Saturday, November 28, 2015

Before Ever After – the Disney Lectures

 1   The Lost Lectures. Now in print. 

NEARLY half a century has gone by since the passing of Walter Elias Disney (1901-66). The latest Disney blockbuster at the time was the live-action song and dance film Mary Poppins from 1964. Generations that followed probably associate the name “Walt Disney” with a massive faceless corporation rather than the beloved uncle figure who so intimately affected the lives of millions of children and parents.

US NEWSPAPERS. Young Disney learned his reading and drawing and coloring and clowning in the early 1900s from the great comics in the US newspapers — especially the weekly supplements in color. Early on his aunt Maggie presented him with a Big Chief drawing tablet and pencils. Then, as a nine-year old schoolboy he was forced to work for his father’s newspaper delivery service. The Kansas City Star had to be folded first and then delivered to the homes of roughly 650 customers in Kansas City, seven days a week — with a double load on Sundays: 

“Walt and his older brother Roy had to get up every morning at three thirty in order to begin the delivery. Late in life Disney recalled: ‘The papers had to be stuck behind the storm doors. You couldn’t just toss them on the porch. And in the winters there’d be as much as three feet of snow. I was a little guy and I’d be up to my nose in snow. I still have nightmares about it.’” Leonard Maltin, 1973

CARTOONS & COMICS. For six years Walt Disney was on his father’s paper route, on a bicycle from year two. He also started selling papers at a Kansas City trolley because his dad kept all the money. “The upshot of it I was working all the time. I mean, I never had any real play time.” But Walt surely had his eyes on all of the national papers and newspapers with cartoons and comics. And without a doubt loved The Intellectual Pup in the Kansas City Star on Sunday by Harry Wood (1871-1943) — the cartoon adventures of a scruffy terrier and other funny dogs, in his paper since late 1907.

 2   A scruffy dog. The Intellectual Pup; Extracts From His Diary by Harry Wood. In books from G.W. Dillingham Co. and the Kansas City Star since 1908.
The Kansas City Star itself had a “restrained appearance” and featured practically no comic strips until the 20s.

★ ★ ★

FIRST SYMPHONY. Professionally, Walt Disney began doing cartoons and animation in the early 1920s, working together with Ub Iwerks. In 1928-29, a year after the launch of Mickey Mouse, they produced a new series of animated films with sound, musical shorts under the title Silly Symphonies, beginning with The Skeleton Dance.

LECTURES. At the time Disney was dreaming of making a feature-lenght animated film and his Silly Symphonies became the petri dish fueled by innovations in technique and new technology. In November 1930 Canadian born Don Graham began teaching life-drawing classes on Disney’s sound stage; soon Disney artists were attending classes at the Chouinard Art Institute. In order to train the large number of recruits Disney required to make the feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs — first shown just before Christmas 1937 — Disney partnered with Chouinard and set up his own in-house art school. Notes were taken of the lectures organized by Don Graham in 1935-39. These notes have now been made available, their full texts nicely facsimiled as photographic reproductions of the original typewritten sheets.
I really don’t know where the hell to start…’” — Bill Tytla’s first lecture opening line, 1936

 3   An inspirational drawing. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by Albert Hurter, mid-1930s.

The 448-page Before Ever After book shows the following texts and miscellanea:

Art Babbitt, Character Analysis of the Goof, and another by Ted Sears Art Babbitt, Interview with Babbitt, conducted by Dr. Morkovin, Notes on a Gag Manual Project Walt Disney, Inter-Office Communication to Don Graham, concerning  proposed “systemic training course for young animators” and a “plan of approach for our older animators.” December 15, 1935 Don Graham, Action Analysis, February 22, 1937 Don Graham, Action Analysis, March 1, 1937 George Drake, Notes and Suggestions for Animators and Assistants, April 22, 1935 George Drake, Notes on Disney-Chouinard Series, May 26, 1937 Les Clark, Training Course Lecture, Discussion of Mickey, August 17, 1936 Phil Dike, Class for Layout Men Bill Tytla, Action Analysis Class, conducted by Don Graham, December 10, 1936 Bill Tytla, Action Analysis Class, conducted by Don Graham, June 28, 1937 Ham Luske, Character Handling, October 6, 1938 Wilfred Jackson, Jaxon’s Lecture on “Musical Stories”, January 12, 1939 Ted Sears, Mickey, introducing the next lecture by Fred Moore: Fred Moore, Analysis of Mickey Mouse, illustrated Dave Hand, Action Analysis, February 27, 1936 Dave Hand, “Staging” As Applied to Presentation of Story and Gag Ideas, October 13, 1938 Dick Huemer, Timing”, February 20, 1936 Tom Codrick, Layout Training Course, November 19, 1936 Boris Morkovin, Technique and Psychology of the Animated Cartoon, November 14, 1935 Faber Birren, Color Preferences, April 20, 1939 Robert Feild, Lecture, Hollywood Las Palmas theatre, August 9, 1938 Ted Cook, Guest Talk, November 11, 1938 Jean Charlot, Pictures and Picture Making, A series of lectures, April 12, 1938 Ferdinand Horvath, Surprise in Gags, February 22, 1937 Frank Lloyd Wright, Lecture, February 25, 1939 Alexander Woollcott, Lecture, March 28, 1939 Roland Young, Interview, April 11, 1939 Mary Weiser, Bible Reading, an addition to the printed Painter’s Bible Samuel Armstrong, Multiplane Technique and Color Reproduction, November 25, 1938 Sam Blyfield, “Sound Recording”

★ ★ ★

RADICAL SCHOOLING. At the time the idea of a school for animators was so radical that Bill Tytla, who offers the two most incisive lectures in the book, began his 1936 speech with “I really don’t know where the hell to start.” Alexander Woollcott and Frank Lloyd Wright seemed bewildered by the subject of animation but managed entertaining and informative lectures. The student animators in turn were bewildered by the pompous labored musing of film scholar Boris Morkovin.

 4   Animators on strike. One of the strike actions of Disney animators, united in the American Federation of Labor Screen Cartoon Guild, between late-May and Fall 1941.

THE END OF TIME. The animator’s strike of 1941 and World War II put an end to the “wonderful time” restored to memory by Before Ever After. Many of the techniques birthed during this period are probably redundant in the 21st century. Even so, in this digital age there is much to be learned from these historical lectures — about painting, timing, drawing and action, acting and gag-writing. The lost lectures, illustrated by powerful archival photographs and artwork, preserve for posterity a very personal, often humorous, fly-on-the-wall viewpoint of a revolutionary period in the history of animation.
Before Ever After, The Lost Lectures of Walt Disney’s Animation Studio by Don Hahn & Tracey Miller-Zarneke, Disney Editions, Los Angeles/New York, 2015, 448 pages in hardback binding
★ ★ ★

Pictures [2] to [4] are not in the book. Photo [4] courtesy of Los Angeles Times Photographic Archives, UCLA.


  1. Thanks for this! A must-have for any fan of early Disney Animation.

  2. The exhibition Once Upon A Time…Walt Disney: The Sources of Inspiration for the Disney Studios was exhibited March 9- June24 2007 in Montreal and also the National Gallery of Grand Palais in Paris. Bruno Girveau edited the catalogue still to be found on abebooks.