Opening Day at the Walt Disney Family Museum

Posted by on Oct 1, 2009 in Experiences | No Comments

*Note: This is a cross-post from my old blog. I originally wrote this after attending opening day at the Walt Disney Family Museum on October 1, 2009*

Today I had the pleasure of attending the Opening Day at the Walt Disney Family Museum, which is located in the Presidio (San Francisco). It was an awesome experience and was I was totally geeking out the entire time I was there. At first glance the building itself blends into military style buildings that surround it. The only distinguishing elements are a small sign on the front lawn of the building and a few large cutout pictures of Walt on the “porch.” Upon entering, there is a ticketing counter to the right and the cafe and museum store on the left. I purchased my ticket and printed it out in advance, so I bypassed the ticketing and proceeded into the waiting area until my scheduled time. The waiting area was lined with glass cases filled with many of the awards and honors Walt had received over the years. Among the awards was the Academy Award Walt received for Snow White, which is one large Oscar accompanied by seven smaller one for the dwarves.

When 10:30 rolled around, I entered the first gallery, which recounted the years between Walt’s birth and when he worked for Laugh-o-gram. There were many photos of Walt’s relatives and entertaining motion graphics which played over Walt’s recounting of his earlier years. In the same gallery, there was a wall full of drawings and comics that Walt had done in his teens as well as full size ambulance from WWI, which was the same type that Walt drove while he was a volunteer in the war. I then proceeded up stairs in the elevator to view the rest of the museum.

The majority of the second floor was dedicated to Walt’s animation career. The following galleries featured concept artwork, animation drawings, layouts, backgrounds, photos, and memorabilia from the Alice comedies, Oswald the Rabbit and the black and white Mickey Mouse cartoons, the Silly Symphonies, Donald Duck, Pluto, Goofy and then the Golden Era films, Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi, Dumbo and Fantasia.  There was so much amazing artwork. I was in awe with the amount of animation roughs from all the films. I felt like I was in heaven. Probably one of my favorite attractions in the entire museum was a “Movieola” that you could scrub pencil tests on from Snow White. The following section of the museum went into the rougher times at the studio during the strike and WWII, when the studio transformed into a war propaganda machine. Up until that point, the galleries had been very colorful, warm and lighthearted. To better represent the somberness and struggle of that era, the space was very bleak and white.

The next gallery was dedicated to the Post-War rebuilding of the studio. This gallery was very cool. It has four interactive media centers with touch screen interfaces, where you can browse through a wide variety of media relating to any aspect of the animation process and Disney’s films. The interface allows you to shuffle through the media randomly or you can search by categories in a list. I looked up all the content relating to the “animator” tag and found a bunch of videos of the Nine Old Men talking about the challenges and struggles of animating different characters in the films. One video I found was particularly funny. It was Frank Thomas feeding a plate of spaghetti to his two dogs and trying to get them to reenact the Lady and the Tramp scene. I could have spent hours just at that station, but I felt bad for hogging it and let some other guests have some fun. That gallery also had a lot of beautiful Mary Blair artwork as well as animation drawings and concepts from a wide range of films from Song of the South to Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland.

The last part of the museum focused on Walt’s other ventures. After the Rebuilding gallery, there is a small section in the back part of the building that has a beautiful view of the Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge. Rightfully, that gallery is dedicated to Walt’s nature films. The following section of the museum showcased Walt’s love for trains, which in turn, inspired him to build Disneyland. There is a spiral walkway that leads down to a huge miniature of the Disneyland of Walt’s imagination. It was not an exact replica of Disneyland, but it represented what Walt envisioned Disneyland to be. I found out that Kerner Optical had built the miniature and it had taken over a year to make. It was very impressive. That section of the museum also featured Walt’s venture into television as well as Ub Iwerks Multi-head Optical Printer, which was used in films for compositing matte paintings with footage as well as combining animation with live action such as in Mary Poppins.

The last gallery in the museum was definitely the most emotional section of the whole museum. It is almost completely white room with an old fashioned TV set that is playing recordings of news casts announcing Walt’s death. The other wall in the room has cartoons from news papers that show artists reaction to his death. Finally, there is a hallway leading to the exit. On either side there are large screens with montages of images from Walt’s legacy.

The more I learn about Walt Disney, the more I am amazed at the sheer amount of accomplishments that one man made in his life time. Today’s trip was one of the most inspirational experiences I have ever had because I got to witness in person and see with my own eyes the legacy of one of my biggest heros in life. I really have to commend Walt’s family for the outstanding effort and attention to detail that went into the making of the museum. I spent 3 hours walking through the museum and I enjoyed every minute of it. I will definitely be going back because I did not stop and read much of the content in the galleries. There was just way too much to see in one day. I am looking forward to seeing what types of animation workshops they will be having in the future, as it is one of the coming events on the website. If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend visiting the museum.

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