Blog From the Vault: E.B. White Prefigures Modern Special Effects

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Always a man ahead of his time, E.B. White knew upon the publication of Charlotte’s Web in 1952 that someday Hollywood would knock on the wooden door of his Maine farmhouse, asking if Charlotte and Wilbur could come to Los Angeles. By the time a letter of inquiry arrived, White had long considered the subject.

“It has occurred to me,” White wrote, “that the book, if handled with imagination, might make a motion picture in live action—real girl, real barn, real creatures. A good deal of the action in the book would present no problem whatsoever to the camera…and then there are the parts that would be out of the question for the camera and would need an assist from the drawing board. The critical problem would be to arrive at a smooth transition between live scenes and animated scenes…”

White envisioned a decidedly un-cartoonish style of animation that would allow Charlotte’s Web that smooth transition. “The thing that would make the real spider interchangeable with the drawing board spider,” White said, would be the voice, “always the same, and unmistakable…” When White proposed what he called “this live-action method of filming,” he also offered sage advice about its best use: “I think a film maker might have… good results by sticking with nature and the barn… I saw a spider spin the egg sac described in the story, and I wouldn’t trade the sight for all the animated chipmunks in film land.”

Today, computer-generated animation (CGI) technology  exists to animate Charlotte’s Web as White prefigured, and we believe our production of Charlotte’s Web offers both the animation and “unmistakable” voices White saw as befitting—and true.

“Be true to animals,” E. B. White wryly advised, “and you will live forever. When you enter the barn cellar, remove your hat.” To all the creatures of Charlotte’s Web, and to E.B. White, we at Walden Media tip our hats.

Randy Testa is the Vice President of Education and Professional Development at Walden Media.

From the Vault is a weekly series highlighting materials from the Walden Media archives.

 

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