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Walt's People

Over the last seven years, with quiet persistence and unwavering dedication, French animation historian Didier Ghez has been publishing one of the most important animation history documents of our time. His book series, Walt’s People: Talking Disney With The Artists Who Knew Him, is an incredible accomplishment that casts new light onto the operation of the Walt-era Disney Studios. Each edition of this ever-growing interview anthology series reprints rarely seen and unpublished interviews with Disney artists, both famous and unknown.

Didier’s newest volume, the eleventh in the series, is also the largest to date, weighing in at over 600 pages. The historians who have contributed interviews are a who’s who of Disney research royalty. The volume is expansive and extends to a handful of contemporary figures who didn’t personally know Walt (Ed Catmull, Brad Bird, Glen Keane), but who have absorbed the Disney tradition into their work.

In fact, the sheer scale and scope of this volume guarantees something for everybody. The interview subjects are Ray Aragon, Frank Armitage, Brad Bird, Carl Bongirno, Roger Broggie, George Bruns, Ed Catmull, Don R. Christensen, Andreas Deja, Jules Engel, Joe Hale, John Hench, Mark Henn, John Hubley, Glen Keane, Ted Kierscey, Ward Kimball, I. Klein, Mike Lah, Eric Larson, Ed Love, Daniel MacManus, Tom Nabbe, Carl Nater, Dale Oliver, Walt Pfeiffer, Jacques Rupp, David Snyder, Iwao Takamoto, Shirley Temple, Frank Thomas, Ruthie Tompson, and Richard Williams.

Walt’s People #11 is available for $25 on Amazon and you’d be wise to add the rest of the series to your library as well. Didier has provided us some excerpts from the new book, offering a glimpse of the hundreds of stories that can be found in the book. Read them after the jump.

Ruthie Tompson by Didier Ghez (Dec. 21, 2007)
DG: There is a famous anecdote about Snow White that the girls who were painting Snow White would apply real makeup on her cheeks.

RT: Oh! That’s right, they did. We had one girl, her name was Helen Ogger… They all tried it, and she was the only one that was really successful at it, so she got to put the blush. Before she came to work at Disney, I understand that she was a cartoonist, like cartoon strips and things like that, in the newspaper. We had quite a few talented girls, but they were relegated to the Inking Department. Girls didn’t animate at the time. It was all a man’s game.

John Hubley by John Culhane (c. 1973)
JC: Do you remember when Frank Lloyd Wright came to the Studio? Did you see that film he had with him?

JH: Czar Durandei. It had a big influence on us guys who later became UPA. It was Ivan Ivanov-Vano’s first film, one of his early films. He was a young rebel in those days. He made this very avant-garde kind of thing, highly designed. It was in the, I suppose you can call it expressionist style, the kind of style from the Twenties and Thirties. It was so modern and fresh and violated so many of the totems. Shostakovich score, too, that was modern, exciting. It was a two-reeler. There was a marvelous eating scene, a big banquet, a long pan and all kinds of different types of faces, all eating in different ways. That was so funny. There was a minimum amount of animation.

You remember John Rose? He was a P.R. man and he was also working in and out of story meetings, but essentially his job was cultural relations. He’s the guy who, if somebody visited, he would show them through. So he had heard about this film that Frank Lloyd Wright got. He’d read or heard somewhere that the Russian government had given him a print of this thing when he was a guest over there. Wright went over there in the early Thirties. And so [Rose] wrote him and said, “We at the Disney Studio have heard about this and are very much interested if you would see your way clear to lending us the print.”

So next thing he knows he gets a telephone call, “This is Frank Lloyd Wright, Mr. Rose. I’ve just arrived in Los Angeles. I have the print with me. I would like to come out and show it to Mr. Disney. I’ll be out this afternoon.”

Now the rumors were around that Disney was going to build a new studio. Wright got wind of that. It made a lot of sense to him that he should design it. Rose was frantic. He went to see Walt’s secretary. She said, “He is in a big meeting and nobody goes in there.” But she let him go in there and Walt is in the middle of a story conference, which is sacrosanct. [Rose] kneels down next to Walt’s chair and says, “We’re gonna get a visitor coming this afternoon. Frank Lloyd Wright is coming up.” And Disney says, “Jesus Christ, who’s Frank Lloyd Wright?” So he had to explain who Frank Lloyd Wright was and Disney says, “Oh, yeah!”

So [Rose] set it up. [Wright] came out, the big man himself, white hair, and Disney said hello to him. And they had this projection with all the story guys and the top brass. They ran Snow White footage for him, pencil-test stuff. They had a reel of Fantasia, too, and they had Sorcerer’s Apprentice in pencil test. And he went, “Well, that’s magnificent. That is exactly the way you should do it”. And Disney said, “You have a film to show us?” “Oh yes, yes.” “Put the film on.” The lights came up and nobody said a word. Frank said, “Walt Disney, you too can be a prophet!” And Disney said, “What, Jesus Christ, you want me to make films like that?!” [Laughs]

Ray Aragon by Didier Ghez (Feb. 23 and March 5, 2009)
DG: Did you interact a lot with Walt Peregoy?

RA: We were close friends. I can tell you [a story] right now. I can tell you for sure. I was there and I saw it. We did the drawing on paper and that drawing was transferred to the cel, as you know, by Xerox. We had to layout in line drawing on the cel. The idea was to paint on a board the color. Then put the layout drawing, which was on cel, over the painted background, which was on an illustration board. We couldn’t find the answer. The answer that we got at first looked like a comic book. It looked like a cheap comic book. Then the Background Department tried this and they tried that. It didn’t work. This went on for some time. Then finally Walt Peregoy took the painting style of Raoul Dufy. Walt Peregoy took the style where you paint beyond the line. Where you just ignore the lines and paint over and beyond. It looks like nothing. But when you put the line on the thing, there it is.

So what Walt did was he took an illustration board and he made color swatches this way and that way and every which way. But of course using the line drawing as the guide, but never going right up to the line of the drawing. Sometimes overlapping the line. If you look at Walt Peregoy’s color on the illustration board, you saw this crazy stuff that almost makes sense. But it didn’t really make sense. But when you put the cel with the line drawing, it was beautiful. Walt Peregoy was the man who discovered and styled the background technique for One Hundred and One Dalmatians. That I know because I saw it. I saw it happen right before my eyes. He solved it.

Ed Catmull by Didier Ghez (April 20, 2011)
DG: If I move up quite a few years, in 1972 you are studying with Professor Sutherland. And I think that is when you really have your first contact with Disney. Right?

EC: Yes, Ivan [Sutherland] wanted to send a student to go to Disney and then have an animator from Disney come to Utah. I was sent as the student because of my interest in animation. I went out to Burbank and met with Bob Gibeaut, who was Head of the Studio. I remember they had to clear the Studio that day because there was a bomb threat.

I also met Frank Thomas in his office. I remember seeing his old typewriter which I thought was there as an antique, but it was actually the typewriter that he still used. This, of course, was in the Animation building.

It turns out the Studio was not terribly interested in making the exchange, because they didn’t see any relevance of computer animation to them. What they were really interested in was hiring me at WED (now Walt Disney Imagineering).

Cartoon Brew: Leading the Animation Conversation |
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Following the attacks on 9/11, Kate Brooks, at the age of 23, moved to Pakistan and began documenting the region—photographing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, daily life in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, and the historic revolutions in Egypt and Libya. Her ten-year odyssey is chronicled in the new book, “In the Light of Darkness: A Photographer’s Journey After 9/11”. The following is an excerpt.

December 2001

Nearly two months had passed since America started bombing Afghanistan and Kabul had already fallen. I couldn’t believe I was still in Pakistan.

Watching the war on TV frustrated me. I wanted to see these things myself, not through the eyes of other reporters. I finally acquired a digital camera and freed myself of all other commitments, but I didn’t know where to go.

The UN was charging $2500 for a one-way ticket to Kabul. The alternative was to drive, but four journalists had just been executed on the road I would have to take.

After I spotted a newsflash that Osama bin Laden was believed to be in the mountains of Tora Bora, I decided to head to Jalalabad. I went independent of any assignment, knowing Newsweek was thinking of assigning me. A few other journalists and I organized a convoy.

A Pakistani fixer called Imtiaz voluntarily followed me through Pakistan’s Khyber Pass as far as the border. The father of two was appealing a death sentence after being convicted of blasphemy by the government of Pakistan. Even so, he knew I was driving into danger and felt protective of me. After the Pakistani immigration officer stamped my passport, Imtiaz shook my hand, wished me well and left me with the parting words, “Welcome to Afghanistan.”

Just after the convoy crossed the border, an Italian journalist began giving me a hard time for wearing a red shalwar kamiz, saying I wouldn’t blend in. I shrugged. I was wearing traditional Pakistani clothes. “Color won’t make a difference,” I said. Whereas male journalists could grow beards and wear local clothes, I knew that in Afghanistan I would be spotted as a foreigner unless I wore a burqa.

I was excited and anxious about covering a war in Afghanistan for an American news magazine and national paper. I had been shot at by Israelis during the second intifada and gone on a few Russian government-controlled trips to Chechnya, but I had never been on an active battlefield. And yet, while I was the youngest journalist covering Tora Bora, I certainly wasn’t the only one with limited war experience. The 9/11 attacks turned a generation of metro desk reporters into war correspondents practically overnight.

In the early hours of the morning, dozens of Jeeps and pickup trucks gathered outside the hotel to take us to the front lines. On the way, one journalist’s car broke down, splitting the convoy in two. While the lead cars waited for the rest to catch up, we watched a B-52 circle overhead. There was genuine fear we might be bombed. A few journalists tried to call Pentagon officials on their satellite phones, hoping to convey to the pilots that the large convoy was comprisedof journalists, not terrorists.

We drove through the residential area of Hadda Farm, where bin Laden had lived with the militants he had trained for global jihad. On the side of the road, an exceptionally tall man stood with a cloth draped over his head in ‘Gulfie Arab’ fashion. I watched this distinctive Arab-looking man turn to look at the bombing of the mountains. As our cars neared, he skittered off the road just before I could see his face.

Pierre laughed at the suggestion that I may have seen bin Laden, but we were driving so fast he hadn’t seen the shadowy figure and we couldn’t stop the speeding convoy. Could the mythical figure and most wanted man in the world possibly have been hiding in plain view? In my mind, it was entirely plausible that bin Laden could be in the vicinity with all attention focused on the mountains.

We eventually arrived at the staging ground, a desolate stretch of pebbles set against the backdrop of mountains that were being bombarded with “daisy cutters”, bunker busting bombs that were also used to flatten jungles in Vietnam. The explosive sounds from heavy artillery being launched from an old Soviet tank forced me to my knees. My body reacted reflexively to the boom. I tried to hide my embarrassment after being spotted flailing around. Someone kindly assured me the rounds were outgoing fire from the Eastern Alliance side.

Over the next few days, TV crews set up live stations and journalists began camping out in the makeshift parking lot. Pierre wanted to go deeper into the mountains. I did not. “Maybe you don’t know what you can do,” he said.

I wanted to avoid unnecessary risks, but in a hurried moment, I got into a vehicle with the mayor of Jalalabad and the Washington Post correspondent. The latter assured me we weren’t doing anything dangerous. The mayor then proceeded to drive straight into the mountains I had just photographed being bombed. I was breathless and spoke little. There was no translator in the car to whom I could convey my concerns or pose questions to ascertain what exactly we were doing.

Suddenly, Haji Zaman appeared, perched on a rock, as if in his natural habitat. He and the mayor exchanged a few words before we drove on. Somehow, seeing the familiar warlord made the situation seem less threatening.

As we parked the vehicle, dozens of journalists, who had followed the mayor’s SUV, pulled up behind us. Two of the most experienced war correspondents covering the offensive were already there viewing al-Qaeda’s fighting positions. They were in a hurry to get down the mountain, saying that they suspected that mortars were about to start coming in.

My stomach sank as I watched them walk away. Everyone else had marched up a hilltop to get a closer look. I looked around and realized I was standing alone with a war-crazed Mujahedeen fighter, who had been camouflaged in the trees. I was too afraid to go up and too afraid to go down. We listened to the deafening rumble of a bomber flying overhead. I could tell the plane was coming closer. Amused by my apparent fear, the fighter pointed at the sky “America. America. U.S.A. No Problem.”

I imagined how devastated my parents would be if they were informed that their 24-year old daughter had been killed in the mountains of Afghanistan and promised God I would quit smoking if I survived.

Brooks’ will moderate a projection of her work tonight at The Half King in Manhattan, followed by a discussion with writer Scott Anderson. An exhibition of her photographs will be on display at the Southeast Museum of Photography in Daytona Beach, Florida, through December 16. Click here for more details.

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Vladimir Rodionov / AFP - Getty Images

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev holds a special forces sniper rifle during a visit to the 10th Detached Special Purpose Brigade of the Russian Defence Ministry on Monday, Aug. 8, 2011.

Jonathan Woods writes

I present you with this photo knowing full-well that my colleague, David Arnott, just published an image of Russian P.M. Putin. But you can't get too much of a good thing, and pictures of top Russian government officials doing quirky things cannot be published with too great a frequency.

Let's just hope a few U.S. Presidential candidates provide us some fodder in our current election cycle that rival what we've seen in the past.

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