"The ideal set-up would be the story man, the director, and the layout man, as well as the musician, operating as a sort of story unit. They all should be keenly interested in the picture. No one person should dominate to an extent where he would keep the others from entering into the production and freely expressing themselves."
In spite of constant efforts and persistent claims, Walt never did build an organization in the strictest sense of that word. What he built was a loosely unified group of talented people with particular abilities who could work together in continually changing patterns. They did this with a minimum of command and a maximum of dedication. What Walt wanted was the greatest creative effort—not the most efficient operation. There were tides and departments and job classifications without end, but they had more to do with responsibility than authority.
It was the person with the better idea who was on top. regardless of his job. Still, this recognition often survived only a day, as some other idea was embraced in the process of endless growth. The slang of the day had characterized the ideal hero with glowing, flaxen locks as "The Fair-Haired Boy," and at Disney's that role was apt to be so transient that the "fair hair" was assumed to be an easily transferred wig. The employee wanting an update on developments in his projects would ask, as he arrived for work in the morning, "Who's got the wig today?"
This method worked because Walt was the boss—not just because it was his studio or that he had the authority to get what he wanted, but because his ideas were the best. Many times we could not understand what it was he wanted, but never did we lose confidence in him or his ability. We could question his judgment, or his emphasis, or the way he went about achieving a result, but it was with the knowledge that Walt's way
always was a very good way. Usually each of us felt, "Why didn't I think of that?" but every so often we secretly would feel, "My way is better!" and occasionally it would suddenly seem so to Walt, too. He relied heavily on his staff to feed in creative ideas.
In understanding Walt's methods, it is important to realize that he was not in the animation business to make money. As he said, "Money—or rather the lack of it to carry out my ideas—may worry me, but it does not excite me. Ideas excite me." He was more like a man with a hobby than one with a commercial enterprise. He was doing what he wanted to do and hoped that others would share his curiosity and excitement about the potential in what they were doing. He put all the money gained back into the next picture because that was where the fun was, and he certainly never reached a point where he did not know what to try next.
He did not dream a big, overall dream; he made it up as he went along. Each thing he did suggested something else, something new, something that had never been tried, something an audience might want to see. He realized that he could not explore these areas without better talent around him, so he was always adding to the staff. "Never mind the classification, just get that guy in here." Talent, ability, new ideas were the important matters.
His amazing faculty for casting his men on assignments that would bring out unexpected talents extended down to the least employee. When Dave Hand was production supervisor he saw this happen over and over:
I think Walt had an uncanny way of finding just the right place for a "lost soul." Admittedly, because money had no relationship to his finding the right job for the right man, he would direct the movement of the creative talent. . . from one place to another. In my position. I was ready to give up on some little guy and would so express myself to Walt. Many times he would say to me, "No, Dave, let's move him over to this spot in this department. Maybe he'll work out there." And even at times, if the "lost soul" didn't make it in that department. Walt wouldn't give up on him; we would have to try yet another spot. To my amazement, some of these "lost souls" became valuable contributors towards our production progress. And most others would find a niche that satisfied the studio and them.
Possibly the most elusive part of this casting, and the part that Dave considers to be of the "utmost importance," was the building of the material from the first days in story toward the men who were going to handle it. The story crew was selected for the interest they might have in a type of story situation, and, very soon afterward, as the entertainment values were emerging, the director would be selected. The story men knew this director's talents and automatically started shaping their business along his lines. At the same time, the men who eventually would animate this film were chosen, and everyone worked to provide the type of material they did best. "Even in the story development period, the business being considered (perhaps unconsciously) is thought of relative to a certain animator being able to handle it," Dave said. "I believe it to be a most important part of having the picture come out with quality at the other end."
This is obviously the opposite of approving a script, preparing the scenes, and then calling in any available animators to complete the work. It also pinpoints the subtle working relationships that made an established organization impossible. Any attempt at describing how the pictures were made has to be done in terms of the men who made them and how they felt about their assignments. There were constant experiments in innovative procedures (some successful, some quickly discarded), but through it all there was a perpetual shifting of job responsibilities and opportunities. Making a film became a sequence of associations, with the whole process kept extremely flexible until a good product actually had been assured.
Of all the methods tried, we list here the most successful, and, in most cases, the ones that produced our greatest films. No two pictures were done exactly alike since Walt always searched for a still better way, but the procedures presented here show the way the best work was done at each stage. Perhaps it was an unusual way to make films, but it brought inspiration in the conception, control in the production, and success at the box office. It took years to find these concepts, and few of them are quite what anyone would expect.
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