“when you’re curious you find lots of interesting things to do”Walt DisneyBefore Walt Disney founded the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio now known as The Walt Disney Company he was working at Film Ad. During this time Motion Picture News declared the beginning of Laugh-O-Grams.
“They will produce Laugh-O-Gram animated cartoon comedies which will be cartooned by Walter E. Disney.” (Lee and Madej.
2012)At this point Walt decides to start a new project, he wanted to produce an original series of animations based on fairy tales. His guiding light at this time was Paul Terry who was well-known New York animator which success in 1921 after releasing a series of animated short subjects Aesop’s Fables. Terry worked constantly for 8 years on making different kind of fables which was really inspiring for Walt Disney. Disney perceives that this might be a great idea, to implement this kind of format into his animations. His plan was to take popular fairy tales and apply them into the modern life situations, in this way his animations would not be directed not only for the young audience but also for mature people who can pick up the hidden message. Figure 1.Little Red Riding Hood was the first fairy tale made by Walt in this series,(Figure 1.) and it is treated as the first experiment on telling the storyline through the animation.
(Lee and Madej. 2012)Laugh-O-Grams was a fledgling company which employed people who were unsophisticated and did not have much experience at things that they were doing. The lack of knowledge about the animation forced the staff of this company to study current Aesop’s Fables and Krazy Kat animations to gain some new abilities and knowledge about different approaches on how to make a good animations. Trial and error of different techniques led them to success, in a short period, Laugh-O-Grams company implemented more efficient and practical methods in production of cartoons over the New York studios. (Lee and Madej. 2012)Despite that Laugh-O-Grams had developed some great techniques, they become unable to make enough income to continue making cartoons.
In 1923 the company went bankrupt, but managed to complete the last project which was the Alice’s Wonderland. (Lee and Madej. 2012)In the same year that Laugh-O-Grams company went bankrupt Walt Disney and his brother Roy decided to open their own studio Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio.
Walt was trying to start with a completely new project, with something that will be revolutionary. Walt is first creation in his own company was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit inspired by popular Felix the Cat. Walt observed that animal characters attracted the audience that is why he wanted to create something new but not revealing. Walt signed a contract with a Charles Mintz’s distribution company called Scappy Comedies.
The first animation with Oswald “Trolley Troubles” was not that great as Walt was expecting to, Laemmle stated that animation lacked the plot and the camera operation was not that great either. In 1928 Walt went to New York to talk with Charles Mintz about their partnership, he was expecting rise but he got completely different response. Mintz offered him much lower resources per one production (from $2,250 to $1,800). In case of rejecting the offer by Walt, Mintz could deprive him the rights to the rabbit. At the instigation Disney waived the rights for Oswald. However this was not loss – Walt knew that he needs to create a character that millions of people around the world would love.
Figure 2.There was a cat and rabbit but Walt still wanted to continue the idea of animal characters, the final decision was made. Walt created a mouse called Mortimer but his wife, Lily, declared that Mickey would be a much suitable name for mouse character and that is how the story of Mickey Mouse was born. In march 1928 Disney with Iwerks and other trusted people started a production on the first Mickey’s Mouse animation. Walt decided to base his first animation on something simple like the latest sensation which at that time was Charles Lindbergh, aviation pioneer. That is how the first animation Plane Crazy was created based on a few gags. Pre-premiere show took place in one of the cinemas in Hollywood Boulevard.
Walt has paid extra money for pianist just so he could better accentuate gags, this shows that Disney was already thinking about the sound effects in his cartoons and he started becoming more aware of the importance of music and sounds effects. Despite all efforts people were not satisfied by this production, as Walt was hoping to. Right away Walt announced another production with Mickey Mouse called The Gallopin’ Gaucho which was another failure in eyes of the Hollywood audience. Third time lucky.Figure 3.
Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio began a third project Steamboat Willie. This movie was supposed to stand out from the two earlier production. Walt was impressed by the first sound movie, The Jazz Singer (released on the 6th October 1927), so he decided to tried apply sound effects into his cartoon. First attempts have been made with the participation of a live orchestra to check the reaction of the audience. The first screening took place for a small audience consisting of employees and their wives. A public sat in one room and in the other there were several people responsible for the sound.
Jackson played harmonica, Iwerks on a wash basin and a pipe, Walt was in charge of dialogues, and Cannon in sound effects. The effect of all this was electrifying. (Gabler, Walt Disney: The Triumph of American Imagination: Chapter four)If it worked, there would be one more thing left – to buy a sound system for the film. For this purpose, Walt went to New York for exploration. He met with different people, and some offered a very simple solution – playing the sound from the album. The idea was too simple and, therefore, risky – the CD could always be lost or damaged.
Walt checked the RCA system and the Fleischer “Song Car-Tunes” idea. Eventually, he partnered with Walt Powers, who created the cinephone system. Work began on converting “Steamboat Willie” into a sound version. The Stalling orchestral soundtrack was taken, which used the old vaudeville melody of “Steamboat Bill” and the folk melody “Turkey in the Straw”. However, the beginnings were difficult. The cartoon was moving at its own pace, and the orchestra with its own. It was hard to achieve harmony – it was due to the reduction of the orchestra.
Miki received the voice from Walt Disney himself. And so it was for the next seven years. However, it was also necessary to work on the cartoon itself. It must have been around 20,000. frames, so you had to draw them. And this caused the increase in cost of the production.
Initially, Powers was supposed to set up the sound for an animation for $ 1,000, but soon it turned out that it was not enough. Disney’s studio was experiencing a financial crisis, but Walt – as usual – did not care and tried to produce a cartoon. Walt wrote to Roy for more fundings, but there was no way to get money. Eventually Disney devoted his sports car. Walt wanted to complete this production at all costs. The recording equipment was too large to be able to travel with it and record sound outside the studio so Walt was forced to think of another approach.
He went to the store and bought things like rattles, bells, pans, etc., to give them a sound of what Mickey Mouse did. He started experimenting. (Burtt and Ludwig. 2009)“By nature, I’m an experimenter.
So with the success of Mickey, I was determined to diversify.” -Walt (The Walt Disney Family Museum)At the beginning it was extremely hard to synchronize the the sound effects with the animation, but as Disney was spending more and more time and money on the project thinks got better. In November Steamboat Willie was finally ready with full synchronised music and sound effects.
(Gabler and Neal. 2006) Overall, it is clear that Walt Disney was experimenting with many things throughout his whole career. All the animations made by Walt in the 20’s and 30’s were an experiment because he was one of the first cartoon animator. He was investing large amount of money on things that no one was doing before on a big scale.
The best example of this is the Steamboat Willie, Disney dedicated his money and time on the project that no one believes that it could succeed. This was extremely risky as he did not knew if the fairy tales will be successive, but without taking a risk he would not be that fruitful. While working for Laugh-O-Gram Studio Walt had a opportunity to test if the application of storytelling is a sustainable and profitable for for his animations, then Oswald the Lucky Rabbit showed him how effective creating an animal character is.
All of this leaded Walt to a true innovation and success The Mickey Mouse. Disney introduced the new era, era of sound in animation. This would not be possible without his ideas, determination and most importantly experiments.