Saturday, December 12, 2015

Walt's Office Ghost Story


In December of 2014 I attended the cast member and family Holiday Celebration at the Burbank Studios, where I took the opportunity to view some of the artwork in the corridors. I remembered that Walt's Office was in one of the buildings and asked a security guard for directions. He knew which building it was in, but wasn't exactly sure where it might have been in the building, but I headed over anyway.

Nearly everyone was at the party, so the halls were empty. I ran into some very helpful party-poopers who directed me upstairs and also told me a ghost story about Walt.

Apparently the IT Networking group does maintenance in the building after hours, when no one else is there. Some of the technicians have reported that when they've been working particularly late they have heard Walt's distinctive cough in the area of what used to be his office. 

Here's a photo I took from the hallway outside. The endless reflections in the full glass door add a rather eternal perspective and Mickey is there, standing as guard and sentinel over his muse's former workplace. It's was a bit dark and gloomy. 

True to Walt's wishes. I've plussed the image up a bit. Perhaps I should bring it out once or twice a year for Halloween and his birthday.

Full size it's 4x4 and 400 dpi, so it should print nicely. Please feel free to share.

-df

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Sticking to the Knitting



The 1970’s, in the immediate wake of Walt’s death, were lackluster years for the Disney Company. Most of the revenue was generated from the re-distribution of old films and attendance at Walt Disney World. Top animators defected in 1977 and subsequent efforts failed to capture the magic of the studio’s glory days.

In the early 80’s, Ron Miller began expanding the product line into films for “adult audiences”. Touchstone’s pictures were some of the most financially and critically successful films of the time. Although Disney was careful not to use its name on any Touchstone production in order to preserve its image as a creator of family entertainment.

Beginning in 1984, Michael Eisner continued to pursue a market segmentation and expansion strategy, adding two more film subsidiaries, one devoted to producing films for teenagers and young adults and the other for adult entertainment.

The 90’s were a breakout decade for Disney, primarily driven by a return to quality animation and storytelling. A sting of hits produced by both Disney and Pixar reminded us that great “family friendly” entertainment never really goes out of style.

Over last 20 years, Disney has expanded operations, adding theme parks, cruise ships, resorts, television and live theater, basically returning to Walt’s model of owing both the media production and distribution channels for high quality stories. The popularity of Disney franchises and animated features has funded further acquisitions; Pixar, Marvel and Lucas Film, adding more stories to the library, while renewing and expanding on updated versions of classic fairly tales.

There is no doubt that over the past 10 years Disney has been a rousing financial success. Since 2008, their market capitalization growth has bettered the overall market by nearly 3:1. In the midst of this fiscal fever, it’s important to not loose track of what made it all possible. Based on results, what works is when the company sticks to the four basic principles espoused by its creator; Safely, Efficiently and Courteously telling stories to the kid in everyone.

That may sound boring to some, but financially it appears to be pretty exciting and, so far, it seems to be working.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Disneyland Challenge



Back in 2010, BusinessBrief.com's Bob Hill wrote an article called Walt Disney's 8 secrets to success. In it, he summarized what he felt were the "eight principles that made Walt Disney one of the greatest icons of the 20th century." I've summarized and annotated them here;
  • Focus on “the experience” as a key component to increasing value.
  • Exceed customers’ expectations with relentless attention to detail and personalized service that is designed to revolutionize the industry.
  • Passion; Disney films and theme parks are labors of love.
  • Stay true to Disney's values.
  • Hire reliable people who understand the vision and trust them to transfer it to others.
  • Defy convention: Buck the odds and ignore the critics. Trust your instincts.
  • Leave behind something to grow.
When I hear concerns and complaints people have about the company, or their experience in the parks, I try to frame them in the context of Walt's goals and vision. For example; I ask myself if the cause of a complaint is the result of failing to exceed expectations. I also ask if those expectations were realistic and if there was a fair exchange of value - including travel time. This helps take the conversation outside of individual preferences for one attraction or another and places it in the context of a proven set of values which are the historical foundation of the company's success.

On a related note; I believe that responsibility for preserving and improving the park experience is not one sided. I think we - as Guests - have a responsibility to play by Walt's rules when in his Kingdom. The "Magic" flourishes best when both everyone willingly suspends their disbelief and embraces the possibilities of a having a mutually magical experience.




“Disney Land is something that will never be finished, something I can keep ‘plussing’ and adding to. I just finished a live-action picture. It’s gone. I can’t touch it. I want something live, something that will grow. The park is that.” - Walt Disney

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Performance Excellence (1994)



Back in 1994, when Disney was about to celebrate their 40th Anniversary.  Judson C. Green, then chairman of Theme Parks and Resorts, penned a pamphlet for Cast Members which "defined the daily goal of exceptional performance... so we may all share a common foundation and expectation of how we intend to work together in the future." 

In 2000, Green left Disney to become President and CEO of  Navigation Technologies Corp, as described in an April 18th article in the LA Times, but the legacy of his vision for the future of Disney lives on in these words:

PerformancExcellence:

  • Exceeding guest expectations
  • Getting involved
  • Breaking down barriers
  • Sharing information and suggestions
  • Working smarter
  • Trying new ways to do things
  • Listening to others
  • Being a team player


Our Disney Culture:

We have a rich heritage, traditions, quality standards, and values which we believe are critical factors to our success. This foundation, as well as certain traits and behaviors, create a unique environment which we call the Disney Culture. We will seek to understand and cultivate our culture and challenge ourselves to model the behaviors that it represents.

We respect the Disney Heritage and Traditions:

We are committed to a friendly and informal work environment.
We show our pride and respect for the Disney Product and Legacy.
We emphasize Cast training and recognition.
We pursue synergistic opportunities.
We demonstrate our concern for our environment and community.
We emphasize "family" entertainment.
We protect the public's trust in Disney.
We are committed to education.

We ensure the Disney Quality Standards:

We put safety first, to provide secure, safe experiences for our Guests as well as our Cast.
We give friendly, personalized service and treat every guest as a VIP.
We deliver flawless and professional presentations every day, for every guest.
We strive for the fastest and most effective systems and procedures in order to provide a quality Guest experience.

We share these Disney Values:

HONESTY - We deal with each other in a sincere and straightforward manner.
INTEGRITY - We act in a manner consistent with our words and beliefs.
RESPECT - We treat others with care and consideration.
COURAGE - We pursue our beliefs with strength and persistence.
OPENNESS - We share information freely.
DIVERSITY - We seek value and respect differences among our fellow Cast Members.
BALANCE - WE strive for stability and vitality in our personal and professional lives.

We demonstrate these Disney Traits and Behaviors:

We enjoy making our guests happy.
We care about our fellow cast members.
We work as a team.
We deliver quality.
We foster creativity and innovation.
We encourage risk-taking, realizing that mistakes amy happen.
We are attentive to every detail.
We find enjoyment and fun in our work.
We assume responsibility beyond our individual roles.
We are emotionally committed to Disney.


Effective Leaders of PERFORMANCE EXCELLENCE:

Share their vision and belief in the Disney Culture.
Share their enthusiasm and pride in Disney with the Cast.
Energize others with their commitment for PERFORMANCE EXCELLENCE.
Display decisiveness and a sense of urgency in achieving goals and objectives.
Encourage creativity and risk-taking.
Promote teamwork to accomplish our business objectives.
Set challenging goals which are realistic, clear and measurable.
Hold themselves and other Cast Members accountable for their performance.
Unleash the potential of each Cast Member by providing developmental opportunities.
Listen intently to diverse opinions.
Communicate honestly and frequently, soliciting feedback and suggestions from Cast Members at all levels of the organization.
Interject a sense of humor, fun and enjoyment in their work.
Set the stage and work with others to produce the show...
Celebrate the Victories!


Walt may have said it more simply, but I think the message still rings true to his vision.






Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Wonderful World of Disney


I love this photo of Walt. Dressed in a casual sport shirt, natural hair, huge smile on his face, eyebrows raised looking like a kid on Christmas morning. He's doing something that he genuinely loves.

Cynics could point out dozens of things about him which they question, from his sincerity to his intentions, but far more often than not, their complaints are more reflections of their own unhappiness than any objective judgement of the man behind the throttle.

There is a reason why he called the park Disneyland and described it as the Happiest Place on Earth. It was literally his world - his creation - and was intended to be different than what was going on outside the very deliberately placed berm which shelters and frames what happens inside.

It is also part of the reason why so many others have tried and failed to accomplish what he did. When you enter one of Walt's worlds, the rules are supposed to be different. It's not about today and here. It's about the best of the past, your hopes for the future and magic - which is a key element of fantasy.

Here is an example of the type of things that can happen in Walt's Worlds:

A young girl recently recounted the story of what happened to her when she met Peter Pan;

"He saw my arm and he grabbed it and held it up and looked at it. There are scars on my arms from self-harm."

The he asked:

"Are those scars from pirates? That old Captain Hook can be so thoughtless sometimes. Doesn't even realize what he does hurts! You can come to Neverland with me, and I won't let any marks find your arms ever again."

When asked why he cared so much, Peter said that nobody should have to deal with such personal pain and "marks like that made a person grow up too fast." I don't know why Peter knows what he seems to about self-harm, or that it is associated with a history of trauma. What I do know is that Disney and the Parks are supposed to be a place of refuge from the things on the outside, often imperfect world.

Walt put it this way: "Safety, for both our Guests and our Cast is always our first concern. We take pride in our tradition of providing a safe, carefree environment..." 

 Peter clearly understands this and I'd bet he loves creating and sustaining the Wonderful World of Disney as much as millions of others enjoy visiting it.




Walt's Park Rules



Friday, January 23, 2015

Dear Miss Ford...



I recently came across a reposting of the Mary V. Ford letter, which actresses and activists have been using to take Walt Disney to task for a string of accusations, most ending in some sort of "-ism".

While researching what prevailing attitudes in America were towards women in the late 1930's, I came across something by Mickey Moran which was selected by the Loyola University Department of History as the Outstanding Paper for their 1988-89 academic year, entitled 1930's America - Feminist Void?

In six, well written, pages and three dozen footnotes, Moran explored then current attitudes regarding women's rights. Several paragraphs were quite relevant.

Pointing out a widespread lack of support for the ERA, government and commercial regulations restricting working hours, or the type of labor women could perform, declining economic conditions causing intense competition for jobs, a widespread belief that a woman's primary role was to civilize her husband, family and society at home, and a sharp decline in the number of women obtaining advanced college degrees, Moran sums the decade up with these words:

"But while the number of married women in the work force actually increased by 50 percent between 1930 and 1940 - despite the Depression -women found enormous obstacles blocking their entry into certain fields. Most women found work in factory and clerical jobs, as traditional barriers against women in professional fields loomed higher. Instead of "glamorous" professions, 36 percent of working wives entered domestic and personal services, while another 20 percent were in apparel and canning factories. Those who were in lower-level professions, such as elementary and high school teaching, found men displacing them for higher pay. In 1939, the median salary of a male teacher was $1,953 a year, while female teachers received only $1,394."

With this backdrop, Walt's opinion, whatever it was, was probably at least mainstream for the time.

With an understanding of Disney's process of making feature length animated films the letter to Mary Ford - actually penned by Mary Cleare - begins to take on a distinctly different tone.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a massive undertaking. An article by Andrew Boone in the January 1938 issue of Modern Mechanix estimated the effort at more than 1,500,000 individual pen and ink drawings.  Six months was expended by the animation team before the illustrations used in the film were even begun. Then the actual cells were produced, at the rate of 1960 per day, to create the master reel. Boon explains:

“Ink and paint” represents the manufacturing bottle neck, for a movie cartoon can progress no more rapidly than skilled hands complete the multitude of drawings. Since this cartoon required an average of twenty-two individual painted cels for each foot of completed picture, 166,352 finished paintings were exposed to the camera.

Movie|fone reported; "The film's production took nearly five years. It took at least 570 crew members (some sources say 750), most of them animators or water-color artists. As many as 2 million sketches and paintings were created, though only about 166,000 of them can be seen in the finished film."

The list of visual artists who worked on Snow White is impressive. In addition to most of Walt's Nine Old Men, it includes hundreds of women including Claire Weeks, Jeanne Lee Keil and Rae McSpadden. The group of Assistant Animators included Marc Davis and Ollie Johnston, then in their mid 20's, who were certainly, as Ms. Cleare factually stated, "young men".

Note also that Mary Cleare didn't turn Mary Ford away. Rather, she suggests that Miss Ford show up with samples of her pen, ink and watercolor work, and points out that competition for the openings is stiff.

It appears that the letter was somewhat of a template, as another, sent to Frances Brerer of Van Nuys about a year later has a familiar ring. Again the closing message is that they'd be happy to talk with Frances, if she shows up and brings her portfolio;




By the way, we probably also shouldn't overlook the fact that there was probably lots of support for the Ink and Paint girls coming from another quarter. At this point, Walt had been married to a former Ink and Paint Department girl for over a decade and had made her sister head of the department.

Here is a link to a much more interesting take on the story of being one of Disney's 100+ Ink and Paint Girls, from the March 2010 issue of Vanity Fair; Coloring the Kingdom.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A New Opening Day Story - Walt Eyes the Skies

There are dozens of stories about all of the things which weren't ready or didn't work on Opening Day, from the lack of drinking fountains to high heals breaking off in the asphalt and "milking the elephant" to get rid of Dumbo's Hydraulic Shaving Cream.

Walt was a stickler for detail.  Disney was, and still is, legendary for timing story elements to fractions of a second. Missing the mark or gag timing was bad show.  Then actor Ronald Regan, announcer for the Opening Day parade knew about timing and, on que, he'd announced something about the show to the millions of viewers in the TV audience, but Walt was the only one who's gaze was elevated.

What Walt was anxiously anticipating was a flyover by jets from the 146th Fighter Wing of the California Air National Guard, stationed at nearby Van Nuys Army Airfield. It was probably supposed to happen during the closing bar of The Star Spangled Banner, just as the Marine Band launched into their opening number.

17 Minutes into the show Walt anxiously scans the skies

A full minute minute later the unmistakable sound of jets was heard. The TV cameras caught nothing as they panned up. We'll probably never know what thoughts were going thru Walt's mind, but I'm pretty sure that if the lead pilot could have seen his face, the legendary raised eyebrow would have been there.

It may have been too much to ask to get a flock of screaming, six ton, 670 mile per hour, fighter jets to pass over the flagpole in time with the music, but it apparently wasn't out of the question for the man who made elephants fly.

A visual record of the the moment has probably been lost forever, but here is a guess at what the scene may have been as the flight formed up for their pass.

Come right to 180 and descend to 1000 feet... Shucks! We're late!

I think they should have come right over the Castle and directly down Main Street.

Castle Blues

Today the flyover tradition continues and the Blue Angels don't miss their mark.