It started with drawing lessons, and our animation boss was determined we learn the characters inside and out. Long before we began our task of final clean-ups of the animated art we had to first prove ourselves as artists. Sure, we were simply doing in-betweens and clean-ups, but our work had better be on the mark since it would be scrutinized by the animators and the directing animators as well. In time, our work would have to past muster in sweatbox sessions with the director before being given the final once over by none other than the boss himself, Walt Disney.
Back in 1957, I was given my feature animation assignment and I joined the“ Fairy Unit” lead by animator, Fred Hellmich. The team consisted of Disney veteran, Chuck Williams and Jim Fletcher doing lead clean-up. Rounding out the team were, Rick Gonzalez, Bob Reese and myself. We would spend the next two years pounding out footage for the feature animated Disney classic, “Sleeping Beauty.” Of course, there would be a number of character animators “looking over our shoulders” during the process. As expected, several veteran Disney artists were assigned to animate the fairies and I’m afraid I can’t remember all their names. On a side note, a number of these talented artists never received their well deserved screen credit on the movie but that’s the way things were back then. Talented guys like Hal Ambro, Hank Tanas, Don Lusk, Jerry Hathcock and George Nicholas would be going over our fairy drawings, but the heat would really be on when these sketches were handed to directing animators, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston.
Our animation unit moved into offices on the second floor of Disney’s Animation Building. We shared the upstairs unit with sequence director, Les Clark who had been handed the opening sequence of the film. Layout artists, Homer Jonas and Jack Huber shared an expansive office down the hall from us as they began sketching the triumphant opening sequence of the motion picture. In case you didn’t know, that marvelous opening of the movie is largely the work of Homer and Jack. These talented guys managed to pull off a spectacular film opening with very little animation. Should you study the colorful sequence you might notice that most of the movement is being created with selective camera pans and trucks over static artwork. On another note, the wing was also the home of Mickey Mouse Club director, C. August (Nick)Nichols and writer, actor, Bob Amsberry. It was a fun place to be but eventually we had to leave our upstairs office and relocate to G-wing on the first floor of the Animation Building. This wing remained our home throughout the remainder of the movie. Our young colleague, Bob Reese always managed to befriend the “kids” on the Disney movie sets and he would sometimes bring them to our offices over in animation. We had visitors such as Annette Funicello and Tim Considine in our offices on occasion and that was a pretty big deal.
Of course, most of our time was spent doing the difficult and challenging work of creating finished drawings of the three good fairies, Flora, Fauna and Merriweather. The drawing lessons Freddy Hellmich put us through early on truly paid off when we found ourselves in the thick of production. Creating the art for Walt Disney’s masterpiece “Sleeping Beauty” was a challenge to be sure. However, it remains one of the best experiences of my animation career.