The Walt Disney studio in the fifties was a wonderful place. The Firehouse Five plus Two filled the halls of the animation building with the sounds of Dixieland jazz as they rehearsed during their lunch time break. My second floor office was next to Charles Nichols. “Nick,” as he was often called was a Mickey Mouse Club director so we sometimes dodged little Mousketeers in the hallway.
Sleeping Beauty was in production and progressing slowly. Walt Disney was preoccupied with Disneyland and getting his attention was often difficult. Unlike today’s fixed production schedules, the studio simply pushed Sleeping Beauty’s finish date ahead another year. The film’s production spanned a number of years and provided a excellent training ground for young animation artists like myself. The quality of work and the quest for perfection in the animation department was unlike anything we had seen before. After a challenge such as Sleeping Beauty, a Disney artist was qualified to handle anything.
While working late one night, a few of us young artists wandered into a upstairs story room. The storyboards were complete and ready to show to Walt Disney. Because we were interested in the sequence the veteran story artist performed the climatic battle sequence for our little group. Music blared from his phonograph and filled the room with dramatic Tchaikovsky music. The artist, using his pointer as a sword leaped from desk to chair as he acted out the role of Prince Philip fighting the dragon. Because of this first hand demonstration it was clear the Disney studio staff had tremendous creative energy.
I began doing my insider animation gags in the sixties. Nobody else was drawing studio gags and I hated to see such a longstanding animation tradition die. The way animated films were produced was beginning to change. The photocopy process known as Xerox had already replaced the studio inkers and more changes were on the way. The animation staff was just a shadow of what it had been earlier and some doubted we'd last another five years. Walt was now tooling around the studio lot in a little electric car with a Nixon/Lodge bumper sticker. His thoughts were on Mineral King the winter resort project in the Sierras and Walt Disney World in Orlando. Yet, there were even larger plans afoot. It appeared Walt Disney was considering building his own city. Walt’s son in law, Ron Miller was moving up in the company and the Disney television shows were now in color. It was an exciting time and more changes were on the horizon. Yet, we had no idea how profound those changes would be as we moved break neck speed through the turbulent sixties. Walt Disney’s plate remained full and he seemed determined to accomplish more than ever. In the year 1966, we would understand why.