Promise of the Future

When I arrived at the Walt Disney Studio nearly fifty years ago I was still a kid enthralled with the idea of finally being inside Walt's magic factory. Naturally, I couldn't help but wander the hallways of the Animation Building taking in everything there was to see. This included the second floor of Ward Kimball's “Space Unit” where the famous directing animator was busily creating a series of films on science, space and the technology of the future.

It was interesting that I should wander onto another hallway at a Disney facility this morning that featured a series of posters. The posters were all based on projects that were created back in the fifties when concepts such as space travel and the use of atomic energy were beginning to become part of public consciousness. Naturally, Walt Disney was ahead of the curve creating motion pictures that gave audiences a glimpse of the future and the brave new world that would be driven by technology.

I first saw the initial hour long special, “Man in Space” on the Disneyland television show while still a kid in school. However, before long I found myself working in the animation department back in the fifties. Suddenly, I was actually working on one of Walt's science projects. A film entitled, “Our Friend the Atom.” I still remember picking up scenes from animator, Cliff Nordberg who was animating a fearsome genie who had escaped from a magic lamp. Of course, the genie was an apt metaphor for the power of atomic energy. A power many continued to fear as America and the world moved into the beginning of a cold war. In spite of all that, I still remember being impressed by the beautiful drawings that brought this Disney character to life and I was proud to be a small part of it.

Walking down the Disney hallway today, these colorful posters seem almost retro. Yet, when I arrived at the Walt Disney Studio back in 1956 these ideas were on the cutting edge. Ward Kimball's unit was already completing work on “Man and the Moon” and beginning production on “Mars and Beyond.” There would eventually be a film on highways and urban planning. It would seem the Old Maestro was already planning the future and he intended to use his capable animation department to visualize what could then only be imagined. For many of us this was a very exciting time to be alive and the promise of the future seemed to be just as bright as Walt Disney imagined it.