ILLUSION OF LIFE Plugged on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson

Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life is a book by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two Disney Legends of animation counted among the famous group of Walt Disney’s  Nine Old Men. The book topped the list of “best animation books of all time” in a poll at AWN, and is still used as a reference for inspiration on character animation.

I have this book and can’t recommend it highly enough for anyone who wants to better understand the animation process. After reading it, my own drawing skills improved noticeably!

In 1980, they appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson to plug the book and chat about animation. Here they are on stage:

During the interview, Carson mentions that they are almost unknown, despite the fact that they had worked on some of the most famous animated films of all time. They replied that they liked it that way!

Frank Thomas

They mentioned that when they would sit in a theatre to watch their films with children, they would almost die. Why? Because children could be so cruel! No wonder they preferred to hide back in the studio.

Ollie Johnston

Carson asked about the rumors that Walt Disney was a cold man and hard to work for, among other things. Both men answered that he was all of those things. However, they clarified that it was also a great pleasure to work for Walt because he was so inspiring, albeit awfully tough! Perfection was expected at all times.

Carson next marvels at how animators are able to give life to even inanimate objects, so Frank and Ollie pulled out the following drawings to illustrate the point:

And last but not least:

Who Wouldn’t Be?

It was great to see these Disney Legends chat about their passion for animation. But it almost wasn’t to be! Frank wanted to be a landscape artist and Ollie was heading towards a career in magazine illustration. But Disney put out a casting call and both answered, arriving at the studio to become lowly In-betweeners before rising in the ranks to full-fledged animators.

The Interview Ends

Look to the left in the above picture and you’ll notice another Disney Alumni, Suzanne Pleshette (January 31, 1937 – January 19, 2008). You may remember her for her roles in The Ugly Dachshund, Blackbeard’s Ghost, and The Shaggy D.A.

Also, if you look to the far right in the above picture, you can see Carson holding up the book in question (blurry though it is).

For the full interview (5:54), please take a listen. It’s well worth it:

Frank and Ollie on Carson

Interviews: Jeffrey C Sherman – Producer


BIO: Jeffrey C. Sherman is a writer, producer, director and composer/lyricist for film and television. A UCLA Film School graduate, Jeff wrote the feature films “The Soldier” and “Up the Creek.” He wrote the screenplays “Vine Street” and “Revenge of the Nerds III” for Interscope, “Summer Job” for Universal, “Teen Tour” for Paramount, “Respectable” for Norman Lear and Disney, “Rest Stop” for Hollywood Pictures, “The Late Robert Hampton” for Fildebroc (Paris), “Hot Deliveries” for ABC Motion Pictures, “Film School” for Rastar and many others.

In television, Jeff created, produced and wrote songs for one of the very first Disney Channel programs, “The Enchanted Musical Playhouse” which also boasted original songs by his Academy Award-winning father and uncle, The Sherman Brothers. Jeff has produced and written on several popular network series including ABC/Touchstone’s “Boy Meets World” and “You Wish,” UPN/Jim Henson’s “Family Rules” and Buena Vista Partners’ “Stick With Me, Kid.” Jeff’s TV pilots include “Turner & Hooch,” “The Secret Life of Girls,” “Post Game,” “Virtual Dad,” “Family Tree” and the independently produced comedy “Katie Sullivan” starring Larisa Oleynik, Will Friedle, Alex Desert and Orson Bean. Jeff’s Fox/ABC Family film trilogy “Au Pair,” “Au Pair II” and “Au Pair III” are among the highest rated programs to ever air on the network.

With his cousin, Jeff directed and produced the 2009 Walt Disney Pictures feature doc, “the boys: the sherman brothers’ story.” The film chronicles the unparalleled career of the sibling songwriting team while taking an intimate look at the brothers’ influences, dynamics and secret family rift. The film premiered at the 2009 San Francisco International Film Festival and has been selected for dozens of international festivals.

In 2011, Jeff produced with John Landis the original hour comedy special “Wendy Liebman: Taller on TV” which was licensed by Showtime and Image Entertainment. With Landis, Jeff recently adapted Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” as a cartoon series. Most recently, Jeff and country music star Chely Wright have co-written the screenplay and song score for an original musical “Dogs of New York.” Vanessa Coffey is producing with acclaimed actress/singer Kristin Chenoweth who co-wrote some of the song score and is also attached to voice a lead character. Jeff currently has set up two half-hour comedy pilots with Relativity Television and is in prep to direct a feature film he wrote.

It’s nice to see such talent span three generations! We all know the story behind the Sherman Brothers, but I hope this interview will introduce you to a Sherman Son, his writing, and his thoughts on… well, let’s find out by going to the first question:

Q1 – What would be your Disney Dream job if you couldn’t be in the film and television departments?

JEFFREY: I always secretly wanted to work for Imagineering. When I was a very young boy, my Dad took me over to see the workshop where the Disneyland rides were dreamed up and created. Specifically, we went to see all the work being done on the upcoming “It’s a Small World” attraction for the New York World’s Fair. I recall all these wonderful artists and dreamers working there were warm and maybe a little quirky, but you could tell these people loved their work. I would especially enjoy helping come up with the stories and songs for the Disney Park rides.

Q2 – What is the greatest lesson you learned from your father, Robert B. Sherman?

JEFFREY: There are of course so many. He taught us all in his way. My late Dad, Robert B. Sherman loved to instill his hard-learned lessons through his songs. “Feed the Birds” is about charity – it only takes tuppence a bag, “It’s a Small World” is a plea in peace – despite cultural differences, there is just one moon and one golden sun and a smile means friendship to everyone… Dad and my Uncle Richard conveyed these important messages mixed with melodies you couldn’t forget. In other words, their spoonful of sugar truly does help the medicine go down. When someone would say something mean to me, Dad would remind me “Consider the source.” He told me that peace was each person’s choice, so “Don’t make waves.” It’s everyone’s duty to remember we are all one and to be good to one another. The wonderful aspect of my late Dad’s lessons is they will live on and be heard long beyond his lifetime, all around this small world. Dad’s and my Grandpa Al Sherman’s gift of music composition and appreciation is a gift I cherish and honor every day.

Q3 – What is the question you get asked the most that you have the hardest time answering?

JEFFREY: People always ask me what my favorite Sherman Brothers’ song is. It’s so hard to narrow it down. They wrote more than a thousand published songs and so many have personal ties for me. Despite what others claim these days, Dad wrote the song “River Song” (from Tom Sawyer) for me. I was a teenager, soon to leave for college. Dad had me come to the John Williams/Charlie Pride recording session of the song at 20th Century Fox. When it was over, Dad turned to me with a tear in his eyes and said, “I wrote that one for you.” He and Richard also say that I unwittingly inspired “A Spoonful of Sugar.” Those are both special as are “It’s a Small World,” “Feed the Birds,” “A Man Has Dreams,” “Mother Earth and Father Time.” Well, see? I could go on and on. It’s a hard question to answer.

Q4 – How would you answer if I asked you for advice on writing something successful?

JEFFREY: Writing success comes in many forms. There’s financial success, career success, critical success, creative success, personal success. I have been a professional screen and television writer since I graduated from UCLA Film School back in 1979. I’m happy to say I’ve experienced a lot of each of those success varieties. For me, as a creative, I generally derive the most joy and satisfaction from when all those points are reached. Not always possible, but it’s the goal I strive for. On a practical basis, I find that if I set out to write something I’m passionate about, something I personally just have to see, that always works out the best for me and for the project. I’ve learned to step away when that’s no longer true. Write what you know, what you love, write it over and over till every moment pushes the story and characters forward, connects to your core and communicates exactly what you feel in your heart and mind. Then give it to two or three trusted friends, really listen to what they say. Analyze it, not for their “fixes” necessarily, but for what the consensus of thought is. Then determine your own fixes and re-write it a few more times. Writing is a powerful tool. Use it to make this world a better place. Success for me is holding the printout of a script I’ve written in my hands, reading through it without feeling compelled to make another mark in it. If I sell it, if it gets made, how it will be made — I have less control over that (why I also sometimes produce and/or direct). While it’s in my hands though, and it works the way I’d hoped, that is true success.

Q5 – How would the Disney Company be different if Walt was alive today?

JEFFREY: That’s a tough one. I had the immense privilege of meeting Mr. Disney at the studio on a number of occasions when I was young. I knew he owned the studio and Disneyland, made all those movies and was my Dad’s boss, but he was always engaging and down to earth. He was also clearly a genius with a deep-set passion for all he did. I’ve written before about the time I was six or seven and Walt took me by the hand to a soundstage on the lot and explained to me about “movie magic.” The curiosity and can-do initiative, the intensive care and love that man put into his work and instilled and fostered in those around him was truly magical. He instigated all those Disney traditions that still live on today in the Disney Corporation. Personally, I would love to see Disney distinguish itself again, even in part, as less of a big tentpole special effects factory and get back into characters and stories for families to watch and enjoy together. Pixar and the other Disney animation groups are true to Walt’s vision for the studio. They create simply beautiful work Mr. Disney would be happy to have his name on. The real truth about Walt, though, was his genius in identifying genius in others and bringing them in to work with him. Teamwork was essential to making dreams come true. Therefore, when he passed away, those traditions were set into the company and for the most part continue on today. It would be wonderful for the company to get back to that kind of synergy Walt employed — where all the departments work in tandem for a common cause. That’s tough in the modern corporate world, but I believe if Walt were still in charge, he would insist on revitalizing that true team spirit and actively fostering the next generation of creative dreamers.

EPILOGUE: OK, I admit that question four was a transparent attempt to get some free advice for my own writing ‘career’! I’m nothing if not shameless. I hope you enjoyed meeting Jeffrey and hearing his thoughts on creativity, writing, and of course, Walt Disney.

From the film: “Tom Sawyer” aka “A Musical Adaptation of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer” – 1973
(Robert B. Sherman / Richard M. Sherman)
Charley Pride & Chorus

(Chorus Singing)
Oh, a river’s gonna flow
‘Cross the land
‘Cross the land
Oh, a river’s gonna flow
To the sea
And a boy is gonna grow
To a man
To a man
Only once in his life
Is he free
Only one golden time
In his life
Is he free

(Charley Pride)
River runs warm in the summer sun
River runs cold when the summer’s done
But a boy’s just a dreamer
By the riverside
‘Cause the water’s too fast
And the water’s too wide

Then the world turns around,
And the boy grows tall
He hears the song
Of the river call
The river song sings,
“Travel on, Travel on”
You blink away a tear,
And the boy is gone

(Charley Pride and Chorus)
Oh, a river’s gonna flow
‘Cross the land
‘Cross the land
Oh, a river’s gonna flow
To the sea
And a boy’s gonna grow
To a man
To a man
Only once in his life
Is he free
Only one golden time
In his life
Is he free

(Transcribed by Carlene Bogle – April 2004)

Interviews: Brian Sommer – Voice Actor


BIO: Brian has often said, “It all started at Disneyland.” While visiting that magical park, Brian was introduced to Adventure Thru Inner Space (a long since extinct attraction). The narration soundtrack of that ride was performed by the immensely talented voice actor Paul Frees. The dramatic intensity of that performance impressed Brian. He was hooked. Brian began a lifelong journey to learn more about the craft of voice acting. While other kids were planted in front of the TV, Brian was listening to rebroadcasts of old radio dramas on a local station. With a great deal of respect and admiration, Brian was influenced by the incredible voice actors of the Golden Age of Radio. Talents like Paul Frees, Daws Butler, June Forey, Thurl Ravenscroft, Paul Winchell, Elenor Audley and Mel Blanc remain to be Brian’s inspirations.

Brian made the decision to follow his bliss and attended the prestigious voice acting academy “Voicetrax” in San Francisco. There he learned the skills to become a professional voice actor. He was signed by the STARS agency in San Francisco and has been doing what he loves for a living ever since. Fulfilling the ‘circle of life’ Brian is now an instructor at Voicetrax and enjoys mentoring and molding the newest generation of voice actors.

With an impressive vocal range, Brian had brought vocal life to all manner of characters. From sinister to silly, Brian can be heard in over 100 video game titles, voicing nearly 250 characters He enjoys all roles that come his way, but has always been partial to the villains. “The bad guys always have the best lines, and you can get away with so much playing the characters with no morals”, Brian says.

Brian is honored to have contributed his talents to some great projects. His titles include “Diablo III”, “The Walking Dead”, “League of Legends”, “Sam and Max”, “Tales of Monkey Island” and scores more.

Brian has never had any aspirations to act on camera or stage. “I am a voice guy” says Brian. “The acting craft has many different disciplines. Voice over has always been my focus. It has special challenges all it’s own. After all, what does a raised eyebrow SOUND like.”

So many people have a Disney connection. Some are more up front in the eyes of the fans, like the Disney Legends, and others are known by only the über fan. Brian Sommer is somewhere in between. After this interview, I’m sure you’ll add him to your Disney personalities to follow! So let’s get to our first question…

Q1: What would be your Disney Dream job if you couldn’t be a voice-over announcer/narrator?
Brian – First of all Lee, thank you for considering me for an interview.  It’s always great to connect with other Disney fans and I am always happy to share my love for Disneyland and offer any information that may be of interest regarding voice over.  My ‘Dream Job’ would actually be a combination of Disney and my current job.  I would consider it an honor and a privilege if I was given the position of park announcer for Disneyland.  I have handled the live announcing duties for private events at the Disneyland Hotel, and the Walt Disney Family Museum.  I am also the announcer at Walt’s Carolwood Barn and have enjoyed all of those jobs. However, to be the official announcer for Disneyland would indeed be my dream job.  It would combine my two favorite things.  Disneyland, and voice work. To make it my ultimate dream job, I would want the imagineers to renovate the second floor of the Haunted Mansion into my studio and office.  That’s not asking too much, right?  Jack Wagner (the original announcer) is certainly one of my idols.  So many great announcers and voice actors came out of that era and their work for Disney has always been among my favorite performances.
Q2: What is your favorite piece of voice work that you have done to date?
Brian – That is always a tricky question.  I have voiced nearly 300 different characters over the years and they all had something interesting about them.  However there is a particular type of character that I enjoy voicing more than any other.  That would be, The Bad Guys!  The villains are always so fun.  The evil characters get to do things that normally would get you arrested. They always have the great lines.  Of course your character usually has to die in the end, but that is a small price to pay for great scenes.  I have made a good career out of voicing guys who tie the fair maiden to the train tracks and such (twist mustache).  Disney has always had a great line up of villains and their choices for actors who provide the voice have always been great ones.  I am always humbled and inspired by such talents as Paul Frees, Thurl Ravenscroft, Eleanor Audley, Hans Conried, and so many others.
Q3: What is the question you get asked the most that you have the hardest time answering?
Brian – I am often asked “How do you get into voice over?”  It is not always an easy question to answer.  The craft is a misunderstood one.  Too may folks think we read scripts in a voice other than our own.  The ACTING in voice acting is more important than that voice.  Unlike stage or film actors, we only have our voices to carry the emotion of the scene.  Those in front of an audience or camera have the option of props, or facial gestures.  I teach voice over and often challenge my students by asking, “What does a raised eyebrow SOUND like”.  So when folks ask how to get into the biz, I usually tell them to work on their acting primarily.  Taking acting classes, whether they be at an acting school, community college, or a community center, will ultimately serve you much better when getting ready to enter our profession.
Q4: How do you approach a voice gig? Is there a lot of preparation depending on the topic, subject?
Brian – When an audition for a character comes in, the producers will send along sample script lines and sometimes an image of the character and bio.  Its most important to figure out what type of character it is.  What makes him tick.  What is his role in the game/show?  Good guy? Bad guy?  The voice will follow once those things have been established.  When the script is written well, a lot of the character is explained in the words they speak.  However, if it is not that evident, then it is the job of the voice actor to interpret the motivation and emotion of each scene.   When a voice actor is auditioning for a role, its important for them to show the emotional range of the character.  This lets the producers know the actor can perform the characters voice in various scenes (happy, sad, angry, inquisitive, etc).  This all goes right back to the previous question regarding what it takes to get into the business.
Q5: How would the Disney Company be different if Walt was alive today?
Brian – There are many facets of the Disney company.  My greatest connection to it has always been Disneyland.  So my answer to this question will be based on that.  Since I was a kid, I always viewed the park as the pinnacle of show quality and guest services.  I remember telling people that the park was so clean you could eat off the street.  Of course this is a bit of an overstatement, but fans of the park will know what I mean.  Starting in the late ‘90s there was an unfortunate shift of priorities at the park. Emphasis was placed on merchandise and selling, because of this the upkeep and maintenance of the attractions suffered.  The park started showing the scars of daily usage and neglect.  If Walt had been alive during this time, that never would have happened.  Walt understood that a guest could go anywhere and get a hamburger or a stuffed animal, but there was only one place to experience a swashbuckling band of pirates, a haunted manor house along the river, or a thrilling ride down the icy slopes of a mountain. You could only enjoy those things at Disneyland.  The amazing attractions are what bring people to the parks.  They are the stars.  Luckily, with new management in place, the parks have come back strong.  They understand that the park is a long-term investment, not a quick buck. The money is being spent and the time is being allocated to give the attractions (and the park in general) the care and service they need to shine.  I remember walking into the park soon after the management shift had occurred.  There I saw a maintenance worker down in his hands and knees painting one of the hitching posts on Main St.  I thought to myself, “Walt is back!!!”
EPILOGUE: This is a man I’ve listened to on many Extinct Attractions DVD’s and thought deserved to be Disney’s main announcer! It was great to have the privilege of interviewing him for Disney Nouns. But who knew such a nice man secretly yearns to be a villain (insert maniacal laughter here)? Oh well, each to his own!
I’d like to thank Brian for taking the time out of his busy schedule to grant this interview!

Interviews: Dave Smith – Walt Disney Archives


BIO: With the establishment of the Walt Disney Archives on June 22, 1970, Dave Smith joined The Walt Disney Company as the director of the Archives. As the company’s Chief Archivist, Dave was charged with collecting and preserving all aspects of Disney history and making the material available to researchers from all areas of the company. Since the company is often working on projects which reuse elements from its past, there is constant call upon the Archives for information. The Archives also answers mail, email, and telephone inquiries from the public.

In the years since the Archives was established, it has grown from a one-person department to a current staff of eleven. The Archives is located at the Disney Studio in Burbank. It has come to be recognized as a model among corporate archives in the country, and now, even though retired, Dave is still regarded as the final authority on matters of Disney history.

Born and raised in Pasadena, California, the child of librarians and educators, David Rollin Smith earned a B.A. in history and a Masters Degree in Library Science from the University of California at Berkeley. Before coming to Disney, he received library and archives experience working in the Manuscript Department of the Huntington Library in San Marino, having an internship at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and serving on the staff of the Research Library at U.C.L.A.

As the Disney chief archivist Dave was an active member of the Society of California Archivists. He served from 1980 to 2001 as Executive Director of the Manuscript Society, an international association of collectors, dealers, librarians, archivists, and others interested in manuscript material.

Dave has written extensively on Disney history, with a regular “Ask Dave” question and answer column in the former Disney Magazine and Disney Channel Magazine, online on the Disney Insider, and on the D23 website, as well as numerous articles in such publications as Disney News, Starlog, Manuscripts, The American Archivist, and The California Historical Quarterly. Dave is the author of the official Disney encyclopedia Disney A to Z (1996, updated editions in 1998 and 2006 and 2015). With Kevin Neary he co-authored The Ultimate Disney Trivia Books 1, 2, 3, & 4. His book, Disney: The First 100 Years, co-authored with Steven Clark, was published in 1999 (with an updated edition in 2002). He compiled The Quotable Walt Disney, a collection of Walt Disney’s quotes, in 2001. He has written introductions to a number of other Disney books, and often lectures on Disney subjects. Dave’s latest book Disney Trivia from the Vault (2012), compiles 29 years of questions and answers from his “Ask Dave” column. In October 2007, Dave was honored with the prestigious Disney Legend award.

A Burbank, California, resident, Dave retired in 2010 after passing his 40th anniversary with The Walt Disney Company, but he continues work as a consultant with the title of Chief Archivist Emeritus.

I know, I hadn’t heard of him either until I read the bio. Yeah, right! Like everyone else, I’ve always enjoyed reading Dave’s books and seeing him on various Disney videos. His humble and friendly manner just draws you in. I was thrilled when I first met him… on Facebook. Hey, maybe someday I’ll meet him in person!

But this post is all about the interview, so let’s get right to the questions:

Q1 – What would be your Disney dream job if you couldn’t be involved with the Archives?

Dave: It would be hard to think of a dream job better than the one I had as chief archivist. I’m not really qualified for any other jobs with the company.

Q2 – What is your favorite piece of Disneyana in your personal collection?

Dave: I don’t really have a personal Disneyana collection (I always felt that it would be a conflict of interest), but I do have signed copies of many of the books on which I helped out the authors. I also treasure the Walt Disney signature I have. When I ran into Walt as a teenager at Disneyland, he declined to sign an autograph because it caused crowds to gather around him. But, he told me to write him at the Studio. I did, and he sent me the autograph.

Q3 What is the question you get asked the most that you have the hardest time answering?

Dave: I dread the “why” questions; why did Walt do something, etc. If it isn’t written down or in an interview, then an answer is not known.

Q4 – How comfortable are you with your Disney celebrity? Does it surprise you?

Dave: It is hard for me to consider myself a Disney celebrity, but I guess I am. Most Disney fans seem to know who I am, and they appreciate the work I did at the Walt Disney Archives.

Q5 – How would the Disney Company be different if Walt was alive today?

Dave: It is hard to guess what Walt would have done with the company had he lived longer, but since he was an innovator and willing to take chances, we might have progressed to where we are today even faster. He certainly would be impressed with the technologies and opportunities of today that were not available to him during his lifetime.

EPILOGUE: I’m constantly amazed at the graciousness of Disney personalities! I truly appreciate Dave taking the time out of his busy schedule to grant this interview for Cool Nouns by Lee Beatens. I hope you feel like you know him a little better now.