Monthly Archives: April 2010

The Art of Walt Disney by Christopher Finch

This book is so much a part of my bookshelves that I hardly notice it these days. It’s a first edition hardback, a huge 13½” x 10½” x 2″ in size with an embossed Mickey Mouse on the white cloth binding, protected, to an extent, by the acetate dust cover, which is disintegrating now. It’s probably worth quite a lot, if I could bear to part with it, as the inside and binding are in fine condition.

The difficulty of scanning from such a large book

When Beryl bought it for me, in Sheffield, it was the most expensive single book I’d ever owned at, if I remember correctly, £75. And that was 1973. It’s still the second most expensive, topped only by my Times Atlas of the World. However, another edition was printed later, and copies of that can be obtained from Abe Books at a very reasonable price.

At the time, I had a fascination with making cartoon movies. I’d made a few 3-minute stop-motion movies on my B & H Sportster wind-up 8mm camera. (This was a camera you had to load with a reel of 16mm film, expose one edge, then turn the reel around by feel inside a bag and expose the other half. The result was sent to Kodak, where they developed it, split it into 2 8mm slices, and glued them end to end). Those were the last days when cartoon movies were drawn slavishly, frame by frame, onto layers of celluloid. A 3-minute movie involved 4000 individual frames! You have to look at Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) to see the quality and industry involved in an 80 minute feature. I never had the patience. I built a camera rostrum, drew backgrounds and figures, but never had the patience to complete a proper cartoon.

In a way, this book took away my enthusiasm for making animations by showing how excellent Walt Disney Studios were when Walt himself was in charge. There are hundreds of high quality full-colour illustrations of storyboards, backgrounds, characters and designs. The book charts the history of Walt Disney’s enterprise from its earliest start, through the short and feature-length cartoons and early live action and documentary movies until the beginnings of the Disneyland and Disney World projects. The modern image of the Disney Corporation, with its accountants, lawyers, acquisition financiers and copyright crusaders, is a far cry from Walt Disney’s vision. Disney himself tended to micro-manage his projects, his influence on the whole output of the Studios is visible, and I regard him as entirely admirable (though he gets a black mark from me for accusing some fellow artists during the McCarthy witch hunts).

The book concentrates on the actual ideas and images that reached the screen. It really does try to spotlight the art and craft of the movies. More than half of the book is, rightly, dedicated to the animations. Looking through those, you can see that the quality and detail of the animations far exceeds their rivals at the time. While the acquisition of Pixar has revived their animation credentials, in my own mind, the period of Disney’s artistic superiority fades after Walt himself died in 1966.

The following are just a few tasters:

A fold-out page for The Three Little Pigs

Design for Snow White

Pencil sketch for the dwarves' mine in Snow White

Sketch for the scene where the dwarves discover Snow White


Filed under review