Time flies when you’re having fun. To be sure, we had our share of fun back in the fifties at Walt Disney Productions. The young woman in the photograph is the beautiful and talented, Jane Baer who was nice enough to join us on two panels at ComicCon this past weekend. Jane and I are just a little bit older than we were when this photograph was taken. The year was 1956 and we had just made the move from Art Center College of Design to a low level job in Walt Disney’s animation department. All of us guys were assigned to a “bull pen” in 1F-1 on the first floor of the Animation Building. The young women were sent to D-wing which was a very special wing as I’m sure most of you know. However, the hard working animation team were allowed two breaks during the day. One break would take place in the morning and one in the afternoon. If we were lucky (and we often were) we would be joined by the lovely ladies for a cup of coffee. On occasion, we would venture over to the Tea Room in the Ink&Paint building. However, more often than not, we had coffee in the bull pen with our female colleagues.
The Walt Disney Studio of 1956 could hardly be compared to the Disney of today. Computers, servers or Cintiq Tablets were not even dreams back then. Animated movies were made by hand and we were kids who felt lucky to be invited into this amazing business. Here, we would have the opportunity to work with the men and women who made the movies we saw as children. In time, these animation veterans would become our teachers, mentors and put us through a rigorous training program. We would not be indulged, coddled or handled with kid gloves. This was the Walt Disney Studio where nothing less than the best was expected. As eager animation youngsters we found ourselves in an animation “boot camp” of sorts. Here, we would be shaped into diligent, hard working animation artists who knew the value of every drawing in a scene. Our mentors focused on our drawings with a laser like intensity and nothing was ever missed. We were told when our work did not measure up to the Disney standard so we determined to do better.
Before long, a number of us qualified to move up the ladder and be given a greater challenge. We were finally deemed worthy to begin work on the feature film, “Sleeping Beauty.” However, even low level work on the feature was a pretty big deal. Your work would be scrutinized by key assistant animators and then by the animator, himself. In time, your work would be seen by the director in “Sweat Box” and more often than not, Walt Disney might be in attendance. When viewing the film it was not unusual for a scene to be moved forward frame by frame. Individual drawings could be studied this way, and lord help you should a sub par sketch catch the Old Maestro’s eye. Yet, in many ways it was a wonderful time of growing and learning at the feet of the Disney Masters. It was a unique opportunity to study with some of the finest talent in the cartoon business. It was a time we all look back on with fondness and gratitude.
How many years has it been since I took this photograph of the lovely Jane? Honestly, I don’t even want to think about it. However, I’m delighted we were able to share our past with many of the animation fans in San Diego. After all, consider what an amazing time it was. Eyvind Earle backgrounds lined the hallways of 2-B, and the Nine Old Men still worked in D-wing. Josh Meader and his effects team magically animated pixie dust on paper and Ward Kimball sent rocket ships into space from his amazing science unit in 2-D. Gag men, Al Bertino and Milt Banta put Goofy through his cartoon paces in Jack Kinney's upstairs shorts unit and Bill Justice and his creative partner, “X” allowed Chip and Dale to drive Donald Duck crazy. All this chaos was presided over by a visionary gentleman named, Walt Disney and if you were lucky enough to work here you had the best job in the world.