Exhilaration. Camaraderie. Joy.
Those are the kinds of words Disney animators used when describing the heady atmosphere at The Walt Disney Studio in the mid-1930s when work began on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Walt’s first-ever animated feature film, the one animation lovers and families the world over still consider “the fairest one of all.”
In 1936—three years into the film’s development—Walt was still working at a fever pitch, throwing every ounce of his prodigious talent into the project. Disney Legend and animator Frank Thomas remembered Walt was involved with Snow White “night and day, day and night. Walt lived every sprocket of this film.” Disney Legend Marc Davis, one of the animators assigned to the character of Snow White, remembered the exacting, painstaking effort required to tackle this ambitious undertaking. “It wasn’t that you had to do these things,” he remembered. “You wanted to do them. You were so proud. Very few people have ever, as a group, experienced that type of excitement.”
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was more than a towering artistic accomplishment. It revealed, not for the first nor last time, the unparalleled talent of one of the world’s greatest storytellers. “It’s useless to speak of an ‘original’ version of the Disney film story because the story was an endlessly shifting matrix of these ideas, constantly in flux, right up to the finish of the production,” author J.B. Kaufman says in his newest book, The Fairest One of All. “As it continued to develop, none of the details could be changed without affecting others—and Walt, in his single-minded drive to finish the film, somehow managed to keep track of all of them in his head.”
Small wonder, then, that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic, a special exhibition on view at The Walt Disney Family Museum, through April 14, 2013, is such a dazzling, unforgettable tour de force. The first special exhibition organized by The Walt Disney Family Museum, The Creation of a Classic, curated by Lella Smith, creative director, Walt Disney Animation Library, and assembled with the support and collaboration of The Walt Disney Company with the assistance of the Walt Disney Archives, provides a revealing glimpse into the vision of one of the world’s greatest storytellers and the revolutionary work of a remarkable animation team—including 32 animators, 1,032 assistants, 107 in-betweeners, 65 special effects animators, and 158 inkers and painters—brought together to create Walt’s first feature-length animated film.
“Walt was very passionate about the artistry, the art form that was animation, and he knew there was a broader spectrum that animation could fill,” Lella says from behind her characteristically colorful glasses. “It’s more than an exquisitely beautiful film; it had characters you could believe and an engrossing story that sets it apart from the simple cartoons that preceded it.” And that detail, passion, and storytelling prowess at the heart of classic Disney films emanate from each of the more than 250 works of art on display, which include watercolors, meticulously rendered pencil layouts, watercolor backgrounds, cels, and more.
“An enormous amount of detail went into the making of this movie, into the story sketches, into the effects animation,” Lella says. “In many ways, Snow White is the embodiment of Walt’s creative passion, and the exhibition captures the talents of a one-of-a-kind storyteller and a growing studio creating an altogether new art form.” More than a grand celebration of a pioneering film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic is a marvelous salute to Walt Disney and his team—in the midst of a once-upon-a-time journey of their own.
“Calling upon the experience they gained from creating the early Disney animated shorts and the award-winning Silly Symphonies,” Lella notes in the exhibition catalog, “Walt Disney and his artists defined the artistic foundation that would shape all subsequent animated films. Exhibition visitors will gain an understanding of the collaborative process that produced a creative milestone in cinematic history.”
By D23′s Max Lark
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