Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Disney Background Department! During Jungle Book!

Here are three pillars of the Disney background department, circa the middle sixties, admiring their collective handiwork on some feature or other.

Kneeling on the left is Al Dempster, head of the department and a crackerjack artist. Standing is Bill Layne. Kneeling on the right is background veteran Art Riley ...

The Disney background department had a rep for professionalsm and hard work. And longevity. Art Riley and Al Dempster both started in the department before World War II, working on the early features. Bill came aboard in 1942, around the same time my father worked his way into the department (he'd been in effects before that.)

The background department was up on the second floor of the original animation building, Wing 2-F as I remember. All the artists' rooms had deep sinks and lots of windows with plenty of light. They had a quota of backgrounds to do each week and they all hit their marks.

Al and Bill departed the studio in the mid-seventies for retirement and more time to paint on their own. Art left in the mid-sixties to care for his aging and ailing mother.

Art Riley would probably have been considered the most eccentric of the group. Lived frugally. Invested some of each paycheck in blue-chip stocks. Lived with his mother. Also didn't get out much.

Story artist Vance Gerry told me the story of how Art drove a Disney artist home one day because the guy had car trouble. And the artist asked Art to stop "at the store" so he could pick up a couple of groceries.

Art got out of the car with the guy and accompanied him into the market. When they got through the double doors, Art looked up at the fluorescent lights and the long rows of shelves with baked goods and breakfast cereal, all the bins of fresh vegetables and said:

"This place is amazing. What do they call this place?"

The artist looked at him and said, "It's a supermarket, Art."

Apparently Riley didn't do much food shopping. He'd never been in one.

Bill Layne at work on the second floor ...

And thanks to Ann Guenther for the use of the pictures.


Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing these with us!

It does sound like Mr. Riley led a different type of life from the rest of us.

Bryon Caldwell said...

Great story and pics! Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of when George H.W. was amazed at how a bar code scanner worked...

Excellent story. Thanks!

Floyd Norman said...

You think this is great, you should have seen the work Walt Peregoy was doing on the film before Walt Disney removed him from the picture.

Disney also rejected Bill Peet's story treatment. "The Jungle Book" would have been something quite different from the movie you saw.

Which film would have been better? Now, we'll never know.

Steve Hulett said...

Walt Peregoy arrived at Disney's in 1943. He was (and is) a tremendous artist. And always fierce and outspoken in his opinions.

Anonymous said...

Does that Bill Peet treatment still exist in the Disney Archives?

Recently someone reconstructed a lost Lon Cheney film (London at Midnight) by matching available still images to the script. It would be interesting to reconstruct Bill Peet's Jungle Book.

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