Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Unit 5: Animation - Animator Profile - Walt Disney 1901 - 1966

Figure 1. Walt Disney

One cannot possibly look at the history of animation without running into the legend Walt Disney. A talented producer, director, screen writer, voice actor, animator, entrepreneur, entertainer & international icon. Disney was a visionary who loved & lived every moment of his career in family entertainment. It is subject to debate that Disney is a founding father of the animation medium.

Best known for:

•Animated Characters: Mickey Mouse & Donald Duck
•Animated Short “Steamboat Willie”
•Animated Feature Film “Snow White & the Seven Dwarves”
•Theme Park “Disneyland”

Figure 2. Steamboat Willie

Walt began his early career as a struggling artist trying to break his way into a business that was few and far between. Having faced numerous setbacks an enthusiastic Walt focused on the trade of animation by creating early short cartoons such as “Alice Comedies” & “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit”. After losing his animation team to Universal Walt picked himself back up and set to work on designing an animated cartoon with the few animators he had remaining. Walt then thought up the idea of incorporating sound to this practice which birthed Walt’s most lovable character “Mickey Mouse” in audio & visual experience “Steamboat Willie” which saw great success. Disney’s success grew from there with their first full feature experience “Snow White” & beyond with other animated features. Kit & Morgan Benson observe:
“In 1934, Disney pioneered the first full length cartoon movie, "Snow White", and again, critics were overcome by the sheer popular response of the public to the movie”. (Benson: 2001)
Disney’s films & cartoons were devised with Cel animation technology in which the artists would have to draw the film frame by frame. The practice was devised by Winsor McCay which was the basis for all traditionally drawn animation. Disney admitted as much himself when taking Robert son of Winsor McCay on a tour of Disneyland attributing his success to Roberts father. One would have to say that Disney rejuvenated the idea bringing it closer to that of traditional cinema. The tribute to Winsor is not without respect as the entire practice would not have been devised had he not realised its early potential. The rising and falling of popularity is once again a case of Characters not in the method of animation or exposition. Mickey Mouse is an icon because of who he is in Disney’s cartoons; his animation makes the ovals that created him a personality.

Figure 3. Disneyland

Walt took the realms of standard animation the principles founded by McCay and built on them with narrative structures & character personalities. Disney loved exaggeration a practice which is expected in the realm of modern art to date. Disney always looked at the bigger picture and saw each new project not as a chore but as a fun experience that everyone could enjoy. One cannot help but feel energized when watching his creations come to life on screen, seemingly expressing the vision that Disney had for those characters & yet they are still living now long after his death. One cannot even begin to imagine where animated media would be now had it not been for the vision of Walt Disney. Brad A. Of observes:
“Try to imagine a world without Walt Disney. A world without his magic, whimsy, and optimism. Walt Disney transformed the entertainment industry, into what we know today. He pioneered the fields of animation, and found new ways to teach, and educate.” (A: 1999)
Walt Disney built on an early idea opening it up to people from around the globe; people who were children back then & are adults now still have fond memories of the characters Disney gave them. People now who continue to expand the mediums of animation into the future of the digital age owe their thanks to pioneers such as Disney. A man who made his dreams come true and transcended his view past thought into physical manifestations like Disneyland. Who’s to say that the fabled EPCOT project would not have been another majesty for humanity to look at & marvel.

Figure 4. EPCOT

In reflection let us return to Disney’s first huge success “Steamboat Willie” with a rather charismatic mouse known as “Mickey”. The entire idea was experimental mostly comprised of Walt’s own desire to interact in a new way with a figment of his imagination very much what inspired fellow Animator Winsor McCay before him & many others after. The fear derived from adding sound was a huge leap on Walt’s part for fear of the experience sounding artificial. Walt’s early experimentation of sound with drawing consisted of him and his colleagues making noises as the short played on screen. The practice was not without its fault specifically with synchronisation issues but that would not stop Walt’s vision to push the medium forward. Wilfred Jackson recalled in an interview:
“Walt didn't know if people would believe that the character on the screen was making the noise. Nobody had ever seen a drawing make noise, and there was no way to be sure that the people would believe it. It might just look like some kind of a fake thing, and Walt wanted it to seem real, as if the noise was coming right from what the character was doing.” (Jackson: 1963)
What one can conclude from these animators practices are that none of them were taken for granted. Things never worked the first time round, requiring precision which had to be earned by the greats & has to be investigated further by the modern era. Animators have to be bold with their work & do their best to convey the vision that drives them forward through trial and error. One would like to believe that Disney took a chance which brought him an eternity of wealth & understanding in what is now past and present practices. There is still no doubt that we would not be where we are today without pioneers such as Disney, one cannot help but wonder what the next step maybe.


List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Walt Disney. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 07/03/12)

Figure 2. Steamboat Willie. (com) [Online image]. At:
(Accessed on: 07/03/12)

Figure 3. Disneyland. (com) [Online image]. At:
(Accessed on: 07/03/12)

Figure 4. EPCOT. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 07/03/12)



Benson, Kit & Morgan. (2001) Walt Disney, Biography. At:
(Accessed on: 07/03/12)

A, Brad. (1999) Walt Disney, Biography At: (Accessed on: 07/03/12)

Wilfred, Jackson. (1963) The Encyclopaedia of Disney Animated Shorts At: (Accessed on: 07/03/12)

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