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D23 Presents Destination D: 75 Years of Disney Animated Features - Day 1
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Saturday, August 11 and Sunday August 12, 2012
Note: Click here to view dozens of pictures from Day One of the event
Note: Click here to view dozens of pictures from Day One of the event
The Disneyland Hotel Grand Ballroom was hours from opening as guests began forming up the line to attend the first day of D23’s celebration of 75 years of Disney animated features. A low-key gift shop was available, along with snacks and beverages from vending carts. The doors finally opened to a giddy rush of eager fans.
Before the first seminar of the day, there was a spirited welcome from D23 head Steven Clark, as well as a recorded greeting from John Lasseter and a crowd of animators. The ballroom was briefly taken over by an energetic group of dancers. A medley of familiar tunes and images filled the room, culminating in a blast of confetti and streamers. (An unintended consequence was a stubborn cluster of streamers that lodged themselves in the ballroom chandeliers!)
WALT DISNEY AND THE FIRST GOLDEN AGE OF DISNEY ANIMATION
The day kicked off, appropriately, with a look at Walt and the First Golden Age of Disney Animation. Moderator Becky Cline (Head Archivist for the Walt Disney Company) was joined by Joe Hale, a 43-year Disney veteran (Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred and One Dalmatians) and Burny Mattinson, a 50-year Disney veteran (Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Jungle Book). Rounding out the panel was Ted Thomas, son of Disney Legend Frank Thomas, and director/writer of the documentaries Frank and Ollie and Walt & El Grupo.
The discussion began with recollections of the Disney Studio in the 1950s. Ted Thomas pointed out that no one needed name badges then—they all knew each other. And encounters with Walt Disney could take place anywhere. Joe Hale recalled his first. Being a small town boy, he didn’t know which button to push to reopen the doors on the elevator, and watched in horror one day as the doors slowly shut on a rapidly approaching Walt. All Hale could do was shout, “I’m sorry,” as they slid closed.
Burny Mattinson’s first encounter with Walt was also in the elevator. He greeted him carefully as Mr. Disney. “It’s Walt, son,” was the prompt reply. Mattinson also remembered one of his regular tasks when he worked in the Traffic department (essentially studio errand boys). Every Friday he would cash a check from the studio accountants, and deliver $300 “spending money” to Walt for the following week.
The discussion of the Golden Age began with a look at the “Nine Old Men,” the key group of animators given that name by Walt himself. Hale stated that the group actually resented this, as none of them was particularly old at the time it was bestowed. Mattinson pointed out that there were more than just nine animators in the Studio who were that good. The first time he could recall hearing the term was on a Disneyland television broadcast. Eric Larson, he said, modestly said, “We were really Walt’s review board.” The term eventually became a convenient term for Disney publicists, and each member eventually came to view it as a badge of honor.
Les Clark was the first member the panelists discussed. A Disney Studio employee since 1927, he started out working directly with Ub Iwerks, Walt’s first “star” animator.
Next up was Marc Davis, described as “a true gentleman” by the panel. They slyly joked that this was due to his ability to down three martinis at lunch and still turn out great work for the rest of the day.
Mattinson described Milt Kahl as “kind of a volatile soul at times”. He quickly added that Kahl was always very helpful, especially for those who were willing to expend the effort.
Rebecca Cline couldn’t help but describe Ward Kimball as “probably the most eccentric Disney animator that ever lived,” as she asked for any “Ward stories.” The panelists gleefully stated there were none they could tell! Hale did offer up a memorable second-hand story, though. Ward had worked very late at the studio one night, slept over, and turned up at home the next day. It seems he had missed a special anniversary dinner, prepared by his wife Betty. For her part, she had taken his toy train collection and thrown it through the windows of his backyard railroad depot.
Moving on to Eric Larson, Thomas said, “Eric was a sweetheart.” Added Mattinson, “He was the one all the other animators really looked up to.” Mattinson further described Larson as a father figure to him
Next, John Lounsberry was lauded for his modesty, despite his great talent. Mattinson stated that even Eric Larson said of Lounsberry, “He can do it all,” and would hire him first if he were ever setting up his own studio.
Woolie Reitherman, said Thomas, had a “cowboy quality” about him, with an eagerness to try anything, both in his work as an animator and a director. The others in the group, he said, particularly admired this.
Winding up with Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, Rebecca Cline said they would cover them together, “As we always do.” Frank Thomas’ son Ted recalled that the two met at 19 when they were art students in Stanford, despite the fact that Stanford had no art department at the time. “Their friendship in life,” he said, “Translated to their work in the Studio. They set the bar at a place we’re still trying to reach today.”
The discussion next turned to a few of the memorable feature films of Disney’s first Golden Age. Pinocchio, Bambi and Peter Pan were mentioned in turn. Peter Pan, it was noted, was the only feature in which every one of the Nine Old Men had a hand. Mattinson stated Bambi was his personal favorite, with natural looking animals that could talk and had real personalities. Cline mentioned that the stylist for the film, Tyrus Wong, had just turned 101 years old.
Lady and the Tramp included the memorable spaghetti dinner scene, animated by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. Ted Thomas revealed that his father wouldn’t watch the film until three years after it had been released, because he didn’t like the way it turned out. Regardless, it was the only time he got a direct compliment from Walt Disney, who casually mentioned to him one day, “Oh, I hear you’ve got the best scene in the picture.” Despite this, both Frank and Ollie thought of it as nothing more than another technical challenge. Thomas pointed out that for Tramp to push the meatball with his nose, he had to push his head and neck in a way that was anatomically not possible, and that would likely not be attempted in CGI animation.
As images of Sleeping Beauty filled the screen, the discussion turned to the complexities of working in a widescreen format. Burny Mattinson spoke of Scene 31, a lengthy sequence in which Briar Rose crosses the screen, picking berries and humming to herself. It was difficult to keep the animation from “jittering,” especially for such a lengthy sustained shot. The format required 1,440 drawings per minute, twice as many as usual. When he finally completed the task, Marc Davis and Milt Kahl presented him with a cake with “Happy 31” written on the top. Thomas ruefully added that characters in widescreen films needed an extra week just to walk out of a scene.
The discussion wound down through later films such as One Hundred and one Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone, and Winnie the Pooh. The Xerox process in Dalmatians, Hale pointed out, meant that every drawing had to be very clean. “We couldn’t fake anything,” he said.
Cline asked if it was difficult to work on The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh without the presence of Walt Disney. Both Mattinson and Hale said it was not that hard. “Everyone was so familiar with their jobs,” said Hale. He said his biggest difficulty was with the soothing voice of Piglet. Every time he would hear that voice during the “sweatbox” sessions, he would fall asleep!
The panel concluded with a look at Disney’s newest Winnie the Pooh movie. Burny Mattinson related how John Lasseter contacted him, after he and Bob Iger had decided that the studio would create a new, hand-drawn adventure. The audience was then treated to the “pitch” for the sequence “In Which Eeyore Loses His Tail.”