Saturday, October 9, 2010

Shedding light on Mowgli

After what feels like an eternity of blogging hibernation I'd like to warm up with a short Jungle Book scene I'm sure everybody remembers. Note: I haven't forgotten the promised follow-up to my last post but, frankly, I bit off a bit more than I could chew when I started comparing some 40 full-scale movie reviews...

While reading the dialogue chapter of Nancy Beiman's new book "Animated Performance" I felt the urge to click through some favorite Baloo scenes frame by frame which reminded me of the following change in lighting:

After I saw the film in a theater as a child I was wondering how they achieved the change from blue night colors to the warm colors of the rising sun without the audience noticing it any sooner than Baloo does during the conversation.

From what I've seen in stills I then figured that the background lighting changed from shot to shot but wasn't really sure if what I've seen was really there or just in my imagination.

In 1994 I was lucky enough to project a 16mm print of the whole movie twice on the same day and was able to have a closer look at the scenes I was always thinking about. Turned out that I was right and it was no big deal of special effects, "just" careful background planning (I had secretly hoped that it was achieved by some magical lighting change effect during the shots, though).

This is a good example for the relatively inexpensive devices in the late nine-old-men features (especially post-Sleeping Beauty) that suggest rich special effects. Of course, "inexpensive" may not be the right word if you look closely at the backgrounds: there are a lot more different background paintings than would have been absolutely necessary, just look at the differences in the left hand tree in 7 of the following screengrabs:

For many shots the night lingers on without change, then after we start to feel the length of the conversation, dawn seems to break faintly giving Baloo a deadline to confront Mowgli (these are not all the shots of the sequence, just a subjective selection).

Despite the intuitive feeling that the change happens gradually from shot to shot, the advent of light comes in stages with always a few BGs kept in roughly the same amount of yellow light.

Note: I happened to see a Technicolor print from the 1992 re-release version a few days before I first saw the latest DVD presentation. And while the print featured the warm and dark brown Baloo, Hans Bacher is talking about here, I can also say that the colors overall were a bit darker and richer in this version but probably "remastered" from the original as well (as the sound obviously was).