The Sweatbox

There’s a pretty good chance you’ve never visited a “Sweatbox” at the Walt Disney Studio. This script was written for new employees, most of whom would be making their first visit to this rather unique location in Walt’s Animation Building. I’ll share it with you now.

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Sweat Box. Walter Elias Disney, the founder of our company, sat in this very theatre to review story work and early animation on the feature motion picture, “Dumbo.” Since we’re all here, let me tell you what this meeting was like.

This theatre gets it’s unique name from the cramped screening rooms in Walt Disney’s Hyperion studio. The early studio had its home in the Silverlake district of Los Angeles and in the late thirties few buildings had air conditioning. A small group of artists could easily fill the room and if the weather was warm you understood how the meeting room got its name. Of course, if Walt Disney attended the meeting you could guarantee the Old Maestro would have his own way of turning up the heat.

However, we’ve made the move from Hyperion to a brand new studio in Burbank and this modern facility has all the amenities including air conditioning. However, once you begin a session with Walt Disney I can guarantee he’ll have his own way of raising the temperature. At the moment, the artists and writers are engaged in casual conversation until a loud cough is heard outside the door. If you were a Disney veteran you knew this was Walt’s way of announcing his arrival. It was a warning sign that, “man was in the forest.” Walt was giving you ample time to “snap to” before he entered the room.

Suddenly, the door swings open and Walt Disney enters the room. There’s no entourage because Walt usually arrives alone. He takes the seat reserved for him in the front row of the small theatre. A standing ash tray is near his chair should he reach for a cigarette. The greetings were brief and Disney quickly got down to business. “Okay, guys!” What have you got to show me?”

The material Walt will be reviewing today is an animated motion picture currently in production. The short story adapted for the screen by storymen, Joe Grant and Dick Huemer looks to be a winner. The story is a perfect fit for Disney’s brand of storytelling and should appeal to the whole family. The lights dim and the sequence begins. Consisting of rough story sketches there is no animation on the reels. However, a rough dialogue track and temporary music help fill in the gaps. It’s enough to give Walt Disney a pretty good idea how the sequence is playing.

Once the lights come up, Walt puffs his cigarette and immediately focuses in on what he feels is not working in the scene. “This scene needs more heart,” he advises his story team. “We’ve got to make the audience truly care about our character. If they don’t care, we’ll lose them.” The storymen quickly scribbled a series of notes. They’re well aware that the changes Walt requested should not be forgotten. And, god help the storyman who fails to address the notes given him by Walt Disney.

Once again the lights dim. Animators, Ward Kimball and Bill Tytla have rough pencil animation to screen and Walt chuckles at what he sees on screen. “I like the business with the clowns,” he comments. “That’ll get laughs for sure.” Animator, Bill Tytla notices Walt’s raised eyebrow as the boss considers the “Mother of Mine” song in the film’s first act. “ I like the emotion in the scene. Just push it a little harder. The audience should really feel the pain of the mother and child separation.” Everyone in the room listens intently to Walt’s notes because they understand his total commitment to creating the best story possible.

Fast forward to today. You are now at the Walt Disney Company and you are a new member of this vast, dynamic organization. And, as we promised - your story starts now.

Inside one of the second floor "Sweatboxes" at the Walt Disney Studio. Sweatboxes were located on the second floor of the building. Larger screening rooms were on the third floor.

Inside one of the second floor "Sweatboxes" at the Walt Disney Studio. Sweatboxes were located on the second floor of the building. Larger screening rooms were on the third floor.