Friday
Jan042013

Second Thoughts?

I love this cool photograph of Walt Disney and the kids, Luana Patton and Bobby Driscoll. Probably a publicity shot for the film, “Song of the South.” The Old Maestro appears to be reading the kids an Uncle Remus story. You'll notice that the book is by author, Joel Chandler Harris. Much of the material for the Disney motion picture was inspired by the fanciful Uncle Remus stores.

However, Walt's raised eyebrow happens to bring a few thoughts to mind. It's almost as though Disney is suddenly thinking to himself, gosh, this could possibly cause a boat load of problems for the studio. What if people are offended by the way black people are portrayed in the film? What if these delightful stories by Joel Chandler Harris are misinterpreted and audiences think we're being insensitive concerning the social issues of this period in American history and particularly the treatment of people of color in the post Civil War South. Should that be a concern? Or am I simply worrying needlessly.

After a moment of thought, Walt reconsiders. What am I worried about? He thinks to himself. This movie is full of fun, light hearted Disney entertainment. The songs are great and the characters are warm and genuine. Plus, the film features some of the finest, funniest cartoon animation ever put on the screen. There's nothing about this movie that could ever be considered offensive or insensitive. Why am I worrying so much over nothing?

Who would have thought that this motion picture would one day become such a hot potato and the Disney Company would find every possible reason to keep the film under wraps. However, back in a more innocent time the stories told by Uncle Remus would never have generated such controversy and “Song of the South” would simply be another delightful Disney film.

Thursday
Jan032013

Disney's Treasure Island

What's the story behind this photograph, I wonder? Clearly it was taken back in the fifties and Walt Disney was hard at work filming "Treasure Island" in the United Kingdom. This was a necessity because the Disney Company had frozen assets in the U.K. Unable to bring this cold hard cash home, Disney decided to put that money to good use by producing several movies overseas.

Walt Disney was visiting the set of "Treasure Island" this day and the photograph shows the family holding hands. Included in the shot with Walt, Sharon and Diane is young Bobby Driscoll, one of the stars of the movie. I truly identified with young Bobby when I was a kid and I felt as though I was on an adventure along with young Jim Hawkins. With all due respect to my Disney colleagues I never liked the idea of Jim Hawkins being portrayed as a troubled teen in "Treasure Planet." It's a personal choice, of course. If Jim Hawkins had remained a young kid I feel it would have had more emotional resonance with audiences. Then again, that's just me.

In any case, Walt Disney was jumping into a series of live-action motion pictures that would prove successful with audiences and show the master animator could do more than just make cartoons. In time, Disney would produce "Robin Hood" "Rob Roy" "The Sword and the Rose" and many others. Walt put a good deal of trust in his long time producer, Perce Pearce whose responsibility was to keep these live-action epics on track. Even as a kid I was intrigued by this gentleman with the two first names. In time, I would learn that Perce Pearce was a major player at the Walt Disney Studio for many years even though few people even know his name today. Ironically, Perce Pearce passed away the very day The Old Maestro was busily opening his new theme park in Anaheim California, far, far away from the U.K.

"Treasure Island" was somewhat of a milestone for the Disney Company and Walt would eventually gain other assets from the U.K. Soon, the brilliant matte painter, Peter Ellenshaw would join the Disney Company and a director who was a long time descendant of author, Robert Louis Stevenson would also become an employee. That's correct. I'm speaking of the Disney veteran who directed "Mary Poppins" was none other than Robert Stevenson. And of course, actor Robert Newton forever defined the way pirates would speak. Can you even imagine a pirate without thinking of the phrase, "Arrrrrrrr!" In any case, Walt, Sharon, Diane and Bobby are walking hand in hand on an English movie set. As far as the Old Maestro is concerned, things couldn't be looking better.

 

Wednesday
Jan022013

The Animator

Okay, it's the start of a new year and nothing has really happen just yet. On days like this there's usually nothing to write about. So, how do I fill this blog post? How about a little game I call, "Guess the Animator."

You guys who know your Disney history have already guessed this photograph was taken at the Walt Disney Studios in the fifties. And, what animated motion picture was in production in the late fifties? You guessed it! "Sleeping Beauty." Let's examine the animator's desk for a clue. If you're smart, you'll know where to look. That drawing on the animator's desk is not a layout in case you're wondering. It looks very much like a layout but it's actually what we used to call a "Blue Sketch." The Blue Sketch was used to give the animator a sense of the environment and the "stage" his character would be working on. That way the animator could map out the action throughout the scene. Did you know we actually had women who would sit and trace layouts each day? So, there you have the Blue Sketch. But, I digress.

If you quickly scan the photograph you'll see the a name on the exposure sheet. The exposure sheet is the yellow document pinned to the animator's desk. The name reads, "Gibson Iwao." Once again, if you know your Disney history you'll know there was no animator at fifties Disney named, Gibson Iwao. However, you'll know there was an animator named, Blaine Gibson and another named Iwao Takamoto. Good! Now, we're making progress. Two animators worked on this particular scene of Briar Rose and that's why they share the credit on the exposure sheet.

Okay. Here's our final question. Of our two animators, whose hands appear in this particular photograph? A special picture that was photographed by Bob Willoughby for the book, "Walt Disney's The Art of Animation." The answer is, Iwao Takamoto. You'll notice that the animator has a cigarette and co-animator, Blaine Gibson was a non-smoker. So, there's your answer and I've managed to somehow complete another blog posting. Have a nice 2013, you Disney geeks.

Monday
Dec312012

Disney Animation 1958

1958 is a long time ago. The funny thing is to this Disney veteran, it seems like only yesterday. That's the way it goes as you get older, I guess. Time seems to compress and what happened before most of you were born seems like pretty recent stuff.

Walt's epic animated feature film had been dragging on for a while. I was fully aware of this having seen early sketches while I was a kid still in school. I honestly had no idea I would eventually be working on this production because I assumed the movie would have long since wrapped by the time I became an animation professional. Yet, here I was a kid just out of art school employed on the very same Disney feature film.

I was a kid, of course. I tried my best to blend in with the other Walt Disney animation veterans by imitating them. I made a point of making my desk resemble the work spaces of the Disney veterans. Perhaps if I managed to look like a Disney professional, I might be mistaken for one.

I've probably mentioned this before but I was assigned to Freddy Hellmich's clean-up unit to finalized and finish the stacks of rough animation already done by amazing guys such as Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Henry Tanous and others. The rough animation had been approved for clean-up by the directors, so our work began. Not exactly an easy assignment, our work still had to get past Frank and Ollie, and you can bet they were not easy to please.

Sleeping Beauty was my first Disney animated feature film and simply being able to work on the motion picture was still a pretty big deal. Our team began to tackle the rough animation and it was a job that would take at least two and a half years to complete. It was hard work but it was also an excellent training opportunity for a young artist just getting his start in the business.

Anyway, this is what I looked like back in 1958 when the Walt Disney Studio was filled with artists instead of computers. It was tough time but it was also a glorious time and those who were lucky enough to experience it first hand were very lucky kids indeed.

 

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