The animators saw Walt at the story meetings where he acted out everything as it should be. and then again in "sweatbox," when they showed him the scene as they had animated it. In between times, the directors discussed with them what actions would be used, argued about how to stage them, how long the scenes should be, and how best to do the business. The animators learned from each of the directors, and animation flourished.
In 1934, when the big expansion began, there were three directors. There had been more work than Wilfred Jackson and Dave Hand could handle, and someone was needed who could develop the talents of the younger men being hired at that time, men with ability but no practical experience in cartooning or commercial art. Ben Sharpsteen was chosen for this assignment because he was always worried and concerned and dedicated to the studio. He projected a father image and tried to raise his fledglings like his own children, counseling them on everything, from which car to buy to which comedian to study.
Ben was conservative and made us work on fundamentals until we were on firm ground before we could go ahead. He gave drawing problems to all the assis tants and inbetwccners, not so much as a competition but so they could learn to talk over the difficulties and observe the variety of solutions. One favorite assignment was a tug-of-war between Goofy on one.side and Mickey and Donald on the other. Ben wanted to sec the rope taut, the feet planted squarely on the ground, hands and arms that carried the strain of the pulling right into the bodies, heads that reflected the effort, and an overall arrangement that showed clearly what they were doing. In addition, he suggested that it would be good if the whole thing could be made entertaining, with some fresh slant on the staging or the way each of them was participating in the action.
Many animators were still doing straight ahead animation at this time, and it had a greater appeal to the young and eager than the more thoughtful, disciplined "pose to pose" method. The danger, of course, was that no one stopped to make a solid drawing that had
everything in it. The animator kept thinking, "The next drawing will have it—all the character and the action and the funnies and the straights and the good drawing. You'll be able to see what he's doing in this very next drawing. ..."
The next drawing was just as weak, as was the one after that, because a good drawing is not made casually. especially while the artist is thinking about something else—in this case, how to get the figure from one place on the paper to another. Ben Sharpsteen knew this all too well, and he knew the only cure for the mushy, indecisive action that inevitably resulted was for us to work over each drawing, strengthening and clarifying, until the drawing problems had been solved, before we went ahead with anything.
Wilfred Jackson (Dave Hand called him Willie but wrote his name "Jaxon" once, and it stuck as a nickname with the rest of us) taught us thoroughness and the importance of detail. He had an immensely creative grasp of his whole picture and w hat he wanted it to do. but his big strength was in the astounding attention he gave to every last detail. Every frame of each scene was carefully considered and made into something valuable; the animator was never at a loss to know what should be done in the footage he had been handed. If you had a better idea. Jaxon was all for it, but until you did he provided you with some very good material to animate. Jaxon was easily the most creative of the directors, but he was also the most "picky" and look a lot of kidding about his thoroughness.
Dave Hand's major contribution was in keeping up the quality of the work while organizing the procedures, forcing decisions, and keeping it all moving in the direction Walt said he wanted. He took on the job of making Walt's dreams and vague feelings tangible, and to do this he constantly had to try to pin Walt down to specifics. But Walt often changed his mind, and this led to some heated arguments. He confided once that Dave would storm into his office "white with rage. He'd grip the edge of my desk until his knuckles turned white. . . .I'd keep the desk between us." Then Walt would get a tw inkle in his eye. and we knew that he enjoyed seeing Dave this concerned about the product and was not being unsympathetic. As Dave had admitted to him earlier. "I can't function until I get mad!" It was an interesting situation.
But Dave knew enough to recognize quality, and if Walt said. "Let's get that into the picture." Dave would make sure that it got in and just that way. If Walt said, "We can save money here; let's keep the cost down," Dave would use every shortcut in the book. He never confused his own views or ambitions with Walt's, and he never questioned Walt's authority. He tried to protect Walt from getting swamped with details, and he tried equally to protect the animators from too many interruptions. He liked to see things working in a productive fashion, and he was not afraid to do anything that might be needed to achieve that. These qualities made him a very good director for Walt, and later an excellent Production Manager. From Dave we learned courage and integrity and an aggressive approach to our work.
When Walt was deep in thought he would lower one brow, squint his eyes, let his jaw drop, and stare fixedly at some point in space, often holding the attitude for several moments. Unfortunately, he did the same thing when he appraised you prior to explaining a new assignment or admonishing you for not getting the idea he was presenting—or worse, when he had just noticed some quirk or mannerism in the way you did things, something he could exploit at a later date if he chose to. It was unnerving to be caught in that intense stare, and we never knew whether the scruti-nization was because he was thinking of some new way to get us to do something he wanted, or if we were merely accidentally in the path of a preoccupied gaze. Many times we would look up casually during a
provided as the su-ron Snow in Perce \reat abil-r develop-the seven inctive in-
meeting to find to our surprise that we were being studied intently. No words could break the spell, and being unsure of the meaning of the look it was inadvisable to say anything anyway. So we squirmed, smiled weakly, looked thoughtful, stared back, pretended not to notice, or nodded wisely as if in tentative agreement, until Walt suddenly burst out with something like "Why don't we have Pluto get mixed up in this skating business, too?"
He expected everyone to work as hard as he did. and to be as interested and excited about what we were doing. He never spared feelings, because his interest was in the product and not in who had the best idea or who had made a poor suggestion or expected applause. We were all in it together, and the fellow who went off on his own. developing an idea that Walt had not approved, was asking for trouble, and received it.
Almost any comment about the material being considered was acceptable as long as it was offered in good faith, but it was a different story if anyone tried to get in a personal dig about either the product or Walt's methods. Sometimes an individual would feel a little confident after a successful meeting and would try making a few kidding remarks about Walt. This rash decision was quickly regretted as Walt, with lightning response, made the culprit look utterly ridiculous —in a matter of seconds and in a very funny way. Suddenly the tables had been turned, and everyone was laughing at Walt's comments delivered at the expense of the man who had started it all. Ward Kimball' said. "No one ever got the best of Walt in any exchange, kidding or serious. Those who tried were cut to ribbons."
Through all these days, Walt was constantly plagued by money problems and by distributors who took the lion's share of the tiny profit from his creative efforts. He always felt that the way to win in this type of battle was to "beat them with product," to make films so good that the world would beat a path to his door. Ben Sharpsteen told of a 1929 conversation with Walt: "He was determined that he would no longer be dependent on a distributor or a victim of his chicanery."
The important thing was to improve the product, because audiences would respond to a better film. He did not believe in cutting corners to save money if it hurt the quality nor would he turn out a cheap product just to make money. Instead of looking for the maximum profit, he was looking for the maximum audience response.
Even so, he was watching his pennies very carefully. Anyone not working at the studio found this hard to believe, since it was obvious that doing a scene over three and four times was more expensive than doing it once. Reaching for new achievements, trying things that had never been done before, asking more of his staff than they knew how to do—all this cost money. And Walt knew it, but he chose to spend what money he had in those very areas, figuring that he could save someplace else. For example, simplifying the concept for a whole picture would make it less expensive: eliminating costly scenes, extra characters, crowd shots, anything that took more time or more work for the same result. Too many characters in a story not only runs up the cost but divides the audience's interest. It takes away time needed to get the most out of the main characters, who are supposed to be the most interesting anyway.
Changing his procedures, using his men differently.
Gagman and voice talent Pinto Coivig performs for artist Albert Hurler. Pinto was the voice of Pluto. Goofy. Grumpy, and Sleepy, as well as miscellaneous crickets, bugs, and fish.
using more cycles, more repeat action, careful use of staging and cutting and field sizes to emphasize the entertainment and eliminate everything else—these were the areas in which he saved. The new ideas, the better pictures, the things that paid off with an audience, and even the training of his staff—this is where he spent every nickel he could get. We were asked many times to find more economical ways of working, but never to compromise the quality of the product.
Wall was not making works of art to hang in a gallery. He was striving purely for entertainment, and there were many ways of doing that: it could be in the story, the personalities, the visual excitement, innovations, situations, unexpected twists, beauty, mood, a spirit of fun, or just comic movements. If one part became too expensive, perhaps it could be balanced somewhere else with something that cost less but was just as effective.
The biggest saving proved to be one that started in the Story Department. If the work was carefully prepared there, it would flow through the plant at record speed. Too often a storyboard would be approved just because no one quite knew what else to do with the material; it was felt that any weakness would show up farther down the line, or new ideas for strengthening and building would become obvious once the first animation was done. Walt was as guilty of this as anyone, but he still put out a memo stating. "Very thorough preparation of the story in the Story Department plus the follow through of the storyman with the director ... in the handing out and in the planning of
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• First Inspirational hes For Snow White urter depicts situations that later I into full sequences, largely be-the stimulation that came from aracters in attitudes and relation-
the action in the Music Room . . . will do a lot to eliminate lost motion on the part of the animators caused by animating a scene two or three times because the action was not planned out properly in the first place." And again. . . . we would find that doing the preparatory work in the beginning is a very small expense in comparison to having to do it when the picture is in animation."
His brother Roy kept cautioning Walt about spending more than they were getting for the films, but Walt's attitude was. "Roy, you get the money, and we'll make the films!" However, the time came when there simply was not any more money to be had for a cartoon short. Roy pleaded with the rest of the staff, "Hey, look, fellas, you've got to work on Walt! He's got to stop spending so much money!" (Years later Walt was making The Magnificent Mr. Toad and suggested a line of dialogue for McBadger: "Somcthin's got to be done about Toad! He's spending to-oo much money!")8
Walt had a different answer to this predicament, according to Dave Hand: "If we put 10 of these 700 foot shorts together, we've got us a feature—7000 feet. Now they won't pay us but 15 thousand for a short, but for 10 of these, that would be 150.000. and surely we can get more than that for a feature!" Dave does not remember if Roy fainted at that bit of financial wizardry or not. But he docs remember his own feelings: "There was no other way he I Walt) could stay in the business. He would not sit still and make cartoons at 15 thousand dollars."
Whatever his reasons, it seems now that it was inevitable that Walt eventually would attempt a feature-length animated film. His cartoons had become popular in the theaters (Mickey Mouse was known around the world), and he was gaining confidence in his staff. In the mid-thirties he wrote a memo, "The animation has made a very definite advance forward which, in my estimation, is close to 100% over what it was a year and a half ago. I know that eventually we are going to attain a degree of perfection never before thought possible. It proves to me that the time we have spent studying, trying to analyze our problems, and systematizing ourselves, is bearing fruit. The hit-and-miss is going."
He knew he had the strength in the Story Department because he was carefully adding new people, experienced writers, to his regular staff, and he was also discovering great talents within the ranks. Perce Pearce. who had once ghosted the comic strip The Captain and the Kids. had been moved out of Inbetwcen after contributing one gag after another to the Story Department. Once there, he showed an exceptional feeling for personality coupled with the ability to act out the traits that would work best for animation.
Perce was one of the first storymen to add the little unexpected touches of character and business that enriched the films and made them so memorable. One section of the picture might tell its idea well and fit into the story nicely, but it could still be barren and cold. Perce would immediately start weaving his touches of warmth through the actions and the personalities— nothing big or important, just little things that added charm and appeal. It might be a bit of acting or perhaps a colloquial phrase in the dialogue, or it even could be a few additions to the background that would make the locale more decorative, more special, more imaginative.
There was also Pinto Colvig. ex-circus clown, entertainer, clarinet player, who had joined the staff a few years earlier contributing story ideas, voices, and funny ways of doing things. Stimulating visual suggestions would be needed for the feature film Walt had in mind: Snow White. In production management, there was Dave Hand with his great ability to organize and manage, along with his creative ideas. The directors had proven their capabilities, and in layout there were the outstanding artists Hugh Henncsy and Charlie Philippi, followed by Tom Codrick.
Walt would need the best action he could get for Snow White herself, and this meant careful planning and analysis in addition to talent. A feature film would have to have tender moments, sincere moments, quiet moments. There would be a need for drawings with great appeal, characters with life and bclievability, and personalities that could hold an audience for well over an hour. Gags, funny actions, and visual tricks would not do it. If the audience were to be drawn into this film, this world of fantasy would have to be a real world with real people doing real things. This would not be a cartoon. It would be "theater." and Walt would have to have men leading the way who could make it all come true.
Instead of making separate drawings of each character. Hurler placed more emphasis on the characters interacting, which is always a more productive way to arrive at the design of the characters. It all starts with the inspirational sketch.
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