Vintage Disney in Color

Digging deep into the Photo Archive (my garage) I’ve come up with another interesting photograph from Disney past. This shot is interesting because I usually photographed with black&white film. This was necessary because of the low light conditions in Walt Disney’s Animation Building. If I recall, I began using a new Japanese color film that was much faster than the usual Kodachrome. The images tended to be somewhat grainy because of the higher speed but at least I was finally able to get color photographs of my colleagues as they labored away on Walt Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty.”

The gentleman in the photograph is assistant animator, Chuck Williams. The year is 1957, and I’ve recently been added to Freddy Hellmich’s animation clean-up team. Our team occupied several offices in G-wing and I shared my office with Chuck. The offices, though separate, were all connected by interior doors. It was a very efficient way of working. Of course back then, the Disney studio was the model of efficiency. Our bosses were directing animators, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. I’ll bet those names sound familiar, don’t they? I honestly can’t remember the names of all the character animators who worked under Frank and Ollie, but they included, Hank Tanous, Hal Ambro, Jerry Hathcock and a few others. Anyway, you better believe they cracked the whip when it came to their animation clean-up. If the character animators didn’t kick our butts - then chances were pretty good that the directing animators would. I won’t tell you how many times we had to do scenes over again, but three times was not unusual.

Our team members consisted of key assistant animator, Freddy Hellmich. Two additional assistants, Chuck Williams and Jim Fletcher followed Freddy. The remaining crew members consisted of Rick Gonzales, Bob Reese and myself. This team of artists worked together for over two years finalizing the scenes of the good fairies, Flora, Fauna and Meriweather. Because of the production push we were required to crank out a set number of drawings per day. You might have thought we would have footage requirements but such was not the case. When it came to even more complicated drawings such as Briar Rose, the work proceeded even slower. Can you believe, one drawing a day? Yes, it’s true. The artists in the Briar Rose unit often completed only one drawing a day. Then again - it was a pretty damn good drawing.

Though the work was often tedious it could never be called, drudgery. Plus, we were continually learning to be better animation artists. The standards were high, and feature animation work was incredibly demanding. I still recall a number of key assistant animators who were feared because of their demand for excellence in every scene. Dale Oliver and Iwao Takamoto are two names that immediately spring to mind, but there were many others just as tough. I also recall stacks of drawings being hurled at lazy in-betweeners because of their slipshod work. The Walt Disney artists expected nothing less than stellar work from its fledgling assistants. If you failed to measure up you’d best seek work at a studio that was less demanding. In many ways it was like joining the Marines. We were the best of the best - and damn proud of it.

Looking at this 1957 photograph of Chuck Williams brings back a flood of memories. Memories of a Walt Disney studio that is no more. Memories of hard work, dedication and a tireless crew that created a Walt Disney animation masterpiece. Unlike today’s artificial, animated “puppet shows,” these Disney classics will still be watched and studied a hundred years from now.

Color photographs at fifties Disney are rare. Especially photos using natural light. I used a new high speed Japanese film to grab these rare Disney pictures over fifty years ago.

Color photographs at fifties Disney are rare. Especially photos using natural light. I used a new high speed Japanese film to grab these rare Disney pictures over fifty years ago.