Designing the Future

This is animator, director Ward Kimball. The Disney artist has put aside his zany demeanor to adopt a more serious persona as he begins a lecture on space exploration. Kimball’s “office” is actually on a sound stage on the Walt Disney Studio lot and this is the first season of the ABC television program Disneyland. As you can imagine, I was in geek heaven back then. I was able to indulge two of my passions. Disney filmmaking and space exploration. For this Disney geek it doesn’t get much better than this.

You might be surprise to know how much the Walt Disney Studio was into space travel back in the fifties. Long before NASA, Walt Disney decided to set up a unit that would deal with space travel and extraterrestrial life. Walt also knew that the quirky artist, Ward Kimball would be uniquely qualified to helm the unit. This is the multi-stage rocket ship that was featured in Walt Disney’s first science television show, “Man in Space.” The show was such a success that other space epics would follow. The shows would utilize both animation and live-action and some of the most advanced special effects for its day. In fact, visual effects expert, Con Pederson would later leave to work for Stanley Kubrick on "2001."  If you were lucky enough to score a visit to the second floor Space Unit in the Animation Building you were in for a surprise. Ward Kimball’s unit had more the appearance of a top government scientific development facility than a cartoon studio. Storyboards, graphs and scientific schematics filled the hallways and even the President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower requested a viewing of Disney’s film.

It’s not difficult to notice how close Walt Disney was to the creation of what we now know as the Space Shuttle Program. As always, Walt Disney was out there ahead of everyone else, and that even includes the government of the United States. Had Walt Disney not been taken from us in 1966 one can only imagine what the Old Maestro might have accomplished.

Disney animator, Ward Kimball prepares to give his lecture on space exploration on the ABC television program Disneyland.

Disney animator, Ward Kimball prepares to give his lecture on space exploration on the ABC television program Disneyland.