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A Behind the Scenes Look at
The Tigger Movie
by Joe Tracy

The Tigger Movie represents the first time that Walt Disney Pictures has put Tigger, Pooh, and friends onto the big screen in their own full-length animated feature. Prior to The Tigger Movie, the group had appeared in four short theatrical featurettes, including "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day," which won an Academy Award for "Best Cartoon – Short Subject."

Some people may be surprised to find the focus on the movie on Tigger versus the popular Winnie the Pooh. Yet Tigger's bouncy movements and jolly behaviour, and unique qualities seem to breath life into the film.

The Tigger Movie was written and directed by Jun Falkenstein who was also heavily involved with the 1998 Thanksgiving TV special titled "A Winnie the Pooh Thanksgiving." That same year, in April 1998, production of The Tigger Movie officially started. A unit of Walt Disney Television Animation was set aside to do the art direction, storyboarding, and character designs for the animated film. From there scenes were delivered to Walt Disney Animation, Japan. The Japan team ended up animating nearly 60% of the film.

"Our goal from the beginning was to have a movie that was a little more emotional," says Cheryl Abood, who made her Disney debut as the producer of The Tigger Movie. "We wanted the story to be something that young moviegoers could relate to, but also be interesting to parents and older audiences who grew up with Pooh. Our focus was on good storytelling and a high standard of quality."

In the movie, Tigger's playfulness lands him in hot water with some of his friends, one who suggests that he should go find other Tiggers to bounce with. The idea leads Tigger on an emotional adventure to find his family.

A new generation of Disney artists, based in Japan, were handed the majority of animating work for The Tigger Movie. One of the key character animators on the film was Jeff Johnson.

"At first glance, Tigger and Pooh look really simple to draw, but it can be a bit deceptive," says Johnson. "The characters are so recognizable that if even a tiny piece is off one iota, it becomes obvious. Tigger is especially difficult to draw. His anatomy is not like any real tiger. He has his own sense of structure and a lot of little details that have to be attended to. The diamond-shaped crown of his head, for example, is quite challenging when he's turning and doing his wild antics. I always start with a rough first path so I know where his feet and hands are going to be. Then I go in and work on his expressions."

Johnson spent five months working with a team of 30 animators in Japan.

"Working with the Japanese animators was a great experience," says Johnson. "They have a lot of talented artists over there and many of them had worked on Pooh projects before and were quite familiar with the characters. Overall, they did an amazing job bringing the characters up to a standard that the feature required."

The art director for The Tigger Movie was Tony Bluth, who used a stylish "light and airy" watercolor approach to the film's backgrounds. Previously, Bluth had directed and performed in nearly 120 stage productions and served as an illustrator for books.

"We set out to make the definitive 'Pooh' movie," says Bluth. "Moviegoers want to see what it is they loved in the previous films. They want to see the Winnie the Pooh they remember; not some new or different version… We've enriched what was done in the past by adding more detail in the art work along with lots of scope and dimensionality. More interesting and elaborate moves are now possible, including perspective and dolly shots. With the computer, we're able to add some incredible effects animation like snow and falling leaves… Every single scene is aware of light and air with the objects being almost secondary. Then we apply a loose washy watercolor. Color is the very last thing that we add. The whole scene is lit like a stage play, so you know immediately where the lead actor is going to be performing."

Bluth had to also help convey the emotions in the film through the art.

"Our director, Jun, came up with a very clever device of following the emotional arc of the story with the changes in the weather," says Bluth. " We start very bright and very happy in the summer. As we get deeper into the fall, the snow and blizzard reflect Tigger's mood. We use darker colors to complement the action on screen as the drama intensifies."

And speaking of intensity, how would you like to be the voice actor who voiced both Tigger and Winnie the Pooh. His name is Jim Cummings. Not only does he voice, but he also sings.

"I think the trick to being Tigger is going back to the original and staying as close to that as I can. Paul Winchell, who originated the character, was and is one of my heroes of the business," says Cummings. "I got his book on how to be a ventriloquist when I was about nine years old and read it from cover to cover."

So what does Cummings tell people when they ask how he can voice two characters? "It's kind of like mental ping pong, he says. "The fact they are so different actually makes it easier for me to do. Pooh is just sort of a gently rolling stream and Tigger's a typhoon. You just address both of them as such and it gives you something to hang your hat on as an actor."

For director Jun Falkenstein, The Tigger Movie marks her feature film directing debut.

"This was an opportunity to delve a little deeper into these characters and make them really come alive," says Falkenstein. "Everyone can relate to what Tigger is going through. He's searching for someone who can understand him. The problem is he can't see the forest for the trees and ignores those around him who really care, particularly Roo. With this film, I feel like I was able to put my own spin on the story. I wanted to keep the characters from getting too fluffy and sedentary. Hopefully the audience will feel what's going on under the surface."


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