Walt Disney's wonderful life (photos)

Road Trip at Home: Just more than a year ago, the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco opened its doors. CNET's Daniel Terdiman checks it out.

Daniel Terdiman
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
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Snow White Oscar

SAN FRANCISCO--You might not think of the City by the Bay as the most likely place for a museum dedicated to the life of Walt Disney, but thanks to the influence of the late, great animator's daughter and wife--both of whom have strong ties to the Bay Area--the city is host to the Walt Disney Family Museum, which opened its doors to the public for the first time just over a year ago, on October 1, 2009.

The museum is a fantastic tour through Disney's life--and the works that made him and his company so famous. Stretching from his earliest days as an animator all the way to his death, it is ten galleries full of original concept art, posters, figurines, and much, much more, all guaranteed to delight any Disney fan.

But it's not just a celebration of Mickey Mouse and friends. The museum also highlights some of the more controversial parts of the animator's life, including his testimony to the House Un-American Activities Committee, a major strike at Disney Studios, and the company's work making war propaganda for the U.S. military.

Yet, in the end, it's Disney's work in the movies that carries the day. And perhaps there is no better celebration of his success than this very special Oscar, which Disney was awarded in 1939 for "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" by Shirley Temple and which included seven small Oscar figurines.

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Earliest Mickey Mouse drawing

This is the earliest known drawing of Mickey Mouse, from 1928. Drawn by Ub Iwerks, the work came from a meeting that Iwerks had with Walt and Roy Disney and Les Clark after Walt Disney's return to California that year. The meeting was held to "discuss and establish the new character.
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Mickey Mouse story sketches

These are story sketches from "The Castaway," from 1931. "Before the introduction of true storyboards," an information sign at the museum reads, "story sketches were compiled on pages like this. Note that some of the these scenes are crossed out; these deleted scenes do not appear in the finished film."
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This is a digital version of a poster from "Alice the Golf Bug," a 1927 entry in the Alice Comedies, a group of cartoons that Walt Disney directed on his own after he was unable to find a job directing in Hollywood.
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In 1927, feeling limited by what he could accomplish with the Alice Comedies, Disney was contracted by Universal Pictures to create an all-new cartoon series. Universal didn't want another cartoon cat series, so they asked Disney to make one based on a rabbit named Oswald. Universal's reach allowed the films to find a larger audience than Disney's previous work.

Later, however, another cartoonist, Charles Mintz, managed to wrest control of the Oswald series away from Disney--which is what forced Disney to come up with something new. That ended up being Mickey Mouse.

Now, Oswald is Mickey Mouse's antagonist in a new video game from Disney called Epic Mickey. The story is built around a world--crafted by the sorcerer from "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"--in which a series of forgotten Disney creations live, and thrive. Among those characters is Oswald, who achieved fame as Walt Disney's earliest cartoon star. As the years pass and Oswald becomes bitter at Mickey's success, Mickey inadvertently destroys Oswald's comfort zone in the cartoon wasteland and he must face the consequences of what he has accidentally wrought.

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Walt at the Pathe camera

In this photograph, taken in 1923, Walt Disney is seen working with a Pathe camera, which according to the museum, "was a workhorse camera of the film industry. Walt bought a used model on his arrival in Hollywood and adapted it for stop-motion filming."
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Business card

From 1921 to 1922, Walt Disney, and his partners, Ub Iwerks, Hugh Herman, Rudy Ising, and others, produced six one-reel cartoons known as "Laugh-O-Grams." They "were based on traditional fairy tales, updated with Jazz Age gags," according to the museum. "The eager young artists learned and refined their craft with each new picture, embellishing their films with a full range of grey tones and other luxuries."

This is Disney's business card from the venture, which fell on hard financial times after some dubious distribution contracts.

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Plane Crazy

This is an animation drawing from "Plane Crazy," which in 1928 became the first-ever Mickey Mouse film. It was co-directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, who was the main animator on it.
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Steamboat Willie

Most fans of Mickey Mouse know, thanks to its prominent placement at Disneyland and Disneyworld, of the cartoon star's third film, "Steamboat Willie," the first animated film to ever successfully link sound and image. This is part of a wall of frames from the 1928 film--348 frames in all--which together make up less than a single minute of the film's action. The first Mickey Mouse film was "Plane Crazy," also from 1928.
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Donald Duck model sheets

This is a model sheet for Donald Duck, one of the first set of characters Disney created to accompany Mickey Mouse.
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Mickey and Minnie

This is a model sheet showing both Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
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Disney colors

This collection of actual color paints from Disney Studios is in the museum to help illustrate the importance of the addition of "Technicolor's new three-strip process in 1932, which brought a complete range of rich colors to the screen for the first time...By 1935, all his cartoons were being filmed in Technicolor."
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Dwarves model sheet

This is a model sheet, issued in 1936, of the Dwarves from "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves." The sheet, and several others, "established the final Dwarf character designs that appeared in the finished film."
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Snow White model sheet

This model sheet of Snow White, from 1936, "demonstrates the difference in proportion between the rotoscope drawings of Margie Belcher and the finished animation drawings of Snow White."
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Mickey and Pluto

This is an animation drawing of Mickey Mouse and his new pal Pluto from "Mickey's Parrot."

"Starting as a nondescript hound in 'The Chain Gang' (1930), Pluto evolved into Mickey Mouse's faithful pal. In the hands of skilled Disney animators, Pluto also became a vehicle for the development of personality animation, notably in the classic Flypaper Sequence in 'Playful Pluto' (1934)."

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This is a Goofy model figurine for the 1937 film "Hawaiian Holiday." According to the museum, "Goofy developed from a bit player into the simple-minded Dippy Dawg, and finally into the classic Goof still loved today."
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Pinocchio character sketch

This is a character sketch of Pinocchio, who was the star of the second animated feature Disney Studio produced. That, of course, was "Pinocchio," even though it was started after "Bambi," which was suffering through production delays. "This film maintained the high standard of character animation from 'Snow White,' along with ever more polished effects animation: glistening highlights, rounded surfaces, and a sophisticated depiction of water in the ocean scenes. 'Pinocchio' remains the most lavishly detailed animated feature ever made, and one of the most expensive."
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Jiminy Cricket singing

This is concept art of Jiminy Cricket singing in "Pinocchio." Though Jiminy Cricket was merely a bit player in the original "Pinocchio" tale, he played a central role in Disney's version. "Cast as Pinocchio's conscience, he also spoke to the audience as the film's narrator."
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Mickey Mouse telegram

When Western Union unveiled its new "facsimile" service in 1935--allowing images to be included in telegrams, the first such message to be sent was this one, featuring Mickey Mouse.
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Mickey Hangs hit Hat at RKO

After RKO Radio Pictures won the Disney distribution contract in 1937, the company put out this publicity poster touting its coup.
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Victory through Air Power

During World War II, Disney Studios was drafted into producing a series of propaganda films for the U.S. military. One of them was "Victory Through Air Power," a 1943 movie that IMDB describes as "an animated documentary promoting of the soundness of strategic aerial bombing in World War II."
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Der Fuehrer's Face

A publicity poster for the 1942 propaganda film, "der Fuehrer's Face," starring Donald Duck.
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Strike Flyer

In 1941, a strike broke out between the Disney Studios members of the Screen Cartoonists' Guild and the studio. The strike went on for weeks, and ended "while Walt [Disney] was in South America on [a] goodwill tour...The studio, saddled with harsh terms imposed by the federal mediator, reopened its doors and started production again with a reorganized company structure.

"More stressful than the revised mechanics of production was the toll that had been taken on personal relationships. The strike would long be remembered as a painful crisis in Disney studio history, and it left bitter divisions among former friends that would not be forgotten for years."

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Oscar display

One gallery at the Walt Disney Family Museum is the awards room, which features, among other things, all of Disney's Academy Awards. Disney is said to have won more Oscars than anyone else, winning 22 times and also earning three honorary Academy Awards plus the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. Among the most noteworthy of the Oscars on display is the special award Disney won in 1938 for "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves," the first full-length animated feature film.
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Multiplane camera

Disney broke technological ground with the multiplane camera, seen here from above. Introduced in the films "The Old Mill" and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves," the camera "came into ever greater prominence in the features that followed. The crane on display here demonstrates the principle: as the camera moves down into the scene, it approaches and passes some scenic elements while others remain in the background. This movement creates a convincing illusion of depth--an effect impossible with a normal flat camera table.

"As the Disney camera department worked with the original prototype of the multiplane, they introduced new refinements into the system. Eager to make the most of this exciting device, the artists pushed its capabilities to the limit. Some 'multiplane' scenes in 'Pinocchio' and 'Fantasia' became so elaborate that even the standard multiplane cranes could not accommodate them; instead, they were filmed on makeshift horizontal tracks on the studio's soundstage."

Disney eventually owned three multiplane cranes. The one seen here is the third.

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Straight on

The multiplane camera at the Walt Disney Family Museum is a centerpiece that rises from in front of the gift shop through a shaft into the floor above. This is a view of it from straight on, in front of the gift shop.
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Annual report

The 1946 Disney annual report, featuring Mickey Mouse on the cover.
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A character sketch of Faline, from "Bambi," by Marc Davis.
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Sorcerer's Apprentice concept sketch

This is concept art for "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." "Earmarked from the beginning as something out of the ordinary, 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' was originally planned as a special Mickey Mouse short; a kind of culmination of Mickey's career to date, featuring the studio's best animators and an orchestral score conducted by Stokowski," according to the museum. "Eventually, this ambitious plan led to the still more ambitious 'Fantasia.' 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' was also intended as a showcase to introduce the newly redesigned Mickey Mouse to theater audiences--but by the time 'Fantasia' was completed and released, the 'new' Mickey had already been in several short subjects."
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This is a modeling effects drawing of Chernobog, from "Night on Bald Mountain," in "Fantasia." The drawing is by Vladimir Tytla.
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This is a story sketch of Dumbo and Casey Jr. from "Dumbo." The sketch is by Bill Peet.
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Mitchell underwater camera

This is the Mitchell underwater camera 1048 with a Bausch & Lomb lens, which was used in the filming of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."

According to the museum, "The underwater photography of '20,000 Leagues' presented technical challenges. The camera crew, required to work quickly and efficiently underwater, needed a production-quality camera with an accurate viewfinder, precise image steadiness, and a housing that was easily maneuverable underwater.

"The Mitchell 35mm High Speed Camera with 400-foot film capacity was chosen. The camera featured through-the-lens viewing for accurate focus and composition, and a large viewfinder that enabled the cameraman and director to view while shooting.

"But no underwater housings were available for the camera at the time. Under the direction of Roger Broggie, with the assistance of Bob Otto, the studio machine shop designed and built the underwater housing. An important feature of the housing, to prevent leaks, was a miniature air tank for equalizing the internal pressure with the outside water pressure as the camera submerged. Leaks were successfully prevented, and in less than two months the camera was filming."

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Disneyland concept model

Though there is a lot of resemblance between the real-life Disneyland and the one imagined in this model, the model was not meant to represent the actual park. "Instead, it represents Walt's ever changing vision of Disneyand as a dynamic location for fantasy, hope, and aspiration."
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Straight on view of Disneyland model

Another look at the Disneyland model, which has a great degree of detail, and does represent many of the attractions that are in the famous park.
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Press ticket

A press ticket to the official opening of Disneyland, on July 17, 1955.
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Disneyland posters

Three original Disneyland posters hang on the wall at the museum.
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This is concept art for Epcot Center.
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The Carolwood Pacific

This is Walt Disney's miniature railroad, which ran on tracks laid around the Disney family's home on Carolwood Drive, in Holmby Hills (part of Los Angeles). It was called the Carolwood Pacific.

The engine is a replica of the Central Pacific Railroad's old engine No. 173, and it is built in 1.5-inch scale. It ran on steam, by burning coal, and its whistle blew. When completed, it was meant to carry as many as 30 people along the half-mile of track it ran on.

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RIP Walt Disney

The museum features a gallery wall filled with imagery from cartoonists around the world marking his death of lung cancer in 1966. This one, by Don Wright, ran in The Miami News. Disney was 65 years old.

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