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January 9

January 9, 1913 – Former President of Walt Disney Productions and Disney Legend Donn Tatum is Born

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“The world will miss Donn, but we at Disney who looked to him for wisdom, guidance and balance will miss him more.” – Chairman Michael Eisner and President Frank Wells

On January 9, 1913, Donn B. Tatum was born. He grew up in Los Angeles, California, and attended Stanford University, earning a degree in political science and economics. After this, he attended Oxford University in England, earning both a Bachelors and Masters law degree. He passed the bar exam in 1938, and soon after became a partner in the law firm Lillick, Geary and McHose. After serving as counsel for RCA, NBC, and ABC, as well as helping to shape legislation for the new medium of television, Tatum became the general manager of KABC-TV and the western television director for ABC. In 1956, he was hired by Disney as the production business manager. In 1971, Tatum was named as the chief executive and board chairman after the death of Roy O. Disney, making him the first non-Disney family member to run the company. He stayed CEO until 1976, and stayed as chairman until 1980; in 1980, he handed the control of the company to Card Walker. Tatum also served on several Disney related boards, including being named as chairman of the board for CalArts, and president of the Disney Foundation. Tatum passed away on May 31, 1993, after battling cancer. He was inducted later in 1993 as a Disney Legend.

April 17

April 17, 1933 – Former President and CEO of The Walt Disney Company Ron W. Miller is Born

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“I’m really very proud of having been a professional athlete. I think it teaches you to be competitive, to accept challenges, and to see things through.”

On April 17, 1933, Ronald William Miller was born in California. He attended the University of Southern California, lettering in football. It was there where he met Diane Disney, daughter of Walt, on a blind date. The two married in a small church ceremony on May 9, 1954. Soon ­after the wedding, Miller was drafted into the Army, but on his return, he played with the Los Angeles Rams as a tight end. During one game, when Walt was watching from the stands, Miller was hit hard enough to be knocked unconscious. Worried about the danger of the sport and his grandchildren, Disney offered Miller a job, which Miller accepted. He joined the company in 1957, with his first assignment as a second assistant on the 1957 film Old Yeller. He would soon move to the role of associate producer for Bon Voyage, Summer Magic, Moon Pilot, and A Tiger Walks. After this, he moved up to the role of co-producer on such films as The Monkey’s Uncle, That Darn Cat!, and Monkeys, Go Home! Miller had his first full producer credit on the 1968 film Never a Dull Moment, and served as an executive producer for 12 years. In 1980, Miller was elected president of the Walt Disney Company, and was also named CEO in 1983. During his term, the Touchstone label was created, with its first film being the hit Splash; Miller was also responsible for creating The Disney Channel and initiating the studio’s first attempts at computer animation, thanks to the film Tron. Unfortunately, Miller’s tenure was rife with corporate takeover attempts, and in 1984, Miller was ousted in favor of Michael Eisner and Frank Wells. He now spends his days at the Silverado Vineyards Winery, building its reputation.

March 31

March 31, 1945 – Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios, is Born

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“I drew a lot; I wanted to be an animator. I wanted to be an artist. But at the same time, I believed that I wasn’t good enough to be an animator, so I switched over to physics and computer science. As soon as I took the first class, I just fell in love with it, it just blew everything else away.”

On March 31, Edwin Earl Catmull was born on March 31, 1945, in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Although he loved to draw from an early age and dreamed of becoming an animator, he believed early on that he didn’t have the talent necessary, and decided to study physics and computer science at the University of Utah. Around the country at that time, funding was given to select universities to pursue computer science, and Catmull participated in one of the first labs in computer graphics. In this lab, Camtull created a short computer-animated film of his own left hand, which ultimately helped in the development in creating curved surfaces and eliminating jagged edges. This film was inducted into the National Archives in December, 2011 as a ground-breaking work. In 1974, Catmull graduated with his PhD. Soon after graduation, Alexander Schure, founder of the New York Institute of Technology, hired Catmull as the head of the computer graphics department in the hopes of creating new tools and products to create computer animation. There, Catmull met Alvy Ray Smith, who became a close collaborator and friend for many years. At NYIT, Catmull and his research group developed several tools that would allow animators to draw and paint directly into the computer, including Tween, Paint, and SoftCel.

The work being done by Catmull and his team was noticed by George Lucas, who hired Catmull to form a new computer division at Lucasfilm. Catmull accepted the offer, and in 1979, he became the Vice President of the computer graphics division. Catmull and Smith, however, were still working toward the goal of a completely computer animated full-length film. Tom Porter, technical director at Pixar noted that, “…Ed and Alvy realized, in order to get in the game, we’ve got to put characters up on the screen, and that meant character animation, and that changed everything right there.” As luck would have it, Catmull ran into John Lasseter at a conference, and Catmull jumped at the chance to bring a real animator to Lucasfilm to help realize the dream of a computer animated film. With Lasseter, the group created the short film The Adventures of Andre and Wally B., along with new software to replicate the squash and stretch movements of traditional animation, which was well received at the 1984 SIGGRAPH conference. Catmull and the team also developed the most powerful graphics computer of the time: the Pixar Image Computer. However, sales of this computer were stagnant, as the software was only sold in limited markets. Catmull and Smith, with Lucas’ blessing, spun off the computer division as Pixar, and struggled to find an investor.

Catmull (L) with the rest of the Pixar team from Lucasfilm

Catmull (L) with the rest of the Pixar team from Lucasfilm

In 1986, their prayers were answered when Steve Jobs heard of Pixar. “That was the first time I met Ed [Catmull], and he shared with me his dream to make the world’s first computer-animated film. And I, in the end, ended up buying into that dream, both spiritually and financially,” Jobs shared in an interview. He launched Pixar, and Catmull was named as Chief Technical Officer. He also helped develop the RenderMan system used in Toy Story and Finding Nemo. In 2006, when Disney acquired Pixar, Catmull was then named the President of Pixar and Disney Animation, and with Lasseter, the two were put in the prime position of bringing the art of 2-D animation back to life. “Everybody at Pixar loves 3-D animation, you know, we helped develop it. But we also love 2-D animation, and to think that 2-D was shut down, and that [Pixar was] used as an excuse to shut it down was awful,” Catmull said about the decision of most animation studios shutting down their traditional animation studios. “We saw this art form being thrown away, so for us, it was just, it was a tragic time.” Bob Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Studios, wanted to take the studio back to the glory days of animation, and knew that Pixar had the right people to do that. “While we will make 3-D movies, we’re also going to make 2-D movies, cause it’s part of this wonderful heritage that we’ve got here, and it’s a beautiful art form,” says Catmull. “It feels like this [partnership between Disney and Pixar] is the true culmination of the building of Pixar and this amazing company into something which will continue on and continue to make waves in the future.”

March 8

March 8, 1983 – President Ronald Reagan Visits Walt Disney World’s EPCOT Center

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“We can see the benefits of this revolution already. Many of the advantages you can view right here at EPCOT Center, which itself is a celebration of tomorrow.”

On March 8, 1983, President Ronald Reagan visited Walt Disney World’s EPCOT Center with his wife, First Lady Nancy Reagan. The Reagans began with a visit to the American Adventure attraction, and afterward they met with students that participated in the World Showcase Fellowship Program. This program, which unfortunately no longer exists at Disney, was a one-year exchange program for outstanding students all over the world to represent their countries in the World Showcase. After greeting these students, President Reagan gave a speech in the amphitheater outside of the American Adventure to the program’s students, select outstanding students in math and science from the Central Florida area, and other guests. His speech detailed how happy he was to see so many young people at EPCOT, and how the students will be able to bring change to not only the nation, but also to the world.

If you haven’t read the speech, I would highly recommend it. EPCOT is one of those places that thrive on cultural understanding, and reading Reagan’s words just hits that point home.