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Toon Tuesday: Remembering 2-C

Toon Tuesday: Remembering 2-C

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I’ve been spending a fair amount of time in Disney’s old Animation Building recently. A visit to the second floor always provokes a flood of memories. The structure has been renovated, and yet things look pretty much the same. At least enough remains to remind this Disney veteran of a time long gone in Walt’s magic kingdom.

Disney's Old Animation Building in Burbank
Woolie's wing the way it looks today. A bit too "Hollywood slick" for me.
A lot of the old charm is now sadly missing

When I first arrived at Disney in the 1950s, 2-C was considered a shorts unit. Directors like Jack Hannah and Dick Kinney still produced animated shorts for Disney. For those of you who don’t remember old school storyboarding, it was guys like Roy Williams & Al Bertino knocking out gags and then going out for a drink. The story rooms were strictly a man’s world replete with cigars & cigarettes filling the ashtrays.

In time, cartoon shorts no longer generated sufficient income for the company, and even distributors were growing disenchanted. Besides, exhibitors could squeeze in more screenings of a feature film without short cartoons clogging the schedule.

To his credit, Walt Disney continued to produce animated shorts even though these films were being produced at a loss. Finally, Roy had to tell his brother that enough was enough. I still remember the day when old timers like Jack Hannah and Dick Kinney were given their walking papers, and we had come to an end of an era at Walt’s cartoon house.

101 Dalmations Poster
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

2-C now had a new tenant, and Wolfgang Reitherman and his crew would remain in this special wing longer than most. Woolie would direct the Dragon battle in “Sleeping Beauty,” and sequences from “101 Dalmatians” from this location. In the early 1960s, Reitherman would be the first Disney director to helm a feature film on his own. “The Sword in the Stone,” unlike its predecessors, would not have three directors. Surprisingly, I would join Woolie’s unit on “The Jungle Book” in 1966, and Reitherman & Co. would continue on after my departure.

Woolie’s wing would move through a number of changes over the years, and artistic personal would rotate. However, a few things stayed the same. A casual visit to 2-C would make you feel as though you’d never left, even though you may have been gone for a decade.

Senior layout artist Don Griffith sat at the far end of the wing in a spacious office. His work area overlooked the Camera Building to the east, and trees were visible through the window. This was a large room usually shared by layout artists Basil Davidovitch and Sylvia Niday. During “Dalmatians,” Dale Barnhart, Ray Aragon and Sammie June Lanham worked here. This room connected to Reitherman’s office. A large space with plenty of room for chairs, couches, storyboards and a Moviola. Moving west down the hallway was Woolie’s personal assistant, Betty Gossin. Of course, they were called secretaries back in those days. Her space was connected to the next large story room where story veterans Vance Gerry and Al Wilson worked away.

Vince Gerry pitching to the "Old Guys" in the old Disney animation building
This is the way I remember 2-C. Vance Gerry pitching to the "Old Guys,"
Woolie Reitherman, Larry Clemmons and Ken Anderson.
And that's Milt Kahl in the background

Across the hallway were two other large rooms where veteran animators, Dick Lucas and Eric Cleworth doubled as story artists for the unit. The beauty of this arrangement was that all the spaces were connected. The office of the story artist flowed into the director’s space. Should Reitherman have a question for his layout crew, he only had to walk through a doorway. Instead of making an appointment to speak with your boss, you knew he was only a few feet away. Walt Disney had created an amazing system to develop animated films, and these directorial units -- or “Music Rooms” -- were incredibly efficient. When I think of how animated films are produced today, studios appear to need an “army” to accomplish what we did with only a handful of people.

In time, Woolie finally packed it in and announced his retirement from Disney. Some of Reitherman’s crew remained for while, but they eventually left as well. 2-C was turned over to producer Joe Hale and his team to begin work on “The Black Cauldron.” In spite of the nearly ten years spent on the film, “Cauldron” turned out to be more forgettable than classic, and animation’s days in Burbank were clearly numbered. “The Great Mouse Detective” showed that Disney animation still had promise, but they would have to prove that in a new location. I still remember the fateful week when Walt’s premiere animation staffers were kicked out on their butts.

Disney Animation has finally returned to Burbank. Well, in a roundabout kind of way. Their new home is an architectural oddity on Riverside Drive, and the staff makes do with their less-than-functional surroundings. Over a decade has passed since 2-C has been home to a Disney animation unit. That marvel of efficiency and functionality pioneered by Walt Disney that we know as “The Music Room.”

Disney Animation Building
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

Today, few people in the Animation Building know of its history and the brilliant men and women who labored there. Would anybody in 2-C even know Woolie Reitherman, Don Griffith or Vance Gerry? Are they even aware of the magic that was created within the walls of the wing they now inhabit?

I slap myself awake as I stare down the hallway of 2-C. This was the wing that was once my home as a young Disney story artist. It’s 2009, and 1966 is a long time ago. And no matter how hard I wish for it, it’s never coming back.

But you know who is coming back to Comic-Con this year? Floyd Norman. This Disney Legend will be taking part in Mark Evanier's "Quick Draw" panel on Saturday, July 25th from 11:15 a.m. through 12:30 p.m. Floyd will match wits with Sergio Aragones and Scott Shaw! in Room 6BCF to see who come up with the quickest, funniest drawings. If you're going to be in San Diego next week, you really owe it to yourself to check out this panel.

On the other hand, if you can't make it to this year's Con ... Not to worry: You can still check out his great cartoons by picking up copies of the three books Floyd currently has the market. Each of which take an affectionate look back at all the years that Mr. Norman has spent working in the entertainment industry.

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

And while you're at it, don't forget to check out Mr. Fun's Blog. Which is where Mr. Norman postings his musings when he's not writing for JHM.

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  • I love reading your old stories Floyd, keep 'em coming.  What is the old animation building used for these days?  They should get it restored and turn it into a muesuem or something.

  • Your story was featured in DisMarks! Here is the link to vote it up and promote it: http://dismarks.com/Media/Floyd_Norman_Toon_Tuesday_Remembering_2_C

  • Always love these trips down the Animation Building's memory lane...uh, hallway!  Cheers, Bob

  • lostincrowds said:

    I love reading your old stories Floyd, keep 'em coming.  What is the old animation building used for these days?  They should get it restored and turn it into a muesuem or something.

    The Animation Building was taken over by corporate types soon after Michael Eisner was named CEO. All of the animators who had helped build the Disney legacy were unceremoniously kicked out of the Disney Studio in Burbank and moved into a couple of warehouses in Pasadena. It's particularly ironic in that Walt had his architects design the Animation Building specific to the needs of the animation crew, much as Floyd details in the room layouts, etc. There was so much rich history in that building, all scattered to the wind when Eisner decided his execs needed cushy offices in there instead.

  • Oops, sorry - I said Pasadena but meant Glendale. I pushed the Submit button before I realized my mistake!

  • Thank god Eisner's gone. Hopefully Iger really will be better.

  • Thank you so much for sharing! What a beautiful piece of animation history told by a great Disney Legend. :)

    You guys are making it so hard for me to know that I can't go to Comic-Con this year, even though I'm near San Diego that weekend. D:

    Ponsonby Britt said:

    "There was so much rich history in that building, all scattered to the wind when Eisner decided his execs needed cushy offices in there instead."

    Please tell me that's just an exaggeration. That sounds extremely upsetting. D:

    Well, at least Iger seems to be a lot better so far.

  • Ponsonby Britt said:

    "There was so much rich history in that building, all scattered to the wind when Eisner decided his execs needed cushy offices in there instead."

    Please tell me that's just an exaggeration. That sounds extremely upsetting. D:

    Well, at least Iger seems to be a lot better so far."<

    Actually, you can relax. The Old Animation Building is completely occupied by Screenwriters, Directors and Producers. The studio Execs., have been in the Team Disney Building four many years now. The Old Anim. Bldn, has become a nice creative environment for many Disney feature projects and TV series. Not anything like when it was a true animation building, but still, their isn't a coat and tie in sight.

  • That may well be the case now, Bobbydafan, but it's still cold comfort to me, considering the mindset behind the dreck that constitutes much of Disney's live-action and television output. The Animation Building should have been returned to the animation staff after the execs moved into the Team Disney Building. Instead, they got a silly big blue hat across the street.

  • Jim Hill offers some suggestions to animation fans that are looking to make the most of their time in San Diego

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