested in cars, he approached several automobile manufacturers when he was in his early 20s, with ideas for improving their products. He landed a job with the Ford Motor Co. in England, where he spent a year on headlight design. After returning to Toronto, he purchased a movie camera and taught himself to use it. His family owned land on Lake Simcoe and he moved to an unwinterized cabin there, getting his drinking water from the frozen lake, while filming the changes around him. The result was The Seasons (1954), a wordless short that won an award as film of the year and launched his true career.
More films about the wilderness followed, including Quetico (1958) about the provincial park and Saguenay (1962) made for Alcan. For the National Film Board he made Magic Molecule (1964) and The Persistent Seed (1964) before submitting a proposal for a technically daring film to be seen at Expo, initially at the Bell pavilion. It was rejected.
A year later, when Ontario’s bureaucrats discovered the province’s Expo project had not moved forward, somebody remembered Mr. Chapman’s proposal and invited him to adapt it for the province in the 18 months that remained till opening day – it was, he later said, a “technical nightmare.”
Mr. Chapman knew he wanted to use what are called travelling mattes. It was not a new technique – D.W. Griffith used it clumsily in his silent 1915 epic Birth of a Nation, and in France, Georges Méliès experimented with it – but no one had done it right.
The technique involves short lengths of film simultaneously running behind mattes, within the openings created by animators through masking the unused portions of the frame. As many as six tracks of film may be combined into a single frame.
Mr. Chapman criss-crossed the province with a 35 mm camera, shooting a total of 160,000 feet of film, from which he selected the most eloquent moments on two Moviola editing machines. (Some film was shot by David Mackay of TDF, the ad company the government had hired to stick-handle the project.) He then worked out the film’s story board.
His sister-in-law Penny Grey, who later worked with him, recalls that he had a prodigious visual memory and could remember everything he had shot.
The film scholar Aimée Mitchell, who examined Mr. Chapman’s 350-page editing book, writes in a recently published study, Reimagining Cinema: Film at Expo 67 (edited by Monika Kin Gagnon and Janine Marchessault) that he “laid out on the gridded pages … the positions of numbered images, the timing of their appearance and disappearance from view, and their movement within and across the frame. Each page is accompanied by notes and instructions.” With his technical supervisor, Barry Gordon, he then took all the notes and pieces of film to the only place capable of doing the final assemblage: the Todd-AO studio in Hollywood.
There word spread fast about the unorthodox Canadian filmmaker. One of the people who shook his hand and congratulated him after an early in-house screening was the actor Steve McQueen, who became a friend.
His deadline was fast approaching, leaving only two weeks for Dolores Claman to write the music and have it performed and recorded by a symphony orchestra and choir. The song’s theme had been suggested by David Mackay, based on a quote by the great ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes: “Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth.”
If placed sequentially, the film clips in A Place to Stand would take 90 minutes to view, instead of 18 minutes. It is this condensation that gives the film its thrilling drive. Mr. Chapman’s dynamic technique was immediately borrowed by director Norman Jewison for The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), starring Mr. McQueen; it was used in the opening sequence of the 1970s sitcom The Brady Bunch; and it was used in The Boston Strangler (1968) and the disaster film Airport (1970). Today digital technology has made the effect much easier to accomplish.
After his Oscar, Mr. Chapman refused many invitations to work in Hollywood, according to his wife, Glen Chapman: “He was a very Canadian boy – he wanted to stay in Canada,” she said in an interview.
After much persuasion, he agreed to work with Broadway producer Gower Champion on a backdrop film for the musical Happy Times, but it was not a success. The show’s star, Robert Goulet, hated the film, which he felt upstaged him.
Among his later works were the Imax films Volcano, shot in Iceland, and Toronto the Good, both made in 1973; Saskatchewan: Land Alive (1980); Kelly (1981) made for Famous Players and his only feature film; and several 3-D films, one shown at Science North in Sudbury, another at the science museum in Chicago, another at Parc Astérix, near Paris – all made with his brother Francis, who became a CBC producer. Francis was particularly adept at calculating the correct camera positions for 3-D filming. The brothers also collaborated on A Sense of Humus (1976) for the NFB, a prescient film about organic farming.
In Mr. Chapman’s later years, until he began to develop dementia a dozen years ago, he took up still photography, producing dramatic large images of reflections on a lake.
Mr. Chapman served as president of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and of the Directors Guild of Canada. He won many film awards and medals, received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Ryerson, and was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 1987.
His first wife, Aljean Pert, whom he married in 1962, died of heart disease nine years later, leaving him to raise their young son, Julian. A year later he was introduced to Barbara Glen Kennedy, 18 years his junior, who then worked in public relations. They married in 1974 and lived and worked together until his death.
Mr. Chapman was predeceased by his elder siblings. Besides his wife, Glen, he leaves his twin brother, Francis; his son, Julian; and four grandchildren.
Making of A Place to Stand with Chris Chapman Expo 67
The birth of A Place to Stand
By Chapman, Christopher
Pâquet, André (ed) How to make or not to make a Canadian film
(Montreal: La Cinémathèque canadienne, 1968)
The film for the Ontario Government at Expo 67 is for me the culmination of a desire I had some years ago to try a moving multiple screen technique. I had never seen it done but I, myself, had experimented with panning a projector over a very large screen and was fascinated by the viewer’s relationship to a panning camera and a panning screen.
In the conventional film for example, when viewing a pan across a landscape we watch the landscape move across a static screen. As soon as that screen moves with the pan we are watching a static landscape being revealed by a moving screen or “window”. While I did not explore this to any great extent in the Ontario film it was the basis for my direction of thought. It was this idea plus a dynamic screen technique (that I had heard of but not seen) that led me to explore the idea when I was originally making a presentation for the Telephone Association Pavilion at Expo 67. The dynamic screen consists of a matte covering the whole picture but allowing one part of the picture to be revealed through a “window”. This “window” would increase or decrease in size.
A phone call to a lab in Hollywood warned me against the dynamic screen technique as it had been a failure in its latest adoption. My concern was whether it was a failure due to technical difficulties or creative misuse. Later while already well into the Ontario film we saw a print of “A Door in the Wall“, using the dynamic screen, and it was clear that its failure was creative not technical.
When I was asked by David Mackay of TDF to produce and direct the Ontario film, there was no idea as to what the project involved. The only thing we knew was that we had to produce an unusual film in 18 months. My one desire then was to make a film that would give everyone as big boost and make them feel good, but it was not easy condensing Ontario – particularly a province that is so industrialized.
There was no script. Time would have been required to develop a definite theme idea but time was extremely limited. Out of our discussion emerged the dynamic-multiple screen concept that I had long dreamed of. The key was a gigantic flat screen – a “mural” surface that one really could move upon and break up with multiple images.
Barry Gordon, whom I had requested to be technical producer for the film, immediately set off for Hollywood to discover whether the required complicated processing could be done.
Shooting on location was exploring completely new territory. An early mistake was making the shots I wanted to retain on the screen through a complete sequence of events, too short. The movement of the camera and the action within the frame had to be considered in a new way, which in documentary shooting is not always possible. I had to consider less interesting shots or deliberately make a shot less interesting. Such a shot might be an important element in a sequence but not the dominant one. A multiple of equally interesting shots might confuse the audience. Shots that I used to look at as normal academy frame proportions I now looked at with an eye to vertical frames and horizontal frames, odd frames, small frames and large frames.
Since access to a 70 mm camera [sic] was impossible due to lack of time, another difficulty encountered was deciding, through consultation with Barry Gordon, whether a shot would retain its clarity when blown up to 70 mm. Blowing up 35 mm to such as screen as 66′ x 30′ which is the Pavilion screen, meant a very great stretch and not very many shots could stand it. This meant I would shoot a full screen landscape as 2 divided screens, which to me was unsatisfactory. Going to 3 or 4 composite screens was not the same problem as I used these as part of the design format.
180,000 feet of film were shot. Some additional footage of material I had not time to shoot myself was shot by David Mackay, using TDF cameramen. After completely familiarising myself with the footage, I worked out a storyboard of the entire film. Although it was theoretical, it did give me an impression of how the subject matter could be structured. I then had to devise my own charts as did Barry Gordon who translated my charts into his own lab charts in a language that the lab could comprehend. The lab was most impressed with the clarity of Barry Gordon’s technical instructions.
To edit the film I had a 2 picture head moviola which was the closest one could get to visualising the results. One could only use it to compare actions of any 2 shots at one time and designate the length of shots. In normal film editing, one works with the actual footage and soon discovers that frame or two on any shot can make a difference in rhythm. With the Ontario film I could never “see” the film develop. The charts indicated the movement of the shots. Because of the shortage in time their could be no changes in structure in any of the sequences once they returned from the lab. It was a tremendous discipline for me, for once I had made a creative decision, I could not change my mind. The entire concept of development therefore, was on paper in chart form.
Ken Heely-Ray of ADS (formerly of the NFB) laid the extremely complicated 6 tracks of film effects and music. It took 6 days to mix the 6 tracks at Todd-A-O in Hollywood.
When all the sequences of the film were finally assembled after 4 months of optical work, there were 2 days to assemble them, see the completed film for the first time and return it to the lab for final processing. This gave the composer Dolores Claman 2 weeks to write the musical score which was arranged by Jerry Toth. The basis of the song “A Place to Stand” was suggested by David Mackay from a quotation of Archimedes, and the lyrics were written by Richard Morris.
I am very grateful to the Commissioner of the Ontario Pavilion, J.W. Ramsay who, although he must have been anxious at many turning points, particularly since we were delving into such an unknown area of film, never once interfered in content, direction or completion. David Mackay of TDF also allowed me complete freedom, leaving all decisions to me. I feel that great deal of the film’s success is due to this trust.
The film was conceived as a mural or painting would be. Its development was very personal, consequently it has the bad and the good of a single concept. My own connection with the film now is only through the audience. Perhaps some day I will view it unattached.
Floyd Norman: An Animated Life is a feature-length look the prolific animator and story artist’s life from growing up in Santa Barbara, CA to his years working as an animator at Disney, Hanna-Barbera, Pixar and more. The undisputed “Forrest Gump” of the animation world, Norman was hired as the first African-American at Disney in 1956. He would later be hand-picked by Walt Disney himself to join the story team on the Jungle Book. After Disney’s death, Norman left the studio to start his own company to produce black history films for high schools. He and his partners would later work with Hanna-Barbera, and animate the original Fat Albert Special, as well as the titles to TV mainstay Soul Train.
Norman returned to Disney in the 1980s to work in their Publishing department. And in 1998, he returned to Disney Animation to work in the story department on Mulan. But an invite to the Bay area in the late 90s became a career highlight. Norman was now working with another emerging great: Pixar and Steve Jobs, on Toy Story 2 and Monsters Inc.
Life as an animator is a nomadic one, but Norman spent the majority of his career at Disney, and views it as his “home.” Retired by Disney at age 65 in 2000, the documentary focuses on Norman’s difficulty with a retirement he was not ready for. Not one to quit, Norman chose to occupy an empty cubicle at Disney Publishing for the last 15 years. As he puts it, “[He] just won’t leave.” A term has been coined by Disney employees — “Floydering.” While not on staff, his proximity to other Disney personnel has led him to pick up freelance work, and he continues to have an impact on animation as both an artist and mentor.
A very good documentary about the EditDroid. When I worked at Disney Imagineering, we were using laser disc players in a lot of places, including EPCOT starting the 1980s. We were also innovators and early adoptors of nonlinear editing and video to film matchback.
From the film’s website;
The EditDroid was (one of) the first nonlinear electronic editing system and used several laser disc players loaded with the raw footage of a film. The simple computer interface was unique for its time. After a short period of success the EditDroid disappeared from the film scene and George Lucas sold the machine’s patents to a small company called Avid.
I highly recommend the book Droidmaker: George Lucas And the Digital Revolution. It is also available as an iBook and on Kindle.
This book ventures in territory never explored, as Rubin-a former member of the Lucasfilm Computer Division-reconstructs the events in Hollywood, in Silicon Valley, and at Lucas’ private realm in Marin County, California, to track the genesis of modern media. With unprecedented access to images and key participants from Lucasfilm, Pixar and Zoetrope-from George Lucas and the executives who ran his company, to the small team of scientists who made the technological leaps, Rubin weaves a tale of friendships, a love of movies, and the incessant forward movement of technology. This is a compelling story that takes the reader into an era of technological innovation almost completely unknown
Here is the trailer of Leslie Iwerks documentary about Walt Disney Imagineering.
Disney plans to pull back the curtain on its Imagineers with a feature-length documentary that explores the history of the division behind the designs of its theme park rides and other attractions. Leslie Iwerks, the daughter of Don Iwerks, a former Disney animator and Imagineer, and granddaughter of Ub Iwerks, co-creator of Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, is directing the project.