An Extra Post: Inspirations and Influences From Other Part of Production at the Studio

One common misconception people have is thinking that animators are the only ones responsible for the character development and conception in the Disney films.  Although the animators are the actors in an animated film they are far from being the sole contributors to them. In fact animators rely heavily on inspiration that comes from other parts of the production process. What an animator has to do is to take all the resources and information he’s given, interpret them, and put their interpretations together in a performance.  I personally feel that animation students don’t always have a lot of exposure and knowledge of the other parts of the process, which I think is very important for an animator to understand. Not only do I think it’s very beneficial to have this knowledge and understanding if you’re an animator, it also opens up much more career opportunities in the field and is a good backup if either you don’t make it as a professional animator or if you find that animating isn’t a fit for you but you still feel passionate and committed to the art form.  Last I feel a lot of the greats in Disney history that aren’t animators are greatly underappreciated and don’t get the recognition they deserve. With all these things in mind I’ve decided to take a break from the countdown and write about a few of the greats past and present in the other phases of production at Disney. Since there’s only a little room for me to write about these people I highly encourage readers to look up these artists either on the internet or in one of the Disney Archives books(all those and the Illusion of Life are books I highly recommend you have so you can get a better understanding and more depth into everything I talk about in the blog as well as to be used as resources to see the work of these artists) and study the work some on your own.

The First Generation

Ted Sears (Story)-  Ted Sears was the first person hired by Disney to exclusively work as a gagman and was the start of the story department.  He started at Disney in 1931 and worked there until his death in 1958. Sear’s specialty was in finding who a character was and working hard to develop their personality.  Ted was a key member at the crucial story meetings developing the characters for Snow White and Pinocchio among others and also helped co-write the original treatment for Cinderella. Probably his most important contribution to the art of Disney animation is that he invented the storyboard, which is now used across the film industry.

Webb Smith (Story)- One of the first members of the story department who started as Ted Sear’s assistant. His most notable work is that he storyboarded the Pluto’s flypaper sequence and his sketches were very inspirational to Fergy when he animated the scene.  The boards really show the thought process the dog is going through and clearly articulate the ideas behind the sequence. Unfortunately Smith’s career was a shorter one and he passed away in the mid to late 1940s.

Wilfred Jackson (Director)- Jaxon, as his colleagues called him, was one of the most well-respected and influential directors in Disney history.  He was actually never really hired and just started working there because in 1928 he went by the studio to learn how to make animated cartoons.  Jaxon put making films that pleased Walt as a top priority and was very loyal to the boss.  He had a background in music and had great timing as well as attention to detail. Among the sequences he directed include Night on Bald Mountain in Fantasia, the I’ve Got No Strings sequence in Fantasia, much of the scenes with Lucifer and the mice in Cinderella, the beginning of Alice in Wonderland, a lot of the song sequences in Snow White, and a majority of the first half of Dumbo including Bill Tytla’s marvelous bathing scene. On the realm of shorts Wilfred directed many significant ones including the Band Concert and the Tortoise and the Hare. Not only were the animators inspired by his attention to detail but they also found him easy and rewarding to work with (even Milt Kahl stated he almost never argued with Jaxon.) Unfortunately he had to step down from directing Sleeping Beauty after having a heart attack in late 1953 and worked exclusively in television until leaving the studio in 1961.

David Hand (Director)- If Jaxon was the better director David Hand was the better leader.  He had a great understanding of what Walt wanted and would do anything to get it across the screen. Hand also was important in managing the studio and getting the best possible product out.  He was the supervising director on both Snow White and Bambi. However changing times made Hand uneasy and he left the studio in 1944 to start up a studio in England.

Frank Churchill (Music)- Frank Churchill is one of the greatest musicians and composers in film history. His catchy tunes and splendid melodies were crucial in the Silly Symphonies and the early Disney features.  Among his best works include all the songs in Snow White and Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf in the Three Little Pigs.  Sadly in 1942 he committed suicide.

Oliver Wallace (Music)- While Churchill’s strength was catchy tunes and melodies Wallace’s strength was composing music that gave a great feel and texture to the films, making the music almost another character. Among his accomplishments included composing Dumbo (with Churchill), Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Lady and the Tramp.


Perce Pearce (Story)-  Like Sears, Perce Pearce had a great strength in finding the personality of a character and developing its conception. He’s only second to Walt in his importance in the development of the Seven Dwarfs. He also supervised story on the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Fantasia(with Carl Fallberg), Bambi, and Victory Through Airpower. Pearce worked in live-action at Disney for many years until his death in 1955.

Dick Huemer (Story)- A great New York animator who came to Disney in 1933 where he mainly worked in the story department (oftentimes paired up with Joe Grant).  Among the accomplishments the duo came up with included being story directors on Fantasia, storyboarding the Baby Weems sequence in the Reluctant Dragon, writing the treatment and developing the story of Dumbo, doing the story on the Pedro sequence in Saludos Amigos, and doing story on Alice in Wonderland. Dick worked in comics for many of his later years and by all accounts was a very kind, gentle man.

Joe Grant (Story/Visual Development)- A newspaper cartoonist who came to the studio in 1932 to do caricatures, which he was very good at.  Grant founded the studio’s model department, which was responsible for developing designs, inspirational drawings, concepts, and sculptures for the Disney films of the late 30s and early 40s. Among his accomplishments during his first stint included designing the queen in Snow White, supervising the modeling department and character designs of Fantasia, writing Dumbo with Dick Huemer, supervising the production in Make Mine Music, and creating Lady in Lady and the Tramp.  After having a falling out with Walt in 1949 he left the studio for 40 years before returning in 1989 to help out on Beauty and the Beast. Joe spent the rest of his life at that point helping the studio out with ideas including helping create Chip, Abu, Grandmother Willow, the animals in Pocahontas, and the cricket in Mulan. His strength was always drawing single ideas that turned into stories.

Bill Peet (Story)- Probably the greatest storyman in Disney history who had the rare privilege of being trusted to write and storyboard films by himself.  If you study Bill’s boards you’ll notice they really indicate how the action should play out and give the animator a sense of the character relationship. He was a good artist himself and his boards were a great deal of help to the animator. Peet did great storyboards for films including Dumbo(he boarded the bathing scene), Song of the South(his boards really defined the character relationship between the fox, bear, and rabbit and almost nothing had to be changed by the animator), Cinderella(he boarded a lot of the cat and mouse subplot), One Hundred and One Dalmatians(did it by himself), and Sword in the Stone(also by himself.) Always one to get in confrontations with the master, story disagreements with Walt while developing the Jungle Book led him to leave the studio in 1964 to have a successful career in children’s books.


Ken Anderson- A great art director, layout artist, and layout man who did great inspirational sketches for the films. Take a look at the designs of an animator such as Milt Kahl and you’ll notice that they don’t so much design the characters but refine the sketches done by artists such as and especially Ken Anderson.  Anderson’s work was particularly dominant of the look of all the Reitherman area features but also of films before including Pinocchio, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty.

Albert Hurter- An older artist who had a background working in Europe that came to Disney in the 30s and helped in visual development. His work is particularly dominant in the designs and looks of films such as the Three Little Pigs. Hurter’s European flair and sensibilities are also prevalent in the development work he did for Snow White and Pinocchio. In 1942 he passed away shortly after helping out on Dumbo.

Mary Blair- A very stylized visual development artist whose color choices and inspirational sketches were very prominent in many films made from Saludos Amigos to Peter Pan.  At first Mary’s paintings and work were a lot like her husband Lee who did a lot of oil paints for some of the early features but after going on Disney’s trip to South America she was inspired and developed her unique style.  Song of the South, Melody Time, Saludos Amigos, Three Caballeros, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan all show great influence from her. I personally am a nut for Blair’s unconservative choices of color and her ability to show a personality through so little lines.

Ken O’Connor- A great layout artist who had great ability in the areas of perspective and composition. Among the scenes he did layouts for include the Dance of the Hours in Fantasia, the scene at the Inn in Pinocchio, the Pink Elephants scene in Dumbo,  the ball in Cinderella, and the cards sequence in Alice in Wonderland. Later in his life O’Connor became a teacher in the character animation program at Calarts, where he taught many future greats.

Charles Philippi- A great layout and background artist who did beautiful, graphic work on the Disney features , especially on films like Pinocchio. Unfortunately he passed away young but his style has remained a strong influence on the look of the Disney films.

Ralph Wright- A great storyman who mainly did comedy sequences, including many gags in the Goofy How To series.  He’s also well known for voicing Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh, whose personality is quite similar to Ralph’s.

Don Griffith- Another layout great who was a master at making a layout with great dimensions and clarity. Griffith worked at the studio well into the 1980s and was a very generous teacher to young people.

Al Dempster-  A great background artist who did great work for features such as the Song of the South and the Jungle Book.  Color and depth were his great strengths.

Walt Peregoy- A brilliant layout and inspirational artist who did very abstract, modern artwork. He’s best known for doing the backgrounds and developing the look for Dalmatians. Walt’s still with us and his very larger than life, overly honest personality has remained the same.

Claude Coats- A more realistic background artist who worked at Disney for many years. Good examples of his work are the scene where Cinderella wakes up and she sings at the beginning of the movie and the scene where Lady sees the baby for the first time.

Ed Penner- A storyman who had a great sense of story structure. He was essential in making the stories of Lady and the Tramp and Sleeping Beauty work.

Joe Rinaldi- Another great storyman who oftentimes worked alongside Ed Penner. Among his best work is boarding the scene where Ichabod is scared on the horse and a lot of the business between Hook and Tinkerbell in Peter Pan.

Josh Meador- The first great visual effects animator who created many of the innovative effects used in the features. A great example of his contributions is the effects in the Monstro chase sequence in Pinocchio.

Vance Gerry- A great storyman who worked at Disney for many years. He was particularly great at staging a sequence and coming up with great character personality ideas in his boards.  A great example of Gerry’s work is the boards for the sequence in the Jungle Book where Sher Khan talks with Kaa.

The New Guys

Ron Clements and John Musker- Great director duo who integrates comedy and sincerity like nobody’s business.  Ron is the more sentimental half of the duo while John is more edgy and Cummings when it comes to humor.  They’re also the preferred directors choice by many of the best animators at Disney. Together they directed Great Mouse Detective, Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, Treasure Planet, and the Princess and the Frog. Currently they’re developing the story of an upcoming traditionally done film.

Chris Sanders- One of the most creative and unique visual development artists in Disney history. Inspired by artists such as T. S. Sullivant his work shows a really expressive, caricatured sense of style with great roundness and communication.  Among his accomplishments include designing the mice in the UN sequence in Rescuers Down Under, boarding the Beast Resurrection scene and the wolf fight scene in Beauty and the Beast, being the chief character designer and defining the look of the Lion King(best seen in the look of I Just Can’t Wait to Be King),  supervising story in Mulan, and directing as well as creating Lilo and Stitch. Sanders left Disney in 2006 and now works at DreamWorks, where since he has directed How to Train Your Dragon and is currently working on the upcoming the Croods.

Ed Gombert- A great story artist with a great understanding of the character relationship and humor. Originally an animator he started working in story full time on Mermaid(he boarded both the scenes the Scuttle and the Under the Sea sequence) and supervised story on Aladdin.  Among his later work for Disney included helping out on Pocahontas(a project he didn’t enjoy at all) and helping develop Lilo and Stitch. Gombert left Disney for Sony in 2005 and now is helping the story of Croods for DreamWorks.

Roger Allers- A brilliant storyman who is a master at boarding both dramatic and sentimental sequences.  Roger boarded many of the touching moments in Mermaid and in Beauty and the Beast(he supervised story on the later). He also directed the Lion King. Allers is known for being very intuitive in his work and being great at defining story beats that are interesting and creative.

Rasoul Azadani- A layout artist who supervised layout on almost all the Ron and John features as well as Pocahontas and Winnie the Pooh.

Ted Kierscey- A great visual effects artist whose worked at the studio since 1970 and was the first student of the Disney training program.  He’s very good at doing spectacular, powerful effects and putting strength into his work. Some of his best work includes the effects in both Mermaid and Fantasia 2000.

Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise- Two excellent and very creative board artists who co-directed Beauty and the Beast, Hunchback, and Atlantis. Both are great with comic sequences and have a great sense of staging. Gary was responsible for creating Timon and Pumbaa for Lion King as well as boarding the chef sequence in Mermaid.  Their specialty is in creating a story that had very strong, archetypical characters with great personalities.

Bill Perkins- A great designer and art director best known for serving as art director on Aladdin. His sense of design and scale is phenomenal and he is also very good at making a painting or inspirational sketch bold and dynamic.  Perkins still works for Disney and recently did excellent development painting for Tangled, including for the scene with the dinner and the shot where they’re walking in the woods.

Jean Gilmore- A brilliant character designer with a special ability of interpreting story, character, and other aspects and putting them together to create a great design that is of great use to the animator. Among the films she’s work on are Aladdin, Lion King, Pocahontas, Hunchback, and Atlantis.

Mike Gabriel-  The director of Rescuers Down Under and Pocahontas who has great ability in crating a beautiful piece of artwork that communicates a story and feeling very effectively. I particularly like the artwork he did while working on the visual development of the Bayou in Frog. They’re really beautiful and take you right there!

Howard Ashman-  The great lyricist on Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and some songs on Aladdin that really understood what made Disney animation great. Howard really worked hard at finding the emotional points of the story that needed to have songs and in developing characters with strong desires and emotions. Sadly he passed away from AIDS in 1991 and is very much missed.

Hans Bacher- A great German painter whose visual development artwork has had a great influence on the Disney films. The realism, life, and dynamics of his work is phenomenal and truly breathtaking.

Andy Gaskill-  A great art director who lent his talents to developing Lion King, Hercules, and Treasure Planet. Gaskill’s work has a great sense of design and understanding of how art and color can express the feelings and emotions of the story. He currently works for Sony Animation.

Sue Nichols- A great story artist whose feel for story and understanding of character has been a big help to the Disney studio. Her work shows that she understands the characters’s goals and their personality as well as what gives a story sincerity and heart.  My favorite work she has done is the development work she did for the Almost There sequence in the Princess and the Frog.

Dan Haskett- A brilliant character designer who is excellent at giving a design simplicity and intent. His designs were crucial in the development of Eric and Grimsby in Mermaid as well as Belle in Beauty and the Beast.

Phil Phillipson- A great background artist who has the great gift of using the scale of a background to show story and the colors of the background to show emotion. Among his best work is the backgrounds for the Can You Feel the Love Tonight sequence in Lion King.

Mike Giamo- A great art director whose pascal drawings are wonderful and truly inspiring. I love his unique choices of color and ability to use those in a way that isn’t realistic but is very believable. Giamo’s work is best seen in the look and design of Pocahontas.

Brenda Chapman- A great story artist whose boards show a great understanding of the relationships and feelings of the character. My favorite scene she boarded is the sequence in Beauty and the Beast animated by Aaron Blaise where Belle is bandaging Beast. It has great clarity and sincerity making it clearly demonstrates the changes that are happening in their relationship and emotions for each other.  Chapman also supervised story on the Lion King and has worked at both DreamWorks and Pixar since leaving Disney in 1994.

Dorse Lanpher- A great visual effects artist who worked at Disney off and on over a 45 year period.  His effects are great because they really duplicate how the effect would look and feel in real life.

Joe Ranft- A great storyman who had a very special gift at telling stories and making boards with true heart and sincerity.  Inspired by Bill Peet he made boards that really helped the animator understand the character and clearly show the story points the audience needed to understand.  Among his best scenes for Disney included storyboarding Scuttle’s introduction in Mermaid, helping out with the Be Our Guest sequence in Beauty and the Beast, and supervising story in Rescuers Down Under.  In 1992 Ranft went to Pixar to help out his old friend John Lasseter on their first feature film Toy Story. He stayed working at Pixar and making incredibly valuable contributions to the story department until his tragic death in 2005 from an auto accident. Joe is greatly missed by everyone and will always be remembered as one of the greatest story men ever.

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One Response to “An Extra Post: Inspirations and Influences From Other Part of Production at the Studio”

  1. Tom Codrick–primary art director of Disney’s first 4 features.

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