just sort of decorative, they're pleasant to look at, they're aesthetic—instead of understanding what the basic thing is about 'image.' I don't know how else anyone could get this except in motion pictures, and, particularly, in cartoons—you sure don't get it in an art school."
It is impossible to judge the films that were made, or the animation that was done, or even what is worth preserving in the methods that were used, without an understanding of this language of imagery that spoke so clearly from the screen—not drawings by themselves or paintings or isolated antics, but the visual symbols of communication. When the outstanding violinist Isaac Stern was asked the difference between the great and the truly great, he replied, "The ability to communicate." It is the key ingredient in every art form and certainly the great strength of Walt Disney's genius.
Walt was also a gambler when it mattered most. If he believed in an idea, he would risk absolutely everything to get it before the public. But he was also practical enough to work with what he had. rather than wait for what he wished he had. He would say, "I don't know if it's art, but I know I like it," and he felt intuitively that if he liked it the rest of the world would like it, too—if only he could find the right way to present it.
Walt had a restless nature and never liked to do the same things twice. As he said of himself. "I can never stand still. I must explore and experiment. I am never satisfied with my work. I resent the limitations of my own imagination." Where others felt lucky if they could hang on to what they had. Walt was constantly searching for new ways, better ways, and, especially, ways that his small group of artists could handle. As many of them agreed in later years, "One of Walt's greatest gifts was his ability to get you to come up with things you didn't know were in you and that you'd have sworn you couldn't possibly do!"8
As the audience response verified Walt's convictions about entertainment, he was able to fight for better contracts that brought in a little more money. Now he could begin to add to his staff men who had been better trained and artists who had a greater variety of talents. The Depression had begun, and young artists were faced with a bleak future, if any at all, in the commercial fields. The only two places for employ ment were the government-financed WPA and Disney's. In ten years the studio went from the raw vitality and crude, clumsy actions of Steamboat Willie to the surprising sophistication and glowing beauty of Snow White. Together we at the Disney Studio had discovered many things about communicating with an audience. We were still to learn much more.
We continued to experiment with many approaches to filmmaking and different uses of animation, from "stop motion" with cut outs, limited movement, stylized design, puppets, and 3-D, to the full eel animation. Whatever the method, the pictures that got the biggest response in the theaters were always the ones that achieved audience involvement by telling definite stories through rich personalities.
It had begun with Mickey and Pluto, a cartoon boy and his dog, who appeared to think and suggested the spirit of life. Then, the "Silly Symphonies" portrayed emotions in their characters, and there had been a feeling of life. Finally, in the telling of feature-length tales about specific characters who were convincingly real, the full illusion of life was achieved.
The illusion of life is a rare accomplishment in animation, and it was never really mastered anywhere except at the Disney Studio. Of all the characters and stories and exciting dimensions of entertainment to come from that incubator of ideas, this is the truly unique achievement. This is what must be examined and explained, understood and appreciated, taught to others and passed on to the animators of the future.
It came from new ways of thinking, ways of making a drawing, ways of relating drawings to each other—all
the refinements in this language of imagery. But it also came from new ways of looking at stories. Ours were not written down in the usual way; they were drawn, because a few stimulating pictures could suggest far more about the potential entertainment in an episode than any page of words. More than that, our stories were kept flexible until long after the first animation had been done. Often a whole new character would appear from nowhere and take over the story. When we started Snow White, there was no Dopey in the cast. Pinocchio had no Jiminy Cricket, and Bambi had no Thumper. All of these characters evolved as the pictures developed. As Walt said, "The best things in many of our pictures have come after we thought the story was thoroughly prepared. Sometimes we don't really get close to our personalities until the story is in animation."
It was never too late to make a change; nothing was ever set as long as the possibility existed that it could be made to relate better to the overall picture or communicate more strongly with the audience. We struggled to build interesting, appealing characters, but most of all we worked to find ways to make the audience feel the emotions of the animated figures— emotions the audience could "relate to. identify with, and become involved in."
All of this took study and desire and know ledge and inspiration and months of selection and building, but that is true of any great artistic accomplishment. Fine works have never been achieved easily nor without the exercise of constant critical judgment. That is why the world's greatest mime. Marcel Marceau. says of his own work. "It takes years of study. You can't just walk out on the stage and do it."
Marcel Marceau also said that his teacher, Etienne Dccroux. had told him that the principles of communication with an audience were the same ones in use 2.(XX) years ago; they had been handed down from teacher to student ever since. The entertainer's "symbols" that bring audience identification and arouse sympathetic feelings, as well as techniques used to portray emotions, to please, to excite, to captivate, and to entertain, have always been known by some. At Disney's we learned them painfully and slowly by trial and error. Although we had the greatest of leaders, he was not strictly a teacher. Still, by learning the rules this way we learned them thoroughly, and sometimes we think we may have added a few footnotes of our own to the historic lore of the theater.
Most of our work has been in only one small part of the vast field of animation. There are so many areas to be explored, draw ings to be tried, emotions to be captured. effects to be created, new wonders to be seen. It is an exciting prospect. With electronic aids being perfected and new tools and materials being used, who can possibly foresee what lies ahead? It probably will not be another Walt Disney who will lead the way, but someone or some group of artists will surely discover new dimensions to delight and entertain the world. Hopefully, this book will be their springboard.
artist Ollie Johnston.
artist Ward Kimball.
artist Frank Thomas artist Ollie Johnston.
artist Ward Kimball.
artist Frank Thomas t mm . i r-
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