The making of Busby


I don’t know why I wanted to pay tribute to a man who, 50 odd years ago was well known for his unique musical direction and dance routines, the like of which have not been seen since, except as repeats on the box.

Was it the wave of nostalgia that was sweeping the country, or was the reason, as some of my fellow members at the Westcliff Cine Club keep reminding me “it must be your age George”. However, whatever the reasons, I decided to make the film, and that’s when my troubles started! How on earth do I compliment such a great personality?

I was fortunate enough to borrow from one of the club members, an L.P. on the Hollywood Musicals, which included several of the well known Busby Berkley creations. Without a doubt 42nd St is my favourite number, and I know that I am not alone on this. I decided to use that sequence for the film, with a couple of short sequences as a follow up to 42nd St.
As a boy, I was always fascinated by the Cinema Organ, which played during the interval, and I tried to create this to give atmosphere to the film, as also showing the prices of admission, which was commonplace in the early thirties, and showing some of the well known. trade marks of the maior film companies of the time, i.e. M.G.M’s Lion, R.K.0. Radio Pictures Paramount’s Mountain, 20th Century Fox’s searchlights etc.

Colour was used in the first section of the film, as I well remember the lush colours used in Cinema Decor, and particularly the beautiful curtains rich with swags and pleats. However, the films we saw in those far off days were usually Black and White, therefore I kept to black and white art work for the second and main sequence of the film. Kodachrome 40 film was used, which apart from its good colour rendering, also gave the really true black that I was hoping for.

I used a mixture of materials for the art work, the trade marks, organ sequence, and the dancing violins were drawn on cel, walking sticks and top hats on white copy paper, 42nd St sequence traced and cut into plain black film. The tap dancing routine was a combination of white copy paper and black film.

It’s difficult to explain the mechanics of making the film, for me, it was nearly all trial and error. had to experiment a lot, and certainly had my fair share of dis¬appointments and retakes. Lighting was a tricky one, 2 No. 1 Photofloods controlled by a dinner switch were fixed below the white opaline glass worktop. After setting the dinner to a predetermined mark on a graduated scale (according to the art work used) take a reading from the auto meter, set to manual, close down one stop. This seemed to cancel out any flare on the outlines, and gave sharp pictures.

The finished film was intended to run at 18 f.p.s. but after the first rough edit, the action looked a little slow, more trial and error! Running the film at 24 f.p.s. made a tremendous difference to the pace, and consequently, after the final edit, sound was added at the faster speed.

As fellow animators know only too well, an awful lot of effort goes into animated filming, but if at the end of a showing, a member of the audience pays some compliment to your work, it really makes it all worth while.

Sequence from “Busby”.

Originally printed in Animator’s newsletter Issue 8 (Spring 1984)