Part one of this story is at this
When I last left you, we had just stepped off the elevator into Gallery
number two at the Walt Disney Family Museum and into Walt's beginning years in
Hollywood. These were the years Walt, along with his brother Roy, established
the Disney Brothers Studio, Mickey Mouse was born, and a whole lot more.
The thing about stepping into this gallery is you run smack dab into the
Hollywood sign, so it really hits you that Walt has landed in California. And
the sign isn't static; each letter is a little movie screen showing footage from
this time period. You see snippets of the Alice comedies, Oswald the Lucky
Rabbit, a young Walt filming, and on and on. Almost two weeks after seeing this,
it's still stuck in my mind; it's such a striking and beautiful way to depict
Walt's arrival in Hollywood.
As you move on past the Hollywood sign and into the larger room in Gallery 2,
you're hit with another way-too-cool display. Which, to me, was an amazing sight
- a huge storyboard wall filled with 400 sketches explaining the finer details
of animating Steam Boat Willie. The display beautifully illustrates the point of
how much work goes into animation.
Those 400 sketches? They represent something
like 17 seconds of actual film time. In the middle of this whole display, some
of the individual frames are mini-screens showing the actual animation. In a
sort of beyond-cool way
how many of us, unless we are animators, get to see a
storyboard wall? It's great to see it here.
Now at this moment, I'm sitting here trying to put into words a description
of how much technology is sprinkled throughout the museum but everything I write
sounds kind of stuffy and a little science-like and that does not represent
what's at the museum at all. It's all very educational, but you never see it
coming because it's so darned entertaining and well done.
Hmmm let's see if I can describe it thusly; from the vantage point of looking
back at my trip through the Walt Disney Family Museum, the liberal use of
interactive displays, audio recordings, and video monitors throughout each
gallery is a perfect fit with all the memorabilia, the vintage photos, and the
art. It's very well done, it's engaging, and it provides the museum visitor with
a pretty complete picture of Walt Disney, the man, and the company he created,
his journey through life, and what he contributed to the world.
Just across from the storyboard wall is a great example of the technology
employed to tell Walt's story; there is a display of sound equipment with a
video screen above. The whole shebang is there to tell the museum visitor how
sound was synchronized with film. You get to play with it. Steamboat Willie was
the first animated film to successfully synchronize sound and image and this
display is one of the many displays allowing the museum visitor to get involved
and see how all that came about.
There is so much in Gallery 2, it would take me forever to describe it to you
so I won't tell all, you'll just have to make the trip to San Francisco and see
for yourself but
here's a few of the things you will see; the earliest known
drawing of Mickey Mouse, business correspondence between Walt and Roy, and the
move the brothers made to their new Hyperion Studios.
That's all really terrific stuff, but it's all business. What about Walt the
man? Well, Walt the man is not forgotten. Though he was a busy, busy young man,
it was at this point in his life he met and married Lillian Bounds. Walt and
Lilly's marriage certificate is displayed here on a wall of personal photos.
It's almost like allowing the museum visitor a peek inside the Disney family
album; Walt & his mom, Lilly with the family dog, Walt & Lilly on their
let me tell you a little bit about Gallery 3 and then we'll move on to
Gallery 4 which is the only gallery devoted to one subject, but we'll get back
Gallery 3 was one of my favorite galleries. Why, you may ask. Stuff, would be
my reply. I have always been absolutely mad for toys. Even now, all grown-up and
everything, I still love toys; old new, doesn't matter, love em all. And while
there is much to be found in Gallery 3 in the way of fantastic artwork that I
certainly do not want to downplay; interactive displays, The Silly Symphonies,
etc., what grabbed my attention immediately was the wall of vintage Mickey Mouse
toys, books, games, watches. I made a beeline for the display case of old toys
and wanted nothing more than to spend an hour with all that stuff, looking at
every fine detail.
Can you imagine being a kid wheeling around on your very own Mickey Mouse
tricycle (that has way more style than anything made today)? And Mickey, in all
his "doll" personas, a jaunty two-gun Mickey with hat happily askew, a
mini-Mickey grinning with teeth bared, a big Mickey with hands behind his back
and head slightly nodding in amusement. Oh my gosh, it was all so fabulous,
Dippy the Goof (a Walt Whitman published book c.1938) aka Goofy, Minnie
Mouse, Donald Duck, Pluto, the Three Little Pigs, and Ferdinand the Bull make
appearances in this gallery too. And although they don't get the starring role
Mickey does in his wall of toys, it was no less wonderful to see them in both
vintage toy form and artwork.
Now, one more Gallery 3 thing and then we'll move along
color. Yep color.
Who would think a big old wall filled with jars of paint would be intriguing,
but darn, it is. All that rainbow of color lined up in jars on the wall, colors
used by the ink and paint department to color in the animated cells
all looks just look wonderful. I loved it. I was drawn to it. I just want a big
old photo of those jars of color.
We're really going to move on now
Can you imagine how scary it must
have been to bet one's entire company, one's entire life, really, on something
everyone else thought was nuts? Critics at the time referred to the animated
feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as "Disney's Folly." But Walt forged
ahead. He brought live models and animals into the studio for the animators to
study. The animation team worked with an art instructor. The studio created the
Character and Model Department which in turn, made small sculptures of the
characters for the animators to study (today we know them as maquettes).
We all know how that "folly" turned out. The film won a special Academy Award
in 1937 - a standard-sized Oscar with seven miniature Oscars (which you can see
in the awards display in the museum's lobby), and people are still watching and
loving Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs today, all these years later. It's no
surprise a whole room is devoted to this film. You'll find audio clips,
magazines from 1937, maquettes, and a collection of 1930's Snow White
merchandise to tell the story.
For me, the most enchanting display in this gallery has to do with the night
Walt and Lilly went to the premiere of the film. December 21, 1937 at the
Carthay Circle Theatre, Walt and Lilly arrived dressed to the nines (Walt sure
did look dashing in his tux). Walt carried a specially made money clip featuring
the likeness of Dopey. Lilly wore a Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs charm
bracelet made by Cartier and she carried a silk scarf adorned with images of the
seven dwarfs. And here they are, those things, right there for all of us to see.
It just tickled me, for some reason, knowing that Walt and Lilly owned these
In the same display case you'll also see the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
premiere program, a ticket stub and police pass from that night, loads of
photos, and lots more memorabilia recreating that evening. The display is like
getting to peruse the pages of someone's beautifully kept scrapbook of the
premiere and it really puts the human story into a piece of history, bringing it
back to life. I love looking at all the old art, but for me, the human side to
the story that is Walt Disney is quite special and not often seen
and it's nice, very nice.
Let's move along here
I'm going to hurry you through Galleries 5-8 because
I want to spend some time with you in Gallery 9.
Gallery 5's biggest draw is one of the original multiplane cameras used at
the Disney Studios. The way it's displayed is genius because the camera is
massively big, but its situated so that you can look down into it and really get
a feel for how the camera added depth to animation, and what a revolutionary
thing this was.
A video screen above the camera explains the finer points of it
and a quote from Walt explains how exciting this camera was for the animators,
"The boys went on a binge of gilding the lily. We had developed the multiplane
camera and they went wild with it, panning over rooftops and down streets,
Gallery 5 includes a lot of animation art in the room, some great sketches
from Fantasia (and in particular of Chernabog), Pinocchio, and Bambi. It's
pretty wonderful to see all the work that went into films you've watched so many
times over the years. It kind of adds a layer of appreciation for the art of
animation. And one of the most fascinating items in gallery 5 is a sort-of
"diary," a very unique piece called the Schultheis Notebook.
Herman Schultheis was a technician who worked in the camera effects
department at the Disney Studios. During the years 1938-39, he kept a notebook
filled with elaborate details about the visual effects in films like Pinocchio
and Fantasia. The actual notebook is displayed but even better, the museum has a
visual display just to the right of the notebook in which they've scanned every
single page of the actual notebook allowing the museum visitor to flip through
all those pages and even zoom in on specific details contained within the
Gallery 6 leads the museum visitor into a dark time for Walt, his parents
died, World War II broke out (the US military even used the studio as a base at
one point) and a strike threatened the continued success of the studio. I was
most interested in the strike largely because I didn't know that much about it.
At this point in time all the major studios were unionized, pay at the Disney
Studio was based on what Walt thought the animator was worth and seniority
wasn't honored. Walt's animators wanted what the other guys had. Enter a guy
named Gunther Lessing, the Disney Studio's lawyer.
You've no doubt heard of the new film Walt & El Grupo, the film chronicling
the trip Walt took to South America with a group of artists? Well, Lessing
arranged for Walt to go on that 1941 goodwill tour of South America while he
stayed home and negotiated the strike. When Walt returned home, the strike was
over, the studio had become unionized, and there was now and forever, a division
between bosses and workers, which was a blow to Walt because up until the strike
happened, he thought of his workers as family. Now, that family feeling was
As you enter the gallery you see vivid images of the strike, the signs
carried by the picketers, filmed footage of the strike, even an image of a
disgruntled Mickey Mouse carrying a sign saying, "Disney Unfair."
Just beyond all that is a display devoted to the South American trip and El
Grupo. There are audio headsets so you can listen in as two of the "grupo," Herb
Ryman and Frank Thomas, speak about the experience. There's a case filled with
fantastic art from the trip, and the two dolls Walt and Lilly brought back home
as souvenirs for their daughters, Diane and Sharon.
We conclude our tour of the museum in the next
part of this series.
If you're planning a trip up to San Francisco to see the museum, The
Walt Disney Family Museum's website has all the pertinent information including ticketing info, prices, how to get
and -- you can order your tickets for a visit:
http://www.waltdisney.org You can also follow the Walt Disney Family Museum on
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scoop, and of course discuss it all to your heart's content at