The trick of the camera is in movement.
June 6, 2011 2:44 AM   Subscribe

Give credit where credit is due. I think Wikipedia has it more accurately when it notes that the first MultiPlane camera was built by former (but ultimately reuniting) Disney associate Ub Iwerks in 1933 or '34, while the 'Disney version', made for use in 1937's "Snow White", was as much the creation of Bill Garrity, an engineering wiz employed by Walt.

(And Ub Iwerks also was more responsible for the creation of Mickey Mouse than Walt was. Yes, I'm an Ub fan.)
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:17 AM on June 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

Back when Disney had a working animation department in Orlando, a friend of mine worked there as a character animator. He gave me a tour of the facility and I got to see their multiplane camera. It was pretty damned impressive, and, when you stop to think about it, such an obvious idea. But, I guess things become obvious only once someone has the brilliant idea.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:09 AM on June 6, 2011

One of his animators was changing the camera lens, when his hand slipped. He dropped the lens, and it fell down, crashing through each of the quartz-crystal platens. He got in his car and drove home, expecting that his job was finished, but Walt had someone go and bring him back.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:30 AM on June 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

It was great to see Bambi hare, it has some staggeringly beautiful scenes using the MultiPlane camera.
posted by Scoo at 5:00 AM on June 6, 2011

I don't do video work, I assume video tools have the same functionality as "layers' in Photoshop and the ilk for stills? So we have infinite planes via software, and soulless cartoons from far too many studios?
posted by DigDoug at 5:09 AM on June 6, 2011

The Ave Maria segment from Fantasia has a lot of multiplane camerawork in it.
posted by hippybear at 6:21 AM on June 6, 2011

The Old Mill was the first Disney film using the multiplane camera. Sillie Symphonies were often used as test-beds for new techniques or technology.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:26 AM on June 6, 2011

To my eye, I find the effect beautiful. Surely someone has digitally emulated this? Painterly planes panning at different speeds with a shallow depth-of-field effect should be fairly straightforward...
posted by jim in austin at 6:32 AM on June 6, 2011

Surely someone has digitally emulated this?

Well, the idea of planes was shortcut required since infinite planes would not be possible. With digital animation there's no such requirement, i.e., you don't need to pick a single plane for one tree and another for its branches. The entire object exists in an environment just as immersive as reality, with a camera entity panning around it.

There's nothing stopping a digital animation from consolidating objects into planes, Monsters Inc's opening has this feel to it, for instance.
posted by odinsdream at 7:20 AM on June 6, 2011

Yeah, I'm suggesting a digital emulation of the MultiPlane camera shots complete with a depth-of-field illusion, with plane(s) being the operative word...
posted by jim in austin at 7:52 AM on June 6, 2011

jim in austin - I guess the old parallax scrolling techique is an example of this being used digitally as a rudimentary way to suggest depth by using multiple planes that move at a different rate - albiet without the depth-of-field effect.
posted by pmcp at 8:01 AM on June 6, 2011

Yeah, parallax scrolling was used in the old Commodore 64 game Forbidden Forest which felt pretty revolutionary at the time.
posted by hippybear at 8:26 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I started working in animation in the early 90s the industry was in middle of switching to digital ink'n'paint systems like CAS' Animo and Softimage Toonz. At the time they had rudimentary camera/compositing functionality which would allow you to do multiplane setups but it was all manual in terms of determining actual relative motion of each plane etc. We were using Toonz at the time which allowed us to export/import some of the positioning data in CSV format.
I ended up writing an automated multiplane system in form of a series of Excel spreadsheet that would allow me to design camera motion with the master plane and generate appropriate multiplane movement data for the background/foreground planes via the spreadsheets. It involved all kinds of craziness including guesstimates of each plane's real world distance from the master plane based on artists rather inaccurate drawings of similar elements such as trees etc.
I was more surprised than anybody when in the end the system actually worked quite well despite its, uh, insanely cumbersome "user interface" and ridiculous workflow.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 9:02 AM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

For those wondering, yes, you can do multiplane camera effects quite nicely in modern tools, complete with depth of field effects in the better implementations. It's a bit better than the painful hack Hairy Lobster describes above nowadays, you get nice little interfaces that let you pile layers up in 3d in the better tools. (ie, pretty much anything that is not Flash)

You don't see it much because most feature work nowadays is 3d animation, and the amount of work involved in a serious "hey look at our multiplane camera" shot is pretty much going to need a feature budget. But it's very much there in the tools!

(oh, and where'd you work, HL? I'm a Spümcø burnout myself.)
posted by egypturnash at 9:23 AM on June 6, 2011

That was way back when in Germany when I was working for Munich Animation on Fearless Four. Seems ages ago now.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 9:36 AM on June 6, 2011

The idea's much older than that: it's basically the same idea as 16th and 17th century perspective scenery, which starts in court masque and ballet performances in the late 16th and early 17th century, and then is commonly used in theatres in the Restoration and into the 18th century.

There's not much in the way of imagery online -- just little tiny postage stamp sized reproductions of Inigo Jones' designs for masques -- but this study of the set of "Florimene" and this website on staging at Whitehall give some idea of how it worked.
posted by jrochest at 9:14 PM on June 6, 2011


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