After Babbitt completed his first inbetweening test, news of his speed spread across the studio “like wildfire.” Cartoons were, by their nature, expensive to make, requiring more time to produce six minutes of footage than a live action film required. In an industry where every frame or two is laboriously drawn, an artist who can work fast is highly prized. Within hours, word reached the desk of lead animator Ben Sharpsteen.
Sharpsteen was raised in California and had animated in New York in the days before soundtracks. He came to Disney’s in 1929 at the age of 33 with an analytic eye (he would soon be a recruiter) and a craft for art and storytelling (he would soon be a director). He had a quiet and subdued demeanor, and the animators felt he was overlooked for a directing job because of this. If it phased him, Sharpsteen didn’t let it show. He was assigned the task to mentor the junior animators in the fold, and he was a “hard but fair taskmaster. He insisted on good draftsmanship, staging and action analysis. You had to learn – no shortcuts, just do it right.” If Babbitt passed the next test, Sharpsteen would become his supervisor.
There were many novices at Disney starting out at that time. The studio had the daunting task to train the newbies, and simultaneously produce animation quickly. The directors Burt Gillett and Wilfred Jackson had their hands full, so Sharpsteen, and fellow supervisor Dave Hand, were elected to distribute bulk of scenes to the novices as they saw fit.
On his desk, Sharpsteen had some folders of drawings for the latest short that Jackson was directing, Touchdown Mickey. He picked up a short Pluto scene: Pluto walks and sniffs to the right, sees the mob and runs to the left. The extreme poses were already done, but it needed the inbetweens. Could this new Babbitt fellow animate a four-legged walk cycle, a jump and a four-legged run, and convincingly stick to the pup’s change in emotions?
Babbitt nailed it, and Sharpsteen was pleased. Now he was in the pool of young animators that would finally get scenes of their own – as long as they were supervised by Sharpsteen.
[sources are Working with Walt by Don Peri, Walt Disney and Other Assorted Characters by Jack Kinney, and interview transcripts by John Canemaker and Michael Barrier]