The Process

Thanks to the Internet the world of animation is no longer conducted behind closed doors. Today, information flows freely, and animation fans can now be privy to all the behind the scenes machinations of the cartoon business. Naturally, this tends to cause a good deal of speculation and conjecture about the day to day process of creating animated feature films. Animation fans tend to be passionate about the business of making cartoons and I guess that's to be expected.

It wasn't always this way, of course. Back in the day people knew little about the movie making process and even less about animation. Writers were hired and fired and directors were replaced on major motion pictures. On occasion even the producer was sacked. This is called the big time filmmaking process. It's a roller coaster ride of panic and exhilaration. Those of us who've been in this business for more than a few years already know the drill. Making movies is a messy process. It always has been. Nobody bothered to reveal the man pulling the levers in the old days. Only movie makers were privy to the goings on “behind the curtain.”

Back in 1966, a Walt Disney production was moving head long into total meltdown. After a clash with the boss, the talented writer who had been with the studio since the nineteen thirties walked off the picture and out of the studio forever. Nobody knew about this incident and nobody cared. The average person had enough things to worry about, and that didn't include a silly animated cartoon. I don't recall a single newspaper article about the movie debacle and that included the daily Hollywood trade papers. Essentially, it was a non-issue that would be resolved by the Walt Disney Studio. It was business as usual and hardly a public concern.

After two years of hard work, we dumped the screen story created by Disney Legend, Bill Peet and started from scratch. We were tasked with creating a new version of Kipling's The Jungle Book. That is , create a version that would be acceptable to the Old Maestro, Walt Disney. Was there panic? Hardly. Was there public upheaval and angry letters protesting Walt's decision? Not really. The story team knuckled under and began retooling the animated motion picture. Nobody outside the Walt Disney Studio knew - nor did anybody care.

Walt Disney's The Jungle Book opened the following year and was regarded as a genuine hit. Audiences loved the movie and knew next to nothing about the film's tortuous development process. To use a Disneyland analogy, that all happened “backstage.” Making an animated motion picture is never an easy process. You can pretty much count on things going wrong along the way. If you want this old timer's observation, I can tell you it's pretty much a miracle these damn things ever get done.

While I understand the passion of dedicated fans and their concern that a favorite project might be getting derailed or mishandled, please remember the advice of our good friend, Joe Ranft. The late story master always advised, “trust the process.” Anyone who has worked on an animated feature film knows there are bumps along the way. Story threads may be followed and later abandoned. Scenes are written and rewritten. Story artists move on and off the picture and on occasion directors are shuffled. It's the “sausage making” of the creative process and it's not always pretty. However, Keep in mind this is nothing new and as old as the story process itself. Yet, all of us have one thing in common. That's to create the best story we can.