Culture  /  Retrieval

How 'One Hundred and One Dalmatians' Saved Disney

Sixty years ago, the company modernized animation when it used Xerox technology on the classic film.

Take a closer look at Walt Disney’s 1961 animated One Hundred and One Dalmatians film, and you may notice its animation style looks a little different from its predecessors. With its dark outlines defining characters from backgrounds, its departure from the subtle and sensitive animation of Sleeping Beauty just two years prior was considered jarring to some.

That’s because the film is completely Xeroxed. The technology, invented by American physicist Chester Carlson in the 1940s, completely streamlined the animation process, and ultimately saved Disney’s beloved animation department.

“The lines were often very loose because they were the animators’ drawings, not assistant clean-up drawings. It really was a brand new look,” says Andreas Deja, former Walt Disney animator and Disney Legend, about Xerox animation. Deja is well known for his work in Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992) and The Lion King (1994), and more recently, Enchanted (2007) and The Princess and the Frog (2009).

With animation growing more expensive, tedious and time-consuming in the mid-20th century, Xeroxing allowed animators to copy drawings on transparent celluloid (cel) sheets using a Xerox camera, rather than having artists and assistants hand-trace them.

Prior to this experiment with Dalmatians, based off of Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians, artists first drew concept art to create a character. They sketched characters on animation paper, or cheap newsprint, and then assistants cleaned up the sketches, making sure they were uniform. Consistency was key for characters, as assistants had to follow every detail of a sketch, down to the buttons on a jacket. Once the drawings were ready, they moved to the inkers, who traced the sketches on the front side of shiny, cel sheets. After drying, the cel was then turned over for painters to paint the characters within those lines, to get them as opaque as possible. The line work grew even more complicated; different colors, weights and thicknesses were vital for giving animated characters the realistic qualities viewers expected. The colors of the paint also demanded extreme attention. Disney mixed its own paint, making their animations unlike any other. In fact, women in the ink and paint departments took rouge from their compacts and applied it to Snow White’s cheeks to give her natural look in the 1937 film.

Disney movies tend to have 12 to 24 images, or cels, per second, meaning that thousands of cels, if not more, go into a single animated film. Sleeping Beauty, for instance, required nearly one million drawings. In fact, it was Sleeping Beauty that set the stage for the new Xerox technique. ...