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Toon Tuesday : Getting a head with Blaine Gibson

Toon Tuesday : Getting a head with Blaine Gibson

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Like most old guys, I tend to get my brain stuck in a certain time frame. So I didn't immediately recognize the man sitting in the limo. For some odd reason, I expected to see the guy I remembered. The slender, dark haired young man with the horn rimmed glasses. However, this older gentleman didn't exactly fit that image. Which is why it took me a moment to recognize my old colleague, Blaine Gibson.

Blaine and I were doing a media event that will launch the new Disney Blu-Ray edition of "Sleeping Beauty." This busy day would consist of two dozen or more interviews with media from around the world. The fact that we worked on the film together was the only thing that we really had in common. After all, back in 1957, Blaine Gibson was a top Disney animator while I was simply a starstruck kid just out of school. However, Blaine was gracious as always, and he considered me a colleague on the film.

For those of you who don't remember Blaine Gibson, he's probably best known for his work at Walt Disney Imagineering doing beautiful sculptures on such attractions as "Pirates of the Caribbean." Blaine began doing sculpture when he was five years old. And that's why Frank Thomas asked Blaine to do sculpts of the Good Fairies -- Flora, Fauna and Merryweather -- while we were working on "Sleeping Beauty."


Disney Legend Blaine Gibson poses with some of the "rascally rogues" that he
sculpted for the "Pirates of the Caribbean" attraction.
Copyright 1967 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Blaine likes to say he got his job at Disney through the mail. Back in the 1930s, he was a young farm boy from Colorado struggling to get through college. However, this was the Depression, and money was running out. Blaine heard that the Walt Disney Studio was looking for artists, so he mailed a few of his sketches to Hollywood. Much to his surprise, the Disney Studio liked his drawings and offered him a job.

Like Walt Disney himself, Blaine Gibson arrived in Hollywood with only a suitcase in his hand. However, he traveled by Greyhound bus, not by train. Blaine was lucky enough to share a room in the Silver Lake area with one of the young guys working at the Hyperion Studios.

Gibson was quick to point out that his first assignment had nothing to do with drawing. It seems that Walt Disney wanted his young apprentices to learn every aspect of the making of an animated film. He wanted his team to be knowledgeable about every phase of production. So all the young artists began their career as messenger boys in the Traffic Department. This brought them in contact with every department in the studio.


The Old Hyperion Studios, where Blaine Gibson started
his Disney career back in the 1930s.
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

In time, Blaine Gibson began animating on the Disney films. Like all young animators, he cut his teeth on the Disney shorts before making the move to feature films. However, even on the features, Blaine found himself doing a lot of effects animation. Blaine had a good eye and always observed how objects and characters moved. Because of his attention to detail, his supervisors began passing plum scenes his way. And by the 1950s, he was an animator on that Disney classic, "Sleeping Beauty."

By the time I arrived at Disney in the late 1950s, Blaine Gibson was already a master animator. I remember seeing him in the hallway of the Animation Building. Unlike many of Disney's top animators, Blaine was remarkably low key and soft-spoken. A lot of us young kids were too intimidated to even talk to the animators. But Blaine Gibson was always open and accessible.

Our clean-up crew was working on Flora, Fauna and Merryweather. Needless to say, drawing those three was not an easy task. So Directing Animator Frank Thomas asked Blaine to do sculpts of the fairies. Of course, Gibson did a beautiful job. And not surprisingly, his work caught the eye of Walt Disney.


Two of the delightful characters that Blaine Gibson animated for the
opening scenes of Disney's 1961 release, "101 Dalmatians."
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Once "Sleeping Beauty" was wrapped, we immediately moved on to our next feature film, "101 Dalmatians." I still remember those wonderful opening scenes where Pongo is seeking a mate for his owner, Roger. As Pongo observes from the apartment window, a number of young women walk their dogs through the scene. Each canine mirrors the personality & movement of their owner, and this is a very entertaining sequence. I still enjoy watching these scenes today. And naturally, Blaine Gibson animated them.

Top animator or no -- Walt Disney had other plans for Blaine. In the 1960s, Gibson put his animator's pencil down and moved on over to Glendale. Where a whole new career awaited him at Walt Disney Imagineering. And for the remainder of his days at Disney, Blaine helped create many of the top attractions that we still enjoy today at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Gibson is now retired and living in Montecito near my hometown of Santa Barbara. It's hard to believe Blaine's now 90-years old. But even at that age he still remembers the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s like they were yesterday.


Gibson does a little pruning on the George W. Bush bust
that he sculpted for WDW's "Hall of Presidents."
Copyright 2001 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Always a joy to work with, always a joy to talk with, Blaine Gibson is an animation treasure. And a true Disney Legend.

Did you enjoy today's tribute to Blaine Gibson? Well, if you'd like to read even more of Floyd's musings, keep in mind that Mr. Norman now has his very own home on the Web. Appropriately titled Mr. Fun’s Blog.

Or if you’d prefer to get your Floyd fix on paper … Well, you can purchase one or more of the books that Mr. Fun now has on the market. Which each take an affectionate look back at the time that Mr. Norman has spent toiling in Toontown.

These volumes include Floyd’s original collection of cartoons & stories – “Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation” (Which is available for sale over at John Cawley’s cataroo.com) as well as Norman’s two follow-ups to that paperbook, “Son of Faster, Cheaper” and “How the Grinch Stole Disney.” Which you can purchase by heading over to Afrokids.com.

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  • That was a great article, as always, Mr. Norman!  I hadn't heard of Mr. Gibson before, so it was nice reading about him!

  • Thanx Floyd! I have always loved those walk cycles from the opening scene in "101 Dalmatians", but it was only recently that I learned that Blaine Gibson was responsible for them. I was mostly familiar with his sculpts in the parks.

    Didn't Gibson create the "Partners" statue of Walt & Mickey that stands in front of Cinderella's castle in WDW?

  • Back around 1981, as Disney was gearing up for the opening of EPCOT the following year, I got to visit Imagineering, courtesy of sculptor Perry Russ who was on loan to the Glendale studio from WDW in Florida. I"d known Perry from having met him in Florida on several vacations, so he said I should come by for a visit when I was vacationing in LA that year. I recall that security was pretty tight at Imagineering but it sure was a thrill to see what was being developed for EPCOT once I was in. Perry showed me some of the full figure sculptures he'd been sculpting in clay for "The American Adventure", then took me into that big room with all of the shelves of pirate heads and characters from "America Sings", etc. While showing me all those great sculptures, in walked Blaine Gibson. It was a very special treat to meet the master himself and see what he'd been sculpting for various EPCOT attractions. I remember him being as Floyd describes - very gentle and soft-spoken.

    Many years later, around 1992 I think, I got to visit Imagineering a second time. It sure was a different place by then. There didn't seem to be much activity there at all : no sculpting going on that I could see. There seemed to be an air of unease about the place, as if there was a lull in project development and nobody felt very secure. I remember one of the guys saying how it was frustrating that outside vendors were being contracted for a lot of ride development that historically had all been kept in-house before. I couldn't help but think how much more exciting and inspiring Imagineering had seemed when I'd met Blaine Gibson about a decade earlier.

  • OF all of his many great sculptural contributions to the Disney opus, I'm amazed nobody's mentioned the one that got him the most personal "publicity" since he was so very much featured in film about its creation that was seen by millions of park guests and TV viewers---I refer, of course, to his adaptation from the original life masks of the face of Abraham Lincoln for "Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln." While many, many people in Imagineering were responsible for this work, the "Hall of Presidents" that followed it, and its various incarnations since, I'd have to say that two people were and still are perhaps MOST important in the entire perception of a huge generation or two of Americans of what our 16th president looked, moved, and sounded like---Blaine Gibson for the sculpture, and Royal Dano for the vocal interpretation.

  • Jim's been wanting to do something on Mr. Gibson for years.

    Floyd, what a beautifully-written piece.  Thanks so much for sharing your great stories (again).  

    It's great when Jim does an in-depth story (even better when he finishes one) - but when one Legend gives us insight into another, it's a one-of-a-kind magical treat.

    Blaine Gibson - to call him brilliant, and a master, is an understatement.  So many of our childhood memories, those unforgettable characters, made it from the drawing pad to three dimensions at his hands, and then on to the magicians who brought them to life.  Thanks again to both of you.

  • The "E" Ticket magazine had some very good articles about Blaine Gibson. They're worth tracking down.

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