Friday, December 7, 2012

Runaway Brain

This short film was produced right after Lion King, but not at the Burbank studio.
A group of very talented artists in Paris/France had completed work on The Goofy Movie for Disney, and the plan was to have this terrific French studio be part of Feature Animation's films.
To start out it was decided to do a short with Mickey. Endless ideas were thrown around, but nothing seemed to stick. Then story man Tim Hauser had the idea to do a satire on the old Frankenstein story. I had too much fun sketching little Mickey monsters, like the ones above, before animation.
I was lucky to be sent to Paris along with a small group of supervisors. My job was to animate but also help supervise the animation as a whole.
Let me tell you, there was no hand holding necessary on my part, the French animators were fantastic. They were Bohlem Bouchiba, Uli Meyer (from London), Chris Bradley (from the US),
Dominique Montrey, Sylvain Deboissy, Sergio Pablos, Patrick Delage, Catherine Poulin, Marc Eoche Duval, Yoshimichi Tumara and Stephane Sainte-Foi.

I ended up animating a few opening scenes with Mickey and Pluto, the introduction of mad scientist Dr. Frankenollie and other shots here and there. 
One scene was a bit challenging, but a lot of fun.
Minnie is hugging Mickey because she mistakenly thinks they are going to Hawaii on vacation.
Mickey, shocked over this misunderstanding, pronounces the word "Hawaii" silently.
It was an unusual bit of acting for him, but I think it communicates.

These are a few of my rough animation keys from the opening scene. I remember animating the cord coming from Mickey's remote control, something that normally an effects animator would take care of. I really enjoy doing effects work once in a while.

The short was art directed by Ian Gooding and I think it looks beautiful.
A couple of pages from the Disney book "Mickey Mouse, My Life in Pictures".

Soon after the release I got my hands on a cool looking toy figurine from Japan.

This was the back of our crew jackets.
I wore it once while visiting Disneyland Paris, when suddenly a Disney sales person commented on the image, which she found outrageous. I tried to explain about the movie, but she insisted I shouldn't be wearing something like this in the park. She thought it was a counterfeit product.
Adorable…the way she was defending Mickey's image!

By the way, at the time I thought director Chris Bailey paced the film a little too fast, but watching it now, it feels just right.
You can find it on the Walt Disney Treasures DVD Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Volume Two.


  1. My favorite Mickey cartoon. Closer to Warner Bros than vintage Disney, but that just made it better. I wish more cartoons along this line could have been produced.

  2. "I wore it once while visiting Disneyland Paris, when suddenly a Disney sales person ...."

    Man, there's so much irony in that story, it's painfully funny.

    1. Why painful? She was just sincere, and didn't know about the film. I applaud her reaction.

    2. Well, I just think it's funny that she didn't know the history of the company she was representing, and it becomes hilarious because she was debating with someone who's a part of the very foundation of Disney.

      You probably don't see it that way, being the humble person that you are, Sir.
      From an outsiders perspective, it's indeed quite a comedy.

  3. Thank you so much for this Andreas. I was looking for model sheets for "Mickey Monster" (haha) just the other day.

    I find Mickey Mouse one of the hardest Disney characters to get a believable pose with. Unlike Donald, Goofy or even Pluto, Mickey has no real working "anatomy" and he's built still as a "quasi-rubber hose animation" character. Frustrating to draw!

    In giving "Mickey Monster" some texture I see that you gave him some joints here and there which I think makes him easier to draw, knowing where to put the weight and tension.

    You also did the Mickey animation for Fantasia 2000, correct? Beautiful.

    If you ever decide to do another "tutorial" blog it would be wonderful to know the kind of mindset you had when drawing and animating Mickey Mouse.

    Thank you again Andreas!

    1. Mickey definitely is hard to get a handle on, drawing- and animation wise. But there IS anatomy, knees and elbows are just
      rounder than on other characters. And you need to know all the graphic cheats that are important to Mickey.
      But all that can be studied by looking at DVds frame by frame, or by finding good poses in comics.

  4. Thank you for this post. The scene you did with Mickey mouthing the words Hawaii is one of my all time favorites and i'm super glad to find out who did it. Well done, pure class stuff and comes across perfectly.

    Just wonder if you did it by reference or did you try and lip sync it to sound and then take the sound away later.

  5. This short was very awesome, very good work.

  6. I remember the ads for this short scaring me silly in my childhood. Then I went to see George of the Jungle two years later, had the short unexpectedly thrust in front of me, and loved it. I like in particular how the utterly surreal conflict stems from a classic Mickey Mouse dilemma (how to buy Minnie's trip to Hawaii?).

    Great work on your part as usual. Thank you very much for naming the rest of the animators! It's a serious shame Disney France didn't get more chances to shine, but I'm glad that some of their crew, like Sergio Pablos, brought their tremendous talents to the States as well.

  7. It's a great short, the production values are so high and the high-energy animation keeps up perfectly with the breathtaking (almost breathless) pace.
    I also like how sometimes daring it is, being faster and more intense than most Disney shorts, featuring an "evil" Mickey, a death scene and even some slightly risqué asides ("What would Mickey think?").

    It's not too hard to guess why the doctor was called Frankenollie, but I've always wondered whether there was a story behind the Pete character being called Julius?

    Also, did you get any feedback from the Old Guard animators on this short, Mr Deja? I've been wondering whether you got many chances to extensively talk to Ward Kimball and pick his brain.
    A friend of mine from America once met Kimball during some event and asked him which 90s Disney feature he thought Walt Disney would have liked the least. According to her, Kimball replied Disney himself would have probably liked Aladdin the least because of the pop culture references making the picture less timeless.

    1. I remember talking to the Old Guard when we were doing Prince & The Pauper, which wasn't as strong as Runaway Brain.
      They gave us mostly story notes.
      And all of them, not only Kimball, felt that way about Aladdin.
      I would respectfully disagree and say, why not do ONE film like that?

    2. First—thanks, Andreas, for these wonderful recollections!

      Second—Cristoph, I'm not sure (maybe Andreas can clarify?), but I think the use of "Julius" may have something to do with Julius the Cat, Pete's good-guy opponent in the 1920s Alice Comedies.

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  9. The best thing you ever did... Go to Paris to work on this Short. A life changer for some of us!!! Wouldn't you say so???

  10. Thanks for posting this! I loved this short, and it's neat hearing "the inside story," and seeing the early sketches!

    Also: Uli Meyer literally JUST had a successful Kickstarter to complete a children's book he'd been working on. It looks utterly gorgeous, in case you want to check it out:

  11. While on "Fantasia/2000", we did some clean-up on "Runaway Brain" in Glendale. So much fun to work with classic characters - a very rare thing in Feature Animation (other than Donald in "Pomp and Circumstance"). As I recall, the short was intended to be run in front of all kinds of movies, even non-Disney, but wound up with "A Kid in King Arthur's Court". I'm so glad it's more easily available to see now!

  12. I love how modern this short looks, even after nearly 18 years after it's release. I've often wondered why Disney won't do a feature with Mickey, Donald and Goofy with the same vibe and energy as this short. If written with the same passion and wit as a movie like Toy Story, it'd be sure to be a hit. Why on Earth would they not want to keep these characters alive and relevant? Even from a strictly monetary merchandising standpoint, it would seem to make sense. Anyways, I guy can dream. Thanks Andreas so much for sharing these!

    1. I am so with you on the feature film idea for MIckey!
      I suggested it a few years ago, because I think Mickey and the others need a full length story in order to have relevance and an impact on today's audience.

    2. Runaway Brain is probably my favorite Mickey short since I love horror films so much. If this and Epic Mickey proved anything it's that people enjoy seeing Mickey in a gritty setting. Maybe it's the juxtaposition of the setting and the character that make it work so well. I'm playing Epic Mickey 2 right now and the tone is significantly more light-hearted compared to it's predecessor and somehow it just doesn't work this time around. A Mickey feature with a bit of a gritty tone I think would be great.

  13. Thanks for the great poses, it's one of the best Disney short film from the last 30 years !
    Even if the guys told me is wasn't a very easy production because of the director, it seems everyone had a lot of fun doing it (by the way, it's Yoshi Tamura ;) ).

    1. Ahah, no it's not Yoshi, it's Xavier, it's just that you misspelld his last name.
      Sorry about the misunderstanding, but I tell him you say hi next time I see him :)

  14. I love this short. Monster-ized Mickey is so doggone cute! Plus the in-jokes, like Frankenollie, the 7 Dwarfs video game, and the "old" picture in Mickey's wallet, just crack me up.

  15. I think Frankenollie was a great(but short-lived) villain and has some of the best lines in the short.Minnie "french-kissing" Mickey and the whole sequence before and after would have made Fred Moore jealous.A wonderful and rare bit of animation,a breath of fresh air,and a welcome change from the milquetoast Mickey Mouse we have been stuck with for years.

  16. I'm sad to say I only heard of this short because Julius, of all characters, was put into the most recent Kingdom Hearts game. I'll admit its an odd choice, but the fact that it made me see Runaway Brain was worth the obscure cameo! Such an awesome short, I really wish we had more of these. I also agree, Mickey needs a full length feature. Perhaps a self aware Disney fest akin to the recent Muppet film along the lines of Enchanted?

  17. Awesome post! I love the artwork you posted for this. I cherish the ability to view some of these sketches.

    This short always stood out to me as a child. I'm glad I have it on DVD, too bad the audio is slightly out of sync with the video. (but thankfully with technology these days I was able to fix it on my computer).

    This blog surely inspires me to work on my animation projects further! :)

  18. Andreas, do you remember the disagreement between Chris Baily and the Execs regarding the unshaven Mickey he wanted to portray. Big ballyhoo in the Flower St. theater after a meeting update.
    A week later Chris was gone from the production.
    Still have my crew Tshirt.

  19. Interesting post always liked this odd 1995 Mickey Mouse cartoon, but I find it interesting that this cartoon was produced Dinsey Feature Animation France, same studio and did A Goofy Movie, so I do wonder if the Burbank Studio should get any credits for the original idea? As the Frence studio is the only studio credited at end of the cartoon.

    But one additional question how long was this short in production?

  20. This is my favorite "modern" short ever, Andreas! Design, layout, story...amazing. By the way, how is Dave Pacheco...haven't seen him in too many years! You both rock.

  21. I didn't know they had added a Walt Disney Pictures logo.