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John Lasseter: “Quality is a great business plan”

With the hope that this article might even out the score a bit, make it not seem like JHM is always picking on Pixar, Jim Hill shares a transcript of John Lasseter’s remarks at Disney’s annual shareholder meeting last month. But then – to balance things out – Jim shares a bit of news that will probably upset both Mr. Lasseter & Disneyana fans

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You know, I’ve been hammering pretty hard on John Lasseter & Ed Catmull lately. Faithfully reporting on virtually every misstep that these two have made as they move through the Mouse House.


 


Which – I think – is giving JHM readers the wrong impression about how I actually feel about these guys. A lot of people who read this site seem to think that I’m gunning for Ed & John. That I’m actually pulling for Team Pixar to fail.


 


Nothing could be further from the truth, folks. Yes, I think that Disney really over-paid for Pixar. And – yes – I do believe that there are going to be some significant culture clashes as well as some badly hurt feelings as the management of the younger animation studio tries to remake the older studio in its own image.


 


But – that said – I still would really like to see Ed Catmull & John Lasseter ultimately succeed here. To have Pixar Animation Studios continue to make great movies. More importantly, to have Disney Feature Animation come out of its funk and get back to making great movies again.


 


How can I prove that I really want Ed & John to succeed. Here. Let me share with you a transcript of one of the more optimistic, hopeful speeches I’ve heard in the past 10 years.


 


These are the remarks that John Lasseter made last month as he stood on stage at Arrowhead Pond. As the new Chief Creative Officer of Disney Feature Animation addressed Disney shareholders for the very first time.


 


As you read this transcript, notice how passionate John is as he talks about the real connection that he feels toward the Walt Disney Company. More importantly, notice Lasseter’s enthusiasm as he talks about the future.


 


Better yet, let’s back up here a bit. And let Disney’s new CEO introduce WDFA’s new Chief Creative Officer. Take it away, Bob!


 


BOB IGER: Here to tell you about the exciting future in animation at Disney is a man who has a great love & passion for the art and also a great love & passion for the Walt Disney Company. Ladies & gentlemen, John Lasseter.


 


(John enters to huge applause from audience as “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from “Toy Story” plays underneath)


 


JOHN LASSETER: Thank you. Thank you. (Applause continues) Oh, stop! (Applause finally subsides) For the Disney stockholders meeting, my wife said that “You’ve gotta dress up, John.” So I wore black tennis shoes and I put a jacket on. Look at it, baby. This is as dressed as I get.


 


Anyway … I can’t tell you how exciting it is to be here. Not here at the Pond. But to be here at Disney.


 


As you know … Maybe you don’t know … I was born in Whittier, California about a half hour from here. All I ever wanted to be was an animator. All I ever wanted to do was work for Walt Disney.


 


You know, when you really love cartoons but you’re in high school and you’re supposed to be cool and you would run home … This was before the Disney Channel, before video cassettes … And you’d need to run home for 4:30, “Bugs & his Buddies” on KTTV, Channel 11, to catch it even in high school. That was me.


 


And then when I was in high school and read “The Art of Animation” by Bob Thomas and it dawned on me: People make money doing cartoons? Then that’s what I want to be.


 


Then I went to Cal Arts. In fact, I got a scholarship through the Disney Foundation. And while I was there, I worked as a ride operator at Disneyland on the Jungle Cruise.


 


My favorite joke is – remember the natives that are on the pole and the rhino is there? And you’d come up and “Oh, there they are. It’s the famous Hantas tribe. They’ve been lost for a long time. And look! The rhino is trying to poke a Hantas.” Number  1 joke.




Copyright Walt Disney Productions



Anyway, I worked at Disney after I graduated from Cal Arts in 1979. And then I saw something that I felt was amazing. It was the very first bit of 3D computer animation ever done. And I knew that Walt would have loved this. Walt always tried to get more dimension into his animation. And I thought that “This is amazing.”


 


So I followed my dream to work with who I think is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known in my life: Ed Catmull. To Lucasfilm’s computer division. And in 1986, Steve Jobs bought us from Lucasfilm and we formed Pixar.


 


And for the first 10 years, we lost a lot of Steve’s money. A lot of Steve’s money. But he believed in us. He believed in what we were doing.


 


Pixar is people. An amazing group of people that Ed & Steve & I have been fortunate enough to lead for all these years. And all of us believe in one simple thing: Quality is a great business plan. Period.


 


We always believed, no matter what we did – be it a feature film or a DVD, a lunchbox, a t-shirt – if we make it the best quality it can be … Where an animated film can entertain someone from the moment that the lights dim in the theater to the moment that they turn back on. From every moment, you’re deeply entertained.


 


That’s why we do what we do. We believe in that. That’s what I love to do. I love to entertain people thoroughly.


 


And so when Bob Iger came to the three of us and said that “We’re interested in acquiring you,” I was worried. Because we have built this incredibly wonderful culture at Pixar about creativity and quality. And everyone there – 850 of us – believe in that single thing.


 


And I was worried until I got to know Bob Iger. Ladies and gentlemen, you are led by a great man. He’s amazing. That’s why we’re here. That’s why Pixar joined up with Disney.


 


And that’s why Ed & I are so proud to lead Disney Feature Animation into the future. I promise you we will make films that will entertain you from the moment the light dim ‘til the moment they come up. I give you my word on that.




Photo courtesy of Google Images



And you know what we found at Disney Feature Animation is the most amazing group of talented artists that have been wanting to make amazing motion pictures for a long time and we are going to work with them and it is just going to be phenomenal. And I am so excited. We’re bringing back some amazing people that have left and we’re making Disney the place that you have to work at again. 


 


And I get to help design theme park rides. I never understood why you wouldn’t start designing a ride when you’re coming up with an idea for an animated film. So when a film comes out, two months later, a ride can open.


 


You know, it’s just  … We believe that you can make great stories with great characters that live beyond the boundaries of the film so that people want to be with those characters for the rest of their lives and experience it again and again and again. So I promise you – not only are we going to make great motion pictures – we are going to make theme park rides that as soon as you get off that ride you want to get back in that line no matter how long it is to ride that ride again. I promise you that …


 


So, I’m so excited … I get to direct movies too. And my new movie – which I’m very proud of – is “Cars.” I’ve worked on this movie since December of 1999, since I finished directing “Toy Story II.”


 


My father was the parts manager at a Chevrolet dealership in Whittier, CA. all my life. And I’ve loved cars. And my mother was a high school art teacher in Bell Gardens High School for 38 years. So this is a very personal story for me, ‘cause it puts my two loves together.


 


This is a very personal story for me. I worked non-stop directing “Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life,” “Toy Story II.” And during that time, I actually had four of my five sons.


 


And towards the end of “Toy Story II,” my wife said “John” – she was very supportive of me and my career and Pixar – she said “One day, you’re going to wake up and your kids are going to have gone off to college and you will have missed it.”


 


I realized that she was right. I took the summer off that year. We bought an old used motor home. We put our feet in the Pacific Ocean. We turned and headed east. And we had two months, just the family. And it was amazing.


 


I changed. I came back and I said “That’s what I want that movie to be about. What I learned that summer.”




Photo courtesy of Google Images



And so this story is a very special one to me. It’s about a character called Lightning McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson. This unbelievable rookie race car in a world where there are no humans. Just cars are alive and — in this world — race cars are athletes.


 


And he’s driven to be the fastest, the quickest to get there. And on his way to the final race of the season, through his selfishness, he gets lost and stuck in an old Route 66 town. That the interstate – the modern world – has bypassed long ago.


 


And it’s inhabited by nothing but old cars from the 50s & 60s. The one commodity that they have a lot of is time. And he thinks that he’s stuck in hell. But he learns a lot about life.


 


There, he meets an old ’51 Hudson Hornet called Doc Hudson. He’s the town doctor and the town judge. They all have two jobs in this town. He’s voiced by Paul Newman. And he falls in love with a Porsche 911, voiced by Bonnie Hunt.


 


And he meets probably the most … The character that he could never possibly be friends with. You see, he only likes to hang out with new cars. It’s a beat-up, rusty tow truck named Mater. As he says: “It’s Mater. It’s like tamater without the ‘ta.’” And it’s voiced by probably the greatest living American actor today: Larry the Cable Guy.


 


I brought with me something special for just you. No one has seen this outside of Pixar. It’s a clip – it’s not a trailer – it’s a full clip from our movie.


 


In this scene, Lightning McQueen has been – they don’t know who he is – here’s this guy comes through town. He wreaks their main road. Their livelihood. And he’s sentenced …


 


Doc Hudson sentences him to community service. You’ve gotta fix what you broke before you can leave. So fixing the road, Lightning McQueen – being the prima donna – he has to pull this disgusting, smelly tar-covered rotating machine (Which they lovingly call Dusty) to fix the road. And he’s working really, really hard.


 


Mater – who’s hanging out with him the whole time because there’s this new person to talk to —  is given the job to watch him so he doesn’t escape one evening. So instead of just watching him, Mater takes him to do his absolute favorite pastime.


 


(The tractor tipping sequence from “Cars” is then shown. As the lights come back up in the hall, John is again greeted with great applause)


 


JOHN LASSETER: Thanks you so much for having me here. I am so proud to be a part of this company again. And this guy’s a great guy. Thank you, Bob.


 


BOB IGER: John, hold on one second. I think you’re holding back. I think you’ve got a little bit more.


 


JOHN LASSETER: Oh, that’s right. I’ve got one more thing. How would you like to see what Pixar is doing next after “Cars”? This is the world premiere of the trailer for our new movie. I’d just like to show it to you.


 


(The “Ratatouille” teaser is then shown. It too is received with much enthusiasm from the crowd at Arrowhead Pond)


 


JOHN LASSETER: “Ratatouille” is our eighth motion picture at Pixar. It will come out in the Summer of 2007. It is creatively being led by Brad Bird, the director of “The Incredibles” from a story idea by Jan Pinkava and it is … We’re very, very excited about it. Trust me, you’ve never seen anything like this.


 


So, anyway, I’m so glad to be here. Thank you, Bob, for having me.


 


BOB IGER: Thanks, John.


 


(Lasseter exits stage to thunderous applause)


 


BOB IGER: Obviously from your reaction, you join in welcoming John and Ed Catmull, who’s also with us today, as well as the entire Pixar team to the Walt Disney Company. We’re incredibly optimistic about what the future holds ….


 


You see that? In his remarks to Disney’s shareholders, John Lasseter comes across as being this incredibly sincere guy. Sincerity with feet, if you will.


 


And given all the great nights at the movies that I’ve had over the past 10 years because of John & his team at Pixar (As Joel Siegel so amusingly put it in his introduction of Lasseter at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art: “This man has shown me more good times in the dark than my ex-wife ever did”) … It’s hard not to pull for this guy. To wish he & Ed continued success.


 


But – that said – as a reporter, I’m not allowed to be a fan. I’m supposed to be a dispassionate observer. Which (in theory) allows me to be even-handed. To report on the good and the bad.


 


Which is why I’ve been somewhat disturbed of late to learn that Iger’s reportedly been telling reporters that Lasseter’s other job at Disney (I.E. Principal Creative Advisor for Walt Disney Imagineering) will be largely ceremonial. That John’s No. 1 responsibility will be stoking the creative fires at both Pixar & Disney Feature Animation.


 


Well, I hope that someone’s told John that. Given the amount of time that Lasseter has allegedly been devoting to that new “Monsters, Inc.” attraction that’s supposed to be opening at WDW’s Magic Kingdom in 2007. The way I hear it, he’s been regularly meeting with Imagineers & animators as they all try & get a handle on this “Laugh Floor” show. Which – just like “Turtle Talk with Crush” at DCA & Epcot – will be another one of WDI’s “Living Creature Initiative” projects.


 


Given all the effort that Lasseter has supposedly been pouring into this new Disney theme park show … Well, that doesn’t sound as if John knows that his position at WDI is supposed to be largely ceremonial.


 


One wonders what else Iger hasn’t told Lasseter. Like … Is John aware that the Walt Disney Company has reportedly hired a New York-based headhunter to find a new CEO for WDI? I mean, given how buddy-buddy these two seemed in Anaheim last month, I’m going to assume that Bob has kept John in the loop on all this. But then again …


 


Oops … Let me guess: I’ve just upset all you die-hard Disney fans out there. All because this article suddenly took a sharp left turn. Going from being a rah-rah-rah let’s-all-be-upbeat-about-John-Lasseter-and-the-future-of-the-Walt-Disney-Company piece to yet another corporate expose.


 


See? This is what comes with having to be a dispassionate observer. You really do have to report on the good (I.E. John Lasseter is an incredibly talented, very passionate filmmaker. Who – if all the breaks actually go his way – will hopefully be able to lead WDFA back to greatness) and the bad (I.E. I’m not sure that all those years of making movies up in Port Richmond and Emeryville is going to serve John well while he’s in Hollywood.  Given how cut-throat things can get in Tinseltown, Lasseter may be a little too touchy-feely & trusting for his own good. He may need to toughen up a bit, be less trusting in order to really succeed in his new position).


 


Here’s hoping that I’m wrong about all this. But what are your thoughts on this matter?

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Seward Johnson bronzes add a surreal, artistic touch to NYC’s Garment District

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Greetings from NYC. Nancy and I drove down from New
Hampshire yesterday because we'll be checking out
Disney Consumer Products' annual Holiday Showcase later today.

Anyway … After checking into our hotel (i.e., The Paul.
Which is located down in NYC's NoMad district), we decided to grab some dinner.
Which is how we wound up at the Melt Shop.


Photo by Jim Hill

Which is this restaurant that only sells grilled cheese sandwiches.
This comfort food was delicious, but kind of on the heavy side.


Photo by Jim Hill

Which is why — given that it was a beautiful summer night
— we'd then try and walk off our meals. We started our stroll down by the Empire
State Building


Photo by Jim Hill

… and eventually wound up just below Times
Square
(right behind where the Waterford Crystal Times Square New
Year's Eve Ball
is kept).


Photo by Jim Hill

But you know what we discovered en route? Right in the heart
of Manhattan's Garment District
along Broadway between 36th and 41st? This incredibly cool series of life-like
and life-sized sculptures that Seward
Johnson has created
.


Photo by Jim Hill

And — yes — that is Abraham Lincoln (who seems to have
slipped out of WDW's Hall of Presidents when no one was looking and is now
leading tourists around Times Square). These 18 painted
bronze pieces (which were just installed late this past Sunday night / early
Monday morning) range from the surreal to the all-too-real.


Photo by Jim Hill

Some of these pieces look like typical New Yorkers. Like the
business woman planning out her day …


Photo by Jim Hill

… the postman delivering the mail …


Photo by Jim Hill

… the hot dog vendor working at his cart …


Photo by Jim Hill


Photo by Jim Hill

… the street musician playing for tourists …


Photo by Jim Hill

Not to mention the tourists themselves.


Photo by Jim Hill

But right alongside the bronze businessmen …


Photo by Jim Hill

… and the tired grandmother hauling her groceries home …


Photo by Jim Hill

… there were also statues representing people who were
from out-of-town …


Photo by Jim Hill

… or — for that matter — out-of-time.


Photo by Jim Hill

These were the Seward Johnson pieces that genuinely beguiled. Famous impressionist paintings brought to life in three dimensions.


Note the out-of-period water bottle that some tourist left
behind. Photo by Jim Hill 

Some of them so lifelike that you actually had to pause for
a moment (especially as day gave way to night in the city) and say to yourself
"Is that one of the bronzes? Or just someone pretending to be one of these
bronzes?"

Mind you, for those of you who aren't big fans of the
impressionists …


Photo by Jim Hill

… there's also an array of American icons. Among them
Marilyn Monroe …


Photo by Jim Hill

… and that farmer couple from Grant Wood's "American
Gothic."


Photo by Jim Hill

But for those of you who know your NYC history, it's hard to
beat that piece which recreates Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous photograph of V-J Day in Times Square.


Photo by Jim Hill

By the way, a 25-foot-tall version of this particular Seward
Johnson piece ( which — FYI — is entitled "Embracing Peace") will actually
be placed in Times Square for a few days on or around  August 14th to commemorate the 70th
anniversary of Victory Over Japan Day (V-J Day).


Photo by Jim Hill

By the way, if you'd like to check these Seward Johnson bronzes in
person (which — it should be noted — are part of the part of the Garment
District Alliance
's new public art offering) — you'd best schedule a trip to
the City sometime over the next three months. For these pieces will only be on
display now through September 15th. 

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Wondering what you should “Boldly Go” see at the movies next year? The 2015 Licensing Expo offers you some clues

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Greeting from the 2015 Licensing Expo, which is being held
at the Mandalay Bay
Convention Center in Las
Vegas.


Photo by Jim Hill

I have to admit that I enjoy covering the Licensing Expo.
Mostly becomes it allows bloggers & entertainment writers like myself to
get a peek over the horizon. Scope out some of the major motion pictures &
TV shows that today's vertically integrated entertainment conglomerates
(Remember when these companies used to be called movie studios?) will be
sending our way over the next two years or so.


Photo by Jim Hill

Take — for example — all of "The Secret Life of
Pets
" banners that greeted Expo attendees as they made their way to the
show floor today. I actually got to see some footage from this new Illumination
Entertainment
production (which will hit theaters on July 8, 2016) the last time I was in Vegas. Which
was for CinemaCon back in April. And the five or so minutes of film that I viewed
suggested that "The Secret Life of Pets" will be a really funny
animated feature.


Photo by Jim Hill

Mind you, Universal Pictures wanted to make sure that Expo
attendees remembered that there was another Illumination Entertainment production
coming-to-a-theater-near-them before "The Secret Life of Pets" (And
that's "Minions," the "Despicable Me" prequel. Which
premieres at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival next week but
won't be screened stateside 'til July 10th of this year). Which is why they had
three minions who were made entirely out of LEGOS loitering out in the lobby.


Photo by Jim Hill

And Warner Bros. — because they wanted "Batman v
Superman: Dawn of Justice
" to start trending on Twitter today — brought
the Batmobile to Las Vegas.


Photo by Jim Hill

Not to mention full-sized macquettes of Batman, Superman and
Wonder Woman. Just so conventioneers could then see what these DC superheroes
would actually look like in this eagerly anticipated, March 25, 2016 release.


Photo by Jim Hill

That's the thing that can sometimes be a wee bit frustrating
about the Licensing Expo. It's all about delayed gratification. You'll come
around a corner and see this 100 foot-long ad for "The Peanuts Movie"
and think "Hey, that looks great. I want to see that Blue Sky Studios production
right now." It's only then that you notice the fine print and realize that
"The Peanuts Movie" doesn't actually open in theaters 'til November
6th of this year.


Photo by Jim Hill

And fan of Blue Sky's "Ice Age" film franchise are in for an even
longer wait. Given that the latest installment in that top grossing series
doesn't arrive in theaters 'til July
15, 2016.


Photo by Jim Hill

Of course, if you're one of those people who needs immediate
gratification when it comes to your entertainment, there was stuff like that to
be found at this year's Licensing Expo. Take — for example — how the WWE
booth was actually shaped like a wrestling ring. Which — I'm guessing — meant
that if the executives of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. didn't like
the offer that you were making, they were then allowed to toss you out over the
top rope, Royal Rumble-style.


Photo by Jim Hill

I also have to admit that — as a longtime Star Trek fan —
it was cool to see the enormous Starship Enterprise that hung in place over the
CBS booth. Not to mention getting a glimpse of the official Star Trek 50th
Anniversary logo.


Photo by Jim Hill

I was also pleased to see lots of activity in The Jim Henson
Company booth. Which suggests that JHC has actually finally carved out a
post-Muppets identity for itself.


Photo by Jim Hill

Likewise for all of us who were getting a little concerned
about DreamWorks Animation (what with all the layoffs & write-downs &
projects that were put into turnaround or outright cancelled last year), it was
nice to see that booth bustling.


Photo by Jim Hill

Every so often, you'd come across some people who were
promoting a movie that you weren't entirely sure that you actually wanted to
see (EX: "Angry Birds," which Sony Pictures Entertainment / Columbia
Pictures
will be releasing to theaters on May 20, 2016). But then you remembered that Clay Kaytis
who's this hugely talented former Walt Disney Animation Studios animator — is
riding herd on "Angry Birds" with Fergal Reilly. And you'd think
"Well, if Clay's working on 'Angry Birds,' I'm sure this animated feature
will turn out fine."


Photo by Jim Hill

Mind you, there were reminders at this year's Licensing Expo
of great animated features that we're never going to get to see now. I still
can't believe — especially after that brilliant proof-of-concept footage
popped up online last year — that Sony execs decided not to go forward
with  production
of Genndy Tartakovsky's
"Popeye" movie.  But that's the
cruel thing about the entertainment business, folks. It will sometime break
your heart.


Photo by Jim Hill

And make no mistake about this. The Licensing Expo is all
about business. That point was clearly driven home at this year's show when —
as you walked through the doors of the Mandalay
Bay Convention Center
— the first thing that you saw was the Hasbros Booth. Which was this gleaming,
sleek two story-tall affair full of people who were negotiating deals &
signing contracts for all of the would-be summer blockbusters that have already
announced release dates for 2019 & beyond.


Photo by Jim Hill

"But what about The Walt Disney Company?," you
ask. "Weren't they represented on the show floor at this year's Licensing
Expo?" Not really, not. I mean, sure. There were a few companies there hyping
Disney-related products. Take — for example — the Disney Wikkeez people.


Photo by Jim Hill

I'm assuming that some Disney Consumer Products exec is
hoping that Wikkeez will eventually become the new Tsum Tsum. But to be blunt,
these little hard plastic figures don't seem to have the same huggable charm
that those stackable plush do. But I've been wrong before. So let's see what
happens with Disney Wikkeez once they start showing up on the shelves of the
Company's North American retail partners.


Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of Disney's retail partners … They were
meeting with Mouse House executives behind closed doors one floor down from the
official show floor for this year's Licensing Expo.


Photo by Jim Hill

And the theme for this year's invitation-only Disney shindig? "Timeless
Stories" involving the Disney, Pixar, Marvel & Lucasfilm brands that
would then appeal to "tomorrow's consumer."


Photo by Jim Hill

And just to sort of hammer home the idea that Disney is no
longer the Company which cornered the market when it comes to little girls
(i.e., its Disney Princess and Disney Fairies franchises), check out this
wall-sized Star Wars-related image that DCP put up just outside of one of its
many private meeting rooms. "See?," this carefully crafted photo
screams. "It isn't just little boys who want to wield the Force. Little
girls also want to grow up and be Lords of the Sith."


Photo by Jim Hill

One final, kind-of-ironic note: According to this banner,
Paramount Pictures will be releasing a movie called "Amusement Park"
to theaters sometime in 2017.  


Photo by Jim Hill

Well, given all the "Blackfish" -related issues
that have been dogged SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment over the past two years, I'm
just hoping that they'll still be in the amusement park business come 2017.

Your thoughts?

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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It takes more than three circles to craft a Classic version of Mickey Mouse

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You know what Mickey Mouse looks like, right? Little guy,
big ears?

Truth be told, Disney's corporate symbol has a lot of
different looks. If Mickey's interacting with Guests at Disneyland
Park
(especially this summer, when
the Happiest Place on Earth
is celebrating its 60th anniversary), he looks & dresses like this.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc.
All rights reserved

Or when he's appearing in one of those Emmy Award-winning shorts that Disney
Television Animation has produced (EX: "Bronco Busted," which debuts
on the Disney Channel tonight at 8 p.m. ET / PT), Mickey is drawn in a such a
way that he looks hip, cool, edgy & retro all at the same time.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights
reserved

Looking ahead to 2017 now, when Disney Junior rolls out "Mickey and the
Roadster Racers
," this brand-new animated series will feature a sportier version
of Disney's corporate symbol. One that Mouse House managers hope will persuade
preschool boys to more fully embrace this now 86 year-old character.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

That's what most people don't realize about the Mouse. The
Walt Disney Company deliberately tailors Mickey's look, even his style of
movement, depending on what sort of project / production he's appearing in.

Take — for example — Disney
California Adventure
Park
's "World of Color:
Celebrate!
" Because Disney's main mouse would be co-hosting this new
nighttime lagoon show with ace emcee Neil Patrick Harris, Eric Goldberg really had
to step up Mickey's game. Which is why this master Disney animator created
several minutes of all-new Mouse animation which then showed that Mickey was
just as skilled a showman as Neil was.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc.
All rights reserved

Better yet, let's take a look at what the folks at Avalanche Studios just went
through as they attempted to create a Classic version of Mickey & Minnie.
One that would then allow this popular pair to become part of Disney Infinity
3.0.

"I won't lie to you. We were under a lot of pressure to
get the look of this particular version of Mickey — he's called Red Pants
Mickey around here — just right," said Jeff Bunker, the VP of Art
Development at Avalanche Studios, during a recent phone interview. "When
we brought Sorcerer Mickey into Disney Infinity 1.0 back in January of 2014,
that one was relatively easy because … Well, everyone knows what Mickey Mouse
looked like when he appeared in 'Fantasia.' "


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Inc. All rights reserved

"But this time around, we were being asked to design
THE Mickey & Minnie," Bunker continued. "And given that these Classic
Disney characters have been around in various different forms for the better
part of the last century … Well, which look was the right look?"

Which is why Jeff and his team at Avalanche Studios began watching hours &
hours of Mickey Mouse shorts. As they tried to get a handle on which look would
work best for these characters in Disney Infinity 3.0.


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Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"And we went all the way back to the very start of Mickey's career. We began
with 'Steamboat Willie' and then watched all of those black & white Mickey shorts
that Walt made back in the late 1920s & early 1930s. From there, we
transitioned to his Technicolor shorts. Which is when Mickey went from being
this pie-eyed, really feisty character to more of a well-behaved leading
man," Bunker recalled. "We then finished out our Mouse marathon by
watching all of those new Mickey shorts that Paul Rudish & his team have
been creating for Disney Television Animation. Those cartoons really recapture
a lot of the spirit and wild slapstick fun that Mickey's early, black &
white shorts had."

But given that the specific assignment that Avalanche Studios had been handed
was to create the most appealing looking, likeable version of Mickey Mouse
possible … In the end, Jeff and his team wound up borrowing bits & pieces
from a lot of different versions of the world's most famous mouse. So that
Classic Mickey would then look & move in a way that best fit the sort of
gameplay which people would soon be able to experience with Disney Infinity
3.0.


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Inc. All rights reserved

"That — in a lot of ways — was actually the toughest
part of the Classic Mickey design project. You have to remember that one of the
key creative conceits of  Disney Infinity
is that all the characters which appear in this game are toys," Bunker
stated. "Okay. So they're beautifully detailed, highly stylized toy
versions of beloved Disney, Pixar, Marvel & Lucasfilm characters. But
they're still supposed to be toys. So our Classic versions of Mickey &
Minnie have the same sort of thickness & sturdiness to them that toys have.
So that they'll then be able to fit right in with all of the rest of the
characters that Avalanche Studios had previously designed for Disney Infinity."

And then there was the matter of coming up with just the
right pose for Classic Mickey & Minnie. Which — to hear Jeff tell the
story — involved input from a lot of Disney upper management.


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Inc. All rights reserved

"Everyone within the Company seemed to have an opinion
about how Mickey & Minnie should be posed. More to the point, if you Google
Mickey, you then discover that there are literally thousands of poses out there
for these two. Though — truth be told — a lot of those kind of play off the
way Mickey poses when he's being Disney's corporate symbol," Bunker said.
"But what I was most concerned about was that Mickey's pose had to work
with Minnie's pose. Because we were bringing the Classic versions of these
characters up into Disney Infinity 3.0 at the exact same time. And we wanted to
make sure — especially for those fans who like to put their Disney Infinity
figures on display — that Mickey's pose would then complement Minnie.

Which is why Jeff & the crew at Avalanche Studios
decided — when it came to Classic Mickey & Minnie's pose — that they
should go all the way back to the beginning. Which is why these two Disney icons
are sculpted in such a way that it almost seems as though you're witnessing the
very first time Mickey set eyes on Minnie.


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Inc. All rights reserved

"And what was really great about that was — as soon as
we began showing people within the Company this pose — everyone at Disney
quickly got on board with the idea. I mean, the Classic Mickey that we sculpted
for Disney Infinity 3.0 is clearly a very playful, spunky character. But at the
same time, he's obviously got eyes for Minnie," Bunker concluded. "So
in the end, we were able to come up with Classic versions of these characters
that will work well within the creative confines of Disney Infinity 3.0 but at
the same time please those Disney fans who just collect these figures because
they like the way the Disney Infinity characters look."

So now that this particular design project is over, does
Jeff regret that Mouse House upper management was so hands-on when it came to
making sure that the Classic versions of Mickey & Minnie were specifically
tailored to fit the look & style of gameplay found in Disney Infinity 3.0?


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Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"To be blunt, we go through this every time we add a new character to the
game. The folks at Lucasfilm were just as hands-on when we were designing the
versions of Darth Vader and Yoda that will also soon be appearing in Disney
Infinity 3.0," Bunker laughed. "So in the end, if the character's
creators AND the fans are happy, then I'm happy."

This article was originally posted on the Huffington Post's Entertainment page on Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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