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Teacher's Reference Guides

On Disney

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

I spent a couple months reading deliberately on Walt Disney and have attempted to make a distilled “teacher’s reference guide” or cheat sheet which (hopefully) describes the man and his inspiring company in a fun, clear and concise manner. His leadership and vision is legendary and I hope this comes across!

On Disney

*The vast majority of the content is from the books and not my own words. I’ve simply distilled, compiled, and added a few notes.

Categories
Books

An American Original: Walt Disney by Bob Thomas

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

Summary
  1. Disney was able to entertain billions of people the world over. His background doesn’t point the way to how he achieved this, His parents were plain people, young Walt showed no brilliance as a student, and his drawings were often uninspired but in the end he is one of the most successful entertainers in businessmen in history
Key Takeaways
  1. Didn’t want to be devious unless constructive in some fashion
  2. Disney put his name on everything so that people knew that when they saw ‘Walt Disney’ on a picture, they would know that meant good, family entertainment
  3. Walt was his own best publicist
  4. Very little retrospection, his visionary eye was always set on the future
  5. Mickey and Walt were inextricable – Walt’s personality was completely reflected in Mickey’s
  6. Fair man but little patience for anything bad or weak
  7. “I want Disneyland to be a place where parents can bring their children – or come by themselves and have a good time”
  8. He seemed to consider his time limited, and his impatience to get things done sometimes made him hard to work for. Little patience for those whose thinking was earthbound. When he dropped an idea, he didn’t expect you to pick it up where he left it, you were supposed to move a couple of steps beyond
  9. Disney possessed a remarkable skill for drawing the best from those who worked with him and had an uncanny capacity for reaching the human heart
  10. Had a natural progression, moving the audience from spectators to participants
  11. Ancestors were from France and last name was Isigny
  12. Father Elias had many misadventures in business and was a stern man
  13. Older brothers Herb and Ray left family due to Elias’ tyrannical nature and soon after Roy left too
  14. Customer service instilled during his time as a newspaper boy – father forced him to place the newspaper on people’s porches, even in the middle of freezing winter
  15. Only paid attention to what interested him – animation, magic, trains
  16. He stepped on a nail and this injury gave him time to think of the future and it was then he determined he wanted to go into cartooning
  17. Walt welcomed criticism from a young age
  18. Laugh-O-Gram went bankrupt and Walt left for Hollywood to get out of cartooning and into directing
    1. Felt he was too late to cartooning now and couldn’t catch up to those in New York but soon his deal with Winkler on Alice got him back into it
  19. Had rare powers of persuasion – shown when he convinced Ub to move to Hollywood to join him in the Disney Bros. Studio
  20. “It wasn’t enough to be an original and creative artist, Disney learned; survival in the film business required a jungle toughness
  21. Grew his mustache as a bet and left it because it made him look older
  22. Almost messianic in the leadership of his staff
    1. Got incredible devotion and long hours but encouraged periods of refresh (played baseball during lunch)
  23. Strong, attractive central character is essential and a good storyline is always needed but too much plot can destroy laughter
  24. Loss of Oswald to Mintz solidified view of never working for anyone
  25. Realized quickly the importance of sound and action being in sync and eventually also added color. Those who got in first lead to big advantage if you can work for quality, rather than quantity and quick money
  26. Walt did not believe in holding grudges
  27. Silly Symphonies began to allow Walt to expand creative outlet
  28. Was swindled by Pat Powers of Cinephone of $100,000+
  29. Two years after the creation of Mickey Mouse, the Mickey Mouse Club had more than 1 million members and was known in every civilized country
    1. Licensing revenues were enormous – Ingersoll sold 2.5 million watches in two years
  30. Walt had developed one of the most valuable traits of a leader – the ability to recognize talent and forcing them to reach their potential
  31. Long-term and second order thinking – “Maybe United Artists won’t give us any more dough [to produce color pictures], but the pictures will create so much excitement that we’ll get longer playdates and bigger rentals. That’ll bring the money back eventually.”
  32. Feed during difficult times – “Depression my greatest ally in assembling top flight talent”
  33. Created systematic training courses for young animators in order to develop:
    1. Good draftsmanship
    2. Knowledge of caricature, of action as well as features
    3. Knowledge and appreciation of acting
    4. Ability to think up gags and put over gags
    5. Knowledge of story construction and audience values
    6. Knowledge and understanding of all the mechanical and detailed routine involved in his work, in order that he may be able to apply his other abilities without becoming tied in a knot by lack of technique along these lines
  34. Always challenged himself – “As he discovered each new, unexplored medium, his interested dwindled in the one that he had previously conquered.”
  35. New office predecessor to Disneyland – Walt involved and thoughtful of every detail
  36. Issued stock due to debt
  37. On Unions – “It’s the law of the universe that the strong shall survive and the weak must fall by the way, and I don’t care what idealistic plan is cooked up, nothing can change that.”
    1. Strike had taken away some of Disney’s idealism – creatives at the studio would never again have the same, intimate relationship with Walt
  38. Disney production was pretty much put on hold during WWII and they produced many educational and propaganda films for the government
  39. Walt was a times gruff, not given to intimacy and self-revelation. Rarely issued direct praise for work that had been done well and seemed to expect excellence and did not express gratitude when he received it. Commendation usually came in the form of a bonus check or a remark to a third person, with the realization that the praise would be handed on. He commanded attention – he wouldn’t let go o four eyes, people couldn’t stand up to him if they weren’t pretty confident
  40. Disney soon became synonymous with quality entertainment for the entire family. “Look – Disney is a thing, an image in the public mind. Disney is something they think of as a kind of entertainment, a kind of family thing, and it’s all wrapped up in the name Disney…You see, I’m not Disney anymore. I used to be Disney, but now Disney is something we’ve built up in the public mind over the years  It stands for something, and you don’t have to explain what it is to the public. They know they’re gonna get a certain quality, a certain kind of entertainment. And that’s what Disney is.”
  41. Lillian was no ‘yes-wife’ – she stood up to Walt and would honestly share her opinion on films and other topics Walt asked her about
  42. Considered self religious but no church and respected every religion
  43. Had no Disney items in his own home
  44. “We can lick ’em with product”
  45. Was a tough boss but in times of crisis was especially gentle
  46. Assigned all top talent to Cinderella when success was paramount
  47. Struggle with Alice led to Walt to never mess with a tamper-proof classic again
  48. Race against time – a fortune teller told Walt at a young age that he would die by the age of 35. He was not superstitious but this prediction had a profound effect on him and continued to brood about it long after it had been proven false – instilled a sense of urgency in him
  49. Understood the value of publicity and always made himself available
  50. How Walt thought of himself in some regards – “The last of the benevolent monarchs”
  51. 2 dislikes at work – being interrupted while interpreting a scene and someone arguing a point he had already rejected
  52. Studied amusement parks, fairs, zoos, etc. the world over in order to get inspired for Disneyland. His metric for gaging the success of the park was whether people felt entertained or cheated
  53. TV allowed public to get to know original plots and characters rather than this simply happening through theater productions
  54. With Disneyland, quickly gained deep fluency in architecture and engineering. Was always extremely adept at mastering new things quickly
  55. Faith in people – “We can run Disneyland as well as anyone. All you need are people who are eager, energetic, friendly and willing to learn. They’ll make mistakes, but we can learn from their mistakes.”
  56. From the beginning, he insisted on utter cleanliness at Disneyland. “Remembering the tawdry carnivals he had visited with his daughters, he told the staff that if you keep a place clean, people will respect it; if you let it get dirty, they’ll make it worse. He didn’t want peanut shells strewn on the sidewalks; only shelled nuts were sold. No gum could be purchased inside the park. Young men strolled through the crowds, retrieving trash as soon at it was discarded
  57. On music – “I just want you to remember one thing: if the people can’t go away whistling it, don’t play it.”
  58. Desire for utmost control – studio was almost self-sufficient from the beginning
  59. Opening day of Disneyland was a debacle but, as always, Walt never dwelled on disappointment
  60. TV vision – “we’re not going to talk down to the kids. Let’s aim for 12 year olds. The younger ones will watch because they’ll want to see what their older brothers and sisters are looking at. And if the show is good enough, the teenagers will be interested, and adults too.”
    1. Mouseketeers were normal kids, not Hollywood personalities – produced an audience response that TV had never seen before. With this incredible response and fan devotion, Mickey’s status as a folk hero was guaranteed for another generation
  61. On money – “I’ve always been bored making money. I’ve wanted to do things, I wanted to build things. Get something going. people look at me in different ways. Some of them say, “the guy has no regard for money.” That is not true. I have had regard for money. But I’m not like some people who worship money as something you’ve got to have piled up in a big pile somewhere. I’ve only thought of money in one way, and that is to do something with it, you see? i don’t think there is a thing that I own that I will ever get the benefit of, except through doing things with it.”
  62. On art – “I was a corny kind of guy, so I went for corn…Be commercial. What is art, anyway? It’s what people like. So give them what they like. There’s nothing wrong with being commercial.”
  63. Walt and Ray fought – Walt often cause but also first to apologize
    1. Most empires have a yin/yang leadership situation
  64. Always succeeded with quality and uniqueness, not in following trends
  65. Bought out ABC in 1960 so that they owned Disneyland outright
    1. Moved TV to NBC because they could pursue color with them and Walt determined that was the future
  66. Guests, not customers – we’re selling happiness
    1. If they ever stop caring, it’ll cost 10x to get the guests back
  67. Cartoons designed to be timeless – re-releases were essentially pure profit
  68. Walt did not like to be oversold on anything
  69. Always put self in the position of the public – “At Disneyland, queues were doubled back, so that those in line would have a sense of advancing toward their goal and would see a constantly changing human vista
  70. On time and urgency – “Time is getting on, and I still have things left to do. I don’t want to go back and cover the same ground.”
  71. “I have a theory that if it’s good enough, the public will pay you back for it.”
  72. On Chouinard – students must learn a variety of skills, be multi-disciplinary and have a place where cross-pollinization is possible. “Imagination is an intuitive thing; I think it’s something you’re born with. But it has to be developed.”
  73. Disney World started out with the vision of being the utopian city of tomorrow – EPCOT, “an experimental monarchy”
    1. “When I see things I don’t like, I ask myself, why do they have to be like this and how can I improve them?”
  74. Roy, who is typically the profit-focused financier – “Wait a minute, let’s give them a better deal. They’ve been good to us, and we may have to go back to the well again. Besides, the offering will be oversubscribed  His staff felt that they had lost their negotiating power, but Roy’s strategy proved correct. He had made friends, as well as lenders, of the Eastern banks.” – Understood the power of thinking ahead, of reciprocation and of placing the cue ball for future shots and not just the first shot
What I got out of it
  1. Fascinating biography which had a lot of detail about Walt’s childhood and his personality – quirks and strengths alike. Vision was extraordinary and we can learn a lot from how he thought, dealt with people, issues and decision making
Categories
Books

Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

Summary

  1. Disney’s influence is hard to overstate. He completely changed American culture and its consciousness by bringing in a lighter, more fun world during tough times. He completely changed animation and helped invent graphic design. His concept of a theme park was completely novel too as it was a totally immersive, imaginative experience
New Takeaways
  1. Isn’t actually frozen after passing away as many believe but shows how much Disney was associated with futuristic technology
  2. Disney reinvented the American past by adding nostalgia and patriotism to rural movies. He also garnered enthusiasm for technological advancement through his own films and it even helped NASA gain support
  3. He was able to blend paradoxes such as being a classicist and a futurist through his animation and family values and then through projects like tomorrow world which helped spur American interest in space exploration
  4. He invented the wildlife documentary and helped spread conservationist movements
  5. He created the first modern media corporation by blending TV, movies, action heroes, theme parks and more
  6. Above all his accomplishments however, his greatest achievement may have been instilling a belief of wish fulfillment in people – fantasy can be empowering and sometimes even transform the world
  7. He was able to tap into the essence, the fundamental, the genetic code to truly bring alive any project and make it resonate with people in a timeless way. He had platonic templates in his head for everything and was able to act on it, forming the archetype of anything he took on. This desire for an idyllic world lead him to create his various animations as well as Disney World. He wanted total control and since this ain’t possible in real life, he made a fictional world where he could
  8. Artistic reputation was hurt towards the end of his career and many considered him an uber capitallist which supplanted other countries cultures with Americas. He was also considered an anti-Semite and a racist. Many also thought he had sold out and become too corporate and therefore lost his artistic and creative power
  9. Even for those closest to Walt he was difficult to know intimately and was often moody and tough to work with
  10. Walt’s grandparents were from Ireland and his dad after moving around a bit decided to settle in Kansas which was a rough life at that time. They later moved to Marcilene, Missouri which Walt considered his home and the nature and serenity had a big influence on his creativity and his later animation’s focus on animals, farms and trains
  11. A local doctor named Dr. Sherwood encouraged Walt early on to not be nervous about admitting ignorant and annoying her edging him that he was a good artist
  12. His father was a very hard working, frugal, strict and religious man. Elias had Walt deliver papers early in the morning for nearly no pay and he worked so hard he hardly had any free time as a boy. This made him very careful with his time as he grew older. Walt grew up to become extremely different from his father – light hearted, enthusiastic, charming, personable. Walt’s older brother of 8 years, Roy, was more of a surrogate father than brother and they became very close
  13. Walt quickly found that he was attracted to performing, drawing and show business and meticulously studied his idols such as Charlie Chaplin
  14. Walt entered into service for WWI but got influenza and ended up not heading to Europe to fight but was soon sent over to help with the occupation in France. His time in France helped him mature and solidify his desire to be an artist or actor
  15. Walt always had great confidence in his abilities even before he had any experience. When Disney became fascinated with something, he could spend days focusing only on that
  16. Animation was completely new at this time so Walt was not behind anyone although he was young. He and a couple others would pioneer this field and make huge leaps in the following decades
  17. Even at 20, with little to no experience, Walt was too hard headed to be comfortable with being anyone’s employee and started a company called Laugh-O-Gram and was an incredible salesman getting employees and investors interested in working for him. The company struggled although Walt and his employees loved it and it soon went bankrupt. He then decided to leave Kansas City and went to Hollywood
  18. Walt almost always exaggerated the truth to make himself or his story more dramatic. He was absolutely a happy and extremely determined man with a lot of confidence but he, like everyone, had times of doubt
  19. Walt started up Disney Bros. with his older brother Roy in the early 1920s and began work on the Alice cartoons. From the beginning Walt had a deep need for artistic and creative control over the whole process in order to precisely execute his vision. He was tough on Ub Iwerks and the rest of his employees and often made others miserable and caused resentment until they either improved or left the studio. He soon lost his distribution partner in Winkler and many of his own employees even tried sabotaging him. It was at this point he decided he would never work for anybody ever again
  20. Mickey Mouse was first named Mortimer and the first idea was for Mickey to fly a plane in order to impress a lady mouse which was inspired by Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927. Mickey was designed for maximum ease as circles were easier to animate and by subtly changing some features, Mickey could easily become a cat, rabbit, dog, etc.
  21. Mickey struggled to gain a foothold until Roy and Walt brainstormed and determined to add sound to the animation. It was shown as a short reel before movies and became a nationwide hit. Mickey eventually evolved and became more real and proper and he lost popularity because of it. Donald Duck was soon after conceived to be Mickey’s foil, to be rude, offensive, hot tempered and this is exactly what the world wanted at this time
  22. Walt understood early on how important it was to make himself a brand as a producer that the country would recognize. He opened up a sound recording studio in California to gain a foothold in this up and coming area of animation. After the initial trouble with Laugh-O-Gram, Disney wanted a dominant, unassailable position in the animation market and determined to replace Felix the Cat with his own Mickey as worlds most popular cartoon
  23. Although the culture at Disney was casual, work was done with the utmost care and planning and the biggest difference from other animation studios was expectations. Walt would not settle for anything less than the best. He was always this way with all his early cartoons – Alice, Oswald, Mickey, Skeleton Dance and other silly shorts. Disney always took great pride in his informality, he always considered him equal to his employees
  24. Powers, who ran Cinephony Studios, was the man Walt relied on for sound recording and producing. Powers wasn’t a very trustworthy man and took advantage of Walt’s enthusiasm by promising to fulfill his vision as well as Walt’s lack of business acumen by crafting very unfavorable terms. Tensions eventually split the relationship after costly legal action but Powers managed to get Iwerks and Stalling to leave Disney studios
  25. Once Disney and his cartoons started getting a foothold in California, they began expanding nationally with the Mickey Mouse club which eventually reached over 800 chapters and 1m members. Mickey soon became a worldwide phenomenon and one of the most recognized figures in the whole world. Mickey had mass appeal due to his ability to allow people to escape the Great Depression and tyrannical leaders, his simplicity and people’s desire to root for the underdog – ultimate wish fulfillment. Mickey was also modeled after two of that generations most popular actors – Fairbanks and Chaplain. However, Mickey would ultimately evolve and could be considered simply an extension of Walt himself
  26. Walt only hired the best and created a very hard working but fraternal culture. The ethos was that all work had to be better than what was previously made and much better than any competitor
  27. Many of Walt’s colleagues believed that he achieved extraordinary success because his focus was never on money, but on providing the best product to his customers, something he could have fun with and be proud of
  28. His relationship with his wife became strained as he ended up in the office pretty much every night working late which eventually led to an emotional breakdown
  29. Disney avoided much of the pain of the Great Depression by plowing every dollar earned back into his company rather than the stock market. His cartoons were some of the best escapes for people going through tough times. Disney studios thrived during these tough times as they were able to hire some of the best animators in the business from studios that had gone out of business. The Disney short of three little pigs was a sensation and delivered one of the eras anthems with the big bad wolf song
  30. One of biggest contributions to animation was that he gave the cartoons a storyline and the characters life, a personality, embodied emotions, adding color, even taking gravity into consideration
  31. Disney studios entered another inflection point once they began licensing Mickey to distributors to put on lunch boxes, watches, clothing, toys, etc. This eventually became a larger source of profits than the cartoons themselves
  32. Walt played the bashful tycoon in public but this was part of his carefully crafted image which was influenced by Will Rogers. In private, Walt was often moody and sometimes blunt and egomaniacal. Walt stopped drawing and even procuring most of the cartoons but his influence and approval was still felt throughout. He was very instinctive, he a great mind for gags and had a great sense for what the public wanted and needed
  33. One of Walt’s main talents was his ability to bond a group, get the most out of them and always think in “we” terms. He made everyone feel great pride in the work they did and made them truly believe that it was important
  34. Walt took great pride in keeping ahead of the pack and his next step was a full length film, Snow White
  35. After a trip to Europe Walt decided to try to make his cartoons more universal by keeping dialogue to a minimum so that translation errors wouldn’t affect enjoyment
  36. Believed it was easier to train young people with no experience and bad habits than to hire people who did have some experience
  37. Walt was very exacting and demanding of his employees but he paid them extremely well, gave them great benefits and created an exciting and innovative atmosphere people loved. Again, money was always secondary to talent, customer experience and quality
  38. Snow White was an undertaking unlike any other. He got the most out of his people by aligning incentives – their bonuses were tied to the success of the movie. After toiling away for years, Snow White was released and became a huge success – the highest grossing movie ever in the US
  39. Walt was a self absorbed workaholic who had no close friends. He devoted himself entirely to his vision
  40. After Snow White, Disney and his crew began work on Bambi but put it on hold to start work on Pinocchio
  41. The move from the studio in Hyperion to Burbank was necessary but it also removed some of the informality, morale and drastically increased bureaucracy
  42. In 1940, Disney decided to issue shares to the public to raise money for Bambi, Disney shorts and other projects. He never wanted to do this but the company was spending money like crazy
  43. Disney – “Every mistake I made was because I didn’t truly feel it.”
  44. Disney was very loyal to those who stuck with him during the early stages but he later was very callous and cold hearted with firings of newer employees. A union workers strike soon ensued and killed much of the esprit de corps of the studio
  45. Walt got to making educational films for the navy and government during WWII. He often lost money on these and they distracted him from other endeavors. He was totally absorbed with these features for the four years of the war. Competition increased a lot after the war as the other major studios started expanding and focusing on animation – Tom & Jerry and Looney Tunes
  46. Bambi was finally released to mixed reviews. The seriousness of the movie was a little too much for many people in a time which had already seen such devastation. This was a difficult time for the studio as Bambi wasn’t a hit and they were spending most of their time now on war and educational films
  47. Disney was so focused on pushing the boundaries creatively and in other ways that he refused to do sequels even though they were likely to be commercial successes
  48. Disney had a strong aversion to organization and bureaucracy even as the studio grew. If he did decide to manage, he would micromanage everything and everyone. He would never delegate creative decisions
  49. Disney’s competitive advantages came from the sheer talent of its animators, their dedication, Walt’s vision and fire, their focus on quality and customer experience over profit and always looking to push boundaries
  50. The author does not believe Disney was racist or anti-Semitic but like most white Americans of his generation, he was insensitive
  51. Disney pioneers the nature documentary as we know it today through Seal Island
  52. Disney was apolitical except for his strong aversion to Communism
  53. Disney didn’t spend much time with his family as he was so busy but he spoiled his daughters. They described him as sympathetic but firm
  54. Disney seemed to focus less on his studio and more on miniature cities and trains. These hobbies influenced him greatly in building an amusement park where the whole family could have fun together. Disneyland was Walt’s dream – he was able to exert absolute control and make his vision real. He was able to transport people to a different, better time. The pro was a combination of experience, amusement and Disney’s own values
  55. Disney was one of the few to recognize the power of the television. It was not the enemy of the motion picture but it’s ally. They could recycle old movies, make TV shows out of movies, get new customers and fans, and would launch its own channel using past Disney shorts. He also recognized that this was an incredible tool to promote awareness and interest in Disneyland. Disney partnered with ABC who needed awareness with the growing young family population and Disney needed money to make Disneyland happen. Television made Disney more famous than ever before. It was his animation and movies which were popular before but now it was the man, the man who embodied wholesomeness and decency. He often felt imprisoned by this new persona
    1. “In retrospect, Disney’s greatest creation was Walt Disney.”
    2. Davy Crockett became an immediate, nationwide sensation. He embodied American ideals at a time when tensions with the Soviet Union were growing. Crockett was never profitable for Disney but it did accomplish its goal – publicize Disneyland. The Mickey Mouse Club was another phenomenon which also bolstered Disneyland’s image and its awareness
    3. Imagineers were tasked with designing the parks and every single detail – subliminally making guests feel powerful, calm and have the best experience possible
    4. Disney had a constant focus on creating eternal products
    5. He constantly said that Disneyland would never be finished – there is always someway to improve and expand
  56. Another major milestone in Disney’s history was the formation of its own distribution arm – it now controlled the process end to end
  57. Walt didn’t want anybody with amusement park experience working on Disneyland because he wanted fresh eyes and no preconceived notions or biases. Established Disney university to train all employees in order to give a great, consistent experience. Dress, facial hair, and more were all strictly dictated. Cleanliness was an obsession with Walt and his parks were always meticulous – one of the small ways Disney conceived of to make his parks an escape from reality
  58. Several years later Walt secretly scouted out locations on the East coast and decided to build Disney World in Orlando, Florida. His vision was to build not only a world class amusement park, but a Utopian city – EPCOT
  59. Disney never felt he could rest – he was always working to “stay 25 years ahead of the competition” and was worried he’d die before he’d have time to accomplish everything
  60. Walt went to the hospital for what he thought was a minor surgery when they found lung cancer, he was 64. He was clearly very weak but defiant until his last breath. His focus went almost solely to Disney World and EPCOT at this point. He died about a year later in 1966
  61. One of Disney’s main contributions was a living example of how one could successfully impose their will on the world. Above being a master of fun, animation, reverence or anything else, he was a master of order
What I got out of it
  1. Endless enthusiasm, optimism and confidence, the highest standards of quality in the business, fanatical about his work and in pushing the limits to give customers the best experience possible, sole focus on customer experience and not money.
Categories
Books

The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney by Michael Barrier

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

Summary
  1. Michael Barrier gives a detailed account of Walt Disney’s background, personality, accomplishments, flaws and impact on the world
Key Takeaways
  1. Sound animation and later Snow White was what truly set Disney Studio apart
  2. Walt started in animation as a businessman and ended as an artist
  3. Healthy bonuses kept employees happy but a deeply held cherished and shared mission was the true driver and uniter
    1. People from other studios took large pay cuts to join as they came to learn and be part of something great
    2. Semiannual bonuses based on profits and on a rating determined by five factors, including importance to the organization and production department ratings as to footage and quality of work
    3. Disney was the first to relax the grim grind on animators and as a result got more work out of them because they worked out of love for what they were doing and also because they thought they were doing something they thought would be imperishable
    4. Instituted a “trial without pay” for first time animators
    5. Like any large company, Disney placed some people in jobs they were not capable of filling (Peter Principle)
    6. “You always knew you had a little raise ahead – about $2 more per week every 2-3 months (Goal Gradient Effect)
  4. Walt had blind faith that quality, tempered with good judgment and showmanship will win against all odds
  5. Was extremely jealous and controlling with all artistic decisions – wanted complete control
    Disney had changed America’s perception of leisure and entertainment
  6. Elias, Walt’s father, was a very hard working, tough father
    1. Walt would always remember the struggle with delivering newspapers as a boy, having to weather freezing cold and sleeping through class
    2. Freeing self of father’s rigid, debilitating beliefs was central to Walt’s success
  7. Never was a great businessman as focus was never on money
  8. Walt’s first successful business venture was Laugh-O-Graham but it would eventually go out of business
  9. Walt was always determined to be his own boss and be the sole man in charge
  10. Tended to recall memories with rose-colored glasses and always exaggerated things
  11. Important to deal with hard failure when young
  12. Walt would never have survived without Roy’s organizational and financial skills
  13. Walt had always worried, always enthusiastic, no inhibitions, a talker
  14. First to add a coherent story into the cartoons and if the cartoons acted as if they were real, the audience would buy it too
    1. Syncing sound a breakthrough too and was first exhibited in Steamboat Willie
  15. Life in Marcilene, Missouri imprinted a nostalgia of small town, farm life on Walt that would be with him forever and would later be idealized in Disneyland
  16. Was a tough, demanding boss and early on many decided to leave to try to start their own studios
  17. Formed Disney Studios on October 16, 1923
    1. The Alice Cartoons were his first success followed by Mickey Mouse in 1927
  18. Focus was never money – “we can lick them all with quality”
  19. Early on, Disney’s vision and ambition was rather modest – “he was not some visionary leader…he was notoriously inarticulate…difficult for him to translate his ideas into guidance for his animators.”
    1. Disney himself did not introduce stunning advances but he recognized, accepted and often encouraged the improvements that his people were coming up with on their own
  20. Wrote with a lot of “…” in order to promote free association
  21. Early cartoons were a little risqué – all animators were young, untrained men with no college educations
  22. After Ub Iwerks and Stalling left, Disney would have no other partners besides Roy, Roy’s wife and his wife Lilian until the company went public
  23. Disney focused intently on laughs and personality – Chaplin was part of the inspiration for Mickey’s character
  24. Licensing began in 1930 but wouldn’t have a massive impact on the company’s profitability until later
  25. Only tolerated those who were all in – once fired a man for looking for another job
  26. Three Little Pigs became an instant national sensation – quality, music, timing, personality in characters, “real” feeling
  27. As Disney’s processes advanced and improved, they started closing doors to outside artists and instead promoted from within and encouraged their animators to take art classes
  28. “Once a formula has been established, it exerts a powerful gravitational pull on artists who have used it. Resisting it, and observing life directly with the idea of reproducing it more accurately, is hard work, as the Disney animators found.”
  29. Did not revisit even recent mistakes – “best we can do is to profit fro mistakes by improving future pictures”
  30. Vacation to Europe inspired his movies and eventually Disneyland
  31. Best cartoons appeal to masses as well as those with specialized tastes
    1. Animators had to know idea and feeling behind a cartoon before pitching an idea – had to study psychology and deeply embody their characters
      1. “Our most important aim is to develop definite personalities in our cartoon characters.”
    2. When Walt had an idea, he visualized it 100% and often acted it out, totally embodying the different characters – the legend behind Snow White is that Walt called in the main animators and acted out the entire movie, every character
    3. Very detailed to make sure characters were consistent and conformed to image
  32. Snow White was a massive hit – had to overcome technical limits, cartoons at that time only funny, nobody knew if people would have patience for a full-length cartoon
    1. “I made it for adults. For the child that exists in all adults.”
    2. Most important aim is to create definitely personalities in the cartoon characters
    3. Plowed money from Snow White into new movies, a new studio and bonuses – total reinvestment
  33. Walt saw Disney Studios as an extension of himself – he was terrible at delegating and demanded his approval on every major decision
  34. More important to draw what people expect rather than be 100% accurate
  35. Pinocchio was a flop and forced Disney to issue shares in 1940 – Walt maintained a huge controlling stake and this element of control was central to his personality and vision
  36. Every animator who entered Disney was expected to make animation his life work – “animation to us was a religion. That’s all we talked…talent was taken for granted, no one thought much about it one way or the other.”
    1. “Every day was an excitement .Whatever we were doing had never been done before. It was such a great thrill to go in there. There was excitement and competition; everyone was young and everyone was doing something…”
  37. Disney was often very encouraging and always stressed quality, personality and feeling but was also often irascible, impatient and demanding
  38. Had a very rural sense of humor which allowed him to sense what the average person would like
  39. Built studio for animator’s – relaxed, air conditioning, best equipment but the size and complexity took some of the familial, start-up feel away from the Studio which eventually lead to some union issues in the 1940s
    1. “I feel that people must earn it. You can’t give people anything.”
  40. “Time clocks place a premium on deception and it is no bar to dishonesty”
  41. Goodwill tour of South America lead to a couple cartoons and exhibited Disney’s flawless worldwide persona as he was cheered everywhere he went
  42. Role in studio – “I am the bee that carries the pollen” to spread ideas
  43. Shackles of success – “the public demands repetition, not change”
  44. Incredible understanding of psychology and human nature / emotion were deeply embedded into his cartoons
  45. Helped WWII efforts through his “Why We Fight” Series – financial struggles led to layoffs, fraying loyalty which led to many employees seeing Disney as a job and not a calling like it used to be
  46. He didn’t ever want anything to look like a repeat of what he had done before
  47. “Dad thought we ought to have our own church. He didn’t want anything to influence us.” – Diane Disney on Walt letting his kids form their own opinions
  48. His husbanding of authority was an expensive bottleneck but was the only way Walt would have it – he was the critical path
    1. Created much jealousy, frustration and politicking within the studio
  49. Didn’t have very many friends – he didn’t have time and “had to have a clear mind for work the next day”
  50. Invented the nature documentary category through “Seal Island”
  51. Developed an obsession with trains and miniatures which would persist throughout his life and play a prominent role in Disneyland and Disney World
  52. Ford’s Greenfield Village in Detroit inspired Walt to brainstorm a “Mickey Mouse Park”
  53. Tremendous memory and capacity for learning – often impatient with others – “He understood the mechanics of everything. Everything was a new toy.”
  54. Disney was not so much hostile to TV as unsure of how to best make use of the median but by 1950 had a TV show to promote the studio and recognized TV’s importance to get new audience and further engage them
  55. For his cartoons and eventually theme parks, Walt had a very vivid mental image of it all
  56. Roy was skeptical of Disneyland so Walt formed a separate private company – Walt Disney Enterprises, later renamed as WED Enterprises
  57. No rigid decision process – things just seemed to happen recalled on employee
    1. Later on learned that he needed a solid footing of some kind before he made a speculative leap
  58. Walt’s major investment in Disneyland would be committed to creating a storytelling environment, rides would be subordinate to story and setting
  59. Struck a massive TV programming deal with ABC for 1 hour weekly episodes intended in part to promote Disneyland. This deal provided the necessary funds to move forward with constructing Disneyland
  60. Disneyland was extremely rushed and massively over budget and opening day was a disaster – brutally hot, many rides broke down
  61. Took inspiration from Denmark’s Tivoli
  62. Disney succeeded in making Disneyland fun for all – families would stay 3x longer and spend nearly 3x as much
  63. Outside contractors failed miserably and soon Disney replaced them with Disney employees who had been trained to be customer-friendly. No matter how good the park looked, surly employees could spoil the Utopian effect
    1. “It is easier to maintain control over customers if they think they are doing what they want to do, as opposed to what someone else wants them to do. To preserve that illusion of autonomy, Disney was more than willing to make countless small adjustments, like paving a shortcut that visitors were taking through a flower bed, rather than putting up a fence to keep them out.”
    2. Designers had to study customers up close, wait in line with them, go on rides with them, eat with them in order to get an idea of what was going on in their minds
  64. Disney is a model entrepreneur, acutely sensitive to how customers respond to his business
  65. Reduced role of animation with rise of TV, live-action films and theme parks
  66. “It truly was a one-man studio. Everything had Walt’s touch”
  67. “I am not a literary person. As far as realism is concerned, you can find dirt any place you look for it. I’m one of those optimists. There’s always a rainbow. The great masses like happy endings. If you can pull a tear out of them, they’ll remember your picture.”
  68. “Styles may change on the surface, but at bottom the big audience taste doesn’t change” They like sympathetic characters and life-like action. And that’s what I like, too, whether it’s cartoons, live action or all those creatures at Disneyland.”
  69. Had a persona as a simple, rural man but many who knew him well considered him one of the most widely read, most widely traveled, most artistic men in Hollywood
  70. Finger tapping typically a warning sign, as was his loud cough
  71. “I don’t care about critics. It’s the public I’m making pictures for.”
  72. Criteria for a good movie was impact on the public and Snow White was the gold standard
  73. Essentially subsidized Chouinard music school to create a “multi-disciplined” school of the arts (later became CalArts)
  74. Disney often dressed down in order to not intimidate people – he knew he scared the daylights out of people and didn’t want to let that get in the way of being able to work with him. Otherwise all he’d have is a bunch of people agreeing with him and their expertise wouldn’t show
  75. Disney’s death led to some paralysis within the company and movies went downhill though Disney World was a smash. Disney struggled for some time and replaced Ron Miller, Disney’s son-in-law, with Michael Eisner in 1984. Eisner did some great things for the studio – helping oversee a string of hits and acquiring ABC but was eventually replaced by Bob Iger in 2005
  76. “It was this combination, his powerful entrepreneurial drive combined with his new artist’s sensibility, that made Disney so inspiring a figure to many of the people who worked for him. Somehow, Walt always made it seem to that the most important thing in the world was to help him make a picture look the way he wanted it to look. It was a lot of fun to feel I was doing the most important thing in the world, every day.”
What I got out of it
  1. A really good read with some fascinating details about Walt’s life, personality, vision, quirks, etc.
Categories
Books

DisneyWar by James Stewart

The Rabbit Hole is written by Blas Moros. To support, sign up for the newsletter, become a patron, and/or join The Latticework. Original Design by Thilo Konzok.

Summary
  1. The incredible story of the Eisner era – it’s successes and debacles
Key Takeaways
  1. Walt Disney’s nephew Roy Disney and the CEO at the time, Michael Eisner, did not get along. Eisner was a very controlling and difficult CEO to get along with and he eventually decided to get Roy off the Board. Ironically, Roy was the one who removed the CEO before Eisner in order to bring Eisner on board
  2. In 1984, Walt Disney’s nephew Roy lead a coup to oust Ron Miller who was Walt Disney’s son-in-law. This is when Michael Eisner took over as chairman and CEO. Eisner had a little knowledge of Disney but since the company was under threat of take over and it’s creative output was so low his skills were necessary. He was responsible for an incredible string of successes at Paramount and brought with him some of the senior executives such as Jeffrey Katzenberg. It was thought that Eisner’s creativity and charisma would be perfect to help turn Disney around. He was very charismatic man and a great storyteller
  3. Disney operates differently than other studios in that they have their own in-house team to make all the movies instead of hiring and firing people once a movie is done
  4. Disney’s incredible attention to detail and quality live on today even going so far as having exacting standards and extensive training for the costume characters at Disney World
  5. Walt can be characterized as resilient, restless optimistic, creative and a visionary
  6. Eisner had a very different upbringing from Walt – he was Jewish, raised in a wealthy family in the heart of NYC where Walt was in a very typical Midwestern family who struggled with money at times and he of course idealized the countryside. Eisner was a literature major and playwright in college and this helped him oversee the production of some major cultural hits during his time at Paramount such as Footloose and Saturday Night Fever
  7. Eisner was a very frugal CEO who fired a lot of old Disney employees and established a culture of survival of the fittest. His replacement of fired Disney employees with Paramount employees was also somewhat controversial
  8. Eisner saw himself as Walt Disney’s heir apparent and made that very clear when he became the face of the TV show The Wonderful World of Disney
  9. Eisner had a great vision and a sense for what would be culturally popular and important and wasn’t afraid to pay up when he saw these rare opportunities such as with Indiana Jones
  10. Euro Land Disney was a major effort for Eisner and the Imagineers but ended up being a humongous flop. Although the park opened on time, it was billions of dollars over budget and they had misunderstood the difference between American and European spending habits and customs. Since Europeans have more vacation, they spend less per trip than Americans which hurt Euro Land DIsney
  11. For a long time and maybe even a little bit today, Disney was mired in what people would call the “what would Walt do syndrome”
  12. Eisner lead the development of Disney-run retail stores across the most prominent shopping areas in the country and immediately began setting records for sales per square foot
  13. Selling and mass marketing home videos was a controversial idea as they thought it might cheapen the experience of going to the theater and they were also counting on showing the movies on their television programs to attract viewers. The first release was priced at $80 so that only rental companies could afford to buy a lot. This experiment was a tremendous success and the next release was priced at $30 but also included network advertising within the home video with the hopes of changing consumer habits. Home-video soon became Disney’s biggest profit center apart from theme parks
  14. Eisner, Wells and Katzenberg were responsible for the most impressive corporate media turn around in history. The three main areas that helped balloon Disney’s profits were raising the prices for tickets to the theme parks, increasing the number of hotel rooms worldwide and the burgeoning home video Market.
    1. Besides the obvious dollar profit, the way Disney handled the situations added a luster and prestige which allowed them to sell and license their products at incredible rates
  15. Katzenberg was responsible for coming up with the idea for the Lion King. He immediately saw the appeal of a coming of age story but this was a big risk for Disney as it would be the first time that the main character was an animal instead of a human and it wasn’t based on a classic fairytale
  16. After an incredible run of successes in the 1990s, Disney fell into a common trap of the successful and lost some of the essence which was responsible for it’s success as its costs ballooned and. The incredible success at Disney led to a feeling of complacency, even boredom with many senior executives
  17. Eisner told people he wanted to hear bad news early but the way he reacted disincentivized it. He hated it and frankly was not used to it and this kept others from being forthright, as witnessed by the Euro Disney debacle
  18. Tensions started mounting between Eisner and Wells/Katzenberg. They were driving each other crazy, especially as Eisner began getting a bloated ego
  19. Disney moved into the Broadway arena and decided to buy their own theater in New York City
  20. Frank Wells was killed in a helicopter accident in 1994. During contract negotiations, Eisner promised Katzenberg that if anything ever happened to Wells, he would become Disney’s #2. However, this didn’t happen and Katzenberg knew from then on that their relationship was over as Eisner wasn’t being honest or owning up to his word. Katzenberg threatened to leave and Eisner spoke with close confidants, many of whom which hated Katzenberg
  21. After the movie The Mighty Ducks became a sensational hit, Disney franchised the Mighty Ducks into an NHL team. Disney took control of the Anaheim Angels in 1997 after their movie Angels in the Outfield became a hit – both teams were sold in 1999/2000
  22. Eisner had emergency heart surgery and felt like he lost some of his competitiveness and drive after that – younger in body but older in spirit. He no longer felt immortal but he had now made his peace with death and was happier.
  23. Succession was up in the air but Eisner sensed that the company was undergoing an internal corporate restructuring of sorts and knew from firsthand experience how vital it is to keep employees happy and challenged in the midst of great past successes
  24. The tensions between Katzenberg and Eisner eventually became too much and Jeffrey left. He founded, along side Spielberg and good friend David Geffen, DreamWorks SKG
  25. Disney attempted to build a historic park in Virginia but certain groups thought it was too close to important Civil War grounds and attempted to block it – Disney held off as they had lost the “perception game”
  26. With record profits, Disney had to decide what to do with all this money and they felt that they need a distribution arm so they started looking at networks. The initial thoughts of buying NBC from GE fizzled and it then came down to CBS, Time Warner and Capital Cities / ABC. The merger with Cap Cities happened in 1995 for $20b and was the second largest merger of all time. This brought A&E Networks as well as ESPN into the Disney fold
  27. After much deliberation, Eisner’s good friend Michael Ovitz was hired but Eisner immediately regretted it. Ovitz founded Creative Artists Agency, one of the world’s largest talent agencies and his style of business was much different – lavish parties bringing talent together and expensive presents are norms as an agent but Eisner disapproved
  28. The tension between “Eisner and the rest of the company consumed so much of everyone’s efforts but Disney had such a deep bench that they were still able to come out with successful movies, TV shows and theme park rides. Ovitz was eventually fired at the end of 1996.
  29. Eisner may have gotten some bad reputation because in the months before Ovitz’s firing he told the media that there were no issues and everything was great. Shortly after Eisner signed a new 10 year contract with Disney which was valued at close to $200 million with options and many other perks. Eisner’s ownership eventually became the second largest in the world only behind Sid Bass and this would lead to terrible incentives and non-independent board behavior
  30. After the enormous success of The Lion King, Disney began to struggle with their animation unit. They were having some success in their partnerships with Pixar and even though many inside Disney had suggested buying Pixar in 1997, nothing came of it. The relationship with Pixar experienced tension when negotiations between Jobs and Eisner went south. Jobs said he would never sell to Disney as long as Eisner was there
  31. The Lion King Broadway show was released in 1997 and in many ways this can be seen as the pinnacle of the Eisner era for its originality and creativity
  32. One fatal flaw of both Eisner and Katzenberg is that they never knew how to encourage celebrating small wins
  33. Eisner’s management style lead to a very political, backstabbing, insecure environment where people were always looking behind their back and unsure of their place in the company
  34. Eisner’s style forced many executives to start making decisions without any help or input from the people below them
  35. The merging of AOL and Time Warner was difficult and dangerous for Disney but they eventually reached a favorable settlement in which Iger proved himself that content and is king over distribution
  36. Eisner’s major mistakes included his massive spending on Euro Disney, forays into the Internet and the acquisition of the Fox Family cable network – each of which is a mistake of more than $1b. This does not even include the firing of Katzenberg and Ovitz – both mistakes of hundreds of millions of dollars
  37. As Eisner called for Roy’s removal from the Board due to his age, Stanley Gold and Roy began a “Save Disney” campaign and called for Eisner’s removal due to terrible results the previous five years. They eventually garnered enough votes of no confidence from shareholders that Eisner stepped down. He was responsible for one of the greatest media turnarounds in history, bringing in an era of creativity and growth few expected but his egomaniacal  dishonest, micromanagement style lead to insider unhappiness and revolt. During his tenure, there was also widespread shareholder revolt for corporate governance abuses and Disney was at fault in a major way too. Many were insiders and not truly independent, getting huge paychecks from Eisner personally
  38. The catalyst for the wheels falling off during Eisner’s reign was Frank Wells’ death in 1994 – Wells was Eisner’s check and balance, rudder and sounding board. He made executives feel appreciated where Eisner was often stingy with praise. However, not even Wells could save the Euroland Disney debacle or the firing of Katzenberg
  39. Eisner was extremely creative and had massive energy. This was the shot of the arm Disney needed in 1984 when he was brought in but with success, Eisner’s ego started getting in the way and his image even fused with that of the Disney company itself. Eisner’s downfall also came from his dishonesty and “bending of the truth” to fit his needs
  What I got out of it
  1. A really good background and overview of the Eisner era – the incredible growth and creativity followed by bad management style which lead to insider revolt, poor results and his eventual ousting