If you are a baby boomer like me, you might have faithfully devoted Sunday evenings to watching The Wonderful World of Disney, hosted by the man himself. One intriguing episode took viewers behind the scenes — and I’ve never forgotten how fascinating it was to learn all that happened as part of the creation of those animated movies I so enjoyed. Once Upon A Time: Walt Disney, the sources of inspiration for the Disney Studios, is all that and more. This large format volume, loaded with full page color illustrations, is a companion publication to a 2006-2007 art exhibition in Paris and Montreal. As we learn, Disney traveled Europe and collected for his animators volumes of works of great European artists and their illustrations of fairy tales, landscapes and motifs that influenced Disney productions from 1937 – 1967. The Animation Research Library (ARL), part of the Disney studio, housed this wealth of material for the studio artists to consult, as well as drawings and early materials created for the Disney films themselves.
Disney invested in his artists; and the results were evident in his productions. From the book:
“The artists’ training program reflected Disney’s commitment to long-term growth and excellence rather than immediate profits. Only twelve years separate the weightless, rubbery, black-and-white Mickey in Steamboat Willie (1928) from the brilliant colors, rounded forms, nuanced movements, subtle acting, and sophisticated direction of Pinocchio (1940) and Fantasia (1940). An even shorter time divides the cartoon animals in Snow White (1937) from the stylized realism of Bambi (1942) – a speed of development unparalleled in art history. By ‘sending artists to school,’ Walt Disney was able to create the films that remain the standard by which all animation is judged, more than 60 years later.”
The book juxtaposes works of European artists with stills, sketches, models, and studies of Disney characters and landscapes that those works inspired or influenced. The many steps in the animation process are described; Disney’s philosophy of animation is also presented.
“The first duty of the cartoon is not to picture or duplicate real action or things as they actually happened, but to give a character life and action; to picture on the screen things that have run through the imagination of the audience and to bring to life dream-fantasies… “
I was thrilled to see included a reference to the very episode of the Sunday evening show I remembered:
“The ARL has primarily served the needs of Walt Disney employees, although Walt Disney liked to share its resources with television views in the 1950s. On one such program, Walt took his views into the Studio’s ‘morgue’. To enhance the mystery (complete with a skeleton at the vault entrance), Walt pulled away a sheet from what appeared to be a body on a gurney only to reveal art and publicity photographs from early Disney films. He then proceeded through the morgue selecting and showing art from his favorite films.”
A whole course in a book, this makes a delicious read. Don’t rush.
Once upon a time : Walt Disney, the sources of inspiration for the Disney Studios / Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais ; Pavillon Jean-Noël Desmarais, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.