Here for a 3rd go-around are another batch of recollections from a period at Disney Feature Animation that many of you and I all shared, circa 1987 to 2007 (my tenure with that Studio). Look at it this way, it’s kinda fun to remember the happier times of our lives shared with so many at such a growth time…and, let’s face it, I don’t know about YOU, but best to grab what my ole brain still retains at the age of 77, as no telling how long this can last
Bill Matthews interviewing a student, later Disney Assistant Animator at Kansas City Art Institute.
There were so many talented people that connected with my life as a result of my job responsibilities then, so many special occasions we all participated in, that at times it hardly seems easy to know where to start. So let me begin, with paying a special tribute to a great artist, a dear friend not only to me but to everyone in that Studio from top to bottom, and who gave so much of himself to training and inspiring most of you, not to mention thenew youngsters entering our world for the first time…I speak of the one and only Master, Walt Stanchfield!
Do you remember his special handouts, written by himself (and often illustrated with his own sketches and cartoons) which he used to teach, inspire, and just make you feel good about life? Walt already had finished (so he thought) his own long career as a Disney Animator and Assistant-par-excellence, had settled into retirement with his beloved wife and creative partner, Dee…when Don Hahn asked him to come to London and help train artists to finish up Who Framed Roger Rabbit? That done, and he returned, I met him and we became instant lifelong friends as I convinced him to come regularly to conduct quick-sketch classes. His enthusiasm, always infectious, had his noontime classes full continually. And I’ll never forget..whenever his trees of midget tomatos ripened, he’d always bring me a big bag of them. They were addictive, because they were so sweet (no supermarket’s tomatos ever were like Walt’s!). He got me (and others) totally turned on and committed to watercolor painting, which he did all the time; I actually felt guilty when I wasn’t taking time to splash around! Walt’s handouts, which I maintained copies of in the Artist Development Department, ultimately filled 3 whole 3-inch wide, 3 ring binders! He is still missed in the lives of those who called him friend.
Note: Handouts published by Dee Stanchfield and edited by Don Hahn entitled “Drawn To Life” available to purchase March 2009.
When I accepted Peter Schneider’s offer to start the training and recruitment program for Feature Animation, he described my job as spending a great amount of time….on the phone! How right he was!! Not only answering calls from everywhere about how do I get into Disney?, or where should I go to study animation?, to my calling and inviting special well-known people to come and speak to our staff, people specifically asked for by those of you at the studio then.
Do you remember sitting in on the fascinating and inspiring talks by these folks? Nick Park (who I gave a tour thru the whole studio, which he’d always wanted to see…just after he accepted the Oscar for Best Cartoon, Creature Comforts..he was like a kid in a candy store!); Charles Schultz, who received a Mickey Mouse watch from me on behalf of our artists, and who was almost in tears..he said he’d always wanted a Mickey Mouse Watch, but this was the first! And who could forget the enthusiasm shared by Chuck Jones, June Foray, Ray Bradbury, John Culhane, Bill Plympton, and Bruno Bozzetto? Others gave of their fantastic special backgrounds in areas not always Animation-specific, such as the Brothers Hildebrandt (great illustrators of children’s books), Bill Peet (one of Walt’s greatest Story guys, who when he visited, was suffering from throat cancer which ultimately took his life), Burne Hogarth (who conducted great after-hours seminars on drawing the human figure ala his approach to Dynamic Drawing, exemplified in his Tarzan comic strips), and, of course, legends such as Grim Natwick at 99 (creator of Betty Boop and animator of Snow White).
Grim Natwick at his 100th birthday party.
Ahh, those folks, but a tiny number I recall who brought so much inspiration to all of us, and always they felt honored to be able to talk to Disney artists! Some others, such as Al Hirschfeld, almost needs a special essay on his inspiration and contribution to our Fantasia 2000. But that will jog some of your memories.
(Mrs Hirschfeld, Bill Matthews, Al Hirschfeld)
I have to pay my own tribute to so many of you artists, producers, directors, production managers, non-artistic staff who unceasingly cooperated with me and my department when it came to training new people for all the work that seemed to just explode with the studio’s expansion. The future seemed undimmed, and the need for fresh blood was constant, and so I was sent on many a recruiting trip to schools around North America, not to mention the resonsibility of assessing talent potential by looking at portfolios beyond counting. It was always a thrill when I spotted someone whose talent just needed to be seen by our Artistic Review Board.
Now, this body had been set up before I arrived, and was headed by the boss, Peter Schneider. When I came on board, he decided to make me Chairman, not a role I felt too comfortable in, but…hey, it was my job. The Board, normally consisting of all the production Directors, Producers, Lead Animators, Assistants, Story and Viz Dev folks, Production Managers, heads of departments such as Effects, Backgrounds, CGI and Layout usually met about once a month (later twice a month) to review all the portfolios I had selected to be seen by them. It was always held in a conference room and a lavish buffet lunch was supplied (out of my budget), and there was a friendly commeraderie evident. However, it could prove uncomfortable for me, with Peter sitting beside me urging me to keep things moving. Another situation that frequently developed that seems to come up whenever I am in chit-chat over the old days with some folks who used to attend those meetings that involved the A-V equipment.
Now, this old guy never was clever and handy at understanding equipment, and a problem with a conference room in which early on (before everything got built-in) was we used video carts, with TV monitors, and a slew of VCR’s! And, of course, before DVD’s sample VHS demo-tapes were the norm; however, since others often came and used the video equipment, they were prone to unplugging and changing wiring, and not restoring same to their proper positions. It became a source of laughter and a big joke with the Board members..and an acute source of frustration for me…trying to figure out why I wasn’t getting a picture when I popped in a tape!! Usually someone would end up putting it all straight, but my frustration was a wonderful source of jokes and caricatures…all in fun, of course! What a klutz, I was!!
Still, without the help of people in every department who agreed to be the mentors for our training of new recruits, and involvement in internship programs, we’d not have had a training department, and the studio’s great expansion and the many great features we did produce might not have been made!
“Alright you filthy scum, row harder or I’m sending you to Filmation!”
After the 1989 intern program.
I could never list everyone who helped out, but perhaps mentioning a few wonderful artists who became mentors time and time again, might represent my grateful remembrance to some of you reading this who might just have benefitted by training under such as: Tony DaRosa, Ruben Aquino, and Mark Henn (for Animating Assistants); Bill Berg, Renee Holt, June Fujimoto, and Alex Topete (for Inbetween Trainees); Dave Bossert, Barry Cook, and Ted Kierscey (for Effects); Rasoul Azadani, Dan St. Pierre (for Layout); Lisa Keene and Cristy Maltese (for Background Painting); and Ed Gombert, the late Joe Ranft (for story), Tina Price (for CGI) and Thom Enriquez (for Story).
Left to Right Front Row: Glen Keane (feeding Bill), Pres Romanillos, Max Howard, (?), Bill Dennis, (?), (?).
Left to Right Back Row: Matt O’Callahan, (?), (?), (?), Tony Bancroft, (?), (?), (?), (?), Serge Michaels, (?), (?), (?), (?), Walt Stanchfield, (?)
In my last epistle I mentioned some events which made for a happier atmosphere at Feature Animation. Any occasion was a good one for a party, and the holidays usually inspired office and hall decorations par excellence; Christmas was a good time to bring families together and let your hair down! In my case I added hair..to wit, a white beard, mostache, and white wig, combined with added padding (yes, even to my bulk!) in a bright red suit with black belt and black boots. Yeh, the department had it’s built-in Santa Clause for such occasions! For 2 Christmases they sent me down to Florida to be the center of attraction…supposedly for the little kids, but in reality became a photo-op for the (ahem) older kids, most of whom sat on my lap while I looked like the sphinx with a beard! Some interesting stories were told to Mr. Claus by the moms and pops who decided to show up their offspring by being unafraid to sit on what was amusingly called his lap!
But I do want to recall my own starring moments in our productions! While not getting screen credit (the Artistic Development department never did appear on our films credits, though somehow a lot of folks who provided services and food did!), nevertheless who can forget those stirring scenes on 4 of our features where my acting skills were unsurpassed? I speak of my debut, as a wrestler battling Mike Gabriel in the ring on a TV set (watched by an excitable butler) in Oliver and Company;
Then onto further fame as a chubby fish, complete with tiny mostache and goatee and a couple of teeth with a space between them, surround Sebastian the Crab in his last song line for ˜Unda Da Sea” (what else, The Little Mermaid);
Next came me as a hefty townsman clad only in a tiger skin pair of shorts, running off a plank holding a beer stein, jumping into a barrel of beer and coming up beer-sudsy, as the camera panned right on by, (yep, the ˜Feast of Fools” sequence in Hunchback of Notre Dame…I even got a trip to our Paris Studio to study Notre Dame, just for the role, ho, ho!);
and lastly, my Oscar-winning performance as an elderly Chinese gentleman playing checkers with the one and only Walt Stanchfield, also as a Chinese gentleman…who, I’m happy to say, I won thanks to a little help from a young lady named Mulan!
Yes, some happy memories to share. If you’ve managed to get this far, you have more stamina than I have writing it all down. I’m exhausted! So I think at this point I need to break free…may some of my memories shake your own experience memories and add to this blogsite. Together we might actually provide an archive that might not be found in either the Disney Archives or elsewhere. It’s been fun reminiscing, and sharing these reminders with you, and hope you enjoyed them.