My posts on shot flow in the piano duel from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? were cross posted on the TAG blog and the comments there give key background on how this sequence originated. First, cartoonist Larry Levine wrote:
Jones’s involvement was news to me, since I don’t have the 2-disc DVD. Then Mark Kausler wrote:
Mark’s comments confirm what I suspected — the director of photography took what were undoubtedly well-staged boards from Mark and Joe and, making his best guess of how the animation should play, arranged the set and the rigged props and shot the plates. Imagine filming a scene without actors, then dropping in the actors later. It’s a setup for a mess, especially if you don’t really understand what animation can do. I can also imagine that a live-action filmmakers may not have been used to looking at animation storyboards, and Cundy and Zemeckis may have thought they were too static. The desire to “keep ‘em in the air” doubtless dominated Cundy’s work, essentially preemptively gilding the lily by using frantic staging, busy sets, and manic camera moves. The frantic, manic animation called for restraint from the cinematographer and director, and that lack of restraint undermines the sequence.
Anyone reading this should know who Joe Ranft and Mark Kausler are. Joe is probably best remembered as the secret weapon behind Pixar’s early success, serving as head of story on Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, and on and on, as well as key contributions at Disney and other animated films. The animation industry lost one of it’s best when Joe died in a car accident in 2005.
Mark has one of the most varied and impressive resumes in animation, as both an animator and artist and as an animation historian. I have one a framed cel from his short film, It’s The Cat on my wall (the image below isn’t the cel I own, but mine’s similar).
I would dearly love to see the piano-duel sequence shot the way Ranft and Kausler boarded it. It was a brilliant idea to make them battling musicians. As I wrote before, there’s some wonderful animation in there (props to Mark and Dave Spafford and everyone else who animated those ducks), and if the camera work and staging were clear, the thrills and excitement of the sequence would come out of the character animation, the way it should.
For what it’s worth, I’m glad that Zemeckis didn’t go with the Chuck Jones version. I revere Jones’s early work, but I would have been bored to see Daffy and Donald replaying a gag that we’d seen repeatedly from Bugs and Daffy. Also, with Valiant’s reluctance about coming back to Toontown, the sequence called for some Toon action that was over the top, to play off of Hoskin’s disdainful sneers, and to provide a counterpoint to Jessica’s appearance.
ADDENDUM (March 3 at 11:40 AM) – Mark Kausler and Larry Levine had some more informative comments over at the TAG Blog about how the piano duel sequence boarding worked: