Working for Milt

This is an original Xeroxed and painted cel from Walt Disney’s “The Sword in the Stone.” No fooling. This is a production cel from the motion picture. That means this sheet of acetate was actually placed under the camera and photograph against a painted background. That’s how we made movies in the old days, kids. However, this particular animation sketch from “The Sword in the Stone is unique. That’s because even though Milt Kahl animated the scene, this particular sketch is not one of the animation master. The sketch happens to be mine. You see, I was one of the clean-up artists following up Milt Kahl on the Walt Disney film. More to the point, we were no longer doing clean-up. Rather, a new animation term had been created for the film. It was called, “touch-up.” Instead of putting a clean sheet of paper over the animators ruff sketches - we simply “touched-up” the sketch itself. It was rather a daunting task should your animator be Milt Kahl and you ran the risk of screwing up one of his masterful drawings.

You’ll notice the paint is falling off the cel. This was the sixties and we had not yet changed over to vinyl based paints. The special paint developed in Walt Disney’s paint lab had many virtues. However, permanence was not one of them. After being photographed under the animation camera the xeroxed and painted cels would be placed on a shelf for a limited time. Eventually, the paint would begin to harden and begin to chip off the cel. Keep in mind, these beautiful cels were never meant to last and their life span was limited. In time, a handful of painted cels would be selected for archival purposes. However, the balance of the animation art would not be retained. Where would they go, you ask? As harsh as it may sound, the remainder of the cels were headed for the studio dumpster. I’ll bet you can already guess where I found this particular cel.

Milt Kahl animated the rather large dogs as they fought over scraps in the castle kitchen. Because I was one of Milt’s follow up guys, I did the touch-ups and the in-betweens. Once my work on the scene was completed it went straight to the camera department, and was not returned to the animator. The Master animator would not see his scene until it was delivered to him by Johnny Bond the next day. Once Johnny delivered the film loop and scene to Milt Kahl the Disney legend immediately threaded the scene onto his Moviola. This was a ritual and we had all been through it many times throughout the production of “The Sword in the Stone.” Five minutes seemed like forever and we all waited patiently for the verdict. Would Milt like the scene, we wondered? We would find out shortly and god help you if you heard the master animator cussing and yelling from his office. However, should you hear Milt Kahl chuckle, or maybe even laugh out loud, you had been blessed by the gods.

I counted my blessings each time a scene I cleaned up met the Master Animator’s approval. Milt Kahl was not an easy man to please and there were no excuses for poor draftsmanship or a casual attitude about working on the scene. Naturally, I worked very hard on Milt’s scenes, because there was no way you’d ever get anything past him. So, there you have it. I was lucky enough to work with Milt Kahl throughout the production and never once got bawled out by the Disney Legend. During my many years at the Walt Disney Studios I’ve been proud of the work I’ve done. However, I take special pride in saying that I worked for Milt Kahl on Walt Disney’s “The Sword in the Stone” for nearly two years. Better yet. I was able to survive those two years and share my story with you.

The two Mastiffs fight over table scraps in Walt Disney's The Sword in the Stone. I was working for Disney Legend, Milt Kahl and these are actually my drawings.

The two Mastiffs fight over table scraps in Walt Disney's The Sword in the Stone. I was working for Disney Legend, Milt Kahl and these are actually my drawings.