Developing Dalmatians

Had you chosen to wander upstairs late in 1958 you would have seen sketches much like this in Disney’s development department. As the feature film, “Sleeping Beauty” received its final touches, work was already underway on Walt's next animated motion picture.

I confess we were all energized by what we were seeing on the upstairs walls. There were brilliant designs created by Ken Anderson, Tom Oreb, and Victor Haboush. Background artist and color stylist, Walt Peregoy was pushing a bold, dramatic new palette. It was clear we were in an artistic transition and all were excited about the new developments at the house of mouse.

“101 Dalmatians” was a refreshing change back in 1958. The film had a fresh, innovative style and a contemporary charm. After years of tedious labor on a European fairy tale Disney's next movie was eagerly anticipated. Of course, economics played a major role in the film's visual style and production pipeline. Walt's brother, Roy had finally put his foot down on lavish movies such as "Sleeping Beauty." Walt Disney Productions had staffed up to 600 artists on the previous feature film. It was clear "101 Dalmatians" would have to be produced with a greatly reduced staff of artists.

I’m sure you’ve heard the stories about Walt’s dislike of the art direction, and use of the Xerox ink line in particular. However, Roy Disney’s insistence that production costs be reduced eventually calmed the boss down and he learned to live with inking by photocopy. However, the process did reduce costs and by the time we got around to doing “The Jungle Book,” the Xerox line was no longer an issue.

“101 Dalmatians” was the beginning of a new era at Disney back in 1958, and it would be years before the studio would attempt another European fairy tale. Technology would influence production of new princess films that included the CGI produced, "Rapunzel" and "The Snow Queen." (Both films were retitled, but you know the ones I mean.)

"101 Dalmatians" wrapped production in 1960 and ushered in a new decade for the studio. I remember a meeting in A-wing that same year. The Disney Company considered our future and the future of animated film making in particular. To everyone's relief, Walt said we would continue to make animated movies at the studio as long as he was around. Of course, no one had any idea that the boss had only six more years to live.