This was my view of story men when I arrived at Disney way back in the fifties. Mature, well dressed gentlemen who inhabited the upstairs offices of the Animation Building. It would appear the casual young men of the thirties had finally settled into their jobs as storytellers at the Walt Disney Studio and took their jobs seriously. That meant they often came to work in jackets and on occasion even wore a tie. A few even sported a pipe shoved casually into their jacket pocket. Nothing says you're a writer than a pipe you're continually trying to keep lit.

The story men at Disney were highly regarded and respected. After all, unlike the rest of us who labored at the mouse factory they took meetings with the Old Maestro himself. Most of us considered that perk a mixed blessing. There was always the prestige of sitting in a meeting with Walt that drew the envy of your colleagues. However, should your contribution not reach Walt Disney's expectation you could easily find yourself in hot water. In spite of all that, the story men were an elite group of sorts. They enjoyed multiple perks such as being off the time clock, long lunches and invitations to recording sessions where they could hang out with celebrities.

With this in mind, I kept my distance from Disney's story department restricting my visits to early mornings and late evenings when it was safe to get a peek at their storyboards. I seldom dared venture into a story room during normal working hours lest the story man suddenly return to find me studying his work. However, there was much to be learned on my early morning visits and I gained a good deal of insight by seeing the work of Disney's finest. I observed the work was often deceptively simple. Ideas were instantly and clearly communicated with rough line drawings. There was little flash and dazzle in the story men's simple sketches. I was later told by story veterans that Walt didn't like to be “snookered” by the use of snazzy drawings. If the ideas were valid, a rough sketch would suffice.

On occasion, artists from the animation department would be recruited to help out upstairs. Some of the guys from animation such as animator, Bob Ogle went on to full time careers as writers and story editors. While others such as Julius (Sven) Svendsen and Art Stevens managed to wear both hats. They could storyboard and animate without missing a beat. I had no such aspirations and was quite content to continue a career as a Disney animator. Besides, I had no storytelling qualifications anyway.

An unexpected argument between Walt Disney and Bill Peet in early 1966 totally changed my career path and it's difficult to imagine myself doing anything else today. However, I still remember the older guys in the upstairs offices. The coveted offices I didn't dare enter until oddly enough, I had one of my own.

Story-Guys.jpg
Posted
AuthorFloyd Norman