Walt Stanchfield started at the Charles Mintz Animation Studio in 1937. He also worked for 2 years at the Walter Lantz Animation Studio. In 1948, he went to work for the Walt Disney Animation Studio and with the exception of 4 short retirements, has worked there ever since.
Walt worked on every full-length cartoon feature between The Adventures of Ichabod Crane and Mr. Toad (1949) and The Great Mouse Detective (1986). About half of that time was spent as a Clean-up artist and half as an Animator. From then until the present, he has been active in a teaching capacity, including 3 trips to the Walt Disney Feature Animation studio in Florida, to teach some drawing classes and 1 trip to London to help on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, as a hands-on animation consultant and a conductor of drawing classes.
When not involved in studio matters, Walt is a painter of landscapes, seascapes, still-lifes, and people. He writes poetry and spends an inordinate amount of time at the piano–that is, between caring for his vegetable garden and playing tennis.
Was this a life, or what?!
Walt appeared in one of those “Tricks of the Trade” shows they did for the Disneyland TV show in the Fifties, one of those behind the scenes looks at the Disney animation studio. Only they couldn’t call him “Walt” in the footage. He told us why. He was informed by the show’s producer, “As far as the public goes, there’s only one Walt at this studio, and his name is ‘Disney’!”
Well, it was lucky for me, and for many other artists, that there were OTHER Walts at the studio and particularly Walt Stanchfield. As Dan Haskett’s great caricature illustrates he was the teacher, tutor, and mentor to many of us back in the Seventies, our very own Obi Walt Kenobi, showing his charges how to use the “force” of squash and stretch and expressive gesture drawing that was incisive and bold as a laser sword.
When some of his contemporaries had become jaded or dulled by being kept on the fringes by those in power, Walt brimmed with youthful enthusiasm. He had a spark. He was restless, endlessly inquisitive. His classes taught me to look closer but not to miss the big picture.
Some of my most prized possessions are the Walt sketchbooks that were sold after his death. Whether painting with watercolors or coffee, whether drawing with a gnarly pencil, or a grease pencil, or a stick dipped in mud, Walt reached out to the world and put down his feelings about it in sketches so lively, so well observed, so Walt.
When they were looking for animators to help out with the human characters on Fox and the Hound, Walt, who had seen some of my drawings in the in-house caricature show, stuck his neck out for me and told the Directors that “he could draw his ass.” I don’t really know how valid that comment was, but I still cherish it as a gift from a good hearted and talented artist, mentor, and role model.
-John Musker, Director
Walt Stanchfield’s monthly visits to teach at Disney were highly anticipated. Traveling a long distance to come, Walt often would arrive early in the morning for a noon class. My office was located next to the drawing classroom and I always looked forward to chats with Walt during those quiet mornings. The chats would be capped by time well spent in his classes. He had a gentle yet authoritative way about him with that ever present twinkle in his eye. He was always very encouraging and really helped me develop an eye for the pose and excercise my imagination beyond what the model was doing.
On one of those early morning chats, I showed Walt a large, half-completed illustration that depicted the Disney animation
building with most of its employees in it like a “Where’s Waldo” picture. Down in the corner of the basement was Walt’s class of regulars learning before the teacher. I finished the piece after Walt fell sick, and sent him a poster of the painting. After he passed away, his wife Dee gave me a hand-written letter Walt had managed to write to me commenting on the poster and encouraging me further with my art. Even in his weakened state, he was still giving of himself to us – not only examples for our careers, but examples on how to be a decent human being.
-Chad Frye, Illustration Guy
Tina Price started me going to Walt’s Gesture Drawing class and it stuck. Walt was always so encouraging and inspiring in his class. I remember one time where he came up to me and told me how much better I was drawing that day. He knew the value of kind words. His writing was so inspiring that we would tear out his column from the back of the Twilight Bark and throw away the rest. There need to be more people like Walt Stanchfield.
-Darren Kiner, Look Development Artist
I consider Walt Stanchfield a gentle giant. Walt was really fun and inspiring to work with., Being green and walking into Disney I had the pleasure of working with Walt on the first couple of layouts I did for the “Fox and the Hound”. I was a little intimidated working with a name I recognised from past movies that I grew up with, but Walt had a calming effect on me. He would get me to use my own knowledge and abilities to solve problems and bring out the best in my drawings.
-Ed Ghertner, Art Director, Background Painter, Illustrator
Walt Stanchfield was a wonderful inspired artist who encouraged me and others to “push that pose!”
-Eddie Goral, Fine Art Painter, Drawing Instructor
Drawing by Walt Stanchfield
Walt Stanchfield was relentless when it came to capturing the essence of a pose! I can still hear his voice…” You got to get up and feel what the model is doing.” Walt’s enthusiasm and high energy inspired everybody to say the least!! Walt challenged me beyond what I was ever capable of achieving by myself. I miss him!
-Mike Genz, Assistant Chair, Dept of Art
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
Drawing by Walt Stanchfield
Not merely the King of lunch-time gesture-drawing sessions, Walt was also a magician conjuring animated essence from every pencil and the pen in the room. We happily scribbled while his constant humorous—often philosophical— banter cheered we students of the hour forward in our fearless attack on the subject to be drawn. Walt’s was one of the few classes I actually missed on the rare occasion he was unavailable to teach, for he fostered a “free-range” creativity, with the accent on sheer fun as the first order of business. And, he ALWAYS stressed the “entertainment factor”.
-Jean Gillmore, Character Designer, Illustrator, Actress
Reality doesn’t always match our expectations. I first went to Walt Stanchfield’s Gesture Drawing Class hoping to improve my drawing. I sat in front of the model and began drawing. Walt told me to “draw the story”. What? What did that mean?
Walt explained that we have to draw the essence of the pose–what the character is doing and focus the energy of the drawing on that. Don’t focus on drawing the foot if the pose is about a character under an umbrella, looking up and reaching out to check for rain. Draw the story of the pose. He taught to feel the pose in our own bodies and “verbalize” what each part was doing. The ankle twists back here, the hips jut out that way, the neck dips down. It became an alive process which started to creep into the drawings.
Walt also would create weekly handouts on drawing and his unique philosophical insights. I looked forward to these each week and in class I would playfully challenge Walt on many occasions about drawing, and every time he was right. Over time, and once in a while my drawings would come to “life”. Yes, Walt taught me a lot about life drawing, but more importantly, he inspired me with the kind of life that he led- outgoing, curious, adventurous, dedicated and above all generous with his lifetime of experience.
-Francis Glebas, Story Aritst, Director, Visual Development Artist
Walt was a towering bald bundle of energy and enthusiasm, playing tennis and coaching sketch classes well into his later years. I still have many sketches from his classes, often with him posing as a cowboy or athlete. He was amazing…”
-Will Finn, Story Artist, Director
Drawing by Tom Gately
When I started at Disney it was as an intern that was training mostly for the honor of going directly into clean-up on our first feature. We interns were being trained by some of the best in the industry and we were excited beyond belief. We had the opportunity to learn inbetweening from a true legend in the animation world: Walt Stanchfield. Walt entered our class room looking like he was ready to go play tennis (which he did often at the age of 60) and always with a big smile and energy that belied his age. Walt taught us as much about being a responsible and productive artist as much as he did a creative artist. One tip he taught us that I still use today is to set your drawing table up like the cock pit of an airplane. He said, “you should have everything you need (paper, eraser, pencil, x-sheet, etc.) in arms reach at all times”. He then proceeded to show us how he had
his cock pit set up and with his eyes shut could grab for paper and supplies in seconds. It was a small tip but a very memorable one that was also a good example of how important productivity was to him. He had the title of being one of the fastest clean-up artists ever and more importantly one of the most impactful on the films he worked. Thank you Walt, for how you shared your wisdom with so many of “your kids”.
-Tony Bancroft, Toonacious Family Entertainment
Walt was one of the most energetic and enthusiastic people I have ever known. I attended his drawing classes regularly for many years, and then not-so-regularly for many years. We drew from a model and he talked about using the pose as a starting point and changing angles here and there to strengthen and exaggerate the pose. He talked about the attitude, personality, and acting in the pose. He didn’t want us to practice copying the pose. He wanted us to draw an animation extreme. We drew quickly with felt-tipped pens and when someone did a neat drawing he would freeze (he was almost always moving) and then exclaim “oooh! . . . oooh!” and then snatch the drawing away and whisk around the room with it so we could all see the brilliant energy captured by the artist. His enthusiasm and energy were infectious. He made me want to draw better. He made
drawing really fun. I attend an uninstructed drawing session once a week now, and I always hear Walt’s voice in my head and I am always inspired–no lie!
-Ellen Woodbury, Animator, Sculptor
If you mentioned the name, Walt Stanchfield, most people would think of his incredible contributions to Disney’s animation department as a wise and knowledgeable instructor. Yet, what I remember most about Walt was his advice on diet. Back in the sixties, I was a young unmarried Disney artist, and my eating habits were terrible. Walt Stanchfield made a point of teaching me about good food and nutrition. In time, my health began to improve, and I became a better artist because of it.
Walt eventually retired from animation, but a few years later he returned to the Disney studio as an instructor. Though well on in years, Walt was a dynamo, teaching and guiding a new generation of animation artists.
-Floyd Norman – No newcomer to the animation business, Floyd Norman
has worked on several feature films for Walt Disney and Pixar
Animation Studios. His credits also include directing educational films,
story boarding and scripting television shows, and writing children books.
The impact and importance of Walt Sanchfield has been pretty large for me personally. Like many of us, we would get fragments or an occasional handout that had the words and wisdom of Walt S. I was far too young and underdeveloped to have been able to take his classes. But because of that, I would pour over all his old drawings and see how he improved what sketch he was addressing. With the flick of a wrist or the simplest sketch he seemed to grant more life to the drawing on the page. It became a person or a character thinking rather than a drawing or depiction of what the model was doing. Over the years I have been very lucky to have been in attendance as others took over where he left off. From the Union to the Enrichment Center, I have faithfully followed his words as if carved out of stone. It’s only now that I have taken over the class to teach it, that I have not even scratched the surface of that rock so elegantly carved with his words of wisdom. In that way I feel extremely lucky that I have a lifetime to learn.
-Mark McDonnell, WDTVA Gesture Drawing Instructor
Walt was an amazing artist and a great person with an incredible sense of humor. He was a great ambassador of Walt Disney’s
generation of artists and the last who were still teaching. What we as his life drawing students most admired and looked forward to, were the secrets that Walt loved to imbue to us. The secret of, simplicity of line.
What I remember most vividly, was his patience. He was teaching a new way of drawing. That the acting of the character trumped the anatomy, that’s not to say you should ignore it, just that the ACTING and what the character was THINKING was more important, the gesture was key. The gesture was the visual form of great story telling. That was the secret of the classic Disney films.
It took me a while to get what he was trying to teach, the simplicity of the gesture, the truth of the movement. I thought I understood the concept then, but I didn’t really. It had taken me years to get it and of course, now it’s too late to share the celebration with him, that the concept he preached is finally imprinted after all those years. I really miss him, because I would love to share my drawings with him to show him that his ideas were finally understood.
-Phil Phillipson, Background Artist
Drawing by Walt Stanchfield
Walt Stanchfield: Where do you begin with a man that has inspired most of my generation of animators? I guess that aside from being an amazing artist, Walt became a true friend and confidante, as well as my mentor and teacher. His art and his sayings will live on forever and as most of you reading this will know, he created such a legacy that is a must for all animators and up and coming artists in this field. I have so many fond memories and stories I could share through the many years we spent together, especially when he was my supervisor and little did I know that one day many years after I would be doing what he did, as well as passing along to others, as he taught me, so I had a great example to go by.
One memorable event that I had with Walt was when he knew I hadn’t taken a vacation for a long time and had just been working, he invited me for a weekend’s trip to his home in Buellton. Little did I know that it would turn out to be a jam-packed, wonderful, eventful, productive and unforgettable weekend. He and his wife Dee were so gracious to
me, opened their home, and showed me around town, which included everything from walking down the main street in Solvang to walks along the beach. But what stood out the most was, since we were on a movie called The Black Cauldron at the time, there was a character named Henwen, which was a pig. Well, Walt knew of a pig farm nearby, and we spent one morning observing and drawing pigs. How’s that for a unique weekend getaway? It really put everything in perspective.
He had an unmatched infectious energy, always on the go, always ready to draw, always a cartoon up his sleeve, and always ready to give.
-Ruben Procopio, Sculptor Artist, Maquette Artist, Illustrator
I was fortunate enough to meet Walt Stanchfield when I began my career at Walt Disney Animation Studios in 1983. I was working as a clean up artist in Andreas Deja’s unit until following up Brian Clift. I went into Walt’s office to get a critique on my breakdown drawings and ended up getting a legacy of life lessons that would run from 1983 to the day he died.
Walt “was” a renaissance man and he made a huge impression on me. Not just for drawing but for living a creative life. I miss him but I know he is here through his writings, his art, his poems and his ever present energy. He was a gift.
-Tina Price, Artist, Writer, Producer and owner of the Creative Talent Network.
Far from those large cities: Solvang
That tiny replica, compacted
In a sea of arcadian beauty.
Rush out of those places,
Like a moment of escape to
Other lands, to the sun perhaps.
There are trinkets, pastries,
Air to breathe, things to photograph.
(And neighbors beside you.)
I will be gone that day,
Sketch book in hand. Perhaps
You would be lonely where I am.
Poetry by Walt Stanchfield from the book “Spring Barley”