Huffpost Entertainment
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Jim Hill Headshot

How Walt Disney Animation Studios Evolved Mickey Mouse Backwards for Get A Horse!

Posted: Updated:

It's the question that most animation professionals ask immediately after they've seen Get A Horse! How did Walt Disney Animation Studios actually pull that short off? How'd they first replicate the exact look and feel of a Mickey Mouse cartoon of late 1928 / early 1929 and then (SPOILER AHEAD) send a CG version of Mickey and Horace Horsecollar hurtling out through the screen into today's world?

Well, director Lauren MacMullan and producer Dorothy McKim were obviously working with a talented team at WDAS. But a key player on this project was animation legend Eric Goldberg.

Goldberg -- who's probably best known to animation enthusiasts as the genius behind the Genie in Disney's Aladdin -- was the guy who led the hand-drawn team who crafted those crucial first two minutes of Get A Horse! The portion of this short that really sells the idea that this black and white cartoon is something that Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks actually created back in the late 1920s.

"Mind you, in order to make Get A Horse! really look like it was something that it had been produced during that specific era in Hollywood history, the animators who worked on this short had to set their mental clocks back to before they were born. Because a lot of the animation techniques that we use now hadn't even been invented back in 1928," Eric explained during a recent phone interview.

Take -- for example -- how Goldberg and his team had to evolve Mickey Mouse backwards. Take the version of this beloved film icon that's known around the globe today and then remove 85 years worth of refinements and improvements. Turn him back into the somewhat clunky version of this character that debuted at NYC's Colony Theater back on November 18, 1928. As the video below shows, making an authentic looking, old school Mickey sometimes involves some pretty odd design choices.

"Then there were those very specific ways that Ub animated Mickey in those early shorts. Some of the stuff that he did back then was pretty direct. Ub didn't do a lot of in-betweening. Sometimes it was just two frames and then a hold. And if you really paid attention to Ub's work on those early, early shorts, you then noticed that there wasn't a whole lot of rubber hose-style animation being used either. Mickey's movement would only get rubbery when Walt and Ub needed this character's movement to get rubbery. When this style of animation could be used for the greatest comic effect," Eric continued.

"Plus the animation that Ub did of Mickey back then had this real sense of spontaneity and directness and freshness. And he'd really go for broke with all of this crazy stuff wherever it was warranted. So in order to get that sort of performance out of Mickey today, you really had to try and get inside of Ub and Walt's heads. Think about what they might do with this character back in the day, back when Mickey was just starting out," Goldberg said.

And then to make Get A Horse! look like it had actually be produced back in late 1920s ... Well, that meant that Lauren, Dorothy and Eric had to recruit the help of WDAS's scene planning department.

"We actually had what we called our mistakes pass. These moments in the beginning of this short where -- once we got a particular scene in Get A Horse! looking the way we wanted it to -- Lauren would then deliberately insert a mistake. Like having Mickey's shoe suddenly pop off. Or making it look like a cel had briefly gotten stuck on the camera stand's platant during the animation process," Goldberg laughed. "Or better yet, creating some artificial bloom around one of the characters. Because that's what used to happen when you used high contrast film back in the 1920s. If that film accidentally got over-exposed, you then wound up with a little bit of black bloom around the black areas of that cel."

So after all of the extra effort to create an authentic-looking early Mickey Mouse short, what was Eric's favorite part of working on Get A Horse! ? When he, Lauren and Dorothy journeyed over to France last Summer to screen this "lost" film to all of the animation professionals at the 2013 edition of the Annecy Animated Film Festival.

"And Lauren ... She did a brilliant job of selling the audience there on the idea that Get A Horse!was authentic. She came out onstage wearing a white lab coat and gloves and then placed this aged-looking artwork under the downshooter. And at this point, you could actually hear gasps coming from the audience. Because they were so startled to see that there actually appears to be artwork from this long lost Disney short," Goldberg snorted. "But what the audience at Annecy doesn't realize is that -- just before Lauren had come out onstage -- she had artificially aged all of this Get A Horse! artwork by staining it with tea and soy sauce."

And the crowd in that auditorium at the Annecy Animated Film Festival bought that this WDAS production was the real thing right up until the moment that Mickey and Horace came bursting through the screen. And after that, the audience there was so charmed by Get A Horse! that they bore no ill will towards Lauren, Dorothy and Eric. In fact, this roomful of animation professionals gave this trio a standing ovation as soon as the lights came back up.

And that's pretty much the reaction that Get A Horse! has gotten from folks in the industry ever seen. Earlier this month, this Lauren MacMullan film was honored with this year's Annie Award for Best Animated Short. And hopes are high that this WDAS production will also be singled out for recognition when the Academy Awards get underway next month.

But as for Mr. Goldberg, while all of the awards and recognition that Get A Horse! has received to date has been great, it's the fun house mirror quality of this WDAS production that made working on this particular project so much fun for him.

2014-02-21-Horace1.jpg

"I mean, when I was doing model sheets for the characters in Get A Horse!, people would walk into my office and say 'Those are old, right?' And I would then say 'No, I just finished them, ' " he smiled. "You know, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But what's great about working on an animated short like this is that -- while you're honoring Mickey's legacy at the Studio -- you're not also giving the audience the exact same thing that they've seen over and over again for the past 50, 60 years. Here, Lauren found a way to bring this character into the modern world in a fun new way. By having a 1920s Mickey come bursting through the screen in 3D. And I'm so glad that she and Dorothy invited me to come work on Get A Horse! Because this project has been a complete blast."