Saturday, January 9, 2016

Inside The Walt Disney Family Museum
Last month I visited San Francisco, and stopped by the Walt Disney Family Museum. The museum is located in the Presidio, in view of the Golden Gate Bridge--an absolutely stunning and iconic part of California. The museum itself is housed in historic 19th-century army barracks last used in World War I. Today, it houses one of the most impressive collections of Disney artifacts in the world. It is worthwhile to note that the museum is not directly affiliated with The Walt Disney Company (Disney), but was established privately by Disney family members.

The lobby of the museum is Walt’s trophy cabinet--an entire room full of awards, medals, honorary degrees and titles, trophies… this man was well-decorated. It also includes fifteen of his twenty-six Academy Awards.

The tour begins with Walt’s childhood, and the often clashing yet intimate relationship he had with his parents. The museum does a great job putting the patron in Walt’s shoes, telling his story candidly with all sorts of anecdotes--from his father’s abuse to his mother’s objection to socialist ideals--which were very important influences on Walt Disney as a person.

Mickey Mouse concepts
An elevator takes you to the second floor, which begins with an introduction to Walt's early animation career: the crude, early works like the Laugh-O-Grams, Alice Comedies, and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons that first gave Walt a name for himself. For an animation enthusiast like myself, some of the early relics are among the coolest items on display. There's some Steamboat Willie production art by Ub Iwerks, along with a copy of his original Mickey Mouse drawing, and a cel drawn and autographed by Winsor McKay.

The Band Concert, Mickey Mouse's
first color cartoon
The Disney museum is rich with pieces of animation history, as well as many personal items from Walt's life. It was remarkable to stand in the presence of some of the most recognizable Disney relics, from celluloids, to cameras, to movie props. Being the Disney fan that I am, I was absolutely geeking out over some of the hand-drawn cels from my favorite Disney shorts like The Three Little Pigs (1933), The Band Concert (1935), and The Old Mill (1937), all beautifully preserved over 70 or 80 years after their release in theaters. Truly, these are like classical paintings from a renaissance era of traditional animation.

Another great artifact housed in the museum is one of the original multiplane cameras from Walt Disney Animation Studios. This thing is massive, like, two stories tall. You get an interesting view from the bottom floor, where the art would have been laid out, and another birds-eye perspective from the second floor, that allows you to see through the different planes and experience the effect for yourself.

If you're not familiar with the processes of early traditional animation, the multiplane camera was a groundbreaking piece of technology that allowed for all sorts of visual effects in animation--realistic weather and water effects, illusions of depth and movement--it's truly a piece of film history. I'm not sure whether this is the specific multiplane camera seen in The Reluctant Dragon (1941), as I would imagine that one is still in Burbank at the Walt Disney archives. But nonetheless, this camera was surely used to produce some of the more memorable and visually fascinating scenes in some early Walt Disney classics.

Here's an in-depth explanation of the camera as told by Walt Disney himself.

One spectacular feature of the museum is its clear view of the Golden Gate Bridge. It can be seen through many windows in the place, but one part of the gallery in particular has a vast windowed section, giving you a full view of the Bay and the famous bridge. The Presidio is a very photogenic area, and this museum is no exception. It's almost surreal to view such a historic Disney collection against such a picturesque backdrop.

Of course, what Disney museum would be complete without a section dedicated to Disneyland? The Walt Disney Family Museum features an interesting look at the ideas and development surrounding the park, and a model of Disneyland based on Walt's imagination.

The Disneyland of Walt's Imagination
This model is based on attractions that were inspired, in part or in whole, by the mind of Walt Disney. Every ride and attraction you see here was in some way envisioned or influenced by the man himself--including some now-defunct rides like the Rocket Jets and Adventure Thru Inner Space. Note that Space Mountain still looks like it did in its conceptual phase--Walt died 11 years before Space Mountain opened at Disneyland.

Luckily I visited San Francisco just in time for the Disney and Dalí exhibit, which ended on January 3rd. I was more than pleased to discover this exhibit, as both Walt Disney and Salvador Dalí were significant inspirations to me as a child. I must have been five years old in my first painting class when I tried to imitate Dalí's melting clocks--a foray into surrealism that really sparked my young imagination. I have grown up greatly admiring the works of these two artists, and to see the physical product of their collaborations was nothing short of breathtaking.

Destino Concept Art
One of the more unique Disney projects I can recall was a long-abandoned short film called Destino, first envisioned by Walt and Salvador in 1945. It was eventually completed after 58 years, and first released in 2003. Destino was completed with great care to preserve Dalí's vision, using a blend of CGI and Dalí's distinctive style to capture the essence of his storyboard ideas, and finally bring the picture to life after decades of dormancy. I first saw Destino years ago, and was completely enraptured by not only its remarkable vision, but its intriguing history. At this exhibit I actually got to see the meticulous sketches by Dalí, his first ideas and expressions of this film to be put to paper, and I was speechless. Although this exhibit is no longer running, I would highly recommend any Disney fan a trip to The Walt Disney Family Museum. I'm sure the gallery hosts all sorts of priceless artwork year-round.

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