The Story Meeting

I had a visit with guys from DreamWorks the other day. One of the artists had a stack of Madam Mim animation drawings from Disney’s “Sword in the Stone.” Unfortunately, they were not the drawings of the master, Milt Kahl. Had they been Milt's I’m sure Andreas Deja would have sped over in a flash.

Our lunch hour conversation transitioned to Walt Disney stories and what it was like to meet with the Old Maestro. I told the young guys that meetings with Disney were surprisingly subdued and voices were seldom raised. If Walt became bored during the meeting he would tap his finger impatiently or raise an eyebrow. If the story meeting turned out to be a total bust, the boss would quietly excuse himself and simply leave the room. There was seldom any drama in the Disney meetings I attended. There was tension in the room on occasion and I didn’t envy those who failed to give Walt sufficient answers to his pointed questions.

Did I have photographs of these meetings, someone inquired? Naturally, I never dared bring a camera to the Walt Disney meetings so my sketches will have to suffice. However, I remember the events as though they were yesterday. Walt Disney was a very difficult man to please because he demanded the best. If you gave less than your best or made excuses, you would soon find yourself outside the gates of 500 Buena Vista Street.

I know it sounds odd, but I had a certain confidence in the storyboards I did for the Old Maestro. I had been raised on Disney storytelling since I was a child and in a strange way Disney’s way of thinking seemed part of me. Almost a part of my DNA. Doing storyboards for the boss didn’t seem all that difficult. I never experienced anything like that during the remainder of my career in animation. Oddly enough, I often struggled with my boards while working for Disney in the nineties. The new management had embraced a new form of storytelling that felt unnatural. At least to me, anyway. When I moved north to Pixar Animation Studios in the late nineties I suddenly felt comfortable again. I think that gives you a hint why Pixar’s storytelling technique proved to be successful.

Of course, no one knows what’s going to work when it comes to making animated features. I’ve often had creative differences when it comes to many of today’s films and the decisions being made. Then again, I realize it’s not my money and it’s not my movie. I’ve since learned to back away and let others tell their story. Animated movies are still being made at Disney and other studios today and that’s a good thing. I’ve finally left the story room and I now sit in the theater with the rest of the audience. However, I won’t lie to you and tell you I don’t miss it.