Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Between Books – They Drew as Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Golden Age The 1930s


Book cover showing Dwarves from Snow White

I had heard a lot of good things about Didier Ghez’s They Drew as They Pleased series. But I had not pulled the trigger on a copy of this art series due to price and time. But recently the Between Wife purchased me a copy as gift. And if anything has given me joy during this pandemic it appears to be art books.

They Drew as Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Golden Age The 1930s by Ghez introduces readers to four important early Disney story artists. These artists in the Story Department did not animate or put Disney characters directly on cells. Instead they were the artists that modeled the tone, mood, models and even worked out scenes in their early stages before animators were asked to create the story. They were the draftsmen and draftswomen that created the look and story which then would be turned over to the army of animators, inkers, inbetweeners and other artists who worked directly on screen. The book is fairly simple with four main chapters crafted around one artist from the 1930s. Ghez introduces his readers to the four artists; Albert Hurter, Ferdinand Horvath, Gustaf Tenggren and Bianca Majolie including their educations, pre-Disney careers, Disney highlights and then post-Disney lives. The biographies which run around 10 pages each are then followed by pages and pages of concept art that the artist provided Disney including projects which became films and shorts along with those which were never realized.

Let me be honest, the art is gorgeous. It is presented well and allows one to dive into these story creations. And with the art being the bulk of the pages, it should be and Chronicle Books succeeds. The biography to me were fairly interesting as they showed me some trends among the artists I was not fully familiar with. First, many early Disney artists had European roots and sensibilities, which then had a large impact on his early fairy tale films. Also, while we may thing of animators who stayed on for years, the early story artists appear to have had relativity short careers at the studio. Additionally, I really enjoyed reading about Majolie who had ties to young Walt in Chicago and how she was able to grow into the story artist role as a woman in a very male dominated department.

They Drew as Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Golden Age The 1930s is likely a must for Disney art history fans. The pages are pleasing, but I personally could use a few additional context captions being more word based. And I have read, even written, history in this short biography format. But some may balk at a $30 price tag for this style of book. For one, I really like it as an addition to the Between Books shelf and will likely add more in the future.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Between Books – 2020 Hyperion Historical Alliance Annual


Cover of 2020 Hyperion Historial Alliance Alliance

As someone who has a history degree and been part of history associations, I have some pretty high standards for what content should be from these professional groups.  Then tie in Disney and the contributors who are participating in the Hyperion Historical Alliance, well a fairly high bar is set.  With the “2019Hyperion Historical Alliance Annual”, I found a concern or two.  Would the Alliance’s second annual correct the concerns I had?

In his introduction, Hyperion Historical Alliance President Didier Ghez notes that the first Annual appeared to really focus on production and artists.  And for this volume they attempted to provide a wider array of topics.  I am not sure that they fully hit with this stated goal as five of the six essays are really based on filmed productions and only one theme park based article.  However, I never really noticed the focus on production.  Instead I found myself caught up on an unintentional theme, Disney female pioneers.  Of the six articles, three have a focus on female contributions in Disney history and unearthed to me some unknown interesting Disney figures.  And Ghez’ article on Mickey Mouse productions also adds additional female contributions.  And on a whole I found these articles interesting and engaging. 

The “2020 Hyperion Historical Alliance Annual” consists of six articles.  The first two highlight the contributions of two female creators in the 1930s and 1940s giving an overview of the careers of Betty Smith-Totten and Grace Huntington.  Both articles make it clear these women were trailblazers in numerous areas of their lives and the impact of women at Disney.  “A Preview of Disney’s World” chronicles the Walt Disney World Preview Center, with a focus on staffing and the Center’s impact on promoting the future theme park.  “Wise Dwarfs and Thrifty Pigs” outlines the use of Disney animation to promote Canadian War Bonds during World War II, which really shows the innovative ways Disney reused animation for new purposes.  And finally, “Mickey’s Revivals” discusses the attempts to get Mickey back on the big screen from the 1970s to the recent past. 

One of my complaints of the earlier volume was adapted work that I had seen elsewhere and in multiple forms.  To me these articles were all fresh and new research.  The one that likely worked the least for me was the Mickey article, as it felt like it was the one which could have been written without special access to unpublished documents or interviews.  And it just reminded me that I wish the Hyperion Historical Alliance was less exclusive and a path for those who are interested in Disney history to have more active participation.

And I can guarantee, I will purchase next year’s annual especially after the quality of the articles in the 2020 edition. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Between Books - Marc Davis In His Own Words


Marc Davis In His Own Words: Imagineering the Disney Theme Parks by Pete Docter and Christopher Merritt is much more than a simple book.  The title is truly an experience, one which can help enlighten and raise the spirits of a Disney fan…because in 2020 more of us are Between Disney than ever before.

During the health crisis of 2020, I took eight months to read this two-volume text.  And when I say read, I mean experienced.  For me, every session was carefully staged in strong lighting.  I played appropriate attraction or movie themes on a speaker.  I never ever read so long that my mind began to wander.  I truly just let the book pull me into the art, process, and finally the experience of many of Mark Davis’ masterpieces. 

The structure of Marc Davis In His Own Words is largely what one would expect.  The 749 pages open with a chapter about Davis’ career in animation, a career which on its own merit was a triumph.  The book then follows his path through Imagineering, being called over by Walt Disney to provide creative ideas at Disneyland for “Nature’s Wonderland” and other established attractions.  Then the authors bring us through Davis’ most celebrated attractions including “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “Haunted Mansion”, “Country Bear Jamboree” and more including the transfer of many of these ideas to Florida and the Magic Kingdom Park.  The book ends with a period of creative frustration for Davis as many of his ideas were never fulfilled including the “Enchanted Snow Palace.”  Finally, a retired Davis continues to provide support of Imagineering creative endeavors, consulting with EPCOT and Tokyo Disneyland.  The chapters are picture heavy, with really the Davis art at the center of attention.  Davis quotes surround his striking art along with the words of his colleagues.  There is some background information provided by the authors, but they admittedly take third place to the art and words of Davis and those who worked closely with him. 

I have many thoughts, and learned so much during the months of reading this book that everyone praises.  First, I feel like I can now say I have experienced new Davis’ attractions such as the “Enchanted Snow Palace” as the excellent presentation of his art allowed me to sit Between Disney and experience a ride that has never been realized, and perhaps it should be!  But even for the attractions I know deeply, I can see them in a new way as Davis’ art provides never included details, variations and insights that I had never considered.  I also believe I know Davis the artist better.  His attraction development includes numerous brainstorming ideas which he drew out so he could find the right idea.  We have often discussed as fans that Walt Disney noted you cannot choose from one.  This maxim is true for Davis and his own efforts to find the story as he sought multiple ideas in his storytelling.  The best part is this is not told to us but shown to us through his concept art.  Additionally, he did not see an attraction as true pure storytelling.  An attraction was an experience and he could immerse guests into it.  But the story would be different for everyone.  And so Davis was not truly looking to tell stories but instead experiences.

If you are interested in Disney books, you have likely heard how great Marc Davis In His Own Words is.  They are right.  The two-volume book can be seen as a major investment, but the title can at times be found on sale which makes the price more reasonable for two large art of books.  But in the end, for me the price was fair.  Because I was able to use my time largely at home to bury myself multiple mornings into Davis’ fantastic worlds.   

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Between Books - How's the Culture in Your Kingdom


Cover How's the Culture In Your Kingdom

How’s the Culture in Your Kingdom: Lessons from a Disney Leadership Journey by Dan Cockerell collects leadership lessons from a 26 year career in Disney Parks working from a parking supervisor at Disneyland Paris to Vice President of the Magic Kingdom.  The book provides four main sections, “Leading Self”, “Leading Teams”, “Leading an Organization”, and “Leading Change” that are each filled with smaller sized chapters around one central theme.  Each chapter ends with a “Fast Track to Results” section which summarizes Cockerell’s major points and provides thoughts that a manager can implement quickly. 

The text provides a number of business lessons for managers.  While many of them may seem like common sense or lessons one can get elsewhere, Cockerell wraps them around stories of his time at Disney.  The stories range from his early Disney days especially working in a France as a young professional to the end of his Disney journey.  The stories honestly do not go deep into the inner workings of Walt Disney World, there are no dirty little secrets of My Magic Band.  Instead the stories and content really shows the value that Cockerell puts in relationships as part of servant leadership.  He shows candor as his leadership lessons make it clear that not every decision can please everyone.  And there is risk in leading.  But in the end, Cockerell has built a career, and now a consulting business, on placing a high value on a culture of relationship.  Cockerell also spends significant space discussing something that I may only now be understanding, the need for self care.  A leader must take the time to care for themselves by getting sleep, moving and thoughtfully eating in order to be their best for their people.

How’s the Culture in Your Kingdom is a leadership book with a Disney core.  Cockerell shows his leaders the importance of people in an organization.  It is a lesson that can be easy to forget in these trying times.  And there is just enough Disney to help keep the leader with a Disney passion focused on the lesson.