Caricature by Animation Director John Musker
Well, hello again! I scratched my gray old noggin and dug way in to my past at Disney Feature Animation for a few more reminscences, which might trigger memories for you if you were on production around the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. As mentioned in my previous piece, I began my last decade of professional life hired by Peter Schneider in ‘86 to set up training and recruitment services for all of you. I got tremendous inputs from so many of you “vets” then about what the folks in the trenches were thinking might pick up spirits (that got lowered after Animation got moved off lot into a series of warehouse buildings in a Glendale Industrial Park, aka “Flower Street”! Anyway, for what it’s worth let’s look back.
Peter Schneider, Bill Matthews, and Jeffery Katzenberg
An early memory for me was an event that had been disbanded by the once-upon-a-time Chief of Disney, Ron Miller, and I was asked to reinstate… an annual Caricature Show! So, with the blessing of the powers above me, we began a still annual tradition, of an April Fool’s Day opening of drawings that showed us how we were viewed by our colleagues! It was a hit, but I noted (as did Roy and a few others) that the first 2 years seemed to feature a preponderance of drawings singling yours truly out as subject matter. (Seems my avoirdupois, beard, and at times flustered persona made for very, very funny commentary by many of you…I was indeed flattered, and treasure many of those sketches to this day! Those by John Musker were, well, to put it mildly, exagerrated a bit? Thanks John!) At any rate, NO one was exempt from being “seen as others saw you”, and later on many were framed and exhbited permanently in the commisary!
Caricature by Animation Director John Musker
Speaking of my bulky self being a subject for caricature, there was a point around 1990 when my bosses began to get a bit concerned for my health relative to my “size”, and offered to put me on a Nutri-System diet plan if I agreed…how could I refuse? Well, reason for mentioning this is that our first official department weekly newsletter, The Twilight Bark (christened at a department portfolio review meeting, by Mike Gabriel) began featuring a running accounting of my weight loss, featuring a caricature of Bill as Ursula the Sea Witch sitting on a rock, strumming a lyre, with the latest figures of my loss posted for all to see!! Well, it did provide a lot of running gags from many of you, which were all done with affection and concern, and which actually had me walking on a cloud (without falling thru it!). I think it was Storyman Ed Gombert who did the intitial caricature.
Caricatures by Story Artist Ed Gombert
Another event which, I think may have started just the year prior to my arrival…the annual October Halloween Costume Parade? Halloween came just 3 months after I came on board, and I had a tiny corner office in the 1420 Flower Street building. Prior to this I’d been asked by Peter to be the MC of the parade. Animation always did such events up in a big way and was a great morale booster. Anyway, 2 artists figured in a big way at that first Halloween event in my life. One was an Assistant Animator, Philo Barnhart, and the other a top young animator named Dan Jeup. Well, seems Philo, besides having a father who was one of Walt’s top art directors, was a Character Key on both “Oliver & Co.” and “Little Mermaid”…and as a side interest/hobby/occupation liked designing and ‘building’ (as he put) authentic costumes from the Renaissance and Baroque eras. Philo came in to introduce himself, took one look at me, told me I reminded him of Henry VIII…not sure if I should feel complimented or not, he proceeded to make me an offer my ego just couldn’t refuse. Philo told me he’d build the exact same outfit in the Hans Holbein portrait of Henry, help me put it on, so I could look the part for MCing the Costume Parade. I agreed, and he proceeded. Come the day of the event, after struggling to get my girth into Henry’s costume (and glad I didn’t live in that era!!), pics were taken and I proceeded out my door into the Hallway to go across the street to WDI’s parking lot where the parade would take place… and immediately ran into…a hilarious, huge caricature of…ME!!! It was Dan Jeup in a HUGE styrofoam head of me, complete with short-sleeved shirt with ten million pencils in my pocket, and complete with beard, goatee, and strand of gray hair! We both ended up on the floor, while the entire building was roaring with laughter! How could I ever forget that moment…and Danny became a warm and good friend. In fact, for the following year he came up with the idea of me dressing as Batman (the first Batman film had just been released), and he, being half as tall as me, dressed exactly the same, so that we could have a mock verbal duel as to who was the legitimate “Batman” and who would MC the Parade…it was a draw, and I noticed Roy Disney in the audience roaring with laughter! Treasured memory moments!
Drawing by Dan Jeup
(?), Bill Matthews, and Vicki Case
Finally, let me just close with another reminisce from that era. Do you remember those great department picnics that the bosses would throw for us, usually in the Spring, some in the Fall, out at the Golden Oaks Ranch? Complete with more food and beer and other beverages anyone could want. They were fun family get togethers, with elephants to ride, the Disney characters wandering about, and canoes to paddle in the lake. The one that sticks in my mind had a dunking pool…and Peter Schneider, Bill Dennis (my direct boss and a Vice President), and, of course, yours truly “invited” to be the target of a splash fest. I got dunked by some of the best of you, but it was all in fun.
I could probably go on an on. Hope it took many of you back. If there’s a “next time” I’ll try to come up with some memories of the later 1990’s and other names who made that era so special. Thanks for sharing that time with me, and giving so much of your talent not only to the movie-going public, but giving of yourselves to one another and to the Disney traditions.