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December 19

December 19, 1914 – Animator, Story Man, and Disney Legend Mel Shaw is Born

Mel Shaw

“Mel was on a short list of vanguard artists who would jump into a new film when it was still a blank piece of paper and with his stunning work he’d show us all the visual possibilities.” – Don Hahn

On December 19, 1914, Melvin Schwartzman (who would change his last name to Shaw) was born in Brooklyn, New York, to an opera singer mother and a lawyer father. He displayed great artistic talent at an early age, being selected for the Student Art League Society and winning a Procter & Gamble soap carving contest. In 1928, his family moved to Los Angeles, though he left at one point to try his hand at being a cowboy, despite winning a scholarship to an art institute. He soon returned to California, where he found a job at Pacific Titles creating title cards for silent films. Shaw’s first animation job came with the newly formed Harman-Ising Studios, where he took on several roles including animator, character designer, story man, and director. Shaw played polo in his spare time, where he met Walt Disney, who would invite him to join his studio. Shaw left Harman-Ising and joined Disney in 1937, where his first main project was the 1942 film Bambi. He left Disney during World War II, choosing to serve in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, working as a filmmaker and cartoonist. After the war, while not going back to Disney, he did work with the company through his new company, Allen-Shaw Productions (a partnership with former MGM Studios animator Bob Allen). He was asked back to Disney in 1974 to help transition animation from the old guard to the new, bringing his expertise to such films as The Great Mouse Detective and The Lion King. For his multitude of work for Disney, Shaw was honored as a Disney Legend in 2004. In 2012, at the age of 97, Shaw passed away.

March 13

March 13, 1960 – Animator, Storyboard Artists, and Disney Legend Joe Ranft is Born


“Joe was really a major part of Pixar’s soul. He was one of the key players who made all the films what they are.” – Director Pete Doctor

On March 13, 1960, Joseph Henry Ranft was born in Pasadena, California, and grew up in Whittier. He had a strong interest in movies, magic, and performing, all things that would impact his career. In 1978, Ranft enrolled in the California Institute of the Arts, where he studied Disney-style animation alongside future collaborators John Lasseter and Brad Bird. In 1980, Ranft accepted a job offer from Disney, and earned a quick reputation as an outstanding story artist. He contributed to the story of several films, including Oliver and Company, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Fantasia 2000. In 1991, Ranft began working for Pixar, working on the story for their first computer-animated feature film, Toy Story. His knack of performing and impressions got him hired as the voice of Heimlich in the studio’s second film, A Bug’s Life; he would continue writing and performing on Toy Story 2, voicing Wheezy the penguin, and had writing credits for Monsters, Inc. and Cars. Unfortunately, Ranft was killed in a car accident on August 16, 2005, leaving behind a legacy of storytelling and a reputation as a “story giant of our generation,” as relayed by director Henry Selick. Ranft was named a Disney Legend in 2006.

May 15

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May 15, 1908 – Character Designer, Storyman, and Disney Legend Joe Grant is Born


“I think there was always a gentle sweetness to Joe and his work. There’s a gentility in everything he touched. But there’s also a great sophistication. He was one of the truly great craftsmen of our art, but he always saw his craft as a way to communicate ideas.” – Roy E. Disney

On May 15, 1908, Joe Grant was born in New York City. After attending the Chouinard Art Institute, he joined the Walt Disney Studios in 1933 as a character designer and a story artist, and his first assignment was the Mickey Mouse short film Mickey’s Gala Premiere. He also designed the look of the Queen and the Wicked Witch for Disney’s first feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The Character Model Department was created around this time, with Grant as the head, working out ideas for stories and characters through model sheets and three-dimension figures known as maquettes. Grant was also known for his work with partner Dick Huemer, working on story direction for Fantasia, and screen story for Dumbo. During World War II, Grant worked on story ideas and designs for several shorts, including Reason and Emotion, and Der Fuehrer’s Face. In 1949, Grant left the studio, due to the disbandment of the Character Model Department, and opened a ceramics studio and a greeting card company.

Almost forty years after leaving Disney, Grant received a call from the Animation Department, asking him to consult on Beauty and the Beast, and was credited for visual development on the final film. Grant then rejoined the studio as a story advisor for Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Home on the Range. Grant also contributed to the Pixar film Monsters, Inc., coining the title for the film. He was named a Disney Legend in 1992, and has been awarded a special career achievement award by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Grant passed away on May 6, 2005, at the age of 96.

March 27

March 27, 1901 – Cartoonist and Disney Legend Carl Barks is Born


“I want to thank the Disney Studios for this [Disney Legends] award, not only for myself, but for all those comic book fans: the kids who used to buy those comic books for ten cents and now sell them for $2,000.”

On March 27, 1901, Carl Barks was born in Merrill, Oregon. His passion for drawing showed at an early age, and he would try to improve his style by copying the comics from the newspaper. After spending his teenage years and his twenties drifting from job to job, he decided to apply to the Disney Studios in 1935, and was hired as an inbetweener with a salary of $20 a week. He started submitting gag ideas, and was then moved over to the story department. As the Donald Duck short film series began to develop, Barks worked closely with Jack Hannah in creating several story ideas for the character, including such shorts as Donald’s Nephews and The Vanishing Private. However, the legend goes that Barks was having allergy problems from the air conditioning in the studio, and wanted to find work elsewhere within Disney that wouldn’t require him to be at the studio full time. In 1942, Barks and Hannah created a one-shot comic for Donald called “Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold,” which became the first original Disney comic book. This was the start of Barks’ career with the Donald Duck comics.

Barks was able to flesh out not only Donald’s character through the comics, but also the characters of Donald’s nephews; he also created new characters Gladstone Gander, a rival for Daisy’s affections, and his most famous creation, Scrooge McDuck. Scrooge’s first appearance was in “Christmas on Bear Mountain.” Other characters came along, including the Beagle Boys and Morgana, which are seen in the animated series Ducktales, based on Barks’ work. Barks’ stories were epic adventures, and he was known for doing thorough research on the regions in which the stories were set. It was also said that the opening sequence in the film Raiders of the Lost Ark was based on Barks’ work. Barks retired from the comics in 1966, and in 1991, Barks was awarded as a Disney Legend. He passed away in 2000 at the age of 99.

January 5

January 5, 1913 – Animator, Writer, Director, and Disney Legend Jack Hannah is Born


“He was a character, but he was like a father figure to me, because he really took care of me, not only in just showing me the tricks of the trade, and about Donald, and…Disney animation…he was a kind of rough and tumble kind of guy.” Tony Anselmo, current voice of Donald Duck

On January 5, 1913, Jack Hannah was born in Nogales, Arizona. In 1931, Hannah moved to Los Angeles, California, studying art at the Art Guild Academy; in 1933, he submitted his portfolio to the Walt Disney Studios, and was hired as an in-betweener and a clean-up artist. His first short film with an animator credit was Gulliver Mickey, and he was also a key animator for the Academy Award-winning short film The Old Mill. His introduction to Donald Duck was the short film Modern Inventions; Hannah would soon be associated with the “Gable of the [Disney] stable.” Hannah moved to the story department in 1939, writing many of the Donald Duck stories. For 27 short films, Hannah worked with Carl Barks, the Donald Duck comic book artist, to help shape the character of Donald in films, including Donald Gets Drafted and Donald’s Vacation. In 1943, he became a director of the short films, introducing new antagonists for Donald, including Chip and Dale. Hannah also introduced Donald to the new medium of television, which includes A Day in the Life of Donald Duck and At Home with Donald Duck.

Although Hannah retired in1959, he was asked in 1975 to help develop a new class at the Disney-founded California Institute of the Arts, the Character Animation programs. In 1992, Hannah was honored as a Disney Legend, credited with developing the personality of Donald Duck in the animated short subjects. He and Carl Barks are considered the “fathers” of Donald Duck. Hannah passed away at age 81 in Burbank, California in 1994.

September 11

September 11, 1892 – Voice Actor, Story Man, and Disney Legend Pinto Colvig is Born

“[Goofy is] the epitome of all the hicks in the world and the easiest to portray. I guess that’s because I’m a corn-fed hick myself.”

On September 11, 1892, Vance DeBar “Pinto” Colvig was born in Jacksonville, Oregon. The youngest of seven children and a self-professed class clown, Colvig spent his youth performing with carnivals and vaudeville acts. He enrolled in Oregon State College in 1911, taking every spring off to perform with the circus. He quit school in 1913 to join the circus full-time. In 1921, he headed to Hollywood, scoring a job with Mack Sennett, Hollywood’s king of comedy at the time.

In 1930, he came to work at the Walt Disney Studios as a story man, but is well-known and regarded for his vocal range, which was used for several characters, including the Practical Pig in The Three Little Pigs, the grasshopper in The Grasshopper and the Ants (he also wrote the song “The World Owes Me a Living,” with the song now closely tied to Goofy), and his most well-known role, Goofy. Colvig also had two roles in the feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Grumpy and Sleepy. After the release of Snow White, Colvig and Disney had a falling out, which led to Colvig heading to work at Max Fleischer’s studio in Miami. In 1941, he came back to Disney, voicing Goofy for the rest of his time there. Colvig died in 1967, and was honored as a Disney Legend in 1993.

April 4

April 4, 1956 – Where Do the Stories Come From? Premieres on Television

“Potential story ideas exist all around us.” – Walt Disney

On April 4, 1956, the Disneyland episode Where Do the Stories Come From? premiered on ABC. Directed by Jack Hannah, the episode attempts to explain the most often-asked question of the members of the Disney studios: where do they get their story ideas?

Composer Oliver Wallace studies a picture of Daisy, trying to find inspiration for a song about her

The episode opens with Walt Disney saying that the question of “Where do the stories come from?” is one that is asked a lot, and this episode will try to explain it the best he can. He tells the audience that story ideas can come from books, or are inspired by a song. The first example he gives of the latter is the song that had to be written for Daisy Duck; “she had to have a song,” since everyone else had one. The assignment for Daisy’s song was given to studio composer, Oliver Wallace. He thinks of words that rhyme with Daisy, and comes up with “crazy,” which gives him the title, “Crazy Over Daisy.” Soon, Wallace is composing an entire melody, and not long after, two men are seen listening to a record of the completed song. It then became the inspiration for a short film called Crazy Over Daisy, set in the early 1900s, which is shown next.

For the next example Disney brings up a short that was based on the True-Life Adventure series, where any interesting footage of animals could inspire the story artists to come up with a short film. “In viewing the thousands of feet of true-life adventure film that comes into the studio, we sometimes come across an animal that is a natural foil for one of our cartoon characters,” Disney explains, as he introduces the short R’Coon Dog.  Thinking a raccoon would be a match for Mickey Mouse and Pluto, the animators consult Pluto about his part in the film. Pluto is seen in the projection room, watching the footage of raccoons, and then is seen in the story room, where the animators are seen drawing the raccoon character.  Pluto takes the drawing a bit too seriously and tears it up with his teeth. The audience then sees R’Coon Dog.

The next example Disney presents draws on the experiences of the artists during World War II, when they had to get their physicals. The animators thought “it would be fun to put Donald Duck in the same ordeal,” and they show a compilation of some of the Donald Duck wartime shorts, including Donald Gets Drafted, and Fall Out Fall In.

Walt Disney presents the hobby of many at the Disney Studio: model railroads

Disney then presents his own hobby of model railroads, as well as two animators who “haven’t escaped the bug” of the hobby, as Disney puts it: Ollie Johnston and Ward Kimball of the Nine Old Men. The audience sees home movies of Ollie and Ward with their model railroads.  Every detail is built to scale on Ollie’s model, and Ward has a full-size model in his own backyard. Not to be outdone by his two animators, Disney shows off his own model railroad, named the Lilly Belle, and some of the home movies of creating the track in Disney’s backyard. “The hardest part of the job was convincing my wife that the flower beds had to go,” Disney jokes. The hobby shared by these three men led to the creation of a Donald Duck short, Out of Scale.