The Pre-Production Process: 101 Dalmatians

Inspired by Walt Disney’s 1961 animated adaptation of  Dodie Smith’s novel “The Hundred and One Dalmatians”, director Stephen Herek produced a live-action version of the film in 1996. It was a commercial success as it grossed $320.69 million globally on a budget of $75 million. Behind this classic film involves a very thorough pre-production process as it is essential to properly plan out your ideas. Fortunately, the Special Collections Archive here at Pepperdine University has the original 101 Dalmatians cast list, production stills, storyboards, and much more through the generosity of second unit director Micky Moore.

This 101 Dalmatian archive collection allows us to follow the director’s and producer’s thought process, and understand how they developed the story and structure of the film. Ideas are typically drawn from headlines or personal experiences; in this case, this live remake is based on the nostalgic animated film from 1961. This adaptation has often been criticized as redundant and repetitive, so Disney studios always strive to introduce a new concept “rather than [work] on new retellings of ancient stories” by creating a “nostalgic connection to one version” (Leszkiewicz). Not only do the cast have to worry about the content quality of the film, but they also must take into account how to appeal to a wide audience in order for the film to do well in the box office. Animation is frequently associated with children as it seen as more idealistic and whimsical, while “seeing real people” in live-action films “makes it easier for the audience to make themselves comfortable with the story” (Choudhury). Using real actors and dalmatians in the live-action film makes it more emotionally resonating and connecting for the audience. Scenes where the dogs are killed to make Cruella De Vil’s spotted fur jacket prompt the audience to feel anger and hatred toward her, thus allowing them to viscerally take part in the plot and have a deeper interaction. These types of films tend to depict more realistic and broader themed situations.

In addition, the directors and screenwriters of 101 Dalmatians spent a lot of time outlining and writing many detailed drafts, going as far as naming every main dog and not allowing them to get mixed up although they look almost identical. Specifically, storyboards are an integral part of the traditional pre-production process as they have been conventionally used in the movie industry. When the script has been finalized, it is broken down into individual scenes so cast members and designers can easily envision what the final product will look like. Storyboards are often sketches because they “are inviting comments [whereas] sleek and detailed presentations can be overwhelming” (Van der Lelie). For example, in the attached storyboard sketch from the 1996 film, the designer drew one of the dalmations hiding from Cruella, even including a detailed facial expression. This suggests that the dog is afraid and wants to avoid being chosen as the next dog to be killed. He or she notes that the puppy in this scene “could be Dip Stick or Pidget, [but not] Two-Tone”. If the decision on which dog to use is changed, the storyboard artist can easily do so without the director having to adjust the production budget. These simple sketches can better communicate the message that the designer or artist is attempting to convey and directly allows the cinematographer to fully understand the concepts.

Storyboards are just one main part of the complicated, multifaceted pre-production process. As the storyboard sketches come together and are finalized, directors must cast actors and hire people to complete the paperwork. The 101 Dalmatians (1996) adaptation received mixed reviews, but was applauded for its accurate representation of and staying true to the animated classical film. With this collection, the audience is introduced to a small preview of the creative steps and behind-the-scenes of the cinema and film industry.


Works Cited

1. Choudhury, Sidharth. “Animated vs. Live Action Movies of Disney.” Arena Blog, 6 Aug.

2018, www.arena-multimedia.com/blog/animated-vs-live-action-movies-of-disney/.

2. Van der Lelie, Corrie. “The Value of Storyboards in the Product Design Process.”

Personal & Ubiquitous Computing, vol. 10, no. 2/3, Mar. 2006, pp. 159–162. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s00779-005-0026-7.

3. Leszkiewicz, Anna. “Why Is Disney Producing so Many Live-Action Remakes of Its

Most Popular Animated Movies?” New Statesman, 30 May 2016,

www.newstatesman.com/culture/film/2016/05/why-disney-producing-so-many-li

ve-action-remakes-its-most-popular-animated.

4.  “101 Dalmatians (1996) (1996).” Box Office Mojo, www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/id=101dalmatiansliveaction.htm.

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