Thursday
Nov172011

Boy's Club

I’ve been invited to speak to Women in Animation next year and it’s an opportunity to hopefully provide insight concerning the role of women in the cartoon business. This would particularly apply to the Walt Disney Studio where the employment of women has often be the subject of  controversy.

 

The young woman in the photograph is Lois Blumquist and she had already been employed by the company some time before we arrived. Being an “old Disney veteran” she often mentored us newbies on the fine points of clean-up and inbetweening. Lois was one of the many young woman working at the studio in the fifties where Disney’s animation department had garnered a reputation for being a “Man’s World.”

 

While it’s true there were few opportunities for women in Disney’s animation department, the same pretty much applied to men as well. There were many candidates for animation but the studio already had more than was needed. In time, the studio would cut many artists from it’s pay role and that included both men and women. Still, it was highly unlikely a woman - even a gifted one, would ever get a shot at animating. There were exceptions such as Retta Scott, Ruth Kissane, Retta Davidson and a few others, but they were rare. However, with films like Sleeping Beauty in production there was an increased demand for talented clean up assistants, and in this area, women were in great demand.

 

Of course, things continued to remain unfair for many years. Decades later, a few women artists were finally given the opportunity to animate at the Disney studio and as expected, they were pretty darn good. Looking back at animation’s “dark ages” I regret things had to take so long to change.

Wednesday
Nov162011

Story Guys

I love this old Disney photograph taken back during the days of "Sleeping Beauty." You know all the names, don't you? Bill Peet, Tom Oreb, Joe Rinaldi, Winston Hibler, Don Dagradi and Ken Anderson. They were the big shots back in the fifties and their offices were on the third floor of the Animation Building where the Old Maestro had his special digs.

As young kids we were in awe of these guys and usually didn't have the nerve to visit the upstairs story rooms. We were lowly apprentice inbetweeners and the upper floors were reserved for the gods. A few of us would sometimes sneak upstairs at noon because we knew the Disney veterans would be enjoying a long liquid lunch. Of course, it wasn't just the feature units we visited. Some pretty impressive work was being done in the shorts units as well. It was exciting to see what was on the boards knowing that this really cool work would one day be headed our way.

Oddly enough, I never had any aspirations for story back then. Walt's story department was clearly reserved for very special people and I was well aware I did not fit in that category. A few of my pals had made several attempts to launch a story career at Disney without much luck. Clearly, Disney's story department was reserved for very unique people and not for the likes of us. No matter. My goal had always been the animation department and that was good enough for me.

Much to my surprise, I found myself a member of this exclusive club ten years later. I would have loved working on a film with these talented individuals. Sadly, with the exception of Ken Anderson, all of them were gone.

Tuesday
Nov152011

Award Shows and other Nonsense

I’ve always regarded award shows like college pep rallies. Loads of fun, but ultimately pointless and superficial. While there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the best, these events often annoy me with their emphasis on, “winning.”

 

Having said that, I’ll admit I enjoy an awards show as much as anyone. It’s a splendid opportunity for men to clean-up and women to dazzle wearing the latest designer gown. I’ve attended a fair number of award shows and they’ve always been enjoyable. That is, if you don’t take them seriously.

 

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with celebrating great work. Especially if you’re among friends and colleagues. Having been on awards committees I’ll admit it’s often a daunting task because choosing the best of anything is darn near impossible. Ultimately you give the nod to this or that person simply because you like them or they’re regarded as really cool. None of this is fair, of course. Then again, what award is ever, “fair?”

 

Then, you have big shot studio bosses behaving like children and refusing to participate because they feel the process isn’t fair. These are usually guys who already have a truck load of awards, not to mention a fair amount of money. Honestly, as an animation professional I find their behavior embarrassing.

 

The Golden Globes and the Academy Awards are the big boys as far as awards go. As an animation person I’m looking forward to the upcoming Annie Awards. Hopefully, we can maintain some adult perspective and remind ourselves what awards shows actually are. A night of fun and dress up that will be totally forgotten in a few days.

Monday
Nov142011

On the Rocks

The Old Maestro shifted uncomfortably in his chair and tapped his finger. If you’ve ever been in a meeting with Walt Disney you clearly knew this wasn’t a good sign. The boards looked good and the new character offered all kinds of possibilities for humor. Plus, the storymen were giving the pitch their best. The trouble was - it simply wasn’t working.
This was nothing all that unusual. Sometimes, Walt Disney required convincing when something failed to please him. Director, Woolie Reitherman had one last card to play. He told Walt that Directing Animator, Milt Kahl was eager to begin animating the character. Once Milt brought the cartoon to life it was sure to be hilarious.
Disney reluctantly gave in, and he allowed the storyboards to move to the next phase. This means the rough story sketches would be assembled into what was then called a “Leica” or story reel. Once that was done, the Old Maestro would take another look.
After weeks passed, Walt Disney was available for another meeting. However, this meeting would take place in 3-11, the large screening room on the third floor. Walt arrived alone as was his custom, and took a seat up front with Woolie, Larry Clemmons and a few other big shots. I made it a point to sit in the rear of the screening room, and a good distance from Walt. On this day, I preferred not to be seen.
Perhaps you already know The Jungle Book sequence. It was Rocky the Rhino voiced by comedian, Frankie Fontaine, and Walt hated every minute of it. Thankfully, I didn’t work on the sequence. It was created by my story colleagues across the hall whose names I won’t reveal here. 
The meeting finally ended and so did Rocky the Rhino who never made one appearance in the finished film. My pal, Vance Gerry and I returned to the sequence we were boarding, and lucky for us - Walt loved it.