Making Mickey's Parade

One of the most ambitious stop-motion commercials of all time was created in 1991 for Mickey's Parade Frozen Treats, directed by Kevin Dole. The advertisement featured hundreds of animated puppets and props, and required clever methods to bring them to life.

The project began with the creation of numerous watercolor drawings of the characters and props by animator Don Waller, which served as a design guide for the fabrication process. I was brought on board to help sculpt the master patterns of the frozen treat props and sculpted the Minnie Mouse popsicle, as well as small and large versions of the sugar cones. Don sculpted the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck popsicles, as well as the parade character with the big hat. The figures were made of Sculpey, a polymer clay that hardens when baked in the oven, while the cones were constructed from plastic mesh, cardboard, and modeling putty. Our goal in sculpting was to replicate the look of the product box art. Our sculpted prototypes had to be approved by the Disney product division to ensure they were in line with Disney standards, but they only requested minor changes to pass their quality control. The completed sculpts were then handed off to stop-motion fabrication expert Niki Matthews and the model makers at Gregory Jein, Inc. for molding and casting.

Joel Fletcher making a Minnie Mouse popsicle out of clay
Sculpting the Minnie Mouse popsicle

Sculptor making characters with sculpey
Don Waller examines his sculpture

Sculpting an ice cream cone
Filling seams in the large sugar cone sculpt

Disney characters in clay
Finished popsicle sculptures ready for molding and casting

When the fabrication work was finished, the animation shoot began at the Chandler Group stages (now New Deal Studios) in Marina Del Rey. For us animators, the incredible puppets and props were like new toys at Christmas time. Each shot varied in complexity, but they were all challenging due to the large number of characters and objects to move. Fortunately, director Kevin Dole came up with some time-saving rigs to help us out. Many of the large groups in the parade were connected together so they could move as one. The big Mickey overhead balloon (sculpted by Douglas Turner) was connected to a motorized motion-control unit, so we didn't have to deal with it at all. The background spectators were dolls that conveniently had wire in their bodies. Most of them were animated by hand, but some were rigged with a device that moved many at the same time. To allow access to the set, the buildings were mounted on precision rails and could slide away for animation before being moved back into place before each frame of film was exposed. Interestingly, these buildings had been used in movies such as Blade Runner and It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World! Which seemed fitting since this commercial was crazy!

Parade float with Disney popsicle characters
The Paradise Pops float used clear tinted resin for the popsicles

Disney ice cream cone float for commercial
Real candy was used for the ice cream cone sprinkles, painted the appropriate colors

Don and I were the main animators on the shoot, assisted by Rich Kinney. For one or two of the bigger shots, we brought in Kim Blanchette as an additional animator. The cinematography was expertly handled by Tim Angulo and motion control operator John Higbie. With so many objects to animate, notes were taken to ensure we didn't forget what all the characters were doing. Each shot took a very long time to complete due to its complexity, and fortunately, there were no reshoots. There was one additional shot that I animated on a blue screen stage, of a character juggling fruit while balancing on top of an orange. I used special rigs to support the man and the juggling fruit; it was a difficult shot, but almost easy compared to the parade shots. In post-production, Kevin Dole composited the juggler between two shots as a wipe. Falling confetti was also composited over all the animation for added dimension and visual interest. Close-up shots of real spectator children were intercut with the animation, which worked surprisingly well.

Animator Don Waller on the Mickey's Parade shooting stage
Don prepares prepares one of the parade characters for action

Man with Mickey Mouse model hanging from wires
Stage manager Tim Thomas checks the Mickey Balloon support wires

Joel Fletcher animating a juggler
I animate a juggler atop an orange, filmed on a bluescreen stage

The Mickey's Parade ice cream products are no longer available, and the advertisement is now a distant memory for those who saw it. However, the commercial was an impressive stop-motion and artistic achievement for its time and is worth revisiting so many years later.

© 2012
Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, and Minnie Mouse are trademarks of the Walt Disney Company

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