Ahh, yes, it was truly a magical time at Disney Feature Animation…what most of us “old timers” like to remember as Disney’s 2d Golden Age of animated features. New, young “stars” creating (but not yet knowing it) legends of themselves with each production, a new spirit of carrying on the Disney Magic through features, which, oddly enough, are themselves, only a decade or so later, considered “classics”, and a spirit of the future as unlimited…a sense which, I’m happy to report, still instills the current generation of new techno-savvy artists! I identify with that 2d Golden Age roughly from 1986 (with John Musker and Ron Clements memorable “The Great Mouse Detective”) to around when I departed into semi-retirement during, if memory serves me, around the making of “Tarzan”. (I’m still, if you can believe it, still under contract to Feature Animation as a “consultant”, doing once-a-month lectures on our history for the new stars in the firmament!)
I had been hired back to Disney by Peter Schneider and the late Ed Hansen after 30 years (my animation career began at Disney while Walt was still with us, in 1955, as an Inbetweener on “Sleeping Beauty”–at the end of what many feel was the first ‘golden age’). They challenged me with a role that, at the time, seemed formidable, to put it mildly…specifically to (1) provide on-going training and enrichment opportunities for the then-small staff working on “Oliver & Co.”, (2) seek out and recruit new talent from the professional fields of art, schools, and wherever I found them, to build the creative staff, and (3) do what I could to build morale in a then-sagging working crew! The latter proved the biggest challenge. In my own small way, coming to know and really care for everyone connected with every single department…guards, secretaries, production managers, upper level managers beginning with Roy Disney, producers, and, most especially, the artists in every area of production. All were, and still are, close friends, and, though far too numerous to name, I want to single out a few that first greeted and welcomed me, and I honor as both creative giants in this field and remain legendary: Glen Keane and Andreas Dega, Tony DaRosa, Tina Price (who amazed me for her versatility and continued curiosity…I first met her when she was animating on “Oliver & Co”, and she, I recall, was one of the first people to take the challenge Peter Schneider offered to everyone to learn about the upcoming new production process using a computer for animating..and for several months I used to go in and watch her working in a darkened room on a carriage for “The Little Mermaid”! I was in awe!!). Burny Mattinson, an old and dear friend from our mutual early days at Disney on “Sleeping Beauty”, Dan Hansen and Rasoul Azadani from Layout, Ted Kiersey and Dorse Lanpher from Effects, Lisa Keene and Cristy Maltese from Backgrounds, Bill and Karen Berg in Cleanup, all the Directors at that time and their Producers, and every Animator in addition to Glen, Andreas and Tony, all made their way to my tiny office space to sit down, welcome me warmly, and begin what would be, along with all those who were added to staff later, my close pals! Who else, outside this rare confluence of animation greats can make that claim? I have been richly blessed to at least be able to mention a few, a very few whose names instantly evoke memories of that period.
My experiences in this unusual role for 10 years found me in places, at events, and within productions themselves, that I could not have imagined when I accepted the invitation to begin what (at that time) was known simply as Artist and Development Manager…at first, a “department” of one (me), then by the second production (Mermaid) I got a secretary, which I thanked whoever watches over administrative types like me at their neediest time! To begin to relate the many adventures and involvements my special position dropped on me in that 10 years, would probably require a book..or at least more space than I think I would have here. Perhaps, if it’s deemed of interest, another opportunity to “name drop” and reminisce might happen in this new website. Tina Price has graciously offered me the opportunity to make readers aware of that very special time at Disney, and I wish her well in the launching of this new venture. If anyone is up to it, this lady certainly is. Thanks, Tina.
Bill Matthews is one of the founding instructors and founding director of the Sheridan College Animation Program and recently retired Manager of Artist Development and ongoing consultant for Walt Disney Feature Animation. Bill worked on effects animation for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty and for NASA, and has been writing traditional animation curricula for public schools and colleges for twenty years.