|Wilfred Jackson with Bobby Driscoll (as Peter) and Kathryn Beaumont (as Wendy) during the shooting of live-action reference footage for Peter Pan (1953). The layout artist McLaren Stewart is kneeling at right. Courtesy of Wilfred Jackson.
Wilfred Jackson (1976)
An interview by Michael Barrier and Milton Gray
From MB: Milt Gray and I recorded this interview with the great Disney cartoon director Wilfred Jackson at his home on Balboa Island, California, on November 5, 1976, the day that we also recorded the interview with Gerry Geronimi that I've posted elsewhere on this site. This Jackson interview was, I've been reminded as I've re-read the transcript, very much a followup interview, a supplement to the much longer and wider-ranging interview that Milt and I (and Bob Clampett) conducted in 1973, and that's available at this link. The 1976 interview is more of a nuts-and-bolts interview than the earlier one, concerned a little more with the day-to-day work of making cartoons, a little less with Walt Disney himself (although Walt is always present in some way), and not at all with chronology.
I sent Jackson a list of followup questions before the interview. I haven't included them here because their content is usually obvious from Jackson's responses, but for the sake of clarity, I've noted when Jackson was responding to one of my written questions. He reviewed the transcript carefully, making many small changes and in a few cases appending rewritten or expanded answers. The interview as I've published it here is identical with his revised version except for a few very minor changes, including my deletion of some short and superfluous exchanges. He suggested substituting a lengthy passage from a 1977 letter for some of what he says late in this interview, but I have not done that, since I didn't want to lose what's in the interview, and combining the two sources into one was not really practicable. I may yet work up those pages from his letter into an item for this site.
By the time I sent him this transcript, late in 1977, Jackson and I had been corresponding frequently for several years; he was in his letters as in his interviews exceptionally careful and thorough. True to his habits as a director, he preferred letters to interviews, because of the time they permitted for second thoughts and revisions. He found interviews stressful, too, and thus a threat to his fragile health, and he begged off sitting for an interview with Milt Gray in 1977. Although I visited him again at his home on Balboa Island, there were no more interviews.
As the 1976 interview began, we were talking about the use of multiplane in The Old Mill, and why that didn't stand out in Jackon's memory in the 1973 interview.
Jackson: What actually happened with The Old Mill (1937) was that we were supposed to work out the bugs in the brand new multiplane camera before they got Snow White (1937) multiplane scenes into production, so they could breeze them through without any trouble. We got our part all ready, and our scenes were sitting there, waiting, but they didn't make schedule with their multiplane camera. The engineers hit some bugs, and our Old Mill scenes kept getting put off. By the time we got our first scene to the multiplane camera—by the time the camera was ready—they had some Snow White scenes ready, and of course the feature got priority. This kept on happening. I got a few scenes through, but the Snow White scenes kept coming in to multiplane. So they really worked out the bugs on Snow White more than they did on The Old Mill; and in fact, about three quarters of the scenes that had been planned for multiplane in The Old Mill were revised so they could be shot on the flat camera. The layout men went back over it, and worked out ways—which later became very useful as economy measures—to achieve multiplane effects with the flat camera. My poor picture was so set back by the feature that The Old Mill has a release date of only a month or two before Snow White.
The first question you had here [in a letter] was about layouts; you were interested in the development of the layouts, and also the extent to which the detailed layouts influenced the animation. I'm
going to answer the second one first. I don't believe they influenced the animation too much; I don't believe they held the animators down. At least on my pictures, it was my experience that if the animators had a better way of doing it, they did it that way. They were encouraged to do so, and we adjusted the layout to fit it. The effort was to help them, as much as possible, to get a good result in animation that would work well with the scene cuts, with the camera angles as we had worked them out in the music room, and also to help them coordinate their work with the work of the other animators. That was the whole purpose in making such detailed layouts.
About the development of the layouts, this is my recollection of it. The first layouts that I saw were on the very, very early Mickeys, and they consisted of a couple of pages of thumbnail sketches that Ub Iwerks had made. There was one sketch, or two sketches, of each scene, just giving the principal action. It's my recollection that these were on a little two- or three-inch by three- or four-inch rectangle, several of them on a piece of paper, and beside them was a very brief synopsis of what happened in the scene, typed out. From these thumbnails, the scenes were handed out, and the animator who got the scene would make his own drawing of five-field size—which was the size we shot every scene then—of a composite of Ub's action sketch and the background that showed around it. From that, he would go ahead and animate; he would lay out his extremes and work the thing out, and more or less plan the scene, and would himself make what would have amounted to these same detailed
character sketches that later on the layout man made. When he was all through with his animation, he'd make a tracing of
the background, and that would be given to the background painter.
This same system was still very much in effect at the time
I began to direct. On the first picture I made, The Castaway (1931), and the second, The China Plate (1931), I made my little thumbnail
sketches, like Ub used to make his, instead of storyboards, which had not yet been thought of. I showed them to Walt, and we talked about it, and I made my
timing from them. I made the breakdown of a layout, consisting of one or two or three principal drawings of the characters, plus a drawing of the background. I broke it down into a
character layout and a background layout; and by that time we
had a way of writing what the scene number was, and what the production number was, down at the bottom of it. So I had a thing
to hand out to the animator that was a very simplified version of what Dick Huemer showed you, from later on. [Huemer had saved a number of layouts from mid-1930s cartoons directed by Jackson on which he had animated.] This work was done at the same time I made my detailed timing, and laid out rough timing on the exposure sheets.
After the first couple of pictures, it got to the point that I wasn't able to do all this and keep up my work to keep ahead of
the animators; they'd run out of work and get assigned to my picture unexpectedly. If one of the more capable animators ran out of work ahead of the others, he would help me with the layouts. As a matter of fact, I believe that on The China Plate, Rudy Zamora helped me with his own layouts. He hit me when I didn't have them ready, and with Walt's permission, I used his time to make the layouts, which got the work to him sooner.
It wasn't too many pictures after that that Albert Hurter, who had come as an animator, and who had been doing animation, was moved into my music room to help by making the layouts. I still made the little thumbnails, but Albert Hurter made the layouts. This was for a few pictures around the middle of 1931, I would guess. Then Albert Hurter went on to other things; I don't remember whether he went with Burt Gillett or whether he went into the story department. There was kind of a trade made; Earl Duvall came out of the story department and into my music room, and made layouts for a while.
By some time, I would think in very late '31 or early '32, Charlie Philippi came to the studio. At about that same time, Hugh Hennesy came to the studio. Philippi went with Gillett, Hennesy came with me. These two people were not animators; they were more accomplished artists, and they added quite a bit to the layout function. Ben [SharpsteenJ is right; it was about that time that layouts as a separate function really began to happen.
Barrier: But before Philippi and Hennesy came, you were already preparing separate background and character layouts.
Jackson: We were; but not nearly as elaborately as later on. Later on, they made shaded drawings of the background, to indicate the dark and light pattern, and they made, really, much better character sketches. In my own case, when I was making my own layouts, the character sketches were almost like rough sketches; they indicated size, placement, general action, and that's about all. The animators drew the characters the way they were going to draw them anyway, so I didn't bother [making refined character layouts].
We used to get into a lot of trouble with the animation not fitting the background sketch. In order to keep the background from being painted in a way that didn't work with the animation, and having to repaint the background, along about the time that Charlie Philippi and Hugh Hennesy first came to be layout men, we had each scene that was okayed for ink come to the music room first, before it was inked, and it would be checked by the director and the layout man. I would flip through the animation, put the animation on the background sketch and discuss with the layout man what things about it weren't done the way we had planned they would be done, and what changes would have to be made in the background. Then the background sketches would be adjusted to fit what the animators had done.
By 1935 or 1936, the studio had grown quite a bit, and there were a lot more animators assigned to a picture. The business of
coordinating what one animator did with what another animator did became much more difficult. Scenes began to be broken down and distributed out not always so much in big sequences, but a scene here to this guy and a scene here to that guy. This resulted in quite a bit more detail work being done by the layout men, in order to indicate more precisely what we wanted the animator to do. This still didn't influence how he animated his scene. He still didn't necessarily draw the characters so that they looked like the layout man's drawings of the characters; and if he had a better way of putting the action over, it was always [done] his way, because that was what we wanted. But in order to keep the one man's work so that it would be compatible with another's, in continuity, quite a bit more detail was gone into, with the layouts.
When we got into the features, the layout men really went into a great deal of detail in the character drawings. By this time, our layout crews had expanded quite a bit. Instead of a layout man, there was a head layout man—who was still Hugh Hennesy, with me, for quite a while—who had two, or three, or sometimes more, assistants. The storyboards that I got were worked out in very great detail; you could almost see the animation, by pointing the storyboard to the piano. The layout man would take what was on those storyboards and make layout drawings that were just as detailed, as to action, and they were drawn as well as they could draw them. However, the layout men didn't have the flair for action and, in some cases, for facial expression—things like that—that the story men did, so when we would hand out the scenes to the animators, they would get these layout drawings, in great detail, which would show exactly the size and the placement we had in mind for the characters...a great deal of what the animator used to have to do in planning his scene. He could still do it differently, if he wanted to, but it was to give him a big boost in that direction, so he could concentrate on making the characters live, be themselves as personalities, and put the business across without doing this preliminary work. We also would give them a photostat of the storyboard, so that they would have the inspiration from the story man's sketches, which had a lot more feeling of the action, usually, than what the layout man could draw.
Barrier: To what extent was the staging indicated in the story sketches usable as staging in the layout sketches?
Jackson: At that stage, from the mid '30s to very early '40s, I would say practically no use at all. The storyboard put over what the character was doing, [but] at that time, the storyboards didn't have too much in the way of the styling, or the presentation of the scenery, or the most effective camera angles. Later on, more so.
Barrier: Like when Bill Peet was doing more storyboards.
Jackson: Yes...and [Joe] Rinaldi, and little Jack Miller. There were some awfully good men. There were some indications [in the earlier story sketches] of the principal feeling of a scene, in
Snow White, and Dumbo, and the shorts I picked up, like The Old Mill. For The Old Mill, Gus Tenggren did some watercolors, but I think Jack Miller did the story sketches.
Barrier: Tenggren really styled that picture, didn't he?
Jackson: Yes. That was the first real example of a "styling artist" for one of my shorts. This
was done before I knew that there was such a picture in story work,
and he was no longer with the Disney studio when I was assigned to The Old Mill.
Barrier: So he was working in the story department.
Jackson: Strictly so. I don't know what the arrangement was, or where he worked; I didn't meet him. As far as I know, he was there a brief while, to do this, then he left.
But as to the staging of the scenes: the business itself
was staged very well, of each individual thing. The story sketches put over the individual action and attitude of the character, and put over the continuity of business, excellently. But the camera angles were very inconsistent. If you were trying to animate it the way it was on the storyboard, you'd have an awfully jumpy bunch of cutting. So the staging really had to be worked out completely by the layout man, in this era. Of course, when you go back to the very early ones, when the whole thing was developed from thumbnails, the thumbnails were primarily staging. So there was kind of a
switch when we got to the storyboards.
Barrier: That reminds me that you mentioned to me in a letter that you were originally called story men, rather than directors.
Jackson: Walt called us that. I don't know what we called ourselves, at first. I don't know what Burt Gillett thought of himself
as, and I don't know what I thought of myself as, [except] just somebody who was busy trying to keep the animators working.
Barrier: Up at Ben Sharpsteen's,we ran across a 1931 ad from
Motion Picture Daily, which had three pages of Jack King's caricatures of everybody on the staff at that time. You and Gillett
were identified as "story," and Ted Sears and Webb Smith were identified as "gags."
Jackson: That's correct. Walt called the story men "gag men,"
and he called the directors "story men."
Barrier: Just a year later, in a 1932 ad, you were listed
as a director.
Jackson: You should bear in mind we didn't know at the time exactly what we were doing, or how to do it. Nothing had been done before with this complex an animation studio, so we didn't know what to call what we were doing.
|Jackson and some of his Disney colleagues as caricatured by the animator Jack King in Motion Picture Daily for June 20, 1931. At the time, directors like Jackson were credited as "story," story men as "gags" (as with Earl Duvall), and animators as "artists." Within a year or so, everyone had settled into the now familiar titles. Courtesy of Ben Sharpsteen.
[Returning to layout] These more detailed character
sketches and the layouts, especially when we got onto Snow White and Pinocchio, (1940) really were elaborately worked out. The background
sketch part of the layout was very carefully shaded, and very carefully drawn. A very great deal of time and effort went into the
layout work. The only change that I can remember after that in the
way the layouts were made came on Dumbo (1941), or close to it—1941 or
1942, along in there.
At that time, we were trying every way we
could not to spend so much money making the pictures as we had
been doing. Among other things, Ben Sharpsteen came up with this
very practical suggestion: the layout men's character drawings were
not nearly as stimulating to the animators as the story-sketch drawings,especially when you had people like Bill Peet, Joe Rinaldi, Jack Miller—there were many other real good ones, too, whose names don't come to mind. The layout men's sketches staged the thing fine, they worked out the camera angles real well, but in order to save the layout men's time, and give the animators a better start on their scene, Ben came up with the idea of making Photostats of the storyboard, enlarged or reduced so that they would be the right size, and the right place in relation to the peg holes, to serve as character layout sketches. This really improved what we did, because it gave the best of everything to the animators. The layout men would then work with the still camera department to get Photostats enlarged or reduced the right amount, and then they would re-peg these Photostats, and this was what the animators would get.
Gray: At this point in the storyboards, would the camera angles, from drawing to drawing, be consistent enough that this would be workable, to use them as layout drawings?
Jackson: No. You couldn't use all the story sketches, let me put it that way. For instance, if the story man showed a full figure at a point where we thought it would be more effective to use a close-up, you could use just part of the story sketch. And vice versa; if he had a swell expression that you wanted to use in a full-figure shot, but he just had a close-up of the head, you could reduce the head down to the size it should be, and the placement it should be, and the layout man would draw the rest of the figure in.
Gray: So the layout man would add some drawings now and then.
Jackson: Right. He would make certain adjustments like that. But all the best of what was on the storyboard was used, wherever it could be used. And, of course, we always gave the animator the Photostat of the storyboard, too, so they'd have that, too.
Barrier: Did you continue to prepare the detailed background layouts before the character layouts were given to the animators, or did there come a time when the preparation of the background layouts was delayed until the animation was completed?
Jackson: I don't believe the background-sketch part of the layout was ever highly rendered right at the start. I think it was carefully drawn as to outline, but if it was rendered, it would only have been loosely rendered. Then, at the time the scene was cleaned up and ready to go to inkers, one of the assistant layout men would render the thing more carefully, at the time he made whatever adjustments had to be made to suit animation-necessitated changes.
Barrier: Now, back at the start, when Philippi and Hennesy first came to the studio, I guess the background layouts weren't as detailed as they became later, so there wasn't the problem of...
Jackson: It's my recollection that they would clean up the
background layouts [after the animation was completed]; perhaps
they would not have to make a new drawing in all cases.
Back when we made Wynken, Blynken and Nod (1938), whenever that was,
I remember that Harold Miles was brought into my layout crew for
a short while, to do the background cleanup. Harold had a remarkable ability to render a background drawing, the light and dark of
it. It was fascinating to watch him do this. He'd make the outline
drawing; then, he would start in the upper left-hand corner, and
he'd use various pencils—softer and harder lead, changing them
at will—to make diagonal lines, shading. He would progress
across the thing, with the dark and light pattern in his mind.
We used to stand around and watch Harold do this. He had been
at some feature studio, in the art department. He might have
worked at the same place Herb Ryman did; they were very close
friends. Herb Ryman was another one who used to make these story
sketches—Herb's story sketches were just something else.
Barrier: Graham Heid is listed as the director of Wynken, Blynken and Nod. Did he finish that up after you went on to
Jackson: That is quite possibly so, but I have no recollection of anything like that happening.
I recall doing all the timing and all the handing out on
Wynken and Blynken, and I do recall Graham as my assistant. After Graham had been with me quite a while, he carried quite a bit of the load; he was able to do an awful lot of the following through
on the thing. Once I had gotten the thing going, Graham would
have been perfectly capable of finishing it up and simply calling
me in on the sweatbox, and on decisions where there would be any
difficulty. But Graham didn't do the preliminary timing on it,
and he didn't hand it out to the animators.
Barrier: Before we get off layout, I want to ask you about
the background painters.
Jackson: The first one I can remember who did nothing but
paint backgrounds was Carlos Manriquez. Then Emil Flohri came
along; I don't know who followed him.
Barrier: Did Flohri paint all the backgrounds for the cartoons?
Jackson: For quite a long time, he did, but with Carlos as his assistant to render some of the backgrounds under Flohri's supervision.
Barrier: Ward Kimball said that if a lighter color was called
for, Flohri would mix white in, to lighten it. That would make
the color cooler, and also, if you mixed too much white in, it
would give the effect of a foggy day.
Jackson: Mixing white in his transparent washes, you mean.
I guess Flohri did do that. He used to make most of his backgrounds
look as if they started with a sepia print—they looked like tinted
sepia prints to me, as I recall them. I don't imagine they would have appealed to Kimball
much. I hink they would have looked too old-fashioned to suit him—his tastes were more modern than mine. I was a little slow to suit Kimball; he used to think I was
pretty square with the way I handled some of my things, and he was
Barrier: I've seen some layout drawings that appear to indicate the color scheme that the background painter should follow...using colored pencils for some of the characters, or the backgrounds, or both.
Jackson: Possibly that was done by some of the layout men; I don't recall it. It seems to me that before we got too far into color, we had some—I guess you would call them styling sketches—some indications on the storyboard of the general way the thing should look. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Styling was not a brand-new thing; the pictures were styled right from the beginning. When I made The China Plate, I tried to make my little sketches look different than the ones I made for The Castaway. Since I'm not very much of an artist, they weren't anything like Mary Blair's, but...
Barrier: So the story department was pretty much setting the colors that would be followed...
Jackson: At first, yes.
Barrier: Their sketches would be a guide to Flohri, and you wouldn't be involved in the color selection at all?
Jackson: Pretty much so. There's another thing that enters into that, too. Flohri was still back in the days when Walt was in on each last little detail of each picture. By the time I would talk to Flohri about the backgrounds, Walt had been there. Flohri was telling me what he was going to do in the way of coloring, I wasn't telling him. Walt worked very, very closely with every part of the pictures in those days. My responsbility with the backgrounds at that time was mostly to be sure they would work properly with the animation and scene continuity.
Barrier: Phil Dike was involved in the color planning in the
early days, wasn't he?
Jackson: Yes, but not as early as the Flohri backgrounds. I don't recall that Phil ever painted any
backgrounds; he was more on the order of a color consultant, and
used to help not only with the backgrounds but with the coloring
of the characters. By the time Phil was there, I believe we were
in the features; I don't recall Phil back in the days when we were
making only shorts.
Barrier: At what point did you have a background painter
who was specifically assigned to work with your unit? Or did you?
Jackson: Only when I was on the feature pictures, there would
sometimes be one background man who would follow through on one of
Barrier: So when you were on shorts, you were relying on a
Jackson: There was a background department, with several
artists in it—not at first, but later on. By the time we got
into feature work, there was a background department with several
artists in it. This was not only for the features, but for the
Barrier: Did you work with any background painters besides
Flohri until Snow White?
Jackson: I'm a little vague on that, because clear up to and
including Snow White, we still had Walt, right in the saddle. Really,
I had practically no responsibility as to how the backgrounds would be painted in the early '30s, simply because Walt got there first. After Walt told them what to do, I didn't tell them any different.
Actually, it was my responsibility if Walt didn't want to get into it. I did have to OK the backgrounds before they went to camera. I did call for changes if something about the background did not work well with the animation, or the mechanics of the scene—and, if Walt was not in on it, I took the complete responsibility. But, in the early '30s, he almost always told the background painter how he wanted the backgrounds to look—the feeling, or styling, or coloring, etc.—and I did not try to influence the background to do other than what Walt wanted.
Barrier: And I would guess he was very much interested in the color aspect.
Jackson: Very much so. As well as every other [aspect]. Up through Snow White, there was not any color model of a character that Walt didn't see and okay before it was accepted. There was no part of any picture that Walt didn't have his finger right in. There was hardly a day that he didn't drop by the music rooms to see how things were going, to see if you had any questions you wanted to ask—and I always did. I don't see how a man could spread himself that thin, but he did.
The next question was about when the animators began to make rough animation. This happened when I wasn't looking, so I may not be able to tell you too well about this, but my recollection is that on some one of Burt Gillett's shorts, a Pluto picture, Fergy made rough drawings of the dog, and pencil tests were shot of the rough drawings. The great discovery was made that you could read the action perfectly well from the rough drawings. Fergy was a terrific animator, but not one of the best draftsmen we had, and as a result, Fergy probably benefited more than some of the other animators at that time from the use of the rough drawings. He could just write that stuff off, and it was beautiful, if he could
make the rough drawings. If he had to carve these things out with clean lines, it slowed him down and stiffened up his animation.
George Goepper worked with Fergy [as his assistant] for years and years, and I can remember lots of times handing things out to Norm, and he'd put the rough tests in, and I'd want to sweatbox them, and Fergy would just send George up. He'd say, "George is going to make the changes, why don't you talk to him?" That's how much Fergy thought of George.
It's my recollection that there was some resistance on the part of the other animators to [the change to rough drawings]. It was put into general practice on Walt's orders; but as to whether Walt was the one who thought of the idea, whether Fergy did, whether somebody else did, I just don't know.
Barrier: Of course, there were a lot of animators for whom it was more natural to draw cleanly.
Jackson: As a matter of fact, Jack King didn't know how to make rough drawings. He got caught, and got in trouble, for going over some animation that he had done, and scribbling on it to make it look rough.
The next question is about Dumbo—-"You really worked with only one animator, Bill Tytla, plus Art Babbitt on the sequence with the stork..." It's a matter of would directing in this case be different from directing a short with several animators on it. Of course, it's quite a different thing. There were two ways that this was different. For one thing, it was always different to work with Bill Tytla than to work with any other animators. But aside from that, Bill, on Dumbo, had a crew of assistant animators with him. There was Bill Shull, Les Novros—he had three or four junior animators who were working with him, and Bill would hand out some of the scenes to them. They weren't just clean-up men; they actually did animation, but quite often Bill would knock out a few poses to get them started, and would supervise what they did very carefully. Bill, in a way, became a sub-director, of the work that he picked up. He would direct his crew of animators on the scenes that they did, and then Bill would come with them to sweatbox when their scenes were sweatboxed, to see what was to be done, and to help them do it. So it was quite a different thing from working with a whole group of other animators, because Bill helped co-ordinate the whole thing. It took a big load off the director.
If I had three different animators animating the same character, as happened in The Country Cousin (1936), where Art Babbitt animated the little country mouse for part of the picture, and two or three other men also did him in other sequences, to get the same personality, the same appearance of the character, that sort of thing, this is something that the director had to put a lot of time on, and had a pretty tough time sometimes, working out the compromises that needed to be made among these different fellows, each of whom had his own way of doing it, and each of whom thought, honestly, that his own way was the best way, and yet sometimes they didn't work with each other, and something had to give.
Some of the toughest work I did was working with these guys—better artists than I was, better animators than
I was—trying to find some way for me to tell them what they were
to change about their animation. When we got to the point where we
had head animators, and a crew of junior animators with them—Bill
Tytla wasn't the only one—this began to help an awful lot to
coordinate these things, because then one animator could handle
most of a character, especially on a short. But even on a feature,
most of the important scenes of any one character could be handled
through one animator. If he had a feeling for the personality of
the character, he could impart it to the other animators a lot
better than someone like myself, who couldn't make animation drawings. This is what I used to envy about some of the other directors, like
Ham Luske, who had been excellent animators. Ham could sit down,
and he could show an animator how he wanted the thing animated.
I had to talk, and hope they would know what I was talking about.
Barrier: Did the supervising animator-junior animator relationship begin on the shorts, or did it start with the features?
Jackson: Just off the top of my head, I don't recall ever
having an animator with a group of junior animators before Snow White, except Ben Sharpsteen. It's my recollection that before Ben
went into directing, he had a group of come-along animators that
he was teaching to animate. No, I'm mistaken about that—Bill
Roberts did, too, on Mother Pluto (1936). He had one or two men who didn't just clean up,
but who were learning to animate. But Ben is the only one I recall
who had a crew of more than one or two junior animators before we began making features. Now, by
the time we got onto Snow White, I remember Ham Luske had two or three men who were working with him, who did animate, who did scenes of the girl—but only under Ham. I don't recall anybody doing any Snow White character [animation] that didn't go through Ham, even though Ham didn't direct the sequence. He was in charge of the [Snow Whitej scenes.
Barrier: Grim Natwick was animating a lot of the girl, too. He was working more or less separately from Ham, wasn't he?
Jackson: Not separately from Ham on anything that was picked up from me. That may be with some other music room, I don't know. A lot of things may have happened in other music rooms that I don't know about.
Barrier: I would guess that one reason for the supervising animator-junior animator arrangement on the features was that you had to spread your top people thinner.
Jackson: That was part of it, and part of it was the terrific expansion of the studio and the need to develop more animators. So many people were being brought in. It was partly a matter of bringing this new talent along, and teaching them, so that they could eventually become what Milt Kahl became, and Frank Thomas became; they started out working with somebody.
Barrier: Was Ham Luske the only animator on Snow White who was working with junior animators?
Jackson: Probably not; but I don't recall any others on Snow White who had fairly good-sized crews—four or five or six men—under them. I believe Norm Ferguson had a crew of junior animators working with him on Pinocchio but I don't know whether he did before then or not. Ben is the first one that I recall having any size of a group at all;
Roy Williams and Jack Kinney were in his batch, among others.
|Bobby Driscoll and James Baskett in Song of the South (1946), whose animated and combination sequences Jackson directed.
The next question was about Song of the South (1946) [and Ken Anderson's recollection of the live-action shooting for that picture]. You bet I have a recollection of that, and it goes a little farther than what you quoted from Ken. On the beginning of the "Zip-a-dee Doo-dah" sequence, we had very carefully planned a completely different opening for the sequence. We had a rear-projection scene, which we had been pretty well assured would come off all right. Ub Iwerks had come back to the studio by that time, and was working with us again, and when Ub said that you could do something technically, I had all the confidence in the world that it could be done. Our plan was to have a rear projection scene which was in fact a cartoon drawing, and which had a break with a little bit of shrubbery, so you could have a real set built out in front of it. We did try to make all of those sets look like cartoon drawings.
Barrier: I believe that Ken mentioned that in one scene you had a set painted, with a rail fence, and the top rail was actually on a cel, with Brer Rabbit on the rail, and you couldn't tell the difference.
Jackson: Yes, they printed the thing in. You had to do that to get the rabbit's feet to fit on top of it but with the live action of Remus behind the fence rail. That was done throughout, where we needed to. That was a fascinating picture to work on. I had more fun on that than on any other picture, and I'll tell you why: the cream of the studio was on that.
Anyway, back to the rear-projection scene...we had painted two backgrounds, and we had shot a rear-projection scene, which was timed, so that when you synchronized it with the clap-sticks and started the playback that Jim Baskett was to work to, it would have the last line of the story he was telling, and the beginning of the song. During the transition, we had a dissolve in the rear projection background, from the background that was behind him, sitting in his cabin, talking to the little boy, and with the camera close on him, into this springtime scene. After the dissolve, the camera was to dolly back as Jim walked forward on the live-action set. We had the action all worked out so that the right things would be there, included in the camera, as it dollied back.
The rear-projection scene didn't work because we couldn't get the right color balance on the print out of Technicolor on time. Again, this was like The Old Mill and the multiplane camera; the technicalities of it kept putting this scene off, until we were right down to the very end of the live-action shooting. There was no more time on the schedule; the crew was going to be dismissed. The night before, we went down to the [Samuel Goldwyn] studio, where we were doing the live-action photography, and in their projection room, we saw the print that we got from Technicolor. It wouldn't do. The cameraman, Gregg Toland, was going to go over to Technicolor to work with them to get a print that we could use the next day. I went home, and I didn't sleep well, because I didn't know just what we were going
to do, if that didn't come out right. I slept with my fingers and
toes crossed, hoping we'd have a print we could use. I couldn't
think of a way out; I was cornered. Given more than overnight,
I might have worked something out, but I'm not that good [at thinking]
on my feet.
The next day, we came down [to Goldwyn], and Perce Pearce was
there—he was Walt's associate producer—and Walt was there. When
I saw Walt, I thought, "There's trouble." And there was; the word
was that the print wouldn't do. Walt called everybody on the set,
and he had them all sit around in chairs, and he had coffee served,
and he started talking. First of all, he turned to me and said,
"Jack, the print won't do. What plans do you have to work this
out, now that the print won't do?" I said, "Walt, I've thought
about it, and thought about it, and I don't know what to do."
He said, "Well, let's all talk about it, let's see what ideas anybody's got." He called on different people, and some of them had
some sort of a notion of just making a scene cut. Of course, I
could think of that, but it wasn't going to accomplish the purpose,
it wouldn't have given a nice effect. I didn't have to tell Walt
you could cut from one scene to another.
Finally, after Walt had
asked everybody else, Walt sat back, waited a while, and we all
started to sweat. Then Walt said, "Would it be possible, Gregg, to
arrange your lights in such a way that you could shine a light up
on Jim's face and it wouldn't show on the background, and would it also be possible to have other lights that would light the set up, on signal. When I drop my hand, would it be possible for them to turn on all the other lights and douse that light, simultaneously, so that just in a flash the whole set would light up and you'd find him in this background?" Of course, we had a backdrop that we could use there, to replace the cartoon, because that was going to be used for other scenes in the sequence. Gregg said, "Sure, that could work." Walt said, "All right, when Jim sings 'Zip,' we'll change the lights." The thing was ten times as effective as what we had planned. This was Walt Disney at work.
However, we had to shoot. the scene several times before we could get all five electricians to push the switches at the same time. And old Jim Baskett went through each time perfectly. I have never worked with any other actor, on combination scenes, who could do what old Jim Baskett did; and the man was dying.
Barrier: You told us that he was always looking at something specific.
Jackson: Oh, I tell you, when the little animated butterfly was planned to come up close to his face in the air in front of him, he'd look cross-eyed at it. You couldn't get another actor to do that. We even had to build a little dummy rabbit to put in the set to center the camera on, so we could get the live-action cameraman to leave enough room for the rabbit; he was used to centering on what he could see, you couldn't get him to leave that empty space there. This was not Gregg Toland, but the camera operator. He finally sail to Ken Anderson, "You come and look through this damned thing, and you tell me when it's right, and I'll go over and put my hands in my pockets."
Gray: Now, if I remember that scene right, they also used an animation effect. When Jim Baskett says "Zip," there's a burst out that reveals this blue set behind him.
Jackson: You're right. That revealed a printed-in cartoon
background that we made later on. We did have to put a scene cut after the light changed, and when he started forward. This was because I was mistaken when I said we had a set we could use. We didn't have a set that was a long enough shot, at the time we shot that. So we had to make a scene cut. We couldn't back the camera out—that was it. We couldn't back the camera out all the way in the one scene, the way we had planned. We had the set, but we couldn't back the thing all the way out, so as Jim started to get up and come forward, we had to make a scene cut to where we could dolly back on our setup. That's right—as the lights changed, there was just a plain blue [backdrop] behind Jim. Then we had to doctor up the transition to the next scene.
Barrier: I had one more question about Song of the South. Ken Anderson described the pains you went to, to plan the combination of animation and live action in advance. He said that Walt
didn't want to go that way in later combination pictures, but
wanted to make the animators work harder by not synchronizing the
animation and live-action so closely.
Jackson: Right. Walt got pretty irritated with us on
Song of the South because of how carefully we were planning all
this, and how carefully we supervised what was done on the live‑action set. Walt didn't like it; he thought we were spending too
much money on the live-action part of the combination scenes. I think Walt was 100 per
cent wrong only that particular time, which is why we went ahead
and did it anyway, and got scolded. I don't think we could have
gotten the result we did without that careful planning.
We had an awful lot of trouble with one scene. Walt couldn't
stand it any more, and he kicked Ken off the camera. It was a
scene we were shooting in Arizona, with an outdoor background
[in the final sequence]. I finally had to do something else with
that scene than what we had planned, to make up a scene out of
other material that could fill up that part of the song. What
the live-action camera operator shot, under instructions, was
Barrier: Instructions from Walt?
Jackson: Instructions from Ken. But Ken wasn't allowed to
ride the boom, and look over the man's shoulder, and tap him at
the right time to do certain things with the camera to make room for our cartoon character.
The guy just centered on what he could see. Walt was just sure that we were wasting a lot of time, but we weren't. He was kind of
rough with us. But we did what we thought was right, which was
what he wanted us to do. Walt could be rough with you, but if
you were sure you were right, he wanted you to stand up to him.
And you'd damned well better be right.
[Responding to another written question] I do not recall Ben Sharpsteen ever using coins to draw
Mickey's head; I only recall Jack King doing that. That doesn't
necessarily mean that Jack King was the only one who did it. It
didn't please Walt particularly to have that done. Mickey's head,
under certain circumstances, was a perfectly true circle all right,
but in animation, Walt didn't like that head to remain a true circle.
He didn't want that head to be too squooshy—he didn't want it to
look like a soft head—but when Mickey moved, his head streamlined a little bit, to work with the animation and give the feeling
of it. There would be times when Mickey's head would grow a little
bit and shrink a little bit, to give an effect when he was startled,things like that. If you made a perfectly stiff, rigid circle all the way through for Mickey's head—and especially back in the days when the animators cleaned up their first drawings—it made for stiff animation, and Walt didn't like it. Jack King didn't only use [a coin] for the head, he used it for the stomach, too, and that made a real stiff little character.
The next question, what control I and the other directors had over what animators were assigned to us, I can't answer for any other director. For myself, I can simply say, "None." I don't recall any time when I went to Walt and said I wanted so-and-so to animate on something. I do recall, lots of times, when I was at meetings, where who would animate on certain sequences in features would be discussed. I would put my two cents' worth in, and I would say I thought so-and-so did well on this. I think Kimball would be good on this, I think Marc Davis would be good on that—I would say those things. But I didn't ever have the feeling that I had a lot of clout in those meetings. I have a feeling that Walt listened to all of us, and then did what he had in mind in the first place.
Barrier: So Walt was the one who made the decisions.
Jackson: To the extent that decisions were made by other than just scheduling work so as to keep men from being out of work. There was an awful lot of times when animators were assigned to my pictures because they didn't have anything else to do. An awful lot of that happened, all through the years.
I also don't recall successfully going to Walt and saying, I would like to work on a particular thing. I made quite a point of wanting to work on Bambi, and I'm not sure if that isn't why I didn't get to do anything at all on it, except just drool when I saw it. I learned my lesson; I didn't tell Walt what I was to do after that, until I got ready to leave the studio. When I left
the studio, Walt wanted me to do what I didn't want to do, and
Walt didn't want me to do what I did want to do. It was very
evident that it wasn't going to be a good thing for me to go on working on the live-action parts of the pictures. I wasn't temperamentally suited to it; I wasn't well enough. Janie quite seriously said she'd rather be a poor wife than a rich widow.
It was one of those things where I had a feeling for some time that Walt had a loyalty to people who had stuck with him, and helped him. I had a feeling for quite a while that he just didn't know what to do with me. He didn't want me to do the thing I wanted to do, which was to work with animation. He was trying to get people off of animation, and he already had me off of it, and he wasn't about to put me back on. It came to the point that I just had a feeling that Walt needed a little help to let me go. It looked like the best thing, because for sure I was going to be stuck with more live-action work, and it wasn't good for me. There was no way to get Walt to understand this. Walt was one of these guys who
couid think on his feet, just like that. I can't do that stuff, and when you get on a live-action set, you've got to think on your feet.
I can work swell on cartoons. You've got plenty of time to figure out what you should do. If something goes wrong, you've got days to figure out what to do while you're doing other things; and I can do that fine. So the only thing to do was to
get out, which broke my heart, really, but it was a matter of
saving my skin. I told Walt what I wanted to do; I told him I wanted to
direct cartoon pictures, and I was willing to take a leave of absence until he had one I could direct. He said, "Fine. It won't happen right away. Are you prepared to take a little time?" I said, "Yes, until you find one you want me to do." I was on an extended leave of absence for a couple of years, until they finally terminated me. Those were the two times I told Walt what I wanted to do.
Barrier: Didn't a lot of people have that same problem around that time, after Sleeping Beauty, when they were cutting down so much?
Jackson: Yes, I think so. Walt was not able to understand a person like me at all; he was so different. I'd have been tickled to death to do anything in animation. I would have been glad to have been an assistant director, I would have checked scenes, I would have brought Cokes to the animators when they were thirsty; I just loved the animation end of it. And I didn't want to work for one of the other studios. Walt was such a creative person; and he so thoroughly believed
that anybody could do anything they decided to do. He believed it so hard, that when he put the finger on me, and said, "Jackson, you're a director," I had to be a director. I didn't know how, but I had to do it. So when he put his finger on me and said, "You have to direct live-action stuff"...
Barrier: I had asked you here [in a written question] about Frolicking Fish (1930), and Fergy's moving holds.
Jackson: It's my belief that Frolicking Fish is probably the one I referred to as the first where I knew of that happening. If Frolicking Fish has a scene of a girl fish trio, singing in front of a microphone...anyway, it was a trio, a sister act. This was the scene that Fergy animated that had the moving holds, the first I recall seeing that didn't hit a hold and then jump out of it.
The other part of the question...before I get to that, you mentioned some animation on an octopus. Was it a scene where an octopus was chasing a fish? There was a fairly long scene—more than three or four feet—that I animated of the octopus that I had an awful lot of fun with. He had eight legs, and there was this fish trying to get away from him, and it would dart here, and there, and the other place, and the octopus would always be grabbing at it with this leg, and that leg, and the other leg. I had a ball animating that guy, because I animated straight ahead. I didn't plan anything. I'd take that fish and dart it, and I'd work
a leg after it. Then I'd work some other leg after where it was headed for, and after I got all through with all of these legs that were doing anything important, then I took the other legs straight ahead. It was more darned fun doing that scene. I didn't plan anything except just the general idea of it, and just worked it out as it
went along. It worked out in kind of a screwy action; you couldn't
tell where this guy was going to strike out next. Whoever was directing the
picture—probably Gillett—just gave me carte blanche, to make the scene about so long and do this in it. "We've got excitement music, so keep it fast."
The "rubber hose" animation that they talk about was earlier. This has absolutely nothing to do with moving through holds. The "rubber hose"animation—a real excellent example of that is in The Skeleton Dance (1929). There is a scene that Ub did where there are two skeletons, doing some kind of a dance, with their feet going back and forth, and one of them grows up and gets tall, and the other gets short. If you take a stiff vertical line and try to animate it across the screen, it's going to stutter, because you can't make a soft drawing. You shoot a thing like that in live action, and it becomes semi-transparent, and it has a softness that makes it not jitter. But with a cartoon with hard outlines, it'll jitter. If you can bend it this way, so that there's a curve leading the move, it won't stutter, it'll flow. This is one of the most rudimentary tricks in animation. The "rubber hose" animation simply overdid that, tremendously; it simply made a big loop in whatever direction the thing was moving, and another big loop if it moved back the other way. Of course, the thing moved in a real slick sweep across the screen, it made a real nice, smooth action, but it was pretty unrealistic looking.
I don't recall an era when the animation generally, throughout a picture, was what I would think would be called "rubber hose" animation. I would think it was indulged in from time to time. Another example would be in Night (1930); there was something in there that a couple of long-legged mosquitoes were doing that had what I would call "rubber hose" action, where it was real limber and flowing, and curved in the direction of the movement—legs, arms, anything. We used to think it looked goofy to have a thing whip out that way; you'd get a nice snap and accent like that. But as Walt began to bear down a little bit on making his characters believable, all this had to go. You could still do impossible things—that was fine—but if anything was going to look rubbery, there had to be some reason for it. If you could justify it, fine, do it, that's great...like if a [character] was real drunk. There was some late "rubber hose" action in Art Babbitt's little drunk mouse, in The Country Cousin, when he's in this cocktail glass, and hiccups, and he falls down, and his chin hits the edge of the glass, and his arm swings back and forth. That arm was a modified rubber-hose arm. But there was a reason for it: when you're drunk, you're all rubbery. If there was an understandable reason, [a character] could do something that nobody could possibly do.
Barrier: It was psychologically and emotionally correct, even
though it violated physical laws.
Jackson: That's right.
[Turning to a written question about the use of live-action footage
in the animation of the Seven Dwarfs] I'm very vague on who was
hired to do the Dwarfs live action. Whether there was some actor
hired for every one of the Dwarfs, I'm not sure. There were actors
hired for some actions for some of them, I am sure of that. I'm also sure that there
were various members of the studio who did live action for some of
the Dwarfs, in some of the scenes. I don't recall that there was
any studio member who did live action for any one Dwarf in all of
the live action that was shot for that Dwarf. I think it was
mostly hired actors, but some of each. As a matter of fact, in
the entertainment sequence of Snow White, which I directed, there
is a scene where Dopey gets up on top of Sneezy, and they're
covered by a long coat...when Dopey and Sneezy do the dance with
Snow White, I did the live action for that with Margie Belcher.
The guys had more fun with those Photostats; there were all sorts
of captions of me talking to Margie. They were pinned up everywhere, all over the studio. [Several such Photostats are reproduced in the 1973 Jackson interview.] If you saw [Photostats of] Perce
doing something, I'd be willing to bet that Perce was doing a
Doc, because Perce used to act out that Doc character in story meetings something
One case that I do remember when a studio person did the
live action on a character was T. Hee, on the Stromboli character in Pinocchio. We put a pillow in T. Hee's stomach to help it
out even a little bit more. T. did all the Stromboli live action,
at least in what sequences I had that had [Stromboli in them].
Like when he slammed the puppet in the cage and told him, "To me
you are belonging"—that was T-bone's, Bill Tytla's, again. We
all called him T-bone at the studio. Bill Shull, who was part of
Bill's crew, coined it, because he was invited up to Bill's home
one time and they had T-bone steaks. He coined the phrase "T-bones
at Tytla's," so we all called Bill "T-bone."
[Answering a written question about the pilot animation for Snow White and Pinocchio] In that letter [from Jackson to MB, which gave rise to the
question], I was vastly oversimplifying two conditions at the
studio, and I was trying to make the point of the contrast in the
way the directors worked with Walt in the early '30s and late '40s.
Early '30s would be, really, before Snow White. I really wasn't
thinking so much of early features [as contrasted with] later
features, although there was a difference there, too. The two
big points I was trying to bring out were, how in the early '30s
Walt was in on everything that was done, every day, everywhere in
the whole studio. Actually, I believe this could be said of Snow White, too. But not any other feature. Nothing was done without his seeing it and okaying
The other thing was, by the time a picture
moved to a director, in the music room, to be put into animation,
the story was completely worked out. Not that changes weren't made,
and not that the director couldn't be in on what was done in the story department before it came into the music room; but by the time Walt okayed it for production, which was before any animation was done, in the early '30s, it was complete, and you were supposed to make that [story] into a picture, and not some other thing. In the late '40s, the big things that were different were, Walt
didn't want to devote all that much time to details; the place was too big, and he couldn't be in on each last thing. He had to give more responsibility to other people, and he simply wasn't in on things as much.
The other big difference was, for the directors,
that we worked far in advance of what we did [in the '30s] on some parts of a picture. We would—I would, at least—go into the story department on some of the pictures in the late '40s, and would be working with some of the story men, shaping up for pilot animation sometimes an entire sequence, while the rest of the story was not much past synopsis form, and the whole picture was still subject to being shelved if Walt didn't like it. We would go ahead "on spec," and make test recordings—"tests for production," we called them. We would sometimes be working with talent that Walt hadn't okayed, but we thought it was the best we could get, for the purpose. We would sometimes put it into animation. By the time Walt saw it, and maybe threw the whole thing out, maybe accepted it with changes—always—by that time there was animation done on it. But the rest of the story was in various phases of being worked out, sometimes with the bulk of it still in synopsis form, as this went
This was what I was trying to point out. These I called "pilot sequences," or "pilot scenes." They were testing the characters, not only as to animation, but as to voices, and quite often the concept of the basis of the picture was being tested out in a little piece of animation.
This was not anything that happened just from one picture to another. It was a gradual transition, all the way from the early '30s, clear down to the late '40s. Along about the time of Snow White and Pinocchio, my recollection of what pilot animation was done was [that it was] done in the story department, not always with the director present. In some cases, I think the director might not yet have been assigned to the sequence. Walt was very close to everything on those two features, particularly Snow White, and it's my recollection that the pilot scenes that were put through, like the early scenes on the girl, and the very first scenes on the Dwarfs, were worked out among Walt and the story crew and the animator. I think that by the time the director got a sequence, we had these pilot scenes—like I can remember a short continuity of a few scenes was already worked out where the Dwarfs snuck into the bedroom where Snow White was asleep on the bed and came up and looked at her and talked to each other about the girl. I can remember when I picked up my first Dwarfs, this little chunk of a sequence—it wasn't the whole thing, it was just a hunk of it—was run, and I was told, "These are the characters. You make them like this." So there was pilot animation.
As a matter of fact, the first pilot animation I can recall was on one scene of the blue streak, in The Tortoise and the Hare (1935). Before any more blue-streak scenes were handed out to animation, this scene was animated and inked and painted, and a color test was shot on it and shown to Walt, and he didn't like it. We made another one with a correction and showed it to him, and he okayed it with reservations and changes; then we went ahead and handed out the blue-streak scenes. But, before that scene was started in animation, the storyboards had been moved into my room, okayed for production. The story was absolutely complete in every detail, including where and how blue-streak action would be used.
[Answering a written question about Hugh Harman's recollection that when Ub Iwerks was first animating Mickey Mouse, he was draped off from the animators who had given Walt their notice in 1928] I can't tell you anything about that from first-hand observation. When I hit Walt for a job that day, these guys had just given him notice; he knew that they were going. When he put me to work, I was put in the other room, where the inking and painting was done. I just heard the hubbub that came over the divider from the next room. I had no idea what was going on in there, except that it just didn't sound to me like these guys were working very hard. I did not see what went on in that room. I probably walked through that room when I went in for my interview with Walt, but I didn't know anything about anything; I just saw guys sitting at desks making drawings. However, it's
my understanding from what I've heard said by people at the studio, as I recall it back then, that Ub had spent some time in either Walt's or Roy's garage, up on Lyric Avenue, doing Mickey animation, to get a kind of a head start on the first Mickey. Whether he did it during working hours, or whether he came back after hours and did it, I'm not clear on that point.
Barrier: What do you recall about the time that Ub and Carl Stalling left the studio, early in 1930?
Jackson: Whatever led up to that happened, as I say, when I wasn't looking. The first thing that I can recall about it is the word getting around that Ub and Carl were leaving. I talked to them, and they simply put it that they had a real good opportunity to do something on their own that they wanted to do... I don't believe there was any big disenchantment between them and Walt; I don't believe there was any bad feeling, or a feeling of them being mad at Walt and wanting to leave, or something like that. I don't think that they thought they were playing a real dirty trick on Walt; I don't believe that they did. When Ub came back to the studio, there was certainly no bad feeling between him and Walt. There must have been some little embarrassment, but they were just as close as ever, as far as I could see. I don't think that Walt had the same feeling for Ub that he had for the fellows who stuck with him, right through; I know the tremendous affection he had for
guys like Les Clark, who had been there since way back.
Barrier: Talking about loyalty to Walt reminds me of the strike; I don't believe I've heard you discuss that.
Jackson: Once again, I was not really in on what was going
on, as that thing cooked up, and fermented, and got under way.
My nose was deep in what I was doing on my pictures, and as far
as I was concerned, all of this labor stuff was just a lot of
bother. Of course, I was a company man; no question about that.
I was not sympathetic to the idea of having a union. I thought
it was all right if people like the inkers and the cameramen and
the cutters wanted to have a union, folks like that. But when
they wanted to include animators—somehow, I had a different
feeling about the animators. These guys were artists, they
weren't putting nuts and bolts together. They were creative
people, and they didn't need some union man to talk to their
boss for them. These guys could go up to Walt's office and talk
to him any time they wanted to, and he would listen to them; he'd
listen to them a lot quicker than he would to some union representative. They could do a lot more for themselves than some flunky
they could get to go up and start pushing Walt around. This was my
attitude, right or wrong, I don't know.
There was much talk about
[Dave] Hilberman and a tie-up with Communist influence. I have no idea
how much of it was true. I didn't know Dave well; he was in [James] Algar's
unit, and he never did work with me. I knew Babbitt real well, and
it's my belief that Babbitt was sincerely interested in the welfare
of people who were pretty low on the totem pole. I don't think
Babbitt was looking for anything for himself out of that. I think Babbitt made a hell of a lot of trouble with what he did, and I was real annoyed with him, because I was on the other side, and I had a feeling that if Babbitt had worked as hard for Disney as he was working against him right then, it would have helped all of us
over a rough spot. I was real put out with Art along about that time.
They even wanted to get the directors into the union, later on, and I resisted that. I probably would be better off financially today if I had done a whole lot of other things differently than I did. I didn't work things out at all smart, from that point of view. But I enjoyed what I did at the studio a whole lot more than I would have if I had been smarter in that direction. There was no time that I ever went to Walt and asked him for more money. There was no time that I ever discussed that with him. I had the feeling, all the years I was there, that Walt was one jump ahead of me. I had a feeling that he was giving me more than I was giving him, that I was in his debt. The day I left, I left with no pension, no severance pay; I just cross-dissolved out, like I told you. I have no feeling of anything but that I still owe Walt; he doesn't owe me. When I say "Walt," I mean Walt and Roy, those two guys, and I don't mean Walt Disney Productions. As far as Walt Disney Productions is concerned, I think I still helped them get their thing in Florida [laughing].
But as to the strike: I was a company man, I came through the lines. It was kind of amusing to see my friends out there, and have them call me names and wink while they were saying them, and have them come up and threaten to push my car over, but not push very hard, with these professional union guys standing there and egging them on. We were all good friends. Bill Tytla went out, through loyalty to Art Babbitt; Bill felt that Art was the one who got him into animation, and taught him how to do it. This was a very difficult thing for Bill, because he also felt very loyal to Walt. Bill came up and talked to me many, many times during the strike, up to my house, and told me how he felt about this. I was miffed with Babbitt; but I still liked him, and we would never have had a fight where we were punching each other over the thing.
Walt, how did he feel about it? I don't know. I do recall one time I said something to Walt about it, and he turned on me and he said, "Jack, those guys are out there marching the line for something they believe in." Walt was not having me point my finger at them, and say any bad thing about them. Walt was like that. You didn't go to him tattling on somebody, or you'd get your behind roasted, verbally. His attitude was, you keep your own house in order. But it must have been an awfully traumatic thing for him, because Walt set an awful lot by loyalty, sticking with him. And I know the strike [led to] some very difficult decisions, when it was settled. There was a labor settlement where we had to take back a proportion of strikers for ones [who had not gone out on strike]. I lost my music-room crew; my layout men were sacrificed. Terrell Stapp went; Charlie Payzant went. It was the way the cards
came up. Some others did, some others didn't lose key men like
that. There just had to be some go in order to keep the studio a size that could work, and take back the proportion of strikers that was dictated.
Barrier: Did you get a new music-room crew made up of former strikers?
Jackson: I don't know whether former strikers came in or not; I'm a little vague on the set-up just after that. It was not too long after that that I got plopped in story department for a while.
I think I was put up in story, on Wind in the Willows, trying to revive that. It had been in work, and they were trying to get it back into work, again. While I was on it in story, we never quite made it into animation; we couldn't quite get Walt's okay on it.
Barrier: Eric Larson has mentioned that at some point in the
early '40s, he was supposed to have been a sequence director on Wind in the Willows, and he got bumped back down to animation. You were going to direct the sequence on which he was going to animate.
Jackson: We were on the verge of it several times, then Walt tabled it. We were right to the point where we were having a final meeting on this sequence. We had the final meeting, and Walt said, "Put this one on the shelf, and you work on this over here and see what you can shape up on that, Jack." But I think other things were going on rather than whether Walt liked what we were doing on the picture.
Barrier: You mentioned Roy a minute ago, and Milt and I have been increasingly interested in Roy and the role he played in making Walt Disney a different kind of cartoon-maker than somebody like, say, Hugh Harman or Rudy Ising, who never had somebody with them who had Roy's ability to find money and keep the place going.
Jackson: Roy was the same kind of a genius with the business end of it that Walt was with the entertainment end of it. Roy was a completely equal person in the contribution that was made to the studio. Without Roy, Walt could never have done what he did. He simply could not have done it. And without Walt, Roy could not have done what the two of them did, either. Roy pulled off some amazing things. Who else could have gone to the Bank of America and financed a feature-length cartoon at a time when all of the best brains in Hollywood said it was financial suicide to try a thing like that, because people wouldn't sit still that long for an animated cartoon?
I did not ever work directly with Roy. I worked directly with Walt on the production end. There were a couple of times when Walt was away for an extended time in the early days, when Roy would come in on meetings, on the shorts. In one case, Walt was away
when we had to make the final cutting, final editing, on a short, and deliver the delivery print. Roy came in on that, to fill in for Walt. He wasn't aggressive about his ideas, [but] he had some
suggestions. We more or less talked things over, and decided on
what to do. But for the most part, Roy was just a delightful
person to have for a friend, and to see sometimes, and to talk to.
He was a person I admired tremendously.
Barrier: Do you recall what Bill Tytla was like after he
came back from the strike? Someone told us the other day that
they thought he was a changed person, a changed animator.
Jackson: Bill didn't seem any different to me. I knew Bill
quite well, and as I told you, Bill and I were quite close during
the strike. I know [the strike] was a terribly difficult thing
for Bill; he went into it with ambivalent feelings. But I can't
recall any difference in our work with each other [after the strike].
Nor can I recall any difference in the way he went at his animation;
it was always the ultimate in intensity. I guess the first time I
ever worked with Bill was on Snow White; he did some of the Dwarfs
dancing, in the entertainment sequence. Saludos Amigos (1942) was made after the strike, and he did the
parrot [Joe Carioca]. He worked me over, as I directed him.
When the parrot was to pat the duck's head up this way, Bill would pat my
head up this way, to see what it was like to pat somebody's head.
It was a workout to hand a scene out to Bill; he was a very intense
person, he really got himself into things.
Barrier: Did you ever hear anything about why he went back
Jackson: No, I don't know why he went back. I saw him once, after he went back, in 1954, [when] we were in New York. I saw Lee Blair, and his studio, and I saw Bill, and he didn't seem a bit different.
Barrier: Did you work with Lee Blair?
Jackson: I didn't work directly with him on much of anything, [except] Saludos Amigos. He was in the story department, and did some part of the story work on that sequence...
Barrier: Lee had mentioned doing some story work on that marionette-show sequence [in PInocchio] that you directed.
Jackson: The story work was pretty well done [when Jackson became involved in that sequence]. As I remember, that sequence was handed to me pretty well worked out. I think the picture was pretty well along before I got that sequence. Woolie Reitherman did a lot of that animation.
Barrier: I wanted to ask you about the musicians who worked with you on your shorts.
Jackson: Frank Churchill first worked with me, then Leigh Harline. Harline stayed with me for a long, long while as my musician. As a matter of fact, I did not have any other regular musician assigned to my music room excepting Churchill and then Harline, clear up, I guess, until we moved to Burbank. Of course,
on Fantasia (1940) he wasn't with me. I guess that was the break; after Fantasia, Harline was not with me any more. Then, on a couple of feature sequences, and a couple of shorts, Paul Smith worked with me. Paul was a delightful person to work with.
[Churchill and Harline] were quite different in the way they composed, as well as in the music they composed. Churchill was
primarily a piano player, and we would work out things with him,
playing the piano. Later on, when the scores were made, somebody would
orchestrate them, and make orchestra scores out of Churchill's piano music. Harline, I think, had a different musical education than Churchill; I think it was perhaps in greater depth. I think Churchill primarily played one hell of a piano. Harline played the piano not nearly as well as Churchill; he couldn't help you sell a sequence with the storyboard as well as Churchill did, because Churchill would hit these ragtime tunes, and it sounded so good
you'd buy it. But Harline's music had a more symphonic approach;
I wouldn't say better, I wouldn't say superior, but it was vastly different. His approach was different; he'd talk what was going to happen with the music as much as he would play it on the piano. Half the time he'd sing the melody, sometimes a little off-key, to let you know what was going to happen; you'd get the feel of it. Harline didn't fool around as much as Churchill. Churchill was the kind of person who was always full of gags—all kinds of monkey business—and Harline was more business-like, in the music room at least.
Barrier: I heard a story about Churchill, that he provided mood music on movie sets with a little folding organ.
Jackson: That's right, and he gave me the organ. I had it for years. I gave it to a friend of mine who now lives up in Cambria. It was like the Salvation Army used to carry around; it would fold up like a little suitcase. They would open it out, and sit on the street, and plays; it was one of those.
Barrier: What had he been doing in the interval between the death of silent movies and when he came to work for Disney?
Jackson: I think he came at that time.
Barrier: He just ran out of work [as a silent-film musical accompanist].
Jackson: I think that's what happened. I think he came around knocking on the door, and Walt needed a musician, so he said, "We'll try you out."
|Frank Churchill (center), with Paul Wismer, at left, and Bernard Brown, on the set of a silent film, probably Ernest Lubitsch's The Marriage Circle (1924). Courtesy of Bernard Brown.
Barrier: You mentioned Churchill helping you sell a storyboard...
Jackson: Selling storyboards happened before we ever pinned them up on the board; our first storyboards were on the floor. Or, for that matter, what would amount to the storyboard would be the little thumbnails that I would make in the very earliest days. You'd have them on the table, and you'd point to them as the music went along, so Walt could get a feeling of the timing. I still had to sell the storyboard to Walt on Cinderella (1950), on Lady and the Tramp (1955)—we'd get the storyboards in the music room, and I'd make my changes. I'd take business out, I'd put business in, the layout men would make some roughs to indicate a bridge to something else, I'd take a section out here and put it back in up there, I'd take a whole section out in order not to have too much footage. Walt would have to be in on that, and you had to sell it. By "selling it," I simply mean putting over your idea so it can be understood, so that the feeling of it is there. Anybody can just look at it and see what happens, but the feeling of it is a different thing, and in my pictures, I always felt that the music was a big part of it. Without the music, you couldn't appreciate what I had in mind on the screen.
Barrier: You mentioned, I think in 1973, that the layout
men would redraw the story sketches, to show the staging, and then you would go through the board with a pointer, just as in a story conference. When did that happen?
Jackson: We pointed the boards with the layout men's sketches when we were showing our plan for the camera angles and scene cuts and the staging of the action. This was the standard way we showed Walt, or an animator, the more technical aspects of how we planned to make the picture look. But for the feeling of the action and the story line, or for the personalities of the characters, we always pointed the boards with the story sketches. I don't know when we didn't use this way of showing what a picture was going to seem like on the screen—pointing the story sketches—as, for example, when Roy Disney would bring a guest in to see what we were doing. Roy would say, "This is generally what we're doing with this part of our picture"—he would be with some big shot he'd brought in. He would say, "Bill"—he always called me "Bill"; he'd introduce me by saying, "This is one of our hired help, Bill Jackson"—then he'd say, "Bill, do you mind going through this?" I'd get the musician to play, and I'd point to the storyboard, and give him the feel of what we were doing. I don't
know when we didn't do it.
Barrier: This wouldn't be a completely redrawn storyboard, would it?
Jackson: It would be whatever we had at that point in the progress of the picture through the various phases of production for the purpose of that particular showing. We tried to keep our storyboard so that it currently told what the picture was like. I continually altered and changed it as we made changes in the picture, clear up to the point where there were no more scenes to be handed out to the animators, and there was no possibility of need for showing what was intended in the picture, clear up to the point where you had running reels that you could show. The storyboard was as close as I could make it to the current concept of the picture. At least this was the way I worked; I don't know about the other directors.
Barrier: So you'd start out with a board made up of story men's sketches, and you'd maybe wind up with a board full of your layout men's sketches?
Jackson: No, the story sketch board didn't get changed that much. Mostly it was a matter of revising the order in which sketches were pinned on the board; a few new sketches, maybe. There wasn't too much brand-new business that went into my pictures, except while in animation. As I would talk with the animators, a lot of times something new would cook up, and we would talk it with Walt, if he was that close to it, and if not, we'd take a chance. We put new things in; but that was at the stage where, by the time that was questioned, we could run the reel. And, in a case like that, sometimes I would
just write captions and put them on the storyboard. "Closeup, Duck,"and then a caption of what he's saying, or whatever it would be.
Barrier: Back in the early '30s, when you were directing, you were working with people like Ben Sharpsteen and Dave Hand, people who had been in the business a lot longer than you had. Was that particularly different from the situation you had later on, when you were working with animators who in many cases were younger men who had been raised entirely at Disney's?
Jackson: Not all that different, because all of them were people who could do what I could not do that I wished I could do. All of them were successful animators. I didn't know how to animate very well, I never did learn how to animate very well, and it was what I wanted so badly to do. These people were all different in the degree and kind of thing they could do, but there was no
animator I ever handed a scene out to who couldn't do something
that I couldn't do. So I was always in the position of having to
supervise and guide the best I could, somebody who knew his business darned well, and who was opinionated. A lot of these guys are temperamental, and they kind of get up on their horse if you want to change something. You had to work with them however you could, to do what you could.
Barrier: Dave Hand talked to me about animators having a "right of refusal," if they didn't like a scene they were getting.
Jackson: I don't recall any time that any animator refused to take a scene from me. I can recall some times when they balked.
Barrier: In most cases, you would have talked to them about the scene before you even prepared the exposure sheets, wouldn't you?
Jackson: In most cases, yes. But it wasn't too infrequent that somebody would just be dumped in on me, all of a sudden. "This guy needs work, give him some." And they didn't want him sitting around while I made out sheets, either.
Gray: It's amazing to me that the one guy in the studio who felt the least qualified is the one guy who ends up being remembered by everybody as the best, the most helpful, the most congenial—it's amazing.
Jackson: It's odd to hear that, because there were complaints about me; there were animators who went to Walt and complained that I was too domineering, that I pushed them around too much, that I didn't give the animators a chance to do what they wanted to do. You're going to talk to somebody this afternoon [Gerry Geronimi] who wanted to punch my nose at a party one night, because [slipping into a light imitation of Geronimi's New York accent] I wasn't giving the animators a good chance.
Gray: What they say to us is that sometimes you thought things out more thoroughly than they thought was necessary, but that you were also flexible, so they didn't mind. They felt that you were the best guy to work with.
Jackson: Well, that's very flattering. I certainly had a respect for every one of them. Maybe that has something to do with it... If I was domineering, if I kept them from doing something, it wasn't just by riding over them; I was as persuasive as I knew how to be. I was ready at the drop of a hat to call Walt in to settle an argument, and more often than not that would settle it, just the idea of it. More often than not, they didn't want to do that; but it wasn't like I was holding [Walt] over their heads like a club. I was perfectly willing to accept his judgment, and to try it their way if he said to, but I was just real sure they weren't right. But if they wanted to appeal to Walt, I was ready to go there and talk it over, and if he thought they were right, great. But I wasn't going to take the responsibility for forcing them to do
that particular thing against their best judgment, if I could help it. But I did respect them.
Barrier: How dominant was the music in work on the early Silly Symphonies? Carl Stalling said that music was to dominate the Silly Symphonies, and the action was to dominate the early Mickeys; but it's never been clear to me if the musician's views were dominant in the early Sillies, or if there was a constant reshaping of music and action to fit one another.
Jackson: I think it was both. In the Silly Symphonies, the music had more importance to the pictures; it was a more important element in the picture than the story line or the animation itself. It primarily established the mood, and in many cases established the story itself; Skeleton Dance is an example. More than that, though, I think it was a matter of an understanding that in the Sillies, nothing would be done to make it easier for the animators to get good timing with their action that would make the music sound bad. Whereas, in the ones that were not Silly Symphonies—the Mickeys, the dogs [Plutos], the Ducks—the action, the story, the personality, was dominant. The music could do what it could for itself, but if we needed a three-measure phrase, the musician had to make a three-measure phrase, no matter if it ought to be four or eight.
It's my recollection that the Silly Symphonies came about as a result of a tremendous outburst of bickering between Carl Stalling and Walt about whether some music should be changed; and it's my recollection that a kind of a compromise was arrived at, in that if Carl would make his damned music fit the action Walt wanted in this Mickey, Walt would make a whole series of pictures where the music would have its way. I don't know if I've got that right, but I have a pretty strong recollection of something like that going on.
I so much enjoyed working with the music, and I felt so strongly the importance of music to the pictures, that I think, in most of my pictures, there was more effort to do what it was agreed would be done, on the Sillies—that is, to try not to impair the quality of the music, whether mine were Symphonies or Mickeys.
|A Bill Peet story sketch for an animated sequence in Song of the South.
[Posted September 13, 2015]