Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Premiere of Platypus Duck -- Part 1

Back in 1974, I received a grant from my college's film department to make an animated film.   The result was an eleven minute cartoon called...

The story follows the evolution of the duck-billed platypus from pre-history to modern day.  

The cartoon took almost two years to complete...and I sure learned a lot about the labor-intensive process of animation.  While I drew all the animation and hand-inked the cels, I managed to persuade many friends and relatives to pitch in on coloring some of the animation-on-paper, and talked others into painting some of the hundreds of cels.  

My best pal Parker MacDonell, an extraordinary singer/songwriter and musician, composed, performed and recorded the score -- which was wall-to-wall!  Eleven minutes of music!  Much of the animation moves to the score, and the edits are hooked into the rhythm of the evocative music.   

The two cell set-ups re-produced here are from the opening scene.  

As we hear the strains of an orchestra tuning up, we find the duck-billed platypus floating in the pond next to his burrow.  (The burrow has a shape similar to the Sydney Opera House, which is a motif throughout the film.)  The platypus looks up at the stars as the music begins, and a fanfare accompanies the sudden appearance of a marquee up in the sky.  The platypus seems slightly impressed with himself, since his name is on the marquee.



  1. is it a duck-billed playtpus?
    this sure reminds me of one South Park episode...

  2. Much more to show from the cartoon...all will be revealed!

  3. About timing an animated short to a prerecorded tune....how did one go about it in the pre-computer era? Did you have to sit with a stopwatch and time the whole thing?

    "Let's see, the lyric here is 3.2 seconds long and ends with a note I want the platypus's foot to step down on, so I'll need to have it happen 36 frames from now...."

    I can't begin to imagine how tedious that'd be multiplied by 11 minutes -- it can't be as complicated as I'm thinking.

  4. It is both complicated and tedious.

    That's the process.

    Perhaps in Hollywood they had it figured out to a more clever science.

    But to a 20 year old sitting in a room in New Hampshire, it was a stop watch, listening to the music, timing the music, and knowing what I wanted to see happen as each sound was heard.

    The track was put on "mag"-- magnetic track -- which I'd mark up so that when that sound was heard on the mag, you had a corresponding frame appear on the film as you played them both on the Steenback or moviola.

    Once the mag track was transfered to exposure sheets...(I'd mark the beats on the exposure sheet -- indicate when instruments came in, etc.)... then animating to the music could begin in earnest.

  5. Isn't that what Tom Ray used to do in between eating many doughnuts?

  6. Donuts are the only solution to animation tedium

  7. Hey, Tom, did you know that The Premiere of Platypus Duck got on YouTube a while ago? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMaqBXTcIx0

  8. Thanks for the info Alex. Sadly, this copy of the film is many generation away from the original, which thankfully looks a lot better. I will need to get a good copy of this online as soon as I can get to it.