Celebrity Invention: Walt Disney's Art of Animation


Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for patentsrichfamous_280(2).jpgSome celebrities aren't just pretty faces. A few of them are also touched with that Yankee prowess for tinkering and invention. In this weekly series, we introduce you to the Patents of the Rich and Famous. And maybe you learn a little bit about how patent literature works along the way.

Inventor: Walt Disney

Known For: Kids watching clever CGI-heavy films will one day associate their childhood with a crotchety old man and his Asian boyscout companion, but also a chronically happy mouse with a high-pitched voice. Because before Shrek, Wall-E, or Woody, there was Mickey. And thanks to Walt Disney's animations, there will always be Mickey.

Disney founded the studio that not only created Mickey Mouse, but also the entire canon of animated films including Snow White and The Lion King. Not only did his movies have enduring characters and stories, but they embodied the art of animation -- they looked good.

So while Pixar's films might rule this millennium's box offices, Walt Disney was the original king of animation. And nobody can ever take that from him because like any good American business man, he got it in writing.

Really. He patented the 'art of animation.'

Invented Apparatus: "The art of animation"


It's not like there weren't animated characters before Disney. He just made them look better, devising a multiplane camera that accurately depicted the shadowing of his characters in a less labor intensive way.

The present invention is particularly directed toward methods whereby the foreground object or character may be properly and accurately placed and correlated with respect to the background and accurate shadows rapidly produced so that the finished drawing (or combination of drawings) which is photographed in the production of the finished projection film, correctly and accurately locates the character with respect to the background and includes a virtually accurate shadow.

To do this, Disney separated background art and animation into different focal planes from each other so that the camera could move between them in a way that created depth.

Generally stated, the method of this invention comprises forming a three dimensional model of the desired background, projecting the image of the foreground character upon such three dimensional background, and utilizing the position of the character and its shadow with respect to the three dimensional background in locating and representing the shadow of such character in its correct relationship with said background upon the final drawing or photograph record.

The camera not only made the scene more realistic, but it also saved hours of labor, allowing the animator to re-use any elements not in motion.

Rationale Behind Invention: Prior methods made it difficult for animators to draw realistic shadows:

When the background is complicated, singular, or contains a number of objects such as, for example, a balustrade, it is extremely difficult for the animator to properly create, by drawing, the shadow of the character upon these background objects.

Those balustrades ... always causing trouble.

Disney first used the technique while filming The Old Mill and later while producing his Oscar-winning Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Looks like his technique worked.

Off-Label Uses: We can't believe that Disney and his animators only used this to animate his children's classics.

We would probably use it to animate Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.

Future Directions:  Fantasia 3D. Period.

Read more Celebrity Inventions.

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Rebecca Greenfield is a writer based in Brooklyn. She was formerly on staff at The Atlantic Wire.

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