"Our heritage and ideals, our code and standards -- the things we live by and teach our children -- are preserved or diminished by how freely we exchange ideas and feelings." -- Walt Disney
Walt Disney was born December 5, 1901. His life epitomized the above quotation. He is most famous for the movies he produced, especially animation, and the theme parks that he developed. However, that is not the extent of his accomplishments. Realizing that achieving his goals in animation required improving the artistic skill of his animators, he paid the tuition for his animators to attend night classes at ChouinardArtSchool in Los Angeles. Eventually he set up an art school at his studio led by an artist named Don Graham. He could have kept that a private part of his studio. Instead he branched out to others in 1960 by developing the concept for the California Institute of the Arts, a school specializing in the performing and visual arts. The school builds upon Walt's interdisciplinary approach taken by his Imagineering Department created to design and build Disneyland. Students of the various art forms interact and learn from each other. The school includes classes on animation. Some of the Cal Arts graduates did go to work at the Disney Studios, but some went to work for other studios. By his generosity and sharing of ideas Walt contributed to the improvement of the art of animation in general. He also contributed to all types of artistic expression which has made life richer for everyone. After Walt's death in 1966, his family continued his heritage by financially supporting and guiding the establishment and growth of the school.
His contributions didn't end there. In 1958, Bob Thomas, one of the Walt Disney animation directors, wrote Walt Disney The Art of Animation. The book includes contributions by other Walt Disney Studio staff members, and is copyrighted by Walt Disney Productions. It could not have been completed and published without Walt's personal approval. My parents gave me a copy of the book when I was a youngster. It helped me understand the importance of character which is the foundation for my clown career. The book was the inspiration for many young people who grew into today's leading animators.
The Disney Company has continued his legacy of sharing ideas. The company has published other books on the process of animation. Much of the information in those books can be applied to variety arts. Most valuable of all are the books connected to the Imagineering department. There is a series of books and videos by the Imagineers on creativity. There is also a series of books on how the Imagineers created the Disney theme parks. One of the things that I have learned from these books is the value of paying attention to details. For example, when Disneyland opened, Walt Disney purchased a hot dog from one of the stands and counted how many steps he took while walking and eating. He took 25 steps, so he declared that trash cans should be located 25 steps from each food stand so people wouldn't have to hunt for a receptacle when they need one encouraging them to throw things away instead of littering the parks. That continues to be the standard space between trash cans at all of the Disney parks worldwide.
Another concept that I have learned from the Imagineering books is the importance of being open to new ideas and happy accidents. For example, while working on landscaping the model for the It's A Small World attraction planned for Disneyland, an Imagineer had temporarily placed some model plants on top of the ride building model. Walt Disney saw the work in progress and liked the result. Now trees growing in planters on the roof of the building camouflage its size. The front of the building appears to be a thin facade with a forest growing right behind it. That makes the building less intimidating and adds the comfort of an apparently natural setting.
The books published by the Walt Disney Company don't just explain what the company does, but also why. Their focus upon story telling and providing memorable experiences for their audience is an approach any entertainer will benefit from.
What heritage are you leaving? How can you share ideas and feelings with others? What opportunities do you have to teach others? How can you write about what you do?