Walt Disney was born at the turn of the 20th century on the 5th of December, 1901 in Chicago’s Hermosa neighbourhood in the United States. He was the fourth son of Irish Canadian Elias Disney and his wife Flora Call who was of German American descent. After dropping out of high school at the age of 16 and then being rejected in the army for being too young, Walt joined the Red Cross and drove an ambulance for a year. In 1919 he moved back to Kansas City getting a temporary job at Pesmen Rubin Art studio, creating ads for newspapers. It was here that Disney began his long and illustrious career as an entrepreneur, animator, voice actor and film producer. Here are some of the major accomplishments of his fabulous career.

 

#1 With Ub Iwerks, he developed the character Mickey Mouse in 1928

In 1927, Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks of Disney Studios created a cartoon character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit for Charles Mintz, a film producer who distributed products through Universal Studios. However, in 1928, Walt had a fallout with Mintz, who reminded Walt that Universal owned the character and that he had already signed most of Disney’s current employees to his new contract. This angered Disney who pledged never again to make the mistake of giving up the rights of his creations. Disney and Ub Iwerks went back to the drawing board again, and in many ways transformed their rabbit into a mouse. Mickey’s design bore heavy resemblance to Oswald, save for the ears, nose and tail. His body was made out from circles in order to make the character simple to animate. Mickey Mouse would be voiced by Disney himself for many years, would become his company’s mascot and would go on to become one of the most iconic characters in the history of cartoons and animations.

“I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.”

Walt Disney, Disneyland; October 27, 1954

Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie
The first appearance of Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie (1928)

 

#2 He co-founded the Walt Disney Production

After being laid off from Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio, Walt Disney opened his own Laugh-O-Gram Studios with Fred Harman. In 1923 however the Studio was burdened with depts. and declared bankruptcy. By October of 1923, Walt had moved to Hollywood with his brother Roy Disney. Iwerks also relocated to California and on 16th October, 1923 the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio was founded. The studio operated under various names over the years from Walt Disney Studio to Walt Disney Productions before officially changing its name to Walt Disney Company in 1986. Apart from being among the pioneers in the field of animations the company has been one of the leading producers of entertainment media since its inception. Now close to 100 years later, Walt Disney Company is the world’s largest independent media company in terms of revenue. It has now diversified into live-action film production, television and theme parks.

Walt Disney Company Logo
The Walt Disney Company Logo

 

#3 Walt Disney revolutionized the animation industry through innovations

Flowers and Trees
Theatrical release poster of Flowers and Trees

Always in the lookout for newer challenges, Walt Disney pioneered and introduced several new ideas and developments in the production of motion pictures, animations and theme parks. Some that may be noted are:-

  • In 1928, he introduced synchronized sound in an animation short film in Steamboat Willie.

  • In 1932, Flowers and Trees became the first film in full color three strip Technicolor

  • Among the first to use the multiplane camera in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to create a 3d parallax effect.

  • Among the first men to make a feature length animation film and the first man to create a feature length movie using cel animation (also called traditional animation)

  • Helped create audio-animatronics or robotics animation which were a huge attraction at Disney theme parks.

#4 He produced the first cel-animated (traditional animation) feature length film

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Theatrical release poster of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

After making many award winning short animations, Walt Disney in 1934 planned on making a full-length animation feature film. This was considered as a huge risk in those times and people deemed it to be ‘Disney’s Folly’ and the mark of his downfall. It is said that many of his well-wishers including his wife and brother tried to talk him out of his project. However, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was announced in June 1934 to be the first full-length cel animated feature in motion picture history. The film was made in a period of 3 years with a $250,000 budget which eventually ran up to a colossal $1.488 million. Disney had to mortgage his house to help finance the film’s production. In December 1937 it premiered at the Carthay Circle Theater and was released nationwide in February, 1938.

At the 1939 Academy Awards, Walt Disney was presented with an honorary award “for creating Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), recognized as a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field for the motion picture cartoon.” He was presented with one normal-size statuette and seven miniature ones for Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

The film is now considered as a landmark and path breaking film in the history of Hollywood. It was a massive critical and commercial success with an estimated collection of $8 million. In 1989, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry. The film is ranked among the 100 greatest American films by the AFI (American Film Institute). It was also named as the greatest American animated film of all time in 2008.

#5 He was a pivotal figure in the development of the animation industry

The production and success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs led to one of the most productive eras for Disney’s studio, a time which was later recalled as the ‘Golden Age of Animation in the history of the studio’. Animation feature length films with high budgets became common, with Disney producing Pinocchio (1940, hailed by critics as a stunning achievement both technically and artistically and costing twice as much as Snow White), Fantasia (1940, first commercial film to be released in stereophonic sound), Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942, ground-breaking in terms of animating animals realistically). The quality of breaking new ground was the hallmark of Walt Disney throughout his career and he continuously gave impetus to the animation industry. The fabulous success of Snow White had set the benchmark for the industry and production of more riskier and expensive animated feature films was also adopted by other competing studios like Warner Bros., MGM and Fleischer Studios.

 

#6 He opened Disneyland in 1955

In March 1952 Disney received permission to build a theme park in Burbank, near his head office at Disney studios. The area however was deemed to be too small and a larger plot in Anaheim, California more than 50kms south of the studio, was purchased. This led to problems with the shareholders and WED Enterprises (now Walt Disney Imagineering) thus started with Walt using his own money to fund a group of designers and animators to work on the plans. Completed in July 1955, Disneyland was the only theme park designed and built to completion under the direct supervision of Walt Disney. The park was designed with a main road and connected themed areas called Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. The areas were also connected with a narrow gauge Disneyland Railroad track. The park was an instant success with close to 20,000 daily visitors after a month’s operation. Disneyland still has a cumulative attendance more than any other theme park in the world, with more than 708 million visitors since its inauguration. In 2017 it is still attracts 18.3 million visitors which is second most in the world behind Disney’s own Magic Kingdom.

Sleeping Beauty Castle
Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland, Anaheim

 

#7 He was among the first to use animation as an entertainment medium on TV

Disney was among the first to use television as a medium for popular entertainment and is considered as a pioneer for children’s television entertainment. In 1954 American Broadcasting Company (ABC) was the first to broadcast Walt Disney’s Disneyland on television. The show was an anthology consisting of animated cartoons, live-action features and other material from the studio’s library. Under various names the show continued to be broadcast weekly on at least one of the Big Three television networks in America for close to 36 years. Disney continued to produce programs directly for the television medium, airing unique programming for kids such as Zorro, Davy Crockett, and The Mickey Mouse Club. He was among the first to present full-color programming with his Wonderful World of Color in 1961.

Walt Disney
Walt Disney

 

#8 He planned EPCOT and founded the California Institute of the Arts

Before his death in 1966, Disney was in the midst of many ideas. In the mid 1960s his attention was in improving the urban life in America. This resulted in the design of Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, or EPCOT on a 43 square miles of land, which was bought by the company in the state of Florida. It was here that a whole new Disney world of entertainment with a new amusement theme park, motel-hotel resort vacation centre and EPCOT were planned. Walt did not live to see this but his brother would finish Disney World in 1971 and the Epcot Center in 1982. Prior to his death, Walt Disney also co-ordinated the merger of Chouinard Art Institute (founded 1921) and the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music (founded 1883) to found the California Institute of the Arts in 1961. Both the institutions were known to Disney since his early days and were facing financial difficulties at the time. Of Cal Arts, Disney once said, It’s the principal thing I hope to leave when I move on to greener pastures. If I can help provide a place to develop the talent of the future, I think I will have accomplished something.

California Institute of the Arts
California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California

 

#9 Walt Disney is the most awarded individual in the history of Academy Awards

Given by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the Academy Awards or the Oscars are recognized as a benchmark for excellence in cinematic achievement in America. An assessment of Walt Disney’s contribution to his industry may be accessed by the fact that he is the recipient of a record breaking 22 Academy Awards from another record breaking 59 nominations. His 22 competing awards begin with the animated short film Flowers and Trees in 1932 and ending with the posthumous Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day in 1969. Add to that he has been awarded 4 honorary awards taking his tally to a whopping 26.

Walt Disney Academy Awards
Display Case in the Walt Disney Family Museum showing many of his Academy Awards

 

#10 He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Medal of Honor

The Walt Disney Family Museum records that he “along with members of his staff, received more than 950 honours and citations from throughout the world”. In 1952, he was awarded the highest artistic decoration, the Officer d’Academie. Other awards from nations include Thailand’s Order of the Crown; Brazil’s Order of the Southern Cross; and Mexico’s Order of the Aztec Eagle. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is an award given by the President of United States. Along with the Congressional Gold Medal, it is the highest civilian honour in the United States. Walt Disney was the recipient of both these honours. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964 for “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavours” and the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously in 1969 for having “performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after the achievement.”

Walt Disney Presidential Medal of Freedom
Walt Disney Receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom

 

The Second Most Academy Awards

The second-most decorated person after Walt Disney in the history of Academy Awards is art director and production designer Cedric Gibbons. Gibbons won 11 Best Art Design Oscars out of 38 nominations. He also designed the Oscar statuette itself, so it seems only fair to send him home with a few. The honour for the second most nominations are not with Cedric Gibbons. That honour goes to composer John Williams who has 50 nominations with 5 wins.

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