Lesson: Departmentalize Perceived Capabilities By Gender & Exploit Menial Labour? Oh My: Speaking from a place of white privilege (real and imagined); I can say this letter is unacceptable by today’s standards [insert date/time/year here], obviously. Disney was only training young men? Rejecting women applicants out of turn? Would it have been a dangerous work environment for a young lady to work in? Taking a step back, the above letter is appalling and yet beautifully illustrated at the same time, so there is a silver lining: likely photo duplicated illustrations. This letter exemplifies what might have been happening all the time in an era where it was socially acceptable for women to be considered for only certain functions AND there was a sort of human resource logic that technically still exists today around “skills and capabilities” based hiring.
Would the female applicant have got the role if she had a specific portfolio of drawings mailed in as well? Is that even practical to mail in? We know logically life is not fair and that if you want a job you need to present your value add right out of the gate, regardless of the era. Here is what was going on in the HR manager’s mind: “I have five minutes to decide if I will hire you, you didn’t do cartooning in another studio and you’re from a monolithic group identity that doesn’t align with our goals / workflow / pin-ups in the kitchen / division of labour therefore no job for you” – Disney HR manager. This still happens today all the time in multiple directions, not hiring men at the nail salon etc! Career changers have a difficult time because they don’t have a track record and hiring manager don’t want to risk hiring the wrong person. HR is about making assumptions about the applicant + previous roles + filtering GPA + other variables. Remember that HR stands for Human Roadblock.
A little background, Burbank Studio opened in 1940. All executive and artists were men. Women were in the inking and painting department exclusively. This menial work was demeaning according to many. You were timed to see how quickly you painted and inked the cellophane. Once a women turned 30, it was well known that her hands ‘would be too shaky’ to continue working on inking. Seems like an abrupt logic around a specific age here; kind of like the drinking age laws (if only we could measure maturity!)….Anyway, Walt Disney has been called a racist from a small town in some re-tellings. Walt Disney had prejudices and was considered to be anti-sematic although this is only hearsay. In an unsavoury staff meeting, Disney actively warned the women in Ink and Paint from trying to get in bed with their animator staff. I guess, back then, work was pretty segregated. The men probably couldn’t be trusted to handle themselves around young women so better to blame the victim? Other controversies include the fact that P.L. Travers apparently completely hated Mary Poppins the film and that the recent Saving Mr. Banks is a complete whitewash of what happened in reality.
I digress. Life is not fair and no human-managed-entity can correct that unfairness without displacing others, hence my pro-AI perspective.
Furnish Your Personal Brand: back in the 1930s, you would address your superior by their surname. Walt Disney famously asked that people refer to him as “Walt” or “Uncle Walt”. In old news footage, it was revealed that ABC Disneyland Episodes were shot in colour because Disney knew that colour was going to be the future of television. From all his brand management work, Disney had built up his image as an Uncle to children around the world. The reality was quite stark but that doesn’t seem to matter much now. Any cruelty or prejudice exacted by Disney is counter-balanced by the most impactful children’s entertainment around. A good brand can withstand a lot with the right kind of Public Relations.
Disney was a creative thinker, engineer, project manager and master storyteller. The real way to get entertainment was to have personalities tell a coherent story. A good Disney film always has personalities dealing with various problems. Disney would always lighten-up when describing his characters. Story boarding the entire films was important to Disney; the narrative was built from scratch.
Disney famously told the entire plot of Snow White to his animator team over a 3-hour session complete with all the voices done by himself. Walt Disney created the blueprint for his films in his head; he even told his nephew the entire story of Pinocchio one evening start to finish. Disney was full of energy and was always thinking of how to build a bigger future for his enterprise. He would fire people on the spot whenever he wanted because he was truly powerful. After Walt Disney died of lung cancer in 1966, the Disney company was at a crossroads regarding how it should move forward.
Like some many visionaries; up until the renaissance at Disney starting with the Little Mermaid, the Disney company had produced fragmented films. The films subsequent to Walt’s leadership were less successful, Michael Eisner believed this was because the creative process was disjointed because decisions were made in a committee (where ever contribution had to be negotiated in or out of the narrative) rather than by an authoritarian visionary who could veto any idea or person. You need to have an executive creative director who has good judgement. Someone had to be the producer and that relationship was that the producer’s vision is the over-riding vision: it always has to subjugate the others to the final decision maker.
Make sure you have a tangible outcome from your work. Disneyland opened in 1955 and served to solidify Disney influence. Walt Disney was building a physical park. Disney wanted to make a clean amusement park. Violi Theme Park was very clean and popcorn lights. The movies were central to the business. Michael Eisner created movies like Saturday Night Fever, Beverley Hills Cop. And bought TouchStone Pictures. Movies are about ideas. Disney movies were still the central progenitor of continued rebirth. You kinda have to take your kids to Disneyland. The always positive Walt Disney. DisneyCruiseLine was also another extension of Walt Disney’s original view that “there should be a place for children and parents to have together.” Family cruising was the new business plan well after Walt Disney had passed away. The Disney business has expanded further…
Disneyland was finished in 1955 in Anaheim California but it had a limited size and the value of the land around Disneyland was astronomical once the business model was proven to be highly successful. Hotels, restaurants were built around Disneyland which made expansion difficult. As a result of the difficulties faced in California, Walt Disney was engaged in a cloak and dagger ploy to buy land and then build a massive theme park in central Florida.
In 1964, Walt was able to purchase a great deal of land but it had to be done secretly. $180 per acre was the cost for a total of 27,000 acres of swampland. The utilitor was built on the ground floor and Disney World’s Magic Kingdom was actually build 14 feet above this walkway system for employees. DisneyWorld was opened in 1971 with an attendance that hit 10 million in less than two years. The theme park was the perfect tourist attraction. One of the powerful ideas fuelinf Disney World was that DisneyWorld is the never-ending plus-able theme park. Walt Disney World is ‘always in a state of becoming’ implying that DisneyWorld is never finished. As a child we were always told that.
In reality, DisneyWorld has brand power such that it no longer needs to expand its development. It was an ingenious design. Epcot was the vision of modern planned communicty development. For Disney, building something real which is tangible gives you more control. If Walt Disney asked that you did something, you’d better make it real. Optimal Behaviorists push to maintain the top of their energy with a feeling of optimistism. Disney lived by this credo of using every minute of the day to achieve set goals.
Disney lost revenue due to the 2nd World War which meant that roughly 40% of the companies revenue was cut. After the success of Snow White, Disney had invested in a major Pinocchio and Fantasia, which were not able to replicate the 8million dollars of revenue that Snow White delivered. You need finances to make things happen of course. If Snow White had been a failure, Disney Studios would have likely shutdown.
Disney Studio was ripe for unionisation directly because of the decreased movie going in Europe in the 1940s. Later, government policy in the UK forced Walt Disney to create a film in the UK since at the time Disney tax revenue was being taken out of the UK. The result was the creation of the first live action Disney production which was a version of Treasure Island. Disney studios was commandeered by the US army after Pearl Harbour and the company was forced to create an anti-Nazi propaganda films for a time. So yes, governments tend to mess with businesses in more overt ways when needed.
Walt Disney incorporated Laugh-O-Gram films at age 20. But Disney was completely incompetent as an artist and couldn’t draw Mickey if asked. Disney was the visionary instead. But by the late 1920s, Laugh-O-Gram had failed as a viable business with Walt doing (unfortunately) a good portion of the drawings for his cartoons. What Walt realised was that his talent did not lie in actually drawing cartoons. Instead Walt Disney had the intelligence to hire and train quality artists rather than try to improve his skill as an artist and persist in failure. Kansas City Film Ads introduced him to puppet joints but he was unsuccessful in animating them. Only after moving to the West Coast could he, his brother and Iwerks realise their full potential as artists, project managers and entrepreneurs. Disney famously invested in training his employees in an art school to improve the visual quality of the backgrounds and character craft. “I put all my artists back to school” then set up a new art school within Disney Burbank Studios to control the education more closely. Because they were dealing with action, reaction and motion, these animators had to try to bring the animals to life while making the act realistic.
Audiences had to believe in the animals and Disney’s perfectionism made sure that this was realised. He knew what he wanted to do but then realised his weaknesses and shifted his career. Other artists would provide the human-like characteristics to characters in all the Disney movies. The human like features were essential to allowing viewers to connect with Bambi or Jiminy Cricket, as examples. So in short, Disney trusted in the creative genius of his team rather than micro-manage his team and the creative process. He had the ability to trust in others and focus on what he could bring to the table which was vision, financial backing and business acumen.
Walt Disney was not that great as an animator but he was at the forefront of what logically should happen, but no idea can be realised without finance. He knew how to make gambles on game-changing ideas so much so that he was willing to mortgage his house to create Snow White. Since Disney took so many risks, he didn’t like giving out praise to his animator, he felt he was the only one worthy of praise. Walt always attempted to take as much credit for creative output as possible. After all, nothing would have existed with out a risk taking visionary such as himself. He had a chronic cough especially when he was bored, liked to wear casual sweaters and smoked chesterfields in the meeting, which were regularly scheduled to ensure production was moving on schedule. Disney would animate each ‘voice’ of the each characters but that was the extent of his contribution. No one got credit, not even Walt Disney’s brother Roy who kept the finances in check throughout the development of the Disney empire. This thinking was precisely due to business experiences where Disney had been robbed of value by other manipulators like Charles Mintz.
Disney was viciously anti-union in the 1940s. Walt wanted to reward employees who did exceptional work while refusing to provide salary boosts to mediocre employees, he believed it was his right as the creator of the job opportunities in the first place. He didn’t like to fire most employees directly and delegated that to his top executives. As revenues floundered during the 2nd World War, he had to cut back on staff…The 1941 strike lasted 5 weeks after which the union was solidified much to Disney’s disapproval. Walt Disney later went on the offensive in order to attack Disney was against having cartoonists getting credit generally throughout his life and wanted them to act as functionaries through salary compensation as the sole means of recognition. Walt Disney had meetings transcripts carbon copied to ensure that his instructions were fulfilled.
Walt Disney’s early entrepreneurial experience took him to Kansas City to start a company called Laugh-O-Gram. The two Disney brothers learned early that owning the character and controlling intellectual property was essential. In 1926, the Alice Adventure cartoons (mixed live and animation) were put to rest as they weren’t gaining traction so Iwerks and Disney created a new character called Oswald The Lucky Rabbit.
With the help of Iwerks, Disney began to see great success with Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, which was created under licensing through Winkler Pictures. Unfortunately, the copyright contract was up for renewal within a year and so Walt Disney headed to New York in order to renew ownership of Oswald but Charles Mintz who worked at Winkler Pictures had already stolen the Oswald The Lucky Rabbit character from Walt Disney. Mintz started his own cartoon production with most of Disney’s staff. Mintz figured he could do the cartoons just as well as the Disney studio for cheaper and also cut out the middle-men. In those days, the distributor owned the rights to the character and they outsourced the creative to studios such as Laugh-O-Gram. Mintz ended up doing a favour for Disney since Iwerks immediately developed another character called Mortimer Mouse later Mickey Mouse.
So after this lesson in licensing, Disney would go forward ensuring that he owned the distribution rights. Disney later on would actually re-release films like Snow White and Pinocchio regularly every 7 years after their original release since these films could be deemed timeless and Disney could control access. Disney engaged in mass merchandise sales using his film characters to build idolized characters. Only after the release of Little Mermaid was home viewing of Disney content expanded significantly. Controlling who can view and how they viewed Disney content was essential for generating reliable revenue streams for Disney as demonstrated from his early experience with intellectual property.
Animators in the 1920s were taking live action and adding cartoons to them. Walt Disney with (Kansas City-based) Laugh-O-Gram reversed this idea and had cartoons with one live action character in his Alice Adventures series. Ub Iwerks was the actual artists, Walt Disney was the visionary and Roy Disney was the finance guy all collectively working towards innovating. Disney believed in realism but also believed in constantly improving. After some modest success and then brutal failure, Disney headed to where all movie makers go: Hollywood.
In 1929, Steam Boat Willy was the first sound based cartoon with Walt providing the voice of Mickey. This short animation was a hugely successful production for Disney. In addition, the Silly Symphony was a colour based cartoon with sound that expand Disney’s scale as a business. Walt Disney took animation forward but it was never about completely re-inventing ideas. The steps and innovation were secondary to the discipline of delivering the film.
From the start, Disney would take contemporary fair tales and provide a modern spin on them rather than do something completely different. The idea is that he was borrowing from the past the way the Beatles borrowed from Blues. Colour was introduced in 1932 and then the first feature length Disney movie Snow White was released in 1937. Learning by trial and error was trying to figure out how to create something creative. Adding multi-layered images, adding colour served as later innovations that would put Disney at the top of innovation nonetheless the innovation was incremental and logical. The Multi-Plain Camera allowed Disney to have multiple layers on the screen, which was essential after the success of Snow White. It provided dimensionality to standard images. This addition of depth to an image was another innovation that was quickly developed within Disney.
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