‘Whenever we’d get stuck, we’d remember how Walt did it on that night.’

According to Mark Greif


In story meetings with his growing staff of animators […] Disney would get up, according to Neal Gabler’s new biography,

enter his trance, and suddenly transform himself uninhibitedly into Mickey or Donald or an owl or an old hunting dog . . . ‘He would imitate the expressions of the dog, and look from one side to the other, and raise first one brow and then the other’ . . . ‘You’d have the feeling of the whole thing,’ Dick Huemer noted. ‘You’d know exactly what he wanted.’

Mickey Mouse’s gestures ‘were copied from Walt’s when he performed Mickey at story meetings’; until 1946 Disney also voiced him, in falsetto. In another new Life, Michael Barrier’s The Animated Man, the studio head is seen by animators acting out ‘how a Chinese turtle should dance’, or doing ‘any of the people in the pictures, valets, anything – he all of a sudden was a valet.’

One such episode was burned in Disney animators’ memories from three years before the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), the first ever feature-length animation and Walt’s personal masterpiece. […] One night, Disney told his animators to get their dinner and then come back to the soundstage. In Gabler’s retelling,

none had any idea of what Walt had in mind. When they arrived, about fifty of them, at roughly 7.30, and took their seats on wooden tiers at the back of the room, Walt was standing at the front lit by a single spotlight in the otherwise dark space. Announcing that he was going to launch an animated feature, he told the story of Snow White, not just telling it but acting it out, assuming the characters’ mannerisms, putting on their voices, letting his audience visualise exactly what they would be seeing on the screen. He became Snow White and the wicked queen and the prince and each of the dwarfs . . . The performance took over three hours . . . ‘That one performance lasted us three years,’ one animator claimed. ‘Whenever we’d get stuck, we’d remember how Walt did it on that night.’


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