Supervising Director: David Hand
Production: Walt Disney Studios; Technicolor, 35mm, animation; running time: 83 minutes. Released 4 February 1938, but premiered in December 1937, released through RKO Radio Pictures Inc. Rereleased 1943, 1952, 1958, 1967, 1975, 1983. Filmed in Walt Disney Studios. Cost: $1,500,000.
Producer: Walt Disney; screenplay: Ted Sears, Otto Englander, Earl Hurd, Dorothy Ann Blank, Richard Creedon, Dick Richard, Merrill de Maris and Webb Smith, from the fairy tale "Snow White"
Cast: Voices: Adriana Caselotti ( Snow White ); Harry Stockwell (Prince Charming ); Lucille LaVerne ( The Queen ); Moroni Olsen ( Magic Mirror ); Billy Gilbert ( Sneezy ); Pinto Colvig ( Sleepy and Grumpy ); Otis Harlan ( Happy ); Scotty Mattraw ( Bashful ); Roy Atwell ( Doc ); Stuart Buchanan ( Humbert, the Queen's huntsman ); Marion Darlington ( Bird sounds and warbling ); The Fraunfelder Family ( Yodeling ).
Awards: Oscar, Special Award to Walt Disney, 1938; Venice Film Festival, Great Art Trophy, 1938; New York Film Critics Award, Special Award, 1938.
Field, Robert D., The Art of Walt Disney , New York, 1942.
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* * *
In his years as an animator, director, producer, and magnate, Walt Disney did more than any other individual to influence and shape the look of animated films. As a pioneer he was willing to take risks by experimenting with various technical inventions. In almost every case these experiments were successful. By searching for new and different ways to expand and advance the cartoon format, Walt Disney kept several steps ahead of his competitors. His animated films became the technological standard of the industry and no one came close to matching them.
Among Disney's most innovative films is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs , one of the first feature-length animated cartoons. Part of his reason for venturing into the feature film market was economic. Although Disney's eight-minute cartoons were among the most popular of their day, these shorts had a limited earning potential. Cartoons were only a secondary attraction at the movie theaters and did not receive top billing or top dollar. With accelerating production costs, Disney realized that it would soon become more and more difficult to turn a profit. Looking ahead to the future, he saw feature film production as a way to keep his studio in the black.
The production of his first feature-length cartoon proved to be an enormous undertaking. Many of Disney's competitors felt that the task was impossible and news spread throughout the trade papers about "Disney's Folly." By his own admission Disney was not totally aware of all the complexities that would accompany his new project. He viewed the film as a learning experience and tackled each obstacle with undaunted perseverance.
Disney soon discovered that the scope of a feature-length cartoon dictated some technical changes from the shorter length format. For example, the field size (the size of the painted cels) would have to be enlarged to make room for more detail. This not only required the manufacture of larger cels, but also new drawing boards. In addition, the animation cameras had to be adjusted to photograph the larger field size.
Another innovation used was the multi-plane camera. Actually, Disney's multi-plane camera was first used to a small extent in a short cartoon called The Old Mill . The ability of this tool to enhance a feeling of depth proved more useful in Disney's features. With conventional flat animation cels it is difficult to simulate a dolly or a pan. For example, when a camera dollys in on a flat animation cel, all the objects in the scene appear to grow larger at the same rate, whereas in reality the foreground would grow much quicker while the background objects would stay relatively the same size. Since the multi-plane camera holds the foreground and background cels on different planes, it is possible to manipulate the images on each cel at different speeds. Disney's first multi-plane camera was fourteen feet tall with seven different levels, all of which could be controlled independently of each other.
With the expansion of the screen time for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs , Disney also had to expand the number of employees in his company. Approximately 750 artists worked on the two million drawings that made up the film. These artists worked in an assembly-line fashion, each group responsible for a specific task. Some artists worked on the layout, others on background, some worked as inbetweeners for the chief animators, and other artists were inkers and painters. One group worked in special effects animation. In the past, cartoon animators had paid little attention to special effects. However, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs contains many examples of effects animation in the representation of lighting, smoke, rain, and other details.
Snow White was also different from other cartoons in that some of the characters were human. Most cartoons feature animals, and although they had anthropomorphic traits, they were all removed from the actual world. The characters of the Queen, Prince, Snow White, and the Huntsman presented a special problem in their "realism." To help keep the animation natural, live-action reference footage was shot of actors as a rotoscope (where the animation is traced directly off the live-action film), but mainly as a guide for the animators to follow.
After three years in the making, Snow White was finally ready for a Christmas release in 1937. The film was an instant success and received nothing less than glowing reviews. During its initial release the film grossed over $8 million and it continues to be a financial success with each subsequent re-issue. "Disney's Folly" proved to be the way of the future and feature-length animated films continue to be made today, long after the eight-minute theatrical cartoon format has died out. Once again, Walt Disney was proven to be a most important innovator and promoter of the art of animation.
—Linda J. Obalil