How the spectacular imagery of classics like Fantasia and Pinocchio was achieved has always been something ofa mystery. But now we have some answers, thanks to the discovery of a trove of detailed notes made by one of the Disney wizards.
Through the years, the "secrets" of movie special effects have been well-documented. Numerous books and oral histories tell about the tools, methods, and processes of the long line of cinema wizards who created (and continue to create) movie magic.[…]
But there is a gap in "how did they do that?" movie-making knowledge with regard to the golden age of Disney animation of the late 1930s. This may seem surprising considering the large amount of research and writing through the years about Disney character animation. But the believability of the drawings in classic films like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Pinocchio (1940), and Fantasia (1940) was greatly enhanced by special effects created with optical and mechanical devices, and very little in any significant detail has been written about that.[…]
The Process Lab gamely took on the pictorial challenges that arose daily in the increasingly ambitious pictures Walt Disney was producing. Solutions were improvised, constructions to support the effects were made and then destroyed as soon as a new problem arose. If notes and plans regarding the work were written down 60-some years ago, they have not survived; few photos and no oral histories document the inventions. And so the secrets ofthe Process Lab wizards died with them.
Or so it was thought.
Recently, in an empty house on Hyperion Avenue in Hollywood-coincidentally the same street on which the Disney Studio and its Process Lab were located in the '30s – an exciting discovery was made. Four notebooks were found containing extraordinary details about exactly how a number of striking visual effects for Disney's earliest (and arguably greatest) feature films were created.