During a 43-year Hollywood career, which spanned the development of the motion picture medium as a modern American art, Walter Elias Disney was a pioneer and innovator, and the possessor of one of the most fertile imaginations the world has ever known. His creations set forth a foundation in the realm of animated entertainment through the use of modern applications and ingenious techniques. As an ambitious animator, Walt Disney began his career making animated commercials for the Kansas City Film Ad Company in 1919, in which they were previewed at local theatres (Jackson 6).
Years later, he then moved on to opening his own animation firm producing Laugh-o-Grams. These animated shorts allowed him to begin experimenting with cartoon animation and eventually involving live action into his project. The first of this type of production was a combination of cartoon and live action reel called ALICES WONDERLAND, which is Disneys first attempt using special effects. He integrated his funny cartoon characters with the actions of a live girl (played by Virginia Davis) filmed against a white backdrop (Thomas 37).
Disney produced a series of 56 Alice shorts before his firm financially collapsed. In an attempt to recover from his misfortune, Disney moved to Los Angeles, California where he conceived a concept that would later become the icon of his legacy, a cartoon character named Mickey Mouse. Walt Disney was inspired to create a new cartoon character with a personality that was different and more likeable than any other cartoon character ever made. In explaining Mickeys appeal, Disney observed, Mickey is so simple and uncomplicated, so easy to understand, that you cant help liking him (Jackson 77).
In an attempt to master the progressive sound technology, Disney embarked on a Mickey Mouse talkie. On his third appearance, Mickey starred in STEAMBOAT WILLIE (1928) which became the first synchronized sound cartoon. It was calculated that if the film ran at 90 ft/min. , they could animate the silent cartoon to a musical beat by planning it out in advance. Their simple tunes could be played at 2 beats/sec, so markings were made on the film every 12 frames, both as a guide for the animator, and later as an indicator for the orchestra, which would synchronize the musical track (Maltin 4).
The Cinephone Process, created by Walt Disney and Pat Powers, was responsible for introducing the sound effects into STEAMBOAT WILLIE . This endeavor caught the attention of many and brought forth a positive reaction towards the magical works of Disney. The New York Times wrote: It is an ingenious piece of work with a good deal of fun. It growls, whines, squeaks and makes various other sounds that add to its mirthful quality (5). As the film industry experimented with new developments and methods to improve on the quality and special effects of their featured films, Disney followed right behind.
Like introducing sound into his cartoons, Disney was eager to incorporate color to add visual stimulation to his cartoons. Color brought a new dimension to cartoons, but only through trial and error. Walt Disney instructed technicians to experiment with nitrates and other solutions and even attempted to hand tint each frame, but it failed. It proved too impractical and tedious. Finally Disney collaborated with Technicolor which resulted in an agreement that gave Disney a two-year exclusive which prohibited other cartoon makers from using the three-color process.
With the new color process, Disney was able to create an award winning short FLOWERS AND TREES, and won the honor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Thomas 45-47). Disney longed to top himself by doing something more than just an ordinary cartoon. One answer was length such as a feature film. Another answer was artistic quality. But the third answer, technical advancement, was provided by the multiplane camera. As Walt Disney began to plan for the first feature-length animated film, he realized that, in order to sustain the attention of an audience, improvements were needed in the techniques of photographing animation.
Disneys studio developed the multiplane camera that would add camera movements into one-dimensional cartoon animations, an act never before accomplished. At the cost of $70,00, the multiplane camera photographed up to six plates of glass, placed in holders several inches apart, on which various background and foreground elements were drawn, thereby creating a sense of depth and dimension. Also with this device, the animators were able to create the illusion of being underwater or the glow of a fire that could never be drawn on a conventional cell.
This form of illusion is called the blur effect (70-73). With this new system , Disney was able to generate a more realistic look for his inspiring cartoons. It was an idealization of real life. And it was this idealization that Disney was inspired to make his first feature film, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs was the beginning of many feature-length films Walt Disney magically produces that captures the attention and interests of many people young and old.
Disney once again led animation into a new era. By releasing the first animated feature, he not only solidified the reputation of his studio but also established animation as an art form to be taken seriously (Jackson 79). If Disney had not experimented with such new techniques as Technicolor and the multiplane camera, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, which utilized all of the animation techniques the Disney Studio had developed up to that point, could not have been a reality.