Wednesday
Nov232011

Disney's Stage 3

Welcome to Stage 3 on the Walt Disney studio lot. This soundstage was unique because it was the only filming facility on the Disney lot that had a water tank. In all respects it was your average soundstage. However, once the floor was removed you found yourself in a huge "swimming pool." Stage 3 was constructed for the feature motion picture, "20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea." The movie could easily be called Walt Disney's first live-action epic. It was so important a brand new soundstage had to be constructed to get the shots needed.

I'm old enough to remember the excitement surrounding the live-action Disney film. It was cool having real movie stars on the studio lot such as Kirk Douglas, James Mason and Peter Lorre. The special effects were also spectacular even though this was the nineteen fifties and we had to make do with the technology of the time. Even with these limitations, Walt Disney's team managed to pull off some very impressive visual effects.

Of course, we all remember the squid fight in the movie. Kirk Douglas had to battle the beast in a raging storm. The physical effects were all created inside Stage 3. Huge wind machines provided the maelstrom and the waves were huge as they crashed against Captain Nemo's submarine. In time, Ned Land, played by Douglas was able to dispatch the monster, but not before all members of the crew were totally soaked. That included the dumb young animation artists who happened to be on stage before the cameras began to roll.

Yet, even as the young artists, drenched from head to foot sloshed back to their drawing boards you had to admit that working at the Walt Disney Studio was probably the coolest thing in the world.

 

Tuesday
Nov222011

Parent Trap Stories

This photograph brings back memories of Disney during the sixties. I had just returned to the studio and it was a very exciting time. Since things were slow between animated features I spent a good deal of time out on the sound stages where former Disney animation artist, David Swift was directing his second live-action movie for the Old Maestro.

It was delightful watching the lovely Maureen O'Hara on the set. Though she was probably in her forties, she was still a knockout with her red hair and long shapely legs. She had a salty tongue however, and that always kept us laughing. Brian Keith played the dad in the movie and he would sometimes take a break from movie making and stop in my D-Wing office to check out what I was drawing. His name was actually, Robert Keith, Jr. He was named after his dad who was also an actor. Remember Robert Keith, Sr in "The Wild Bunch" with Marlon Brando?

Walt Disney would often boast of the cool special effects in "The Parent Trap." What even Walt didn't know was that few scenes in the film were actual composites. Director of Photography, Lucien Ballard pulled this off by cleverly placing Haley Mill's double in the shots with the young actress. Ballard was clever enough to use "old school" tricks to create the shots of the twins. Though the Sodium Matte Process was utilized in "The Parent Trap," there are fewer special effects shots in the movie than one might imagine. Sometimes old school can be faster and cheaper.

Since Bud Swift was one of us, a lot of the animation artists at Disney were proud to have an animator score so well in live-action. Swift decided not to stick around after completing two films at Disney. He accepted a deal at Columbia Pictures and departed the Mouse House for good. As you can imagine, Walt Disney was not happy about Bud's decision especially since Walt was eager to keep him as part of the Disney family.

"The Parent Trap" became a remake some years later and David Swift again contributed to the screenplay of the new Disney film. Only this time the role of the twins went to a new young actress named, Lindsay Lohan. I wonder whatever happened to her?

Monday
Nov212011

The Fab Four

If you had been lucky enough to work on Sleeping Beauty back in the fifties you might have worked with these guys. This photograph was taken during the production of the film and it's always great to look back decades ago and remember all the awesome work these guys accomplished.

The gentleman on the left is Al Dempster, a versatile painter and one of Disney's best. That's Dick Anthony next to Al. Dick was a Disney veteran who could deliver any paint style needed for a movie, and the same could be said of Ralph Hulett who was an excellent painter. Hulett created many Christmas cards over the years and they'll be on view at the Animation Guild's TAG website during the next few weeks.

Finally, we have the master color stylist, Eyvind Earle. Eyvind's design work in "Sleeping Beauty" pushed Disney animation in a completely new direction and though there were a few at the studio who grumbled that Earle's backgrounds were too dominant, I'll have to confess most of us were totally blown away by his paintings. Eyvind's art filled the hallway of 2B on Animation's second floor and visitors as well as Disney artists gathered there often to marvel at his background art.

Sadly, all have since left us but their exceptional work remains for future generations to enjoy. I was lucky enough to visit Disney's background department back in the fifties and speak with these guys while they worked. Some of my pals actually became background artists because of the encouragement they received from these guys. This was a special time at an animation studio that is no more.

Friday
Nov182011

In the Hood

I love these rough sketches by Milt Kahl. This was development on the Disney movie, “Robin Hood.” I had been away for awhile after completing work on Bednobs and Broomsticks some months earlier. When I made an unexpected visit one Monday morning, my old boss, Andy Engman was eager to show me what they were cooking up on the new feature.

 

It was at least six months before I returned to the Disney Studio to begin working on the film and it was fun seeing my old pals again. I wouldn’t be working with Milt Kahl this time around. I moved in an office in B-Wing and began working on scenes for John Lounsbery. John was the mirror opposite of “Mighty Milt.” Quiet and soft spoken, Lounsbery was a gentleman as well as an animator.

 

Milt had moved into what used to be the D-Wing bullpen. It was a much larger space and perfect for coffee breaks where eager young animation artists such as Glen Keane and others could listen to the master when he held court. If I recall correctly, Milt’s key assistant, Stan Green was still fetching coffee at break time.

 

In time, I began assisting a young animation artist named, Dale Baer. Though only in his twenties, he showed great promise. I knew he would be a great animator one day. As for my animation career - it quickly came to an end. I was sacked off the picture by new managers, Ed Hanson and Don Duckwall. No matter. I simply went to another studio where they paid me twice as much money.