The Disney Master

Milt Kahl was not simply a presence in D-wing - he was a force. His arrival every morning was evident by sound of the wing's hallway door slamming open and the sound of heavy footsteps as the tall Dutchman stomped down the hall to his office. Not much was heard from Kahl until coffee break when his key assistant, Stan Green fetched coffee and a select few joined the boss as he held court in his spacious office. Once break time ended, it was back to work until lunch when Milt enjoyed a game of chess with fellow animators, Amby Paliwoda or Freddy Hellmich. Milt was demanding in every area of his life and loosing a chess game was no exception. Loud, colorful language filled the wing and the sound of chess pieces flying across the room was a sure indication that the master animator had lost another game.

Should you find yourself lucky enough to work in D-wing you would be wise to know the rules. Rule number one. Never, ever disturb Milt Kahl while he was working. Milt focused in on his drawings like a laser and the slightest sound would likely prove a distraction for the irascible animator. The same would apply to those who talked too loudly or dared to crank up the radio. I still remember the sight of an annoyed Milt Kahl standing at our office door. His tall hulking frame filled the doorway as he snarled, "Where's that blankety blank noise coming from?" From then on, music lovers in D-wing were advised to invest in headphones.

Milt Kahl's approach to work was as unique as everything else in his life. I would often pass his office door and see him sitting at his desk staring into space. Hours would pass and Kahl would not have made a single drawing. Then as if by magic, he would pick up his pencil and fill several sheets of animation paper with inspired sketches. It was as though the scene was already completed in his head. All Milt had to do was transfer those images to paper. He worked with incredible efficiency and wasted not a single drawing. Even the lines on his paper were chosen carefully. At the end of the day, young scavengers would raid the animator's waste baskets eager for discarded drawings. A late night visit to Milt Kahl's office would often prove fruitless. Milt's waste basket was usually empty. One might be tempted to conclude the master animator simply never made a bad drawing.

Milt Kahl continued to animate brilliantly throughout the seventies, but it was clear he was growing disenchanted with the post Walt Disney studio. Stan Green continued to fetch coffee and a new group of young artists such as Andreas Deja and Glen Keane and others sought his council at break time. The Walt Disney studio was now moving in a new direction and Milt Kahl was not moving with it. It appeared he had finally had enough of the "new Disney” and he began to seek other interests. The seventies ushered in a leadership vacuum along with ambitious, arrogant young animation upstarts who began to make their move to control the studio's  animated product. Milt Kahl was having no part of this political nonsense. He eventually gave his notice to CEO, Ron Miller and headed out the door. One might have expected the Walt Disney Studio management to plead with the master animator to reconsider his decision. Some might even say the studio should have begged Milt Kahl to remain in his D-Wing office if only to be a mentor to the young Disney animators. No such luck. Artists like Milt Kahl were no longer valued at the Walt Disney Studio back in the seventies. I’m not sure they’re even valued today.

 Directing Animator, Milt Kahl was not simply a presence in Walt Disney's D-Wing... he was a force.

Directing Animator, Milt Kahl was not simply a presence in Walt Disney's D-Wing... he was a force.