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They Drew As they Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney's Musical Years (The 1940s - Part One) Hardcover – August 30, 2016
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Disney’s first female animator
Retta Scott in front of storyboards of the abandoned project On the Trail.
After Chouinard, Retta had her mind set on a career in the field of fine arts. But art-related jobs were difficult to find in the United States at the tail end of the Great Depression, as Retta explained in her autobiography:
One may ask what prompted me to enter the cartoon industry, when for many years I had my heart set more on the fine arts painting and illustration. However, ending my third year at Chouinard Art School the school director, Vern Caldwell, suggested that I apply for work at Walt Disney’s. He knew I loved to draw animals and spent much time doing this at the Griffith Park Zoo and the Wild Animal Farm in Thousand Oaks.
At first I was a little disturbed about going to Disney’s for, up to that time, their pictures were the seven-minute cartoon shorts including the characters Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Pluto, Goofy, and others they had developed. I had no inspiration to work on these cartoon shorts and was completely unaware of all of the feature-length pictures in the planning at the Studio.
Vern knew that Bambi was in the making and felt I should fit in very well on this feature. So I began to work on Bambi in the Story Department [on March 23, 1939], on Seward Street. I have always been very grateful to Vern for prompting me to work at Disney’s. I was delighted with the work and surprised to learn of all the wonderful work being done throughout the Studio. I was so glad to know and to work with so many talented artists.
For many months we worked on the storyboards, until the walls started caving in. In this old studio, the termites had done their work.
We moved to Burbank in [the fall of] 1939, into the new Disney studio, still under construction, into the Animation building. I worked with director Tom Codrick on the sequences of Faline and Bambi and the hunting dogs. I developed the hunting dogs into vicious, snarling, really mean beasts. I spent weeks on the dogs and almost every day [instructor] Rico Lebrun came to my room to give me much advice and support. I admired his tremendous draftsmanship and vivid enthusiasm. It really inspired me. [By August 1940] I finished all three sequences and they were ready for the layout men and the animators.
It was then that Dave Hand and Walt felt that I should animate the dogs and the deer in these sequences. Dave came in each morning to show me the principles of animation and timing. My first test was used for the picture. I was so pleased.
The men artists were stunned, as animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston wrote in their book about Bambi:
A startling moment for us came when we saw Retta Scott’s amazing sketches of the vicious dogs chasing Faline and keeping her cornered on a high ledge. We wondered who at the Studio could have drawn this terrifying situation so convincingly and would have guessed that such virile drawings could have been done only by some burly man, probably with a bristling beard and the look of an eagle in his eye. We were amazed to find instead that they were done by a small, delicate, wonderfully cheerful young woman with twinkling eyes and a crown of blond curls piled on top of her head. Retta was strong, had boundless energy, and drew powerful animals of all kinds from almost any perspective and in any action. No one could match her ability.
When artist Bianca Majolie joined the Story Department in 1935 as its first female artist, the Disney Studio had experienced what amounted to a small revolution. Retta becoming an animator on August 6, 1940, was a major one. In Walt’s mind, the story artists were a dime a dozen, but the animators were at the very top of the totem pole, the crème de la crème, the irreplaceable creative engine of the Studio. By becoming an animator, Retta Scott had joined the Phi Beta Kappa of Disney, and she knew it.
Photo: Retta showing a sketch created for Dumbo to one of the clowns from the Cole Bros. Circus.
Friend Owl from Bambi by Retta Scott. Courtesy: Ben Worcester.
An example of Retta’s powerful animation drawings for Bambi. Courtesy: Ben Worcester.
Frightening dog study for the dog-chasing scene in Bambi. Courtesy: Ben Worcester.
A scary clown from Dumbo by Retta Scott. Courtesy: David Tosh/Heritage Auctions.
About the Author
Didier Ghez is the author of Disney's Grand Tour, Disneyland Paris, and They Drew as They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney's Golden Age: The 1930s. He lives in Florida.
John Musker is a 38-year veteran of Walt Disney feature animation. Among the films he co-wrote and directed with Ron Clements are The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules, Treasure Planet, The Princess and the Frog, and the upcoming Moana. He lives in Los Angeles.
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Didier has put painstaking effort into this volume of the series, finding hidden artworks that were either thought long forgotten or were never known to have existed.
The book focuses on four artists in particular (Rhetta Scott, Kay Neilson, Silvia Holland, David Hall) and provides hundreds of unpublished images, alongside detailed biographies on each of the artists, drawing from Didier's own meetings with the artists' friends and families as well as rarely seen documentation.
Amongst the highlights in this book are previously unpublished concept art for Fantasia (Nielson and Holland) including for the never-realised Ride of the Valkyries segment, David Hall's concept artwork for Alice in Wonderland (a far cry from the Mary Blair illustrations we're so used to seeing) and artwork for Walt's abandoned and largely-unknown Little Mermaid project from the early-1940s.
A spectacular book from an incredibly passionate man who is shaping up to be one of the most important Disney historians of all time.
This book is an absolute must for any Disney, animation or art lover.