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"What's New" Archives: March 2016


March 15, 2016:

In the 'Kitchen" with Jack Kinney


March 15, 2016:

Brave Little Tailor model sheet

A Fred Moore model sheet for The Brave Little Tailor (1938), bearing Jack Kinney's credit for story. By the time this sheet was prepared, Bill Roberts (initials "W.O.R.") had replaced the original director, Burt Gillett, the subject of Kinney's less than favorable memories from work on the cartoon. Courtesy of Ross Wetzel.

In the "Kitchen" with Jack Kinney

I've published here two transcripts of interviews with Jack Kinney, from 1973 and 1976, and now I'm offering something a little different: extensive notes from my two interviews with Jack in December 1986. These notes are more rambling and informal than the interview transcripts, and I've paraphrased a good bit of what Jack said. In effect, I'm taking you into my "kitchen" and letting you sample some of the ingredients I gathered for my books on Walt Disney and the Disney cartoons. You can read those notes, and a fuller explanation of just what they are, by clicking on this link.


From Pete Docter: Thanks for the Jack Kinney notes! Some good info in there. Funny enough, unless my memory is faulty (always a good possibility) I heard that same story about Walt griping about wasting pushpins from Paul Carlson, who worked at Disney in the '50s.

I’m fascinated by Leica reels, and how films were pre-visualized. Were there really no filmed versions of storyboards after Bambi? I’ve seen a reel of boards and animation cut together for Fox and the Hound—I guess that'd be called “running reels,” using Jaxon’s [Wilfred Jackson] terminology— and I know storyreels were standard at Disney by the '90s, as they are today. But in the '40s-'60s, was there no attempt to make a version of the story on film? They just went from an approved story pitch to animation?

MB replies: That's a great question, and I think the answer is, for most of that period, there weren't reels made up of story sketches. As Bob Thomas wrote in Walt Disney: The Art of Animation (p. 19): "For a period, the [story] sketches were projected on a screen with color and music [in Leica reels]. But all this proved costly and the basic storyboard method was resumed, those concerned agreeing this system was best."

That was as of 1958. But here's what I wrote in Funnyworld No. 9, in 1968, not long after Walt's death, based on what I'd been told by Milt Gray, who had been until recently a Disney assistant animator:

The Disney Studio follows a procedure in the production of its cartoons that seems to be unique. When the storyboards are completed for a sequence, the director times the action and makes out an exposure sheet, and each storyboard drawing is filmed for as long as the action it represents is supposed to last. This film of storyboard drawings, with a soundtrack, is used to make adjustments in the timing of scenes. This storyboard film is called a work print. As scenes are animated and successful pencil tests are made, these pencil tests are cut into the work print in place of the storyboard drawings. finally, when the scenes are shot in color, the color scenes are cut into the film in place of the pencil tests.

Thomas and Johnston write about what they call the work reel (not the work print) on pages 231-32 of The Illusion of Life (1981). There's no entry for the Leica reel in their index, and no indication in their discussion of the work reel as to when use of it began.

It seems to me that I should know when the filming of storyboards as a "work print" began, whether in Walt's last years or at the start of the Reitherman era, but offhand, I don't. Surely that development is documented somewhere, and I'll keep looking.

I've heard variants of the pushpin story from other people. This is one of those stories that so neatly sums up some aspect of the Disney studio's life that I'm sure other people repeated it as soon as they heard it, and eventually came to believe they'd witnessed the event. Jack Kinney's version is the most persuasive to me, but I can't guarantee that it's the urtext.

From Don Peri: Thanks for posting more of Jack Kinney. The more I read his colorful stories about himself and those he worked with and for, the more I wish I had met him. Fortunately, I did have a chance to talk with Roy Williams, one of Jack’s favorite colleagues, but the chance to meet these larger-than-life figures are all too rare. Thanks for sharing gems from your vault with all of us!

MB replies: Don's interview with Roy Williams—whom I met only briefly, in a hospital room, shortly before his death—appeared in Funnyworld No. 17 in 1978, and his interviews with other Disney veterans have been collected in two books.

[Posted March 26, 2016]

From Pete Docter: Thanks for answering my question about Leica reels and work reels. It would be interesting to know when filming of story reels began—if you ever come across that info I’d love to hear it. The other question worth pondering is: why didn’t they make story reels? In today’s studios (Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks), stories are really proven in reels, and nothing moves forward into production until they work on story reels. Was it simply too expensive to build reels back then? Too time consuming given the technology at the time? Or perhaps Walt didn’t need it—he was the only guy they needed to please, and he could well imagine how the reels were going to come together.

MB replies: I have to believe that making story reels, in whatever form, as Leica reels or on 35mm film, was a more expensive and difficuilt proposition, in the context of the Disney studio of the 1940s, than putting together today's video-based reels. But Walt Disney's own attitudes were probably more important. Everyone who spends any time scrutinizing the Disney studio's history becomes aware of how very readily Walt could change his mind, and how those changes of mind could be reflected in significant changes in the films, even very late in production. (See, for example, what I say about a late-in-the-day change in The Wise Little Hen on page 117 of Hollywood Cartoons.) Story reels would inevitably have reduced his flexibility, as compared with storyboard sketches, and probably he was glad to have an excuse to do without them.

[Posted April 4, 2016]

From Hans Perk: In the Kinney interview he speaks of the Log Cabin Café; elsewhere he speaks of the Log Cabin Wine Bar. This is a mistake on his part: I found that the place, half a block east from the studio, was called Swiss Cabin. There were a few liquor stores called Log Cabin Liquor Store, and I suspect that Kinney also frequented these and thus got them mixed up.

[Posted August 3, 2016]