Steamboat Willie and Mickey Mouse catapulted the Disney brothers into the lives of many through their brilliantly created story lines and ear pleasing accompanying sound. However, Walt Disney wanted to be better; he wanted to soar above the rest when it came to sound. Walt Disney Studios began to create short films under the heading “Silly Symphonies.” Silly Symphonies were cartoon animation set to music played by an orchestra. The first of these films was titled “The Skeleton Dance.” A very simple production, The Skeleton Dance depicted ghosts and skeletons moving and dancing simultaneous with no other sound than the symphony music. This short film was shown in theaters around the country after the feature matinee.
Walt Disney’s First Oscar
As the success of Disney Studios skyrocketed, once again someone tried to take advantage of Walt Disney. This time, he was not going to have it. Pat Powers, the gentleman that was publicizing the Silly Symphony shorts, wanted to take over, just like Mr. Mintz did with Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Disney parted ways with Powers and kept the rights to Mickey Mouse; arguably one of the smartest moves in his career. With Powers gone, Disney kept motoring with his Silly Symphonies.
Walt, his brother Roy, and a group of artists began working on a film titled “Flowers and Trees.” About half way through the project, Walt came across a technique called Technicolor. He loved it so much that he signed an exclusive 3 year deal for the use of Technicolor in animation. Against his brother’s wishes, the team scrapped what they had done on the film and began creating a colored version of “Flowers and Trees.” This film won Walt Disney his first Oscar; it was also the first time an Oscar was given to a cartoon.
As the company continued to grow, Walt Disney knew that he needed to devote his time more on story development and less on animation; subsequently, Walt hired more artists and began expansion plans for the studio. Walt was so committed to quality; he even paid for his new artists to take art classes to get better. However, as Disney soon found, many of the schools were not teaching to the standards that Walt wanted. This lead Walt to create his own school and educate his artists on the quality and vision that the Disney Brothers Studio aspired to. After putting so much time, money and effort into having a trained staff, he felt that they were bigger than short film producers. He was interested in creating a feature film. But what film would Disney choose to tackle first?
The Accomplishments Poured In
When he was younger, Disney saw Snow White in a theater. He fell in love with the story and knew he had artists to complete the job. Walt Disney risked everything. He raised funds, borrowed money and used every penny to fund this $1.5 million dollar animated film. It opened on December 21, 1937 at Carthay Circle Theater, grossed $8 million in its first year and won an Academy Award (specially designed with 1 large statue and 7 miniature ones). Disney had done it. He no longer had to worry about spending that last dollar. Viewers, critics, everyone was in love with Walt Disney’s first ever Animated Feature Film. They wanted a sequel, but Disney did not want to venture down that road again. He had created a series with Alice and Mickey; he didn’t want to do that with Snow White. Instead, he created Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi. With the rest of his money he began construction on a $3 million brand new studio in Burbank, California. Along with the new, upgraded location also came new equipment.
Through his masterpieces and creations Walt Disney had garnered a lot of fame. He partied with movie stars and ate with royalty. When Disney began creating the Mickey Mouse cartoons, he had dinner with one of the most famous composers ever, Tchaikovsky. Tchaikovsky was interested in doing music for one of the shorts. Years later, Disney couldn’t think of anyone better to compose the music for his next big film, Fantasia. Walt wanted to watch his films and feel as if he was in a concert hall. Working with Tchaikovsky during the making of Fantasia, he created Fantasound. Fantasound was just an early version of stereophonic sound, which gave Disney that “concert hall” feel. It only cost him $2 million to create the film, $400,000 of which went to Tchaikovsky.
During his life, Walt Disney had accomplished many firsts; thankfully, that did not make him stop aspiring for more. Another first was a piece of equipment that Disney began to explore in his new studio: the multi-plane camera. Picture a large tower (8-10 feet high) with different levels of pains of glass. On each level, there is a different animation cell. As the animation cells are processed at the same time, the camera strolls through the levels and makes the playback look three-dimensional. This technique was first made famous with Walt Disney’s animated Silly Symphony short, The Old Mill.
With Walt’s vision guiding them, Walt Disney Animation went on to produce many more animated features and went on to earn countless awards and accolades. Walt Disney himself went on to win a grand total of 32 Academy Awards, a record which still stands today. Walt was extremely passionate about each animated feature the Disney Company released and he made sure he was personally involved with each one.