EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Senior Story Artist Burny Mattinson Discusses Disney's WINNIE THE POOH
Since 1953, Burny Mattinson has been a member of the Disney family. After extensive training in 1972, Mattinson worked on the Disney featurette “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too” with Walt Disney himself. Now, 39 years later he holds the post of Senior Story Artist on the highly lauded Disney feature-length film, Winnie the Pooh.
Winnie the Pooh started off as the movie that almost wasn’t, with everyone (even the studio) looking into doing short featurettes, which have a time frame somewhere between a movie short and a full-length feature, around 20 to 40 minutes: “… The decision early on was to have Bob Iger look into the franchise of Winnie the Pooh and find the feature animation people and so he went to John Lasseter and they asked him who should do it and John went to the directors who worked on that and said that, ‘We gotta start finding some stories’. So the directors came to me and they said, ‘Burny would you go through the book and find some stories we can use and make boards’, which are basically, 11x8 sketches of each of the story points. So I did, I did all of these storyboards… And went and showed them to Bob Iger… And we thought we were gonna be asked for a featurette, but they got so enthused by it that they said, ‘Let’s do it as a feature!’ So much to our happiness we were thrilled.”
One of the things that separated the process of creating this film was that it relied largely on storyboards over a written screenplay. Mattinson enjoyed the less structured take to creating this story, based on three tales from Winnie the Pooh creator A. A. Milne.
“The entire picture I was basically making suggestions in our story meetings of how maybe we could do this or that and so forth. And we used those storyboards basically as the written word. So we didn’t have a writer on the film, we would simply have a… Team of story people, maybe like, five, young people that came in. Never worked on any feature and we would just tell them, ‘Here’s the plot line’ and they would get the idea from the pictures. Then they would go back and flesh it out in very detailed stories. Then they would pitch it in the… Story room, and we would sit there and make suggestions here and there, how we could do it even better. That is kinda how the whole picture was built… It wasn’t done with a writer writing it all out first. And I have to say, it was a pleasure doing it that way. It was a lot of fun.”
It was extremely important to the crew that elements that would appeal to a new audience be married with the traditional nature of the franchise. In this way it could both resonate with the younger audience coming in and their parents who grew up with Christopher Robin and the gang. “We wanted to make something where the parents could come to it and they could get some belly laughs here and there and be true to the characters at the same time. So, we did. We did look for things to be funny that parents would kind of enjoy and give them a chuckle too… We did try to get the humor that way. The humor… Is very mild, generally, but every once in a while we would try to punch something up.”
While creating the feel for the film, artists traveled to the real Hundred Acre Wood (named after the Five Hundred Acre Wood in England), which was then recreated in a watercolor style to mimic the original illustrations by E. H. Shepard:
“The team of directors… And the head of layout they went over to the Hundred Acre Wood and they thoroughly took photographs and documented the whole place and they came back and they were trying to give it the look of the way it really was. Now the first one… They just had books and magazines that they had found with the Hundred Acre Woods… Nobody went over there. But this time… We tried to stay true to what it looks like today. The first ones, that we did, they were done watercolor style. They actually did watercolor on watercolor paper, so they were very light washes and we had Xeroxed lines over that that carried the detail of the background… Today we don’t use the watercolors anymore or in the backgrounds… Everything’s in Photoshop. On the computer. And yet they were able to… Emulate, actually… Get that look on the computer that you could get on watercolor paper.”
When asked if there would be other Winnie the Pooh movies planned by Disney due to this one’s immense success, he explained that, “At this time, no, there’s nothing being planned that I know of.” Mattinson, however, has in own project in the works, which if the proposal is accepted could lead to the first full length Mickey Mouse feature film. “I’ve been working on a feature idea. I would love to see it come to fruition. But we still have to pitch it to the bosses and see if we can get them excited… It’s a Mickey Mouse feature with Mickey, Donald, and Goofy, and it’s an adventure story… Walt actually wanted to make a story with Mickey in his own movie as a feature back in ’39, but then when the war came along he kind of shelved the idea. But I’m not using any storyline from him, from that time and that era. I started a whole new one. But, again, it’s an adventure story and it needs to be pitched to John Lasseter and to whoever else would be interested.”
The all-new Winnie the Pooh brings back to life the timeless charm, wit and whimsy of the original featurettes and characters. Sure to become a family favorite for every household, it is directed by Stephen Anderson (Meet The Robinsons) and Don Hall (The Princess and The Frog) and Executive Produced by John Lasseter. Winnie the Pooh Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD, and Digital Download will be available for purchase on October 25, 2011.
Disney returns to the Hundred Acre Wood with Winnie the Pooh. Featuring the timeless charm, wit and whimsy of the original featurettes, this all-new movie reunites audiences with the philosophical “bear of very little brain” and friends Tigger, Rabbit, Piglet, Owl, Kanga, Roo – and last, but certainly not least, Eeyore, who has lost his tail. “Ever have one of those days where you just can’t win, Eeyore?” asks Pooh. Owl sends the whole gang on a wild quest to save Christopher Robin from an imaginary culprit. It turns out to be a very busy day for a bear who simply set out to find some honey. Disney’s all-new Winnie the Pooh movie is inspired by three stories from A.A. Milne’s books in Disney’s classic, hand-drawn art.