Thursday, January 10, 2008

Bill Peet says what he thinks

I was just reading this really interesting interview with Bill Peet at Hogan's Alley.Peet is generally considered to be one of Walt's top story people. A writer who draws his stories.
In the interview, he is very candid and says things that if anyone said today, they would be lynched. His gruff statements remind me a lot of Friz, who I've worked for and had many funny encounters with.
Here are some highlights:

Dried Up Newspaper Cartoonists, Walt's Favorites in the 30s

Province: Obviously not receiving screen credit bothered you a great deal.

Peet: Yes, it was a crusher. There was a committee of the older men which was kept secret. These were mostly old dried-up newspaper cartoonists and people Walt felt had experience even though they couldn’t draw as well as the younger men. This was who decided who got screen credit. They hated the younger men who had talent because they were a threat to their jobs. They gave credit to themselves and their friends. We dared not complain since in the long run it would always be Walt Disney’s [name] and that long list of names [below his] like a page in the phone book. The drawing quality had to be improved when we went into features, and that’s when the younger talent began to do more. Walt began to realize that these people were real artists and not just dried-up old newspaper cartoonists.

Peet Redrew Timothy

Province: Fred Moore is often described as the boy genius of the studio.

Peet: There’s nobody that good. He was a great Mickey Mouse artist. He had the juices and was very creative. He created the dwarfs for Snow White, and he had a real loose, natural style and was a natural for animation. He gave a new flexibility to the whole art of animation. I think he was too young when he hit his peak, for one thing. He was only twenty-four. Freddy drank himself out of sight and got a little bit cocky and thought he was too good for the whole thing. He would hardly do any drawing, and his assistants would cover up for him. He thought you could draw and drink and you can’t do that. I worked on the mouse [in Dumbo] a lot for Freddy. It was his last big animation assignment. Ironically it was the drunken mouse scene. The champagne bottle falls into the tub of water, and the bubble comes up and then the mouse falls into the tub. Freddy just couldn’t draw a mouse that didn’t look like Mickey. It was so ingrained in him after drawing just thousands of them. The nose was too round, so I went over Freddy’s things including the storyboards. Freddy did a fine animation job on it, but I refined his drawings so they looked like Timothy.

Peet fixed Tytla’s Elephant Drawings

Province: Two of the best, Bill Tytla and Fred Moore, worked on Dumbo.

Peet: People were always amazed at Bill Tytla, that he could draw the giant devil for “Night On Bald Mountain,” and the giant in “Brave Little Tailor;” these ponderous, muscled characters, and then do this little elephant. After he got his first scene on Dumbo, he passed me in the hall and said, “Y’know, Bill, I can’t draw these goddamned little elephants. If I send Nick [his assistant] up with the scene, would you see if you could work it out?” Nick brought up this stack of drawings, Bill’s scene where the elephants first appear was just a mess. So I went over every one of them, probably a couple of hundred drawings, every damned frame in the picture, and redrew the whole scene. They shot the pencil test and showed it to Walt. He was ecstatic! Nick came up and told me, “Walt loved that thing, and I want to shake your hand!” Well, Bill never bothered to thank me, Walt either.

Disney’s Humor was suspect, but he could organize people

Province: Would you say Walt Disney had forgotten where he came from? After all, his own artistic ability was modest.

Peet: He couldn’t do any of the things he was famous for. His humor was suspect. I would call it sarcasm at best. He also couldn’t write or draw. I ran into a barber many years ago who had a Donald Duck drawing on the wall of his shop down in Hollywood. He said it was an original drawing by Walt Disney. It was from around ’36 or ’37. I thought it was funny because Walt could never have done that. He would sign the stuff, but he was always scared to death that somebody was going to ask him to do a drawing. He was a catalyst. He could take a room full of people and organize them into doing it. He could spot talent and pick this guy as good for that and someone else would be good for this.

Walt Hired Screenwriters and Playwrights and Didn’t Use Their Work

He was always hiring these big-time screenwriters and playwrights. These people had no conceptions in visual terms at all, all dialogue. So they really couldn’t handle the stuff. He paid them a hell of a lot of money to fail. When it came down to it, we had to do it. He was very excited about Disneyland and working on that. Then to have to come back to the studio and work on the same old stuff he had been doing for years.

More to come....


Hector G.M. said...

Whoa! That was extremely funny!
I love that, behind all the "Magic of Disney" stuff, theres all this dirt and trash talking.
I like this kind of stuff.
Is he the only disney guy that was this open?

ha, Imagine if the pixar guys talked trash about Brad Bird or something. Yea right.

Stephen Worth said...

That's what I was told by the story guys I spoke with... They tried scriptwriters at Disney back in the Hyperion days. It didn't work. The writer would demand the best sketch artist in the studio to work with him, because the writer's ideas deserved nothing but the best! And then the sketch artist ended up doing all the work over a brown bag sandwich while the writer took three hour martini lunches. (sound familiar?)

Myrna Englander (Otto Englander's widow) told a hilarious story of a Disney "writer" who was called upon unexpectedly to pitch his board to Walt. The problem was, he had never seen the board before, because the sketch artist had done all the work. He bluffed and blustered, making up the story as he went along, just glancing at the pictures and saying things like, "And then the duck goes... Hmmm... What does the duck do next? Let's see..." When it got to the end of the board, he was as surprised at the ending as anyone else. The topper gag was Walt firing him on the spot!

Bill Peet was a funny guy and a straight shooter. Definitely one of the best story men Disney ever had. I met him once and asked him to autograph some Sword in the Stone Wizard's Duel boards I had. He growled at the drawings and told me how Walt made him do the boards for Sword in the Stone over and over again without ever telling him what was wrong with the first way he did it or what he wanted him to do differently the next time. "I did a million of those damn sketches You could fill a warehouse with all the drawings I drew and redrew at Disney over the years."

See ya

Freckled Derelict said...

His storys and storyboards are amazing and appealing!!!
There are a ton in the book "Paper Dreams: The Art And Artists Of Disney Storyboards" and a great section just on Bill.
His autobiography is also outstanding. He talks pretty openly about his feeling on Walt, the type of guy he was and how he ended up quitting.

Freckled Derelict said...

His storys and storyboards are amazing and appealing!!!
There are a ton in the book "Paper Dreams: The Art And Artists Of Disney Storyboards" and a great section just on Bill.
His autobiography is also outstanding. He talks pretty openly about his feeling on Walt, the type of guy he was and how he ended up quitting.

jesus chambrot said...

Love this interview. Great to ho hear about what really happened on Chanticleer and great to hear who did what on what.

Graham said...

More please!

Larry Levine said...

Is he the only disney guy that was this open?

Art Babbitt, Bill Melendez & (to a lesser degree) Ward Kimball.

Ryan G. said...

Wow! Great stuff! Ha, these guys were scandalous.

Whit said...

For a person who'd been held down by older animators when he was young, Peet did his own share of grousing about youthful up and comers, especially after he'd had a few belts at lunch in the 1960's. But he was probably kidding.

Anonymous said...

wow! i've always loved Bill Peet. i used to check out all of his books from the local library and try and draw like him. after reading this, i can add one more reason why he is one of my heroes. it's kinda funny that alot of this stuff sounds like it's still going on to this day.

Rodrigo said...

This is so great! Like so many animation students, I've read through Ollie & Franks big fat book, and they always deemed their artists as divine and seemingly invincible. Please, sir, may I have some more?

Ethan said...

Fantastic, great stuff.

PCUnfunny said...

John, I have a question for you. Do you consider the "WHO KILLED COCK ROBIN ?" pages on Mike Barrier's site an outline or a script ? One could say the latter because it has quite a bit of detail.

JohnK said...

If it was written before the storyboard was drawn, then it would be a script.

If it was written after, then it could be a dialogue script for the actors, or it could be a script made from the board for the composer or editor.

Does it have footages and scene numbers on it? If so, then it was written after the storyboard was done because a scriptwriter would not know where the scene cuts are or how long the scenes are.

The storyboard artist creates the scene cuts and the director writes the timing from the storyboard.

Most stories in cartoons at Disney were not done in one shot by one person. They were constantly being revised, which is one of the reasons why Walt said he invented storyboards. The other being that you couldn't write cartoon action with words.

You'd probably have to ask someone who storyboarded the cartoon or directed it to be sure what it is.

There are various forms of transcribed storyboards that look superficially like scripts, but were not written by a scriptwriter, they were copied from the boards by a secretary or assistant.

To say a cartoon was "scripted" means someone wrote the cartoon with words alone, and with all the dialogue before an artist storyboarded it.

Disney has gone out of his way on many occasions to adamantly let the public know that was not what they did at his studio. Maybe Barrier is calling him a liar.

Many directors (including Clampett)occasionally worked with gag guys who contributed gags and dialogue, but that doesn't constitute scriptwriting.

PCUnfunny said...

John: Yes it dose have scene numbers. Also it has numbers sepcifying the feet of animation for certain camera angles and characters.

Mr. Semaj said...

This was always something I loved about reading these old Disney stories and interviews. Behind the stereotyped cutesiness of their films, the artists were normal people like everyone else.

Weirdo said...

Fascinating stuff. I love Bill Peet's drawings. They're simple but absolutely beautiful. I love hearing about what was really going on at the studio and how a lot of people really felt about Walt. Thanks for posting.

JohnK said...

Well, it's obviously not a script then.

Vincent Waller said...

Thanks for digging up that interview John.
You got love a talented curmudgeon.

Rainer said...

"Many directors (including Clampett)occasionally worked with gag guys who contributed gags and dialogue, but that doesn't constitute scriptwriting."

Was this(and story ideas) the job of Richard Pursel when he worked for Spumco, or was it different?

Anonymous said...

I always figured Walt Disney a jerk. I feel the truth is he was very good at management, endorement and merchandising and thats what made him so big.
I mean don't get me wrong, there are a few Disney cartoons I like, and when I was little, ironically I watched Dumbo almost everyday.
However when he said that Walt was scared someone might ask him to draw something, for some reason I am not suprised.
Sorry,I'm kinda anti-Disney, I hate happy endings.

JohnK said...

Richard is a very funny guy, and I had him write outlines.(He also draws)

The whole story department contributed gags on most of the cartoons. No one actually "wrote" a cartoon from beginning to end, though I assigned 1 person to an outline and that person wrote up all the story notes and helped me define the plot structure.

It was an ongoing creative process from the first premise through gag sessions, an outline and storyboard.
We even added gags at the layout stage and in editing.

Vincent Waller said...

There are no happy endings...if you wait around long enough.

boootooons ltd. said...

there's a big picture of walt next to a picture of john lasseter in the new goofy cartoon. it's before the NATIONAL TREASURE sequel.

- trevor.