It seems I’ve been using the “Way Back Machine” this week. We’ve been visiting the Walt Disney Studios of the fifties. It was a very different studio than the mega cartoon factories of today. The Animation Building of years past had a scruffiness about it. It looked and felt like a place artists worked. In todays digital cartoon factories everything feels artificial. Computer filmmaking has that high tech vibe. Everything seems cool…but nothing feels real. Of course, being an old school kind of guy I miss the grungy, messy feel of an animation studio. I’m speaking of an environment where drawings are not only pinned on the walls, but often litter the floor. Old school animation was organic and the “hands on” feel resonated in our work. In the old days, films were crafted by hand. Today, more often than not, animation feels manufactured.
That’s my pal, Rick Gonzales and we’re visiting the unit up in 2-D on the second floor of the Animation Building. How many of you know this location? Well, it happens to be the hub of Ward Kimball’s “Space Unit” where shows such as, “Man in Space,” Man and the Moon,” and “Mars and Beyond” were created. Take a moment to notice all the stuff pinned on the storyboards. Charts, graphs and other space related stuff appear to be tacked everywhere. If you glance at the room directly behind Rick you’ll see the large office where Art Stevens and Julius “Sven” Svendsen created their special magic. Characteristically, Ward Kimball deconstructed the animation process at Disney. Art and Sven crafted stories as well as animating their sequences in the film. Across the hall, you’ll find guys like Charlie Downs and John Dunn doing pretty much the same. Not only did Downs and Dunn storyboard their work, they also animated, created layouts and painted their own backgrounds. How do I know this, you ask? I watched them do it.
Should you move out into the hall way you would come across additional offices in Kimball’s unit where you might stumble into the workspace of Con Pederson working away on a group of strange alien creatures for the film. Once Con’s assignment had been completed he had another job waiting for him in London. It appears a young filmmaker named Stanley Kubrick also had ideas about making a space film, and he was actively recruiting Con Pederson to join his team. In the next offices you’d likely stumbled upon a tall, distinguish gentlemen who might easily be mistaken for a scientist. However, this was the brilliant layout artist, Ken O’Conner who was busily devising innovative methods for the films special visual effects. Remember, all the effects were done “old school.” No digital technology to solve your problems. O’Conner devised artwork that would be photographed in multiple passes using Bi-pack magazines on a special Disney camera. The artwork would be composited in Ub Iwerks process lab and the visual results were spectacular.
Rick Gonzales and I moved down the hallway toward a large office filled with storyboards, photographs and artwork scattered all over the floor. Remember, I told you old school Disney was often a mess. However, it was a glorified mess. Suddenly, footsteps down the hallway signaled someone approaching. It was the boss, Ward Kimball returning from lunch. This was a good time for two young apprentice inbetweeners to get our butts back at our drawing boards and get back to work. After all, we could always continue our Disney tour another day.