My Early Years at Disney
I vividly recall Ollie Johnston, one of the members of the legendary “nine old men,” saying that he loved all the excitement us young animators were bringing to Walt Disney Studios – he said it reminded him of when the nine old men first started back in the 1930s. What a compliment! Indeed the next generation was excited – and motivated. It was a thrilling time for us because animation was just the beginning. Disney was grooming us to be layout artists, storyboard artists, effects animators, and more. This was a vital time of growth for me, in part because – eventually – the nine old men and their team would retire. I was a part of the next wave, the next generation of Disney creators for years to come.
Or so I thought.
Before I get too ahead of myself, I should note that it took three attempts at submitting my portfolio before I was finally accepted into the Disney Animation Training Program. I didn’t want to be an animator, though – I wanted to be a background artist! Painting was what I loved to do. I remember my boss, Ed Hanson, informing me that I needed to get educated in animation in order to qualify as a background artist. So, of course I agreed. I was put under the tutelage of Eric Larson – another member of the nine old men. It was under Larson’s mentorship that I witnessed my first animation test – a moment that changed my life forever. From that point on I knew I had to animate.
Every breath, every effort I put forth, was aimed at becoming a full time animator. I was obsessed with the medium. During this time I met Gary Goldman and Don Bluth. We were all drawn together by our mutual obsession with animation. Gary and Don invited me to meet with them on the weekends to bounce ideas off one another, animate, and hone our craft. We had this burning desire to learn – faster, even, than what Disney was able to teach us.
Alongside Gary and Don, I worked on Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too, The Rescuers, Pete’s Dragon, The Small One, and The Fox and the Hound. Yet somewhere between Rescuers and Pete’s Dragon, I became keenly aware of the creative rut a lot of Disney animators had gotten into. And since Walt was no longer there to guide the ship, it seemed like there was no change in sight – like the studio was done breaking new ground in storytelling.
So, with that, Don, Gary and I decided to choose our own destiny. We decided we weren’t done learning – we weren’t done challenging ourselves. We effectively resigned from Walt Disney Studios to pursue producing our first feature film.