Courtroom Testimony: THE DISNEY PROCESS

babbitt introduceOctober 8, 1942.  Disney animator Art Babbitt sits on the witness stand in California Superior Court.  He is using Walt Disney Productions over wrongful termination.

courtroomOn November 24, 1941, 98 Disney artists were laid off.  For the most part, these were artists who had participated in the 9-week Disney Strike, which had only ended that August.  Arbitrators from Washington had come in to settle the strike.  One of the conditions stated specifically that Babbitt’s job would be protected.  But Babbitt was among those fired in November.

[Babbitt was simultaneously suing Disney in civil court over unpaid bonuses.  This man was suing Walt Disney Productions – twice – at the same time.  That takes moxy.]

Witnesses would include Warner Brothers directors Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, and Frank Tashlin, Disney directors Jack Kinney, Dick Lundy, Bill Roberts, Dave Hand, and Wilfred Jackson, and of course, Walt Disney himself.

Babbitt was on the witness stand for two and a half days, and he never faltered once.  One of the first questions his lawyer, Charles M. Ryan, asks is to describe the Disney process from concept to creation.

What’s unique is that this is not promotional material (like the “peek behind the scenes” newsreels promoting Snow White) or dramatized (like The Reluctant Dragon).  This is genuine testimony of how golden-age Disney films get made, described by a well-spoken and informed animator DURING the golden age!  And what’s more, he speaks to the layperson, clarifying points that trial examiner, the honorable C.W. Whittemore, can understand.      Babbitt courtroom transcript p38

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Posted in 1932-1941: Disney Glory Days, 1941: The Disney Strike, 1942-1946: Repercussions | Tagged | 1 Comment

This Year’s Books and Docs on Disney’s Golden Age

This year alone has seen the release of so many great works on Disney history.  Let’s take a look at some of the standouts!

Behind Magic02Behind the Magic: Snow White, produced for ABC

How could I not start with this?  Besides being a featured contributor to this documentary that aired on ABC this month, I found this to be an entertaining way to “relive” some of Walt’s earliest experiences.  With esteemed historians in both animation and folklore, plus reenactments of key moments in the development of he first cartoon feature, this doc has something for everyone.   … Don’t believe me? watch it HERE on Hulu. (Did I mention I was in it?)

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HahnBefore Ever After: The Lost Lectures of Walt Disney’s Animation Studio, by Don Hahn and Tracey Miller-Zarneke

Modern-day Disney legend Don Hahn knows how a Disney storyteller thinks.  Come on, the man produced Beauty and the Beast and Lion King.  Like the rest of us, he uses is cognitive powers to travel back to the 1930s to try to figure out how those artists got so good so damn quickly.  This starts with a meaty chapter about the in-studio art school – and for the first time in print credits Babbitt’s role in that process (with some pictures and key details provided by yours truly and the Babbitt estate).  The bulk of this book is  hi-rez scans of meeting notes and typed lectures from those days.   There’s a lot of raw material here, and 90% of it is text – but you get to see what artists say in their own words AS they develop elements like timing, layout, and of course, character analysis (that’s Babbitt).


PBSAn American Experience: Walt Disney, produced for PBS

Now available on DVD, this two-part doc features incredible interviews from surviving Disney artists, and terrific raw footage from those days (some of which was provided by yours truly and the Babbitt estate – just sayin’). Part One concludes with the end of the Golden Age (i.e. the Strike) and Part Two ends with Walt’s passing.  I have heard complaints that there is too much conjecture in this doc about what Walt was feeling at any given time.  Personally I think that there’s a very fine line between that and presenting the facts in such a way as to let the audience make their own conjecture.  Given the time restraints – painting a man’s life in a single 2-part TV special – I think they did OK.  Best of all, for the first time on public television, you get to hear about Babbitt and his role in the studio (in the final 10 minutes of Part One).  This sets the stage for the visceral wage wars of the Disney Strike.


GhezThey Drew as They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Golden Age, by Didier Ghez

Finally!  A Disney art book with 99% art!  Filled with pre-production renderings from concept scketches to storyboard drawings, this book is an inspiration for historians and artists alike.  I wish I had this book 15 years ago when I started to seriously work on honing my own drawing skills.  You can follow the pencil lines of these artists, while reading about their lives and oeuvre.  Albert Hurter, Ferdinand Horvath (friend of Babbitt), Gustaff Teneggren, and Bianco Majolie are all profiled here.  Included are words from the artists themselves via letters and personal documents.  I will have to present more on that at a later time, because there are some true gems here.


Pinocchio: The Making of the Disney Epic, by J.B. Kaufman

The Disney studio artists got their feet wet with Snow White.  For Pinocchio, they were at the top of their game and really started breaking the rules.  A glimpse through these pages gives an idea of the enormous amount of work and care that went into this movie.  While we’re speaking about percentages, about 30% of the pages are filled with spectacular art, including lush backgrounds, model sheets (my favorite!)  and photos of miniature models (like Pinocchio’s raft).   In between are anecdotes about the film’s development.  There’s a terrific section on Geppetto (Babbitt’s character) that I will have to discuss at a later time.




Posted in 1932-1941: Disney Glory Days, 1941: The Disney Strike, Animation, Disney, Pinocchio, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs | Leave a comment

The Prolific Print Cartoonist

CoverBefore joining Disney in the 1930s, young artists might carry a portfolio of drawings and reels of animation to Walt’s office.  Art Babbitt was only 24 when he went in for an interview with Walt in the summer of 1932.  In addition to being a Terrytoons animator, Babbitt was also a published cartoonist in a humor magazine called “Merry Go Round.”

In just a single issue (August 1932), Babbitt had a whopping 13 original cartoons printed.  This was while he worked 6 days a week for Paul Terry.  These professional drawings show how Babbitt used every opportunity to move forward.  He was constantly plunging ahead,  taking control of his creative output, financial status, and career goals.  Still supporting his ailing father, Babbitt fought tooth and nail for the American dream in his art.

Notice how he renders the caricatured human form – all in animation drafting techniques that he never had a chance to practice at Terrytoons:

•The figures have the “line of action”  through the bodies – a technique that breathes life and movement into animation.

•Each pose is a very clear representation of “the character’s story.”

• The figures, if they were “in silhouette,” would be dynamic and clear.

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BabbittPanel1BabbittPanel2BabbittPanel5“While Smith – Ritchie – Roosevelt – Garner and nine others scrap amongst themselves, the Democratic Party in a final desperate move appeals to Mickey Mouse to run as a dark horse. ‘But I don’t want to be president,’ says Mickey.  ‘I’d rather do funny things in the movies than in the White House.'”

Posted in 1929-1932: Terrytoons, Illustration, New York | Leave a comment

La Huelga de Disney

Historia Y Vida coverUnless you’re a subscriber to Spain’s magazine Historia Y Vida, you missed a very detailed article about the Disney Strike.  Spain is jumping on the Babbitt Wagon and and just printed this six-page (six-page!) article on Walt, Babbitt, and the Disney contra los nazis and contra los comunistas.  Lucky for you Spanish readers, you can find the article below. (Sorry, it’s not translated into English.)  Espero que todos disfruten!

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Posted in 1941: The Disney Strike | Leave a comment

Disney’s Life Drawing Classes Today

Many moons ago I did an interview with a writer for the Fast Company Magazine website about the origin of Disney’s life drawing classes within the studio, and Babbitt’s significance.  A lovely article was published about Disney’s classes in the present day, appropriately crediting Babbitt as the original mastermind.  CLICK HERE to read about the persistence of Babbitt’s educational legacy.

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Gunther Lessing and the Strike

A homemade presentation on the origins of the Disney Strike, and tumultuous relationship between Babbitt and Walt Disney’s V.P.

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Meeting Walt Disney

Babbitt retelling his first encounter with Walt – and Walt’s first hint that Babbitt meant trouble.

All footage and photos are original from the Babbitt Collection.

Posted in 1932-1941: Disney Glory Days | Tagged , , | Leave a comment