Thursday, March 27, 2014

Last Group Photograph

Okaay. Now for something a bit lighter: Andy Deja's posted a picture from 1973 with nine Disney animators in it. The photograph above (one of a few from the shoot) represents the last time this group got together in the same room. ...

Excepting Mr. Lounsberry, I knew most of these guys and worked with several of them. At the time (1973) this picture was taken:

Woolie Reitherman (far left) had just finished directing Robin Hood and the feature animation department was exploring what it would do next. (Next turned out to be The Rescuers, but at the time, it was in early, early development and being worked on by story artist Fred Lucky. Within a short while it would be in production and would prove to be one of the studio's more successful animated features. (In German, The Rescuers outgrossed Star Wars.)

Milt Kahl was three years away from leaving the studio. He would end his career animating Medusa, the villain in The Rescuers.

Les Clark was at this time animating Disney educational films. Continuously employed by the studio from 1927 to the mid-seventies, Les retired from WDP in 1975. (His brother Mickey was a long-time corporate Vice-President.)

Marc Davis, an employee at WED from 1961 onward, came over for this shoot. Marc retired from Disney in 1978.

Ward Kimball hadn't animated in the feature department for some time, and in 1973 had his own small animation unit. (At this time, he was working on a featurette titled -- if memory serves -- A Dog's Life. It was three-quarters done when upper management decided it was "too satIrical" ... plus they didn't like it "making fun of the parks" ... and so smothered the project in its crib. Ward departed the studio a year later.)

Eric Larson was transitioning from animation to Disney's young animators' training program. Over the next several years, Eric would oversee the molding of young talent that came into the department. (Most of the animators that became pillars of the organization in the late eighties and nineties were trained by Mr. Larson.)

Frank Thomas, one of the department's premiere directing animators, worked on two more features (The Rescuers, Fox and the Hound) before hanging it up in 1978 to write the magnum opus The Illusion of Life with Ollie Johnston.

John Lounsberry (seated), long considered one of the easiest of supervising animators to work with (also an artist who did sterling work) would be promoted to director in the seventies, receiving director's credits on Winnie the Pooh and Tigget Too! and The Rescuers. He had directing duties on The Fox and the Hound, but wouldn't live to complete the assignment. Sadly, he died in early 1976 of heart failure after returning from a ski trip.

Oliver Johnston, supervised on both The Rescuers and The Fox and the Hound before retiring to co-write The Illusion of Life with Frank Thomas.*

* Kindly note: the personnel in the picture are being described left to right.


Grant said...

Neat photo. Too bad they were in charge. Would have been nice if they'd had strong story people and directors during this period, instead of having the animators in control. All they wanted to do was show off--with little care for strong stories. Sadly, they're in this photo to promote the awful Robin Hood. They really did need strong direction and leadership, didn't they?

Floyd Norman said...

Whoa! That's harsh. However, you do have a point. Having lost the Old Man, the Directing Animators leveraged their power and controlled the direction of the post Walt era.

And yes, Robin Hood did suck. I said so, and they fired me. Not a good time at the house of Mouse.

Steve Hulett said...

"Robin Hood", despite being a weaker entry, made money. And the one that followed -- "The Rescuers" -- broke box office records.

Grant said...

Yes, but that doesn't make it a very good movie. It isn't. It's awful (although not as bad as Aristocats or Atlantis).

The only good thing thing about these guys' political shennanigans is how it fed right into don bluth's own petty and paranoid brand of "us vs. them" world view that caused his ouster--allowing the studio to finally move forward and embrace new and very real talent.

Steve Hulett said...

Don wasn't ousted. Don resigned and took half the staff with him.

Just wanted to be clear about this.

Grant said...

Oh yeah. As usual, when don didn't get his way, he fled.

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