I have a cousin in America

Throw Back to 1986. Most of you wouldn’t know this piece of trivia, but the two German seagulls waving and shouting “auf wiedersehen” to the departing ship, which is carrying Fieval and the Mouskewitz family on the final leg their journey from Hamburg, Germany to New York, were voiced by John Pomeroy as the Jewish seagull on the left and Don Bluth voiced the seagull on the right. Don’s line is “I have a cousin in America.” John’s character (cynically responds), “Awk!” He spits off to the left, then turns and shouts at Don’s character “You and everybody else!”

An American Tail Seagulls & Boat

An American Tail Seagulls & Boat

In the summer of 1985, a ship model was built with the purchase of a large plastic model kit of a mid 1800s, four-masted cargo ship. Then painted solid white with black lines, delineating the detailed structure of the ship’s hull, its deck, smoke stack, masts and cabling. I believe that Dave Goetz built the model and Bill Lorencz did the delicate painting. Don, center, directs the action to be filmed on 35mm film with ship movements done by hand, then the frames of film were blown up on large paper, registered and taped onto 16 Field animation paper and the line images were transferred to cels to be painted, a method of rotoscoping with models. Those involved were from left to right, Fred Craig (supervising production manager), John Eddings (Xerographer), Don, Dave Ankney (cameraman) and a young David Steinberg known as “YDS” (assistant director), struggling with the storyboard pages at the right.

An American Tail Rotoscope Boat

An American Tail Rotoscope Boat

Below David (YDS), Fred Craig and Don discuss the storyboards with an enlarged model section of the stern of the ship (no such model could be purchased. so it was built from scatch with various materials), for a scene, where a tiny Fieval was to float past the ship when its gigantic propellors appear out of the water as the ship tips down on an ocean swell. Later it was decided not to include the scene. I believe I took these photos. We didn’t have a budget for documenting the production.

An American Tail Rotoscope Boat

An American Tail Rotoscope Boat

An American Tail Rotoscope Boat

An American Tail Rotoscope Boat

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4 Responses

  1. Daniel Pollman says:

    Cool! It’s always interesting to go behind-the-scenes and see how various elements of a film were created. Never knew this; thank you for sharing!

  2. Spokavriel (Daniel T. Stack) says:

    As soon as I can get frames I need to take a picture with a poster that arrived today. The Great Owl looks so good above signatures.

    • Spokavriel (Daniel T. Stack) says:

      Oops forgot to ask. Is this voice role going to be added to Don’s IMDB Credits? And was any storyboard for the Fievel sequence done?

  3. Brilliant, thank you for sharing!! ….. in my humble opinion this rotoscope technique has tons more of charm compared to what nowadays is achieved when computer animation is coupled with hand drawn animation. I always loved how the rotoscoped props -the underwater lamp especially- looked in Secret of NIMH. The Giant Mouse of Minsk still haunts my nightmares, but boy! …it was such a show-stopper when it showed up at the end of An American Tail. The tunnel scene in Space Ace, I remember watching that at the arcades and asking myself: “how the heck they drew THAT? (nowadays I know it was rotoscope)” Also, I have to mention the rotoscoped car of Cruella DeVil in 101 Dalmations, the way those scenes where shot: so damn brilliant! Nowadays whenever computer animation is implemented in hand drawn animation -usually for the purpose of inserting vehicles or or props in the scene- it looks so uneventful or just plain dull!
    Please keep sharing more about this topic.. as you can probably guess, I’m a big fan of the process.
    Kind regards,
    Felice.

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