Sword in the Stone

It’s rare that the production of an animated film follows the movies’ narrative. However, storyman, Bill Peet decided to write and storyboard this particular movie from start to finish and that’s how we created Walt Disney’s “The Sword in the Stone” back in the early sixties.

Bill Peet began creating his storyboards not long after the completion of Walt Disney’s “The 101 Dalmatians.” As Bill’s storyboards were approved by Walt and Woolie they went straight into music room (directors office) and into production. Animator, John Lounsbery was one of the first to begin animating the early scenes and he was followed by Milt Kahl. It would appear the master animator was finally satisfied with his character designs, so Kahl could finally settle down to the business of animating. I had recently moved my office into 1D-1, and I would join my old colleague, Stan Green in assisting Milt Kahl throughout the films production. Stan’s office was down the hallway closer to Milt. Stan had his own office because Milt Kahl preferred his privacy and liked to work alone. of course, he would often summon Stan with a gruff shout, and poor Stan would leap from his desk and sprint into Kahl’s office. It was times like these I was grateful I was separated by several rooms and nowhere near Milt Kahl.

In spite of working for the portentous directing animator, my two years on Walt Disney’s “The Sword in the Stone” proved to be a joy. Not once did I clash with the menacing directing animator and I managed to stay on his good side by drawing wacky cartoons about his D-wing colleagues. The animation on Walt Disney’s adaptation of T.H. White’s novel would take two years. Before I knew it, I had picked up this particular scene from Milt Kahl. You guessed it. It’s the scene where young Wart (soon to become King Arthur) pulls the sword out of the stone. The scene was completed decades ago, but somehow it seems like yesterday. Take a moment to observe how masterfully Milt Kahl staged this final scene. The simplicity and design of the scene reveals a master at work and it was an honor for this twenty something kid to follow up a true Disney Legend.

The nineteen sixteens was a long time ago and it’s a time I doubt we’ll ever see again. Hand drawn traditional Disney animation was a masterful craft. It demanded amazing talent from a group of amazing artists. It combined awesome draftmanship combined with exceptional performance skills. As dazzling as today’s digital films can be, I doubt books will be written about CG animation in the future. In a weird way, I find myself separated from the art. The technology gets in the way. I hate to say it but today’s artists are essentially invisible. Hidden by the amazing tech they use to create the films. However, the old Disney masters will be remember forever because their art was created using only pencil and paper. Creating this color sketch of Wart brought back many old memories. Clearly, this is Milt Kahl’s scene…but it’s also mine.

Stan Green and I followed up Milt Kahl back in the sixties. Here's a scene I worked on as Milt's assistant. It was a daunting challenge working for a master.

Stan Green and I followed up Milt Kahl back in the sixties. Here's a scene I worked on as Milt's assistant. It was a daunting challenge working for a master.