“Before Ever After”: New book is firsthand Disney animation history

Before Ever After: The Lost Lectures of Walt Disney's Animation Studio cover
Before Ever After: The Lost Lectures of Walt Disney’s Animation Studio cover

Before Ever After: The Lost Lectures of Walt Disney’s Animation Studio is reliable FIRSTHAND Disney history. As time marches on, learning about history becomes less reliable. This is certainly true with Disney history. Even a recent PBS documentary about Walt Disney is loaded with inaccuracies. That’s why it’s so exciting when books like Before Ever After are released!

This book, by Don Hahn and Tracey Miller-Zarneke is like a time capsule! In its 440 pages, you’ll find beautiful reproductions of the original carefully transcribed lectures from Walt Disney’s in-house studio art school classes. These transcriptions were distributed to the animation crew of the 1930s.

By reading these, you will see the actual process, from Walt’s initial lengthy memo to Don Graham, stressing the importance of having the studio art classes, to what was spoken at the lectures, by the foremost authorities in the field at the time. You’ll even get to read the questions asked by the students, who ended up being some of the greatest artists in animation history, and the answers they were given.

Before Ever After sample page
Before Ever After sample page
Click to enlarge

When I say this is true Disney history, I don’t mean that lightly. Take this one page alone, from 1938, which was a class given during the production of “Pinocchio.” (You can click on the image to enlarge it.) The instructor is Dave Hand, who had directed “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” He joined the Disney staff in 1930 after working at the Max Fleischer animation studios. In this lecture, Dave points out, “Walt likes the idea of part of a figure going out of the scene. I like it – I think it centralizes the eye.” A student asks, “Aren’t we still afraid to come to very close close-ups? Recently some sketches of Pinocchio, where the face filled the entire screen, were pointed out to me as being bad.” The response is, “The face begins to flatten out when you got to close on it. We are attempting to overcome that now, with a new dye process. But it will be some time before it is perfected.”

Not all classes were given by Disney staff. Ted Cook, for example, was a guest speaker. In the 1920s, he wrote and illustrated the famous syndicated column “Coo-Coo Nest.” At the start of his lecture he candidly told the class, “I feel quite confused and embarrassed tonight because I honestly feel that I should be sitting down and listening to you fellows.” Nevertheless, he offered great insight into humor and storytelling for Disney’s staff.

These lecture have not been seen since they were stored away in the 1940s! By way of these transcriptions, you’ll get a front row seat into the actual training process that made it possible for Disney to create their most classic masterpieces, and what has paved the way for ALL great animation today!