To start things off, I for one truly despise Disney and his studio that still stands to this day. But from reading numerous texts and articles and viewing many of his features; I do give him much do respect in that the animation industry of today wouldn’t be the same without him. By considering the work of Walt Disney and his animation staff from the early 20’s till Disney’s death I have selected Disney’s overall technical achievements in the field of animation to write about in this paper.
If it weren’t for the dreams and goals that Disney and his staff had with animation, cartoons would have still been stuck in shorts and maybe even destroyed. Without his success at features, who knows, maybe other companies would of continuously stuck to the shorts before features and as time went on they couldn’t of been needed anymore. He introduced a dinky little trade known as “cartoon making” into a brand new field as the feature which gave them the chance to have bigger budgets, longer films and advancements in viewing the film such as special effects to stereo sound.
Starting things off from his early days, Walt made a successful and popular series of shorts of Alice in Cartoonland. This was a spin on Fleischer’s series of Out of the Inkwell that had a cartoon in the human world, but Alice was a human in a complete “cartoonland” which looked quite interesting at the time. Alice’s role varied from short to short; in “Alice’s Mysterious Mystery” she saves dogs from being ground into sausages by two KKK members.
Then, in the late 20’s, Walt made history and introduced both the major first appearances of Mickey Mouse and making the first sound cartoon “Steamboat Willie”. The audiences were amazed that such a feat was accomplished at this time; and the rest was written in the history books. Sound had become a major seller for Disney so he launched a brand new series of shorts where music was the deciding factor of the story and the setter of the mood. “Skeleton Dance” was the first Silly Symphony and at that time the short was considered to be quite gruesome and the theater owners originally didn’t want to show it. The eerie music of the xylophone and other instruments perfectly matched the actions and the setting of the cartoon thanks in part by future Warner Bros. music man Carl Stalling.
Time passed and Disney continuously shot out more and better Silly Symphonies with more and more advancements overcome and still more on the way. In 1932 Disney released “Flowers and Trees” as the first 3-color Technicolor cartoon. Disney had full rights to this Technicolor process for quite some time whereas his competitors had to use 2-color Technicolor and other color processes. “Flowers and Trees” was so well done, it also became the first cartoon to win an Oscar. From this point on, Disney practically ruled with cartoons in the Academy Awards department with such shorts as “Three little pigs”, “The tortoise and the hare”, “the country cousin” and “the old mill”. Speaking of “The Old Mill” for this short, Disney used a special camera called the multi plane, which gave 3-D effects to a two-dimensional painting. By bringing forth and back certain elements in a background became quite an asset for Disney’s movies and can be seen in Snow White, Bambi, Pinocchio and many others.
During the process of making all of these shorts, Disney was brewing up ideas on making a feature film. Such ideas as “Alice in Wonderland” and a feature of putting Mickey Mouse along live action celebrities both did not surface. But in 1938 Disney released Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. He used his shorts department to train his animators on how to animate a believable human figure, dwarves and witches. This movie had everything in it from chases, comedy, thrills and spills and even a love story. Snow White was even popular merchandise wise releasing the soundtrack on records and even influencing women’s fashion (grrrrrrrrrr….). This movie is considered to be the feature that all of Walt’s later features was compared to. He always had to be better, and with more time came bigger projects.
His second feature in 1940 Pinocchio, was full of extensive detail and hard work. Live models of Gepetto’s clocks and toys were built in the studio to work from and there was even a skeleton of the beast whale Monstro to see how he would move and breathe on the screen. The stagecoach that takes the boys to Pleasure Island was even built on normal scale to see how it would bounce around and move. As the years rolled on by the desire to make an even better feature than the last occurred. Fantasia was considered one of his finest achievements by watching classical music to animation, and by trying to tell a story through both forms of entertainment. This feature even used stereo sound to enhance the experience.
But there were even more things behind these shorts and films, like the staff alone. Walt practically trained a generation of animators for studio and made them pay very close attention to movement and action. What makes things move and were do they go was one thing the young animators praised by. Not only that but, the staff’s responsibility was finding the unique personalities of their characters. They had the style of Donald Duck, Goofy and Pluto down to the two on how they would handle any situation. The cartoon characters starting from around the time of “Three little pigs” were truly believable characters and I believe that is why that was the number one cartoon of 1933. You could cry when you saw the dwarves mourning over Snow White and the feelings of being alone when Bambi’s mother was killed.
Two more things I want to mention are the fact that Disney’s ultimate masterpiece, Sleeping Beauty was the top of animated features around its time. The female figure of Briar Rose and Prince Phillip actually looked like flesh and blood characters and had truly made them believable and memorable. This film cost Disney six million dollars (his most expensive feature) and it was worth every penny. It was filmed on widescreen technirama, which meant bigger animation fields and bigger backgrounds and it also had stereophonic sound. Even the highly detailed and gothic backgrounds made this film a davvling masterpiece. It almost seems a shame though to watch be thrown away and by going to a different style of rough animation. By using the Xerox process in 101 Dalmations, cells were no longer inked which made production cheaper and faster yet very rough.
So in closing, I hope I was able to fully answer all questions dealing with Disney’s contribution to the field of animation. And now, I for one truly respect the man and I know that without him, I would not be where I am today studying at the School of Visual Arts and majoring in animation.