Back in the fifties, the creation of a book seemed almost as magical as the crafting of a motion picture. I’m not sure who came up with the idea of doing a book on the art of animation. Perhaps it was the author, Bob Thomas who presented the book idea to Walt Disney. I’m not sure Walt was all that interested in doing an animation book, but the marketing opportunity must have gotten his attention. Sleeping Beauty was in production and Walt, being a canny salesman, knew he had to take advantage of every opportunity to bring this film to the publics attention. The Art of Animation would not only explain the creative process of creating an animated film, it would also sell “Sleeping Beauty” as well.
Bob Thomas and his team moved into a large office on the second floor of the Animation Building. At the time, I knew nothing about the creation of a publication so I was eager to learn everything I could. Keep in mind, this was most unusual for the time. Most Disney books were created at a publishing facility in some distant location. This book, however, was being edited and designed right here on the Disney property. What was the publishing process like, I wondered? I couldn’t wait to find out. Lance Nolley began designing pages. A layout artist, Lance put aside his film making duties to begin work on the book. The Disney Studio secured the services of photographer, Bob Willoughby and he began roaming the hallways of the Animation Building to capture the artists at work. The motion picture in production was Walt’s latest feature film, “Sleeping Beauty,” so it was no accident that most of what you would see in the book would be the films development and production. It should come as no surprise that this is exactly what the Old Maestro anticipated. Walt Disney’s The Art of Animation was clearly a promotional piece for his newest and most expensive animated motion picture.
We were all eagerly looking forward to the new Walt Disney animation book and after months of anticipation advanced copies were finally shipped to the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. I’ll never forget the day a few of us young animation geeks hurried out to a studio bungalow on the Disney lot where the books were being kept under wraps. I’ll never forget holding the pristine copy in my hands and my eagerness to flip through the magical pages. I knew I’d be reading this book from cover to cover multiple times - but first, there was one very important thing I needed to do. The thought of it filled me with dread, but I knew I had to do it. I also knew I might never get another opportunity once the word got out that the new book was finally ready. I headed for the Animation Building and climbed the three flights of stairs to Walt Disney’s corner office. I still remember the long, long walk down the hallway to Walt Disney’s office and a very real lump in my throat. Should I turn back, I wondered? Was I foolish by daring to encroach on a busy executives time? I suddenly snapped back to reality as one of Walt’s secretaries cordially asked, “May I help you?” In case you didn’t know, Walt Disney had two secretaries who secured his private office. “Is Walt busy?” I stammered. “I just wonderd if he might…” Before I could finish my sentence a grey haired gentleman stepped into the hallway and immediately spotted the book in my hands. “I suppose you want me to sign that,” he grumbled. He took the book and quickly signed it with what appeared to be a Sharpie. (Did we have Sharpies back in the fifties?) In any case, the ink was so dense it bled through the pages. No worries. I had been lucky enough to score Walt Disney’s autograph in my new book and that was all that mattered.
If you can manage to find a copy of Walt Disney’s The Art of Animation you might want to give it a read. The book is hardly an in depth look at the art of animation, but It’ll give you a sense of what the Walt Disney Studio was like back in the fifties. It was a marvelous time to be in the cartoon business. It was a time when the Nine Old Men were in their prime, Walt Disney walked the hallways, and a geeky kid with pixie dust in his eyes had the most amazing job in the world.