A Dreamer Walking

Walt Disney- An Observation- Worthy of Admiration

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on August 8, 2011

I was reading an interview on this man who spent more then thirty years working for Walt Disney. In a interview he said, “When you were having a conflict with Walt, you were having a conflict with someone who probably had more on the ball than you had, and whose judgment was probably better”. This might not be seen as a very huge compliment. It is nothing new, you have probably heard those types of compliments before. This however is not the only thing this guy has said about Walt. In other interviews this man has talked about how Walt was able to push artist to do things they didn’t feel like they were capable of doing. He talked about the phenomenal intuition and story instinct Walt had and how he was willing to put everything, even his life insurance, on the line to keep the studio and his dream alive. He called Walt a “genius” and a “brilliant storyteller”. This man said Walt was the kind of guy “who only comes along once in several generations”. Now we are getting to some generous compliments no matter who might be making them. However, I think the authenticity of these compliments is cemented by knowing who they came from.  The man who said all these things about Walt was none other then legendary animator Milt Kahl.

Milt was one of Walt’s Nine Old Men. Many consider him to be the greatest of the Nine Old Men. Milt was known for his dedication to perfection. It was a daunting and nerve racking task to clean up his drawings or to work on his inbetweens, out of fear that you might mess up his animation. He produced the final character design sheets for almost all the Disney full length features from the 1940’s-70’s. Most of the other big animators at the studio, including majority of the Nine Old Men, went to Milt for advice and help on working out complicated movements or designs. Milt was given the most complicated animation scenes. He needed to bring warmth to the puppet Pinocchio, he needed to give flight to Peter Pan, and give Madusa, from The Rescuers, her evil charm. If Milt thought an artist was being lazy he would let him or her know. He was known for his temper and not holding back a insult. He made it clear he thought most of his fellow Disney employees, especially after Walt died, were a bunch of  “lazy bastards”. I have heard stories of things getting so heated sketchbooks went flying. Milt was even willing to get into arguments with the big boss of the studio, Walt Disney.

See, Milt Kahl is not the kind of guy to compliment someone, let alone say someone is a “genius” or confess someone else might have better judgment then him. I have heard Milt Kahl complain about more then one of the Nine Old Men, and all those artists are considered some of the greatest to ever work in animation. Because I knew this about Milt, what he said about Walt truly impacted me. I heard a man who struggled with complimenting more then anyone I have researched (including Walt) give some of the greatest compliments a man could give. And I finally began to realize why. You see, even though Milt was a perfectionist I think Milt realized Walt was something more. Walt was a dreamer. Walt helped create the medium Milt strived most of his life to perfect.

After Walt died Milt kept on working at the studio. However, the films he worked on were not nearly as good as the films of old, such as Pinocchio, Bambi, and Landy and the Tramp. Milt had a limit. He only could perfect the material he was given. Walt however was the one with the limitless imagination, he was the one who created the material. After Walt died the material became much less precious. For Milt it was like trying to create a sculpture out of a block of mud rather then a fine piece of diamond. Milt had all the tools to create something that was visually stunning, however much of the visuals were lost because of the poor material.

Milt said in 1976, the year he left the studio, “Here I am, a person at the height of my powers, and I feel there’s not a place for me anymore.”.  Walt created stories that entertained and inspired. His philosophy was about creating better material for his artists to work with. After his death Walt’s philosophy was lost. Milt did not admire Walt because he gave out compliments, was a flawless leader, or because of his money and fame. Walt was admired by Milt Kahl because he gave him a place to perfect his art form.

I have been studying Walt Disney for years now. I want to understand what went into the creation of such fine material that resulted in great films like Pinocchio and Mary Poppins. I want to know what drove Walt to create even better material. Before his death Walt was moving from theme parks to cities. He wanted to create an art form that would be completely intertwined with everyday life. His creativity had no limits and that is worthy of anyone’s admiration.

(Here are the links to the material I quoted. First off is Michael Barrier and Milton Gray interview of Milt Kahl. Second is Side 1 and Side 2 of a lecture Milt Kahl gave at Cal Arts in 1976. Also, Pixar animator Carlos Baena has some great resources on Milt Kahl on his website.)

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