FILM///MUST READ: THE TRUE STORY OF THE WOMEN WHO ANIMATED THE GOLDEN AGE OF DISNEY

February 11, 2010  |  Animation, art, News

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Fascinating article in the March 2010 issue of VANITY FAIR revealing the true story of the army of young women who inked and painted all the animation of DISNEY's Golden Age:

COLORING THE KINGDOM
By Patricia Zohn | Vanity Fair
Behind the breakthrough magic of Walt Disney’s first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and his other 30s and 40s classics—Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi—toiled as many as 100 young women, the inkers and painters, working from dawn to dusk on thousands of cels that brought his dreams to life. The author recaptures their white-gloved esprit de corps, and a golden age of Disney that would be disrupted by strike, World War II, and, eventually, the Xerox machine.

"Snow White has to be out by Christmas—if not it’ll be too bad for Disney’s,” 20-year-old platinum blonde Reidun “Rae” Medby wrote her boyfriend from her Hollywood apartment late one night in the fall of 1937. She was barely able to keep her eyes open after a month of working weekends and double shifts in the Ink and Paint department, the all-female “finishing school” of hand-drawn animation, during the final push on the groundbreaking film. “The minute I get a pen in my hand my brain goes numb—just like it does at the studio. Don’t be upset if I start inking ducks and mice.”

The Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck color short films that had lured Rae to the jumbled Hyperion Avenue studio had grown ever more expensive—even a “mathemagician” like Walt’s brother Roy couldn’t shrink the six months of preparation, the thousands of cels (the celluloid sheets on which drawings were traced and colored before being photographed), or the two-week shoots they required. More tellingly, the films no longer reflected Walt’s ambitions for the rapidly evolving medium. Now everything was hanging on the production of the world’s first animated feature, about a pretty, ragtag princess and her seven bachelor heroes. Yet Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as Walt conceived it (and reconceived it, right up until its release), was based on the daring notion that a fairy-tale cartoon could hold an audience’s attention for more than an hour. It was proving to be a singularly labor-and-money-intensive crusade.

The end of the assembly line usually inherits all the problems. Preparing the animators’ vision for camera required the inking and painting of thousands of fragile, combustible cels with perfect refinement. During Snow White, it was not at all unusual to see the “girls”—as Walt paternalistically referred to them—thin and exhausted, collapsed on the lawn, in the ladies’ lounge, or even under their desks. “I’ll be so thankful when Snow White is finished and I can live like a human once again,” Rae wrote after she recorded 85 hours in a week. “We would work like little slaves and everybody would go to sleep wherever they were,” said inker Jeanne Lee Keil, one of two left-handers in the department who had to learn everything backward. “I saw the moon rise, sun rise, moon rise, sun rise.” Painter Grace Godino, who would go on to become Rita Hayworth’s studio double, also remembered the long days merging into nights: “When I’d take my clothes off, I’d be in the closet, and I couldn’t figure it out: am I going to sleep or am I getting up?” Click HERE to continue reading...

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