Saturday, 31 March 2012

The Life of an Inker

The Walt Disney studio seems to have been as adept at publicity as making cartoons. Granted, the studio was continuously doing something new—and therefore, easily sellable to reporters—in the ‘30s and ‘40s. But even when it didn’t, Disney’s PR people got the studio’s name—and, by extension, his—into the press.

Other studios would have struggled to get their top-line employees a line in print. Disney managed to get a wire service to profile his ink-and-paint department in another of those how-cartoons-are-made pieces that still fascinate anyone with an interest in cartoons.

This story is from 1946. The cartoon in question is most certainly “Rescue Dog,” released March 21, 1947. It’s interesting to note that this story has what must have been mandatory for any wire story of the ‘40s and ’50s dealing with women—a description of their appearance. Of course, times are far more enlightened now. Today, you can go to any entertainment news web site where touched-up photos of female stars with artificial enhancements are unavoidable.

One Inker Has A Doggone Tough Time Putting Point On Pluto’s Tail
Associated Press Movie Writer
HOLLYWOOD, May 24—Cried my guide in a tone of pride: “It’s like a college campus.”
And so it was: a neat, two-story building ... blue air-conditioned corridors with pretty, personable girls flitting about ... and nearly 200 of them at desks beside big windows, doing the tedious, exacting, non-creative part of bringing Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to life.
Joan Anderson, for instance, is a livestock broker’s 20-year-old daughter. This former U. C. L. A. commercial art student has been a Walt Disney studio inker for two months. She’s small, shapely, black haired and freckled and has a lively personality.
Disney puts a pleasing personality on a par with artistic ability in hiring employees, my guide said.
Joan explained her work. This pencil sketch here on her desk—a silly-faced seal sitting on ice on his hind flippers—had been drawn by an animator.
Over it she placed a sheet celluloid (called in shop talk a “cell”) measuring about 12x14 inches. On the cell, wearing cut-away a glove to prevent hand marks, she copied the sketch with a pen and India ink.
For Joan, the most difficult detail she has encountered is the dog Pluto’s tail, a curving, tapering line that ends in a point.
The cells go upstairs to the painters, another battery of attractive girls who paint in the water colors (mixed in a laboratory in the same building by girls with expert eyes for pigments), as directed by little notes on the animators’ sketches.
A painter who makes a mistake can rub it out and start over. That’s partly why painting is considered a little easier than inking.
The cells are photographed on 35-mm. film. A short like Donald Duck needs about 12,000 cells. A feature like “Snow White” or the new “Make Mine Music” requires some 120,000.
It’s tedious, all right, but Joan likes the work. She said: “People say: ‘Where do you work?’ and you say: ‘Disney’s,’ and they say: ‘Oh’—like you're a big wheel. Mother thinks I’m a real artist.”

The story contains evidence the public bought into the Disney hype. Even the inker’s mother thinks her daughter is an artist because she’s at DISNEY. But the movie itself, despite some attractive artwork, is ordinary. It’s Pluto versus yet another pesky smaller creature that ends in yet another “Aw, isn’t-that-sweet?” moment. But Disney sentimentality must have been liked by someone. The studio still trades off on it today.


  1. I'm sure writing the Pluto cartoons was even more tedious than oaquing them!