Walt Disney


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Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out. Trust because you are willing to accept the risk, not because it’s safe or certain. Be content to act, and leave the talking to others. If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to meet it! A real entrepreneur is somebody who has no safety net underneath them.

Our childhood would have been dreary without this genius of a man. Walt Disney was also another boy brought up in a farm and used to draw pictures for his neighbors for money. He used to be the cartoonist for the school newspaper, Disney went through the jobless phase where no one hired him, and his brother had to help him out with his job search. He went from rags to riches by starting out with advertisements and going on to animating his own cartoons.

Walt Disney was an animator, cartoonist, producer, director and entrepreneur. He is regarded as one of the most creative men of the 20th century. He is also the individual with the most awards and nominations with a total of 22 Academy Awards from 59 nominations. He established the Walt Disney Productions along with his brother Roy O. Disney which is today one of the best-known animation/motion film producers in the world. Today it is called ‘The Walt Disney Company’ and had an annual turnover of $36 billion in 2010 alone.

Disney was born on December 5, 1901 at Tripp Avenue in Chicago. He was interested in drawing at a young age. He soon developed his skill and was paid by his neighbor, Dr. Sherwood for drawing a sketch of his horse. He took night courses at the Chicago Art Institute while doing his freshman year at the McKinley High School at Chicago. He wanted to become a cartoonist and newspaper artist in the future. So he started by drawing cartoons focusing on World War I for the school newspaper. In 1917, Walt Disney dropped out of school to join the army, but was rejected for being underage. He went to France for one year after joining the Red Cross. He worked there as an ambulance driver.

In 1919, Walt Disney was rejected by many publishers who said he did not have enough creativity to work for their newspapers. Soon he joined the Kansas City Film Ad Company where he made commercials bases on cut-out animations. Here he came across animation as an interesting field of work. Walt Disney learnt animation by reading books and experimenting with a borrowed camera. Soon he decided to open his own animation business. He produced a series of cartoons called ‘Laugh-O-Grams’ which played at the local theatre. His cartoons became immensely popular in Kansas City area enabling him to acquire his own studio. But in a short time this studio had to close because of improper use of revenue and bankruptcy. Now Walt and his brother Roy pooled their money and opened a cartoon studio in Hollywood, California. Here they distributed their cartoon ‘Alice comedies’ which met with reasonable success.

In 1927, Walt Disney produced the cartoon, ‘Oswald the Lucky Rabbit’ in association with Universal Pictures. This cartoon became a huge hit and helped their company earn high revenues. But soon he lost most of his employees and was unable to continue production of ‘Oswald the Lucky Rabbit’.

Now Walt Disney decided on creating a new character in order to produce a new cartoon series. This is where Mickey Mouse was born. In Disney’s studio both he and Iwerks worked on giving Mickey Mouse a good physical appearance and other important features. After initially failing to find anybody to distribute their cartoon character, a businessman called Pat Powers came to their rescue. He provided the distribution as well as gave them the Cine phone with which they were able to add sound to their silent cartoons. The more you like yourself, the less you are like anyone else, which makes you unique. They released ‘Steamboat Willie’ which became an instant hit. Soon after all the cartoons they released went on to receive huge viewership. Soon the character Mickey Mouse became a household name becoming the most popular cartoon in America. Soon they introduced the cartoon ‘Popeye the Sailor’ which again became enormously popular.

In the following years, Walt took on a new role within the company. He wanted to focus on story development for new projects, and, while giving guidance to his animators, would leave the animation to them. An art–school was set up within the company, and every animator was required to undergo special training in the Disney–style of animation. Then one day in the 1930s Walt called a meeting. Unlike other meetings, he began with the retelling of his favourite childhood fairytale, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, spontaneously acting out all the parts. It was this story that the animators with their new training would bring to the silver screen.

The film industry sneered at the idea of a feature–length cartoon. Never before had there been a techni colour, fully–animated feature. Walt also met disapproval from Roy and his wife. The banker told him he would be risking everything he had on this one film. But Walt believed in his vision for the company, and believed in this retelling of Snow White enough to go through with it. The film premiered at Carthay Circle Theatre in 1937 and received critical acclaim and commercial success. Money flowed in, erasing the entire studio debt within 6–months. Walt received an Academy Award for what was yet another risk that had paid off. Following the success of Snow White, Walt opted for three very different projects: Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi.

Outside of movie making, Walt had other projects on the go. He was building a new state–of–the–art studio in Burbank with a multi–plane camera that could pan through different levels of pictures to create a third dimensional effect of the setting. Fantasia was one of Walt’s most unusual and unique projects. His vision was to reproduce the sensation of listening to music in a concert hall accompanied with visual stimulation. He was onto an earlier version of stereo–phonic sound. The total budget of this project, however, cost more than $2 million. Just as the Disney Company seemed to be reaching new heights, war broke out. Overseas income ceased funding the construction of the new Burbank studio, and although Fantasia and Pinocchio are now considered Disney Masterpieces, they did not provide the revenue the company needed. By 1941 the studio was half–a–million dollars in–debt.

After the move to the Burbank studio, salaries were cut to help finances. Many of Walt’s staff went on strike. Walt was said to be astonished and betrayed by what he called the “ingratitude” of those he regarded as not simply employees, but friends, part of his Disney family. Walt was asked to go on a “good will” tour of Latin America, an opportunity to escape the crisis back home. Walt, however, was more comfortable working than being an ambassador for his company. He agreed to the tour as long as it was an opportunity to work on some new films.

While Walt was in South America, he received a call from the studio, who was currently working on the film Dumbo. Five hundred army troops had arrived, demanding to move into the studios following the bombing of Pearl Harbour, to protect a nearby aircraft plant. As in the First World War, Walt felt a patriotic urge to contribute to the war effort. The studio switched its focus to producing propaganda shorts. With so many people occupying the Burbank studio, Walt at times felt as though he was losing control and the company was losing its way.

When the war ended, Roy wanted to be financially conservative while Walt wanted to continue to take risks and be adventurous. They finally came to the agreement that the company would try its hand at live–action films. Seal Island, a documentary on seals, won the Oscar for best documentary that year. While Treasure Island was shot in England with a cast including Bobby Driscoll, Robert Newton, Walter Fitzgerald and Ralph Truman. Walt had perfected the story–board process in animation and used this technique to plan out his live–action films.

Although Walt was an incredibly busy man, on Saturdays he would always take his two girls out for the day. He sat and ate peanuts while he watched his girls on the carousel. The idea occurred to him that there should be an amusement park built for families to enjoy together. He could not fund the park alone, and so he set his sights on television. The ABC completed a deal with Disney where it would have a 35 per cent stake in Disneyland in return for an investment of half a million. A weekly show called Disneyland was produced. For 3 consecutive years it was the only show in the top 15 rated programs. Once again a large factor to its success was that it was shot in colour, something Walt insisted was a good investment. Walt also created The Mickey Mouse Club, a show for kids that was presented by kids. He wanted “kids next door” rather than “slick professionals” and encouraged them to call him Uncle Walt.

The ’50s was a period of great financial expansion for Disney. It went from earnings of $6 million at the start of the decade to $70 million. In that time Cinderella was released and became the most successful Disney film since Snow White, Peter Pan and Lady and the Tramp received good receptions, and the live action film 20,000 Leagues under the Sea had been produced in cinema scope, which was still new and exciting, techni-colour and had a cast of A–list movie stars.

In July 1955, Walt hosted the world premiere of his new amusement park, Disneyland. He addressed a large congregation of people, including famous friends such as Ronald Regan and Bob Cummings, with these words:

To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that we will be a source of joy and inspiration to the entire world.

He believed his park would never be finished, that it could always be improved. At New York’s World Fair, Walt produced exhibits where animals and humans could move through technology as animatronics figures. He combined this idea with his desire for a boat ride for children and produced the exhibit it’s a Small World. When the fair closed these exhibits were transferred to Disneyland.

For Walt’s next live–action project, he set his sights on Mary Poppins. His daughter Diane had introduced him to the character when she was a little girl. He visited Australian author P. L. Travers in Chelsea, England to try and convince her to allow him to turn her story into a film. The famous Sherman Brothers created the songs for Mary Poppins and a young Julie Andrews was cast for the main role. The film went on to be nominated for 13 Academy Awards, win 5 Oscars and make 44 million at the box office.

By 62–years–of–age, Walt had won 31 Academy Awards. He was at the pinnacle of his career. One of the most recognized figures in the world. But his health was deteriorating. After his coughing fits worsened, doctors took x–rays of his lungs and discovered a lump the size of a walnut. It was cancer. Walt underwent surgery immediately and was only given 6–months to 2–years to live.

During Roy’s last visit he said Walt had began talking very excitedly about their new Florida project and could see the complete map of what would eventually be named Walt Disney World, in his honour, on the ceiling above his hospital bed. Walt died at 9.30 am on 15 December 1966, 10 days after his 65th birthday. Roy, who had wanted to retire, pressed ahead with the company. Walt Disney World opened in October 1971.

The company that Walt has left behind has reached phenomenal success, especially in the Disney Renaissance period of the ’90s. But what its success comes down to is one very innovative and passionate man who demanded the highest quality and wasn’t afraid to experiment with every endeavor.

As Walt once said, I only hope we never lose sight of one thing, that it was all started by a mouse.

Most new jobs won’t come from our biggest employers. They will come from our smallest. We’ve got to do everything we can to make entrepreneurial dreams a reality. The road to success and the road to failure are almost exactly the same. If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.

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