I have no idea why this photograph was taken, but it’s a good one. It provides an insightful look at the Walt Disney Studios glorious past. The year is 1959 and Walt Disney’s long delayed feature film, Sleeping Beauty is wrapping up. The images on the storyboards clearly informs when the photograph was taken. Development work for a new Walt Disney animated feature film is on the boards and I’ve no doubt you’ve already guessed what it is.
Perhaps you’re not familiar with the talented artists in the photograph so allow me to introduce them to you. That’s Victor Haboush on the left. Vic was a talented Disney layout artist and would one day move on to launch his own production company in Hollywood. The Haboush Company created dozens of television commercials in the sixties and seventies. Tony Rizzo is the artist standing next to Vic. Tony lent his considerable talents to a number of Disney films and was a brilliant painter in his own right. His work was often on display in the Disney Studio Library and I still kick myself for not having snapped up several of his paintings when they sold for a low as a few hundred bucks. Of course, you’re probably familiar with the iconoclastic background artist holding the mug of coffee. He’s Walt Peregoy and he could easily be called the “Milt Kahl” of the background department. Passionate and opinionated, Peregoy would clash with anyone over his artistic decisions and color choices. Peregoy made his feelings known no matter who you were and that included his supervisor, Eyvind Earle and his boss, Walt Disney. Finally, character designer, Tom Oreb is on the right holding the large brush. Oreb was a veteran Disney character designer and worked on more Disney projects than I can remember. His inspired sketches on Walt Disney’s 101 Dalmatians set the tone for the film and is representative of his finest work. Tom Oreb was blessed with an almost perfect design sensibility and his remarkable work can be seen in Disney films of the forties, fifities and sixties. Because of his youthful appearance, I had no idea Tom had been with the Walt Disney Studios for so many years. What an amazing group of Disney artists and it’s evident by the smiles on their faces they were eagerly looking forward to the future.
Of course, context is important. This was a significant time at Walt Disney Productions. With the completion of Sleeping Beauty, Walt Disney animation faced an uncertain future. Production costs were rising and the animation staff was contracting. In the upcoming weeks hundreds of artists would lose their jobs as the studio prepared for a new way of making pictures. From now on we would have to do our work with less money and fewer people. In spite of the dire circumstances, the Disney artists tightened their belts and looked forward with hope and optimism. For me, that’s the message evident in this fifties photograph. The sixties loomed ahead bringing with it new challenges and opportunities. However, one thing was certain back then and I hope it remains so today. The Disney art will survive. After we get past all the branding, marketing and other corporate BS, what really matters is the Walt Disney art. I encourage you to remember that as well. Ultimately, it’s all that really matters.