Many of us watched Walt Disney’s “The Reluctant Dragon” on Turner Classic Movies this past weekend. It was great seeing “The Disneyland Story” which aired in 1954 and gave audiences a sneak peak at the marvelous theme park Walt was building in Anaheim. This television show was followed by a screening of “The Reluctant Dragon” where along with Robert Benchley we were given an inside tour of the brand new Walt Disney Studio in Burbank. For many of us Disney fans it was a trip back in time and a view of the Disney organization seldom seen.
As Mr. Benchley struggles his way through his studio visit we’re able to view the various departments in the amazing creative facility. After the first half hour or so, the film suddenly transistions to gorgeous Technicolor and we find ourselves in Walt’s amazing camera department. It’s here we get a first hand look at the marvel of forties technology called, the Multiplane Camera. However, our visit to the Ink & Paint Department is a real joy as the images onscreen appear to burst into multiple displays of color. More than one young woman has remarked, “I wish I could have worked there.” The comment is a surprise especially when one considers that Disney’s Ink & Paint department has been vilified on a regualr basis. Often characterized as a sweat shop and an artistic ghetto for young women. Despite comments to the contrary, Walt’s Ink & Paint Department was often one of the happiest places I visited on the studio campus. While I understand that opportunities for young women were limited back in the early forties - that was the situation for women in general and not just the Walt Disney Studio.
It’s 2014, and todays films are colored on the computer. That is, if the art even requires a painting process. So much of todays filmmaking has been totally removed from the hands on technique that was routine many years ago. There are no multicolored jars of paint stacked neatly on a shelf. There’s not a need for pens, brushes or any of the tools used when I entered the business back in the fifties. I remember my visits to Walt Disney’s Ink & Paint Department back in the day and seeing Steve McAvoy, Katherine Kerwin and the boss, Grace Baily going over color swatches. None of this is even needed today because technology has changed everything we do in the production of an animated film. In all honesty, I guess we should rejoice. Yet, somehow I still truly miss the way things were done in years past.