Grim Natwick Interview
Grim Natwick was truly one of the great animators who ever lived. He created the character of Betty Boop, probably the only female animated cartoon character to
achieve world-wide popularity. When he came to Disney's for the sole purpose of helping to animate the lead character in the world's first feature cartoon, he was well over twice the age of most of his
colleagues, and left the studio after Snow White, joining his former boss Max Fleischer for his first feature Gulliver's Travels. He later worked for UPA Studios. His work on the
character of Snow White, however, will always remain the highlight of his long career and one of the cornerstones of that films's greatness and lasting power for more than sixty years. This was hard won,
through over eight years of art school training, three of which were in Vienna. He also contributed one of the film's most enduring characters: the turtle who is used as a washboard and who seems never
to be in the right place at the right time. When I interviewed Grim in early 1988, he was a bright-eyed ninety-seven years young. Although he had nearly total recall, some of his sentences tended to
ramble. I have kept most of our interview intact, however, and hope that, although extended (perhaps too much so for some), reading it in its entirety will reward true lovers of animation with a wealth of
material never before published and not found elsewhere.
David Johnson: I want to ask you about Snow White.
Grit Natwick: Yes, Snow White was a major, major achievement, even by
today's standards. And when you begin to compare it with other pictures it's simply remarkable that it holds up. But of course, no other (cartoon) picture
had quite this much planning. I know Walt was planning this thing two or three years before he actually made it - and at that time had undoubtedly the
greatest staff of animators that were ever brought together and they were all groomed just for this one picture. It was pretty hard, being the first animated
feature - it's pretty hard to....there's nothing to compare it with. At that time I think it was the only picture that crowded "Gone With the Wind." I believe
that was the biggest money-making picture. Am I right on that?
DJ: It was the biggest until GWTW.
GN: Oh, that was it. Did you have feelings about certain characters that could
have been better done?
DJ: Quite the contrary. In some ways, I think it's never been equaled - certainly never surpassed - never will be. But, as a matter of fact,
what interests me is how and when you first came to the studio and were they already working on Snow White (at the time)?
GN: I, in 1930, I was working for the Fleischer Studio in New York and I
had previously worked in about two or three studios. I knew the crowd at the Felix the Cat studio back in New York....Bill Nolan and...who was the big guy at the head of it?
DJ: Otto Messmer.
GN. Otto Messmer. Anyway, I had worked on Krazy Kat with Bill Nolan. Back in those student days the studio had about twelve people or something
like that. And of course, to back up a little, it was in 1930 I created Betty Boop and instantly Walt Disney offered me a job and every other studio in
Hollywood. Every one of them had been trying to create a girl character and couldn't do it. The artists....drawing a girl is different from Mickey Mouse or
Minnie Mouse or Bugs Bunny or things that are funny little characters. But Snow White had to be almost a real character and the reason was very
simple: I had about eight years of art school experience and most of these kids had maybe a year or two at one of the smaller schools.
DJ: Didn't you study in Europe?
GN: I studied over there three years.
GN: In Vienna. I am...I wanted to be an illustrator - they were the aristocrats
of the art world at that time, not because they were always the greatest artists but they were the best paid artists. I coincidentally have worked with one of
them - Dean Cornwell, in a commercial art studio in Chicago. I was just an art school kid but he had come up from Kentucky and he wasn't a rich guy
but he was good enough to earn a good living and he happened to be working in a commercial art studio where I was learning to letter. I had just
come out of a little town up in Wisconsin, went to art school and had about three jobs, one of them was as a super-numery. One of the kids in the art
schools was smart enough to...I don't know how he got the job, but he dug up super-numeries for the theaters, for the shows - if they need six soldiers to
wear iron uniforms or something and you didn't have to do any talking. Why, we got about a dollar a night for taking those parts and, of course, all the kids
I knew had a restaurant job, (so) there'd be a couple of (free) meal and then I had another job where I worked for a friend of the family who had...he sold
school books and I could run in on Saturdays or even Sundays and help him to fix boxes up and do something. Once in a while he'd send me out on an
errand to a little country school in Illinois or Wisconsin or somewhere. So I'd picked up enough change to gradually get along, particularly this job in the
Art Service, and this commercial artist - funny he came from a little town right near where I'm living in Missouri now mostly - and he taught me how to letter
and then we did a lot of commercial lettering jobs. Most of their work was like this post office (stuff) ...a little advertisement on it...a post card or
something but there's always a lot of fancy letters. And this man's store, tobacco store, whatever it is, got a real bargain. So I had met a kid up in my
home town who was fairly brilliant. In those days....I should back up. In those days there was no radio, there was no television, and the phonograph
was quite new and everybody had an organ or a piano and somebody in the family if they had a family would learn how to play it and the rest of the family
would come in and sing. They entertained themselves. So song publishers, many stores like Woolworth's would have a song counter almost the length
of this room and a professional piano player who had some kind of a voice and these girls, shop girls would come in and look over the rolls of song and
if they liked the title and the picture that was on it they'd ask him to sing it so that they would see whether they liked it. So I, after I had worked with this
letter artist a year or so and learned a little about it, a kid in my home town had written a song. A few - every small town has one or two brilliant
musicians who may be young or any age but this kid that'd written this song, as many people do.... There's song publishers who specialize in that and so
that's what happened to him. He got this song printed and he asked me if I would design the cover. Of course, I wasn't a skilled artist so I just sort of
borrowed a thing - a pretty girl head from Gibson...I don't know if you ever heard of the Gibson Girls?
DJ: Oh yes.
GN: He was a millionaire artist who was so famous that his drawings were in
the Louvre. He was the greatest pen and ink artist who ever lived in the world probably, particularly in the human character. So I put the lettering on
it and maybe this boss helped me with it, I don't remember but anyway I decided that I'd take this - Chicago was filled with song publishers, many of
them branches of New York publishers. So I took this song cover down to - his last name was Graham, Bob Graham or something like that. I showed it
to him and asked him if he could use any of my art and he did. He said, "Gosh, yeah, that's pretty good, we could use it." To many of the song-cover
artists it was not a steady business but he handed me a song to do and I took it. Of course, the artist I was working with brightened up my lettering a little
bit but all of a sudden I had a printed sample of a song cover that I could take to other publishers. So very soon, golly, I was able to earn a living. So
all in all over a period of the next two or three or four years I probably did two hundred song covers. I did all of W.C. Handy's, starting with "St. Louis
Blues." Blues had just (come in). Handy was....you probably know more about Handy than I do.
DJ: No, not really.
GN: He was the premiere black....most of the song writers.....There were many. The blacks were very deep in singing and, of course, as they are
today. Many of your premiere entertainers are blacks and they were in those days and I was eventually, instead of shopping - going from studio to studio
and picking up jobs - I met a printer of music and he handled all of the amateur things that came from every state in the Union, like this kid from my
home town. So eventually I met a publisher who printed the music and the song and the cover. He would take the whole job for about $60 in those
days and if they didn't have an artist to do the cover, why he'd find one. If they didn't have a writer to write the words, he'd find one. And funny, some
of the pros picked up a little extra change by just - I mean people who were writing theatrical productions would work for him and so some of those
songs, if the music was good, and everything else (could make a little extra). So he persuaded me to ...put me in a room in the center of Chicago and I did
all the covers. That gave me steady income. I didn't have to work any more for this (letter outfit).
DJ: Was that after...did you go to Vienna after that?
GN: Yes, ten or fifteen years after. But in Chicago I met this one illustrator who was Dean Cornwall - I don't know if you know the names of the illustrators.
DJ: I know Leyendecker.
GN: Leyendecker, Yeah. He...there were two of them. Joe...They were cover designers primarily for the Saturday Evening Post and other
magazines. They were the fellows who earned two thousand bucks a week or something like that. Yeah, Leyendecker. I would say today that those
things he did...I saw an ad in a newspaper a couple of weeks ago asking for original paintings by those artists - Norman Rockwell and people like that - and now those things that the Saturday Evening Post
paid twenty-five hundred dollars a cover - which was a terrific lot - that was a year's salary for some people - they are now selling for more than $100, 000 and they're
trying to find them because there'll never, never be another period (like that again).
DJ: Just like the Disney cells from Snow White.
GN: That's right. I remember when they closed the studio - not the studio - the art work on
Snow White. There was a table about as long as from here to the wall (approx. twelve feet) and a girl in the front office phoned everybody and said: "The drawings we're no longer using on
Snow White are piled up on the a table downstairs. You may help yourselves." And I imagine that that pile of drawings - they were this high on the table - they probably would be worth
today a quarter of a million dollars.
DJ: Probably more. Did you or do you own a lot of your own drawings?
GN: Well I had a sale and made a few thousand bucks a couple of years ago.
DJ: Who did you sell them to?
GN: They were auctioned off in New York (Christies).
DJ: What year did you finally get to the Disney Studios?
GN: About 19...let's see. In 1930 I created Betty Boop. By brief history is that - uh - I don't know if you're interested. I worked for so many studios. I
first worked for William Randolph Hearst way back in the 1920s and that was...I went to New York because all the big publishers, the Chicago
publishers, many of them, were branches - - I really got into this song publishing artwork very deeply. I was doing all these songs but that was
during the war and all. Everybody in America wrote a song about how we hated the Kaiser and Hitler and how we were going over and beat him up
and wrote it into songs. And I was turning out a song cover a day (laughs) for HS Talbot who printed them up and then I got drafted. That's what
happened - I got drafted into the army myself in World War One. That took me out of the thing for a while and when the war ended I went to New York
and - if I don't finish any sentence you can jump on me. In 1930 I had just got back from studying over in Vienna and still wanting to be an illustrator but
earn enough money so that I could afford to get started, I worked for Fleischer's (and shortly after created Betty Boop). And the offers from
Hollywood - gosh - Roy Disney took me out to dinner five nights in a row and came up to my studio and we watched the Rose Bowl game...oh no!
We LISTENED to it on the radio - still no television. And he told me all the reasons why I should come out to Walt's. The main reason was that there
was only one other man in the animation business who could draw a girl character, let alone animate her and Walt Disney was already starting to work on Snow White (author's note: Snow White
did not begin until 1934).
DJ: Now you were in the East when Roy Disney came out to...
GN: Yes, I was working for Fleischer.
DJ: And that's when Roy Disney Came out and said Walt wanted you.
GN: That's right. But I had so many offers, I could work at any studio. So I decided to work for (Ub) Iwerks (author's note: Ub Iwerks, a fellow artist
with Walt in his Kansas City days, had come out to California in the mid-20s when Walt needed to expand his fledgling studio. Because of disagreements
and incompatibility, Iwerk was lured away to start his own studio by Pat Powers, owner of the Cinephone Co., which Walt leased to record his early
sound films. Powers (along with many others) thought that Iwerks was the real force behind Walt's success and surmised that without him Disney's days
would be numbered. Iwerks, after the tremendously unsuccessful "Flip the Frog" series failed, came back to Walt but the two allegedly never spoke.) It
had to be about '35 when I came out here (to Walt's). In that period (1932), I came out and worked for Iwerks because at that time everybody
thought that Iwerks was the brilliant studio. Walt was just a businessman, which wasn't true but that's from three thousand miles away. Walt had
stopped animation but he was a pretty good artist actually, and in his books where are printed a few of his drawings and he wasn't a bad artist. But
Iwerks was the brilliant creative artist. He created (i.e. he drew the character of) Mickey Mouse. But really I chose Iwerks because he offered me the
most money (laughs). And so I gradually became an unofficial supervisor, director I guess you'd call it. They didn't have names for them. I was
probably the oldest by a number of years at the Iwerks Studio and he had a lot of young artist, gradually became....have you all the books on animation?
There's a picture of the Iwerks studio in one of them.
DJ: Yes, I know. Would you say you got to Disney's about 1935?
GN: I would say about then. I probably worked for Iwerks a couple of years. (Author's note: Natwick at the time lived in a nice home in Westwood
and was a great cook and wine connoisseur, according to fellow animator Shamus Culhane. On some evenings, entertaining guests after dinner, he
would tell tales about the primitive days of his early life in Wisconsin, replete with shady characters and lumberjacks. Once, he did an impromptu Indian
rain dance complete with yelps and stomps. See Culhane's Talking Animals and Other People, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1986.)
DJ: When you first came to the studio, were you working with Ham Luske, who was designing (the character of) Snow White?
GN: Ham Luske was the other animator on (the character of) Snow White
and (he had a great reputation), while I was there anyway. I knew Ham very well. Of course the studio wasn't that big and we had lunch with these guys
every day. Ham was the other animator who could animate a girl and he had this famous....Who was the Milwaukee singer that became very
famous...rather hefty gal. She was quite filled out but a little risque. The pictures - she made quite a few Hollywood pictures.
DJ: Sophie Tucker?
GN: No, she didn't make pictures.....blond gal. Well, Ham Luske animated her in "Who Killed Cock Robin?"
DJ: Oh, Mae West, you mean.
GN: Mae West. And so Ham was the only artist that Walt was sure could draw a girl. All these guys were brilliant at comic characters, you know, but
they - most of them had never gone to art school. They started out with some artists who learned to draw a cartoon character and I was very
(skilled) because I wanted to be an illustrator and I knew I had to be able to paint a girl character because illustration has stories usually of boy/girl themes.
DJ: When you first came to the studio, did you work with Ham Luske on the character of Snow White?
GN: No, that picture was not being done yet. I may have been there a year
(before I started on Snow White). At first, they didn't have a picture ready to be put into animation. Actually Ub Iwerks had offered me half of (his)
studio if I would stay with him (laughs) but we were getting rumors then that Walt was working on a feature picture and I decided that I wanted to work
on it, the first feature picture ever animated. And I went to...When I got to Disney's (in 1935)....Before I got to Disney's actually there were fifteen
ex-New Yorkers who had come out to work at Disney's, like Ted Sears. Ted Sears was the primary story man at the Disney Studio and I had palled
around with him more or less out in New York. So every Friday night we'd get together and see the amateur prize fights at the - well, a group of ex
soldiers, the American Legion had a big building and they'd have prize fights there, semi professional fights. And so there was rumor that was pretty
prevalent that if you had ever been offered a job by Walt Disney and turned him down he'd never offer you another job (laughs). And so Ted, I knew,
rated very high with Walt so I made up my mind that I'd like to work on Snow White and by that time they were beginning to storyboard it and pick
out - they had, I think, four groups of directors and divided the picture (between) them and each group had three or for men on it. So Snow White
was going into the works by this time. So I said to Ted one night at dinner: "If you ever see Walt in a good mood, you might mention me and say you understand Grim would like to work on Snow White
and give me a chance to do it." And a couple of weeks (later) he called me up and said: "Walt will talk to you Friday night after work." So it didn't take me long to get down
there. So it was an interesting meeting. Walt, apparently, was all alone and they just built their first new studio (author's note: the animation building and
sound stage had been completed in late 1931) and now they've got a whole city, you probably know (in Burbank). Where was that first studio?
GN: Hyperion studio, yeah. So Walt spent most of this time showing me around the studio - they were very proud of it. And he stopped in on a
couple of animators and showed me what they were doing - working on Mickey - particularly an animator who finished his work beautifully. I was
always a kind of a slapstick man. I liked to rough things out quickly and roughly. But this guy was a brilliant clean-up man. He had worked for
Fleischer's and many of his drawings are in the Fleischer book. And I thought: "Christ, if I have to draw like this..." I'd been knocking out Flip the
Frog and stretching him and flattening him out and doing things with him but, golly, it pretty near scared me, actually. But I thought I would risk it.
DJ: Was there any artwork for
Snow White - storyboards that he showed you?
GN: I didn't see a thing at that time. He didn't even mention Snow White.
He just showed me the studio and what a beautiful men's wash room they had (laughs). And then we agreed on a salary. I didn't think it was the time
to start arguing with Walt (laughs). I - next Monday I was working for him.
DJ: Do you remember how much you were being paid at that time?
GN: I was paid one hundred fifty bucks a week.
DJ: By Walt?
GN: Uh huh.
DJ: That's a lot of money in those days.
GN: Oh yeah, it is a lot of money in those days. Iwerks had paid me two hundred.
DJ: Oh, I see.
GN: But actually, Iwerks, when he found the studio could go and get along, he left the whole thing in my hands, I mean the hard part of it so I suppose
that I earned the money. But it was, at that time, was a pile of money.
DJ: What do you remember about Snow White? The first things that you can recall?
GN: Well, there were many meetings before they ever got into animation. But the first meeting they had (that I attended), Walt called in all of the
animators. I would say all who would work on it. Probably there were some animators that continued with the shorts for a while and particularly the
directors. The directors - he had, you might say that Walt had, I believe, four or, you may have heard, four different - four director groups.
DJ: I think there were five.
GN: Five. Were there five?
DJ: Yes. Bill Cottrell, Ben Sharpsteen, Larry Morey, Will Jackson, and Perce Pearce.
GN: Well, I didn't remember whether there was four or five but anyway...
DJ: (Thinking that Grim was referring to the historic meeting where Walt acted out all of Snow White - repeatedly stated to have taken
place in 1934 - it actually took place in December, 1936 - I asked:) Were you at that first meeting you were talking about?
GN: Well there were probably dozens of meetings before they called in the
animators. But this time they gave us a summing up of what it was and they asked us all to submit drawings. They kind of gave us a synopsis of the plot
and said to throw in any drawings you can think of that might be used anywhere - fit in any of the gags. They didn't bring up many of the gags there
but they gave you a quick list of the different periods in the picture. And I remember, I grew up in a small town on the Wisconsin River and I - of
course I had never felt of drawing a deer that grazed in our back yard during the winter months. But what always amused me as a kid - we, in summer -
we'd spend about half of our time IN the river and about half out, sitting in the sun. But I remember when the water lowered in the river, the paper mill
would take out - they have a light dam in the case of flood - they can pull it out. What do they call that dam? Something like buck-dam or something.
But they had to clean out the mill more or less during the summer and they'd take out these dams and the river was lowered down and in the bottom of the
river was great big rocks, some as big as this room (approx 12x18 ft). And the soft-shell turtles would climb up and sun themselves (laughs). And I
thought, well, a turtle is an interesting character - we always had one in our pants pocket when we were kids, a frog or a turtle or something. So I made
a lot of sketches of turtles doing different things and they made a lot of use of it. They....I didn't give them any gags but..I don't remember what I drew but
they wrote it in right into the story and used him for a scrub-board and used a gag of him. He was still going up the stairs when they started running down
and he toppled over and skidded out of the house.
DJ: (I show him a model sheet of the turtle) "Maybe they used your drawing."
GN: I don't remember it, of course, but they probably refined it a little bit.
DJ: So you contributed a turtle to the story?
GN: Yeah. Well - they really didn't stop anywhere. They...no story, I don't think, ever written, even Shakespeare, was more thoroughly and carefully
thought out because...I don't think I had any gags in any of my drawings but to turn him over and use him for a washboard (laughs).... was cute.
DJ: Do you remember who thought of that?
GN: No, but it wouldn't been easy to find out. We never asked who thought of a gag(author's note: Most were conceived by the story department in the
planning stages of a picture). They did ask us for gags to be submitted. I used to pick up five or ten bucks every once on a while and I guess Walt
worried about the animators wasting too much time. It probably cost him more than ten bucks for the gag (laughs) but if they used it - yeah, they had
one of my gags, a fifty dollar gag, in the story right up to the last week. I used to lunch with the storymen because Ted Sears was top story man
around there on the shorts so we had lunch every day. They told me that my gag was in the $50 bracket.
What was it? Oh, I've forgotten what it was but a - oh, it was
something...somebody had to get up to the top story window. I guess somebody was up there and the house was fire or something.
DJ: Oh, this wasn't in Snow White?
GN: Oh no, this was just a short. I think that the giraffe happened to saunter across at that time, something like that and (I) used him for a ladder. But
they came up with something else at the last minute and I (never got the fifty bucks).
DJ: So you were in on some of the early story meetings on Snow White
, before they actually started the animation?
GN: Yeah. They had a pile of stuff that high, I remember, and they didn't
sort it out. But they'd...Walt..if he wanted anything acted out, he'd have one of the story men - they're always clowns in the story department and Walt
never...I guess he did used to turn clown himself once in a while.
DJ: Do you remember him acting out some of Snow White for some of the animators?
GN: I can't really say, particularly Snow White he probably would have a girl act it out as the action (would) come up.
DJ: I read that for several months you did experimental animation on
the girl. Do you remember anything about that?
GN: Oh I? Yes. I don't know how many...Very few artists pretended to
draw a girl but there may have been four or five of them and a couple of my drawings were shown in Life Magazine (author's note: actually Look Magazine). Did you see them?
GN: Last May.
DJ: No, I didn't see those.
GN: I had a copy but somebody took it out of my apartment. Well. I drew her as a little princess and what happened..there were...there may have been
a half a dozen artist who drew girls that were..there were a few. If I could grab those names, but..
DJ: I understand that Walter Lantz was called in as a consultant on Snow White
in the very early stages.
GN: I never heard of that. But it's possible because Walt's experience in Hollywood exceed Walt(er Lantz's) at that time. But I think he (Walt)
spent..probably spent two and a half to three years on it - had it in his mind. I met Walt, gosh, when I was working on Krazy Kat....him and his brother
Roy, when they'd come East they would visit the other studios. He may have wanted to persuade Bill Nolan to come out.
DJ: You said you drew Snow White as a little princess.
GN: Yes, with a three-pointed crown. I
didn't realize that...I may not have thought of the story where she was in rags. Later on, however, I designed the dress that she wore in rags..because I
got that scene and they didn't have a costume. (I show him a model sheet of Snow White in Natwick's rag costume, drawn but his assistant Marc Davis.)
Yes, I think one of the faults is a lot of artists who deserve credit didn't receive any. Marc was a brilliant artist and he cleaned up my animation.
DJ: Do you remember some of the experimental work you did on Snow White?
GN: Well...All the animators that worked on her, I think Ham and I are the only premiere animators...
DJ: And Jack Campbell.
GN: Well, he was my assistant.
DJ: Was he? Because he was given many big scenes to do for the picture.
GN: Yes, well Jack wanted a chance to animate and so he came to me - he
may have talked to Ham earlier - but up to this time we really had no girls to animate. But then he had cleaned-up several of my..maybe three or four of
my scenes. Our first scene, the first scene Walt gave us he said: "Take a whole month on this one scene. Just (take your time). Everything you find
that doesn't work tell us and we'll change it. Everything that does work..."
DJ: What scene was it?
GN: Oh, I've forgotten. I did eighty scenes in the picture. And he gave us a
whole month and we didn't ever have to submit one inch of animation to go into the picture. We could work them over or do anything we wanted to. So I've forgotten what that first scene was.
DJ: (I asked him about the conflict between his design of the girl and Ham Luske's - one which, according to Marc Davis, caused more than a few tense moments during the summer of 1936. But he seemed
vague about it.)
GN: When they decided on the costume she would have, they had twenty-five story meetings on it. There's no telling they may have called in
the President of the United States for an opinion that they would use something! They decided as long as she was to be in this costume most of
the picture that (it should be one which) most of the inbetweeners could draw. Mine may have been a little too...
DJ: Did you work with Luske in the same room?
DJ: And Jack Campbell was originally your assistant?
GN: Yes. He wanted to animate and I wouldn't attempt to stop him. I could have complained to Walt but I wouldn't. I really, I got a break - I think
Marc was a better artist from my point of view, although Campbell was... had years of experience. Yeah, Jack worked for me until we got onto Snow White
and I never, ever thought of trying to hold anyone back. Which...I don't know what Walt would have said if (he knew how Jack felt about
animating the girl) and I wouldn't be curious to find out. Because Jack and I used to bowl together and do everything else together..we were pretty close friends.
DJ: And you don't recall any conflict between you and Ham over the character of Snow White?
GN: Well, I don't recall. I was never one to hold back my opinion but so far
as I know there was never any conflict between Ham and myself because I admired him. I think, if I remember right, I went to a party at the Disney
Studios and that was years later when I was working with UPA. And gosh, they had a long bar and I came up to order a drink and Ham was there and
he reached over and gave me a terrific handshake. I guess he respected me as much as I did him because we both knew that most of the Mickey Mouse
animators couldn't even draw Snow White. Because it isn't even drawing a girl. There's something about the line itself. A feminine line is different than a
masculine line, there's different kinds of lines in drawings. Drawing a nude man and a nude woman, well it's like switching to Mickey Mouse or something from a photograph.
DJ: So you felt the line should be feminine looking?
GN: The lines - well, all of the subtleties. You've got to know what the
muscles are underneath the skin. You've got to retain a feeling of subtleness. A woman doesn't walk like a man. Yes, I was glad that I had had eight
years of art school. And that was over a period of, gosh, about twenty years.
DJ: The classes given by Don Graham...did you go to any?
DJ: Do you remember (anything) about those?
GN: Well, I went because I enjoyed drawing from a live model - just as long as you have a model hired by somebody else (laughs). Walt wanted
everybody to learn how to draw better and always hoped, I guess, that he could have been in there doing the drawing himself.
DJ: I know you've talked a lot in the past about how you didn't like to
use the rotoscope, but didn't the rotoscope help with the timing, for instance?
GN: Well, we changed it often. We never went in and told Walt we were
doing it.(Here he talks about the one hundred and one rotoscoped images of one particular scene from Snow White and how he used the first and last
ones but everything in between was done free-hand, without the rotoscope [the scene, Snow White running down the stairs after hearing the pot boiling
over, was partly cut in the final version.]. He never told this to Walt, who upon seeing it, is said to have stated: "That's just what I want!") And we
took liberties. Walt never said, "Don't do this," but if it didn't work, you got the scene back and re-animated it.
DJ: Do you recall any scenes from Snow White
that you did that you had to re-animate?
GN: In the early, preliminary scenes I
think we animated three of one - Marc Davis was with me at the time. I think actually what happened, I believe they never got into the picture and whether or not, they must have (eventually) satisfied
Walt without us ever knowing it. He gave us a practice scene that wasn't even in the story but they were written out or something.
DJ: You don't remember what that was, do you?
GN: No. The first three or four scenes we got were pretty simple scenes - I
mean like her running across the room, picking up something. The little scene may have been seven or eight feet. Of the last twenty scenes I cannot remember one that came back for changes
DJ: But the early scenes you were talking about, they were just for experimental...
GN: I think that Walt was satisfied with them and figured this is safe - we can go ahead.
DJ: Oh, I see. They were probably just scenes..short, little scenes...
GN: I remember the first scenes he gave us and he told us "Don't worry
about it, if it doesn't work, why we'll find out what's wrong."
DJ: And they were just of the girl going...
GN: Well, she may have picked up a cup or something...done something very simple.
DJ: Do you recall looking at the live action through the moviola?
GN: Oh yes. Ech, Marc and I, we each had one. We had (Lester) Novros
work with us. We were kind of a three-step sort of thing. And late in the picture when we were trying to finish it up a couple of other kids...I
remembered their names for thirty years, I've forgotten who they were now. But they were very good assistants. Oh, Tony Rivera, a very good artist,
cleaned up some of my drawings later, towards the end to finish up the picture - to get it on the road.
DJ: Milt Kahl?
GN: Well, Milt was...He did the Prince in some of the scenes and he
actually..Milt's drawings - see, he had no experience (at animating the human figure) but he was a terrific artist. Later on, of course, Milt was doing all the
animation - he became a marvelous animator. But Milt's early animation was fastidiously and perfectly done but he traced it too close to the photographic
tracings and what I did on one scene, I remember, when he (the Prince) was walking over to sing under the window, I suggested throwing a couple
(foreground cells) of trees in the foreground so that you wouldn't be conscience of the walk. I don't think I ever took a scene back - I may have
corrected a drawing or two or three or something. I wanted these fellows to do the thing as well as I could do it and the particularly tough part of the
thing, of course, I would fill it in, leaving only simple inbetweens. But things like a walk, normally you'd take for granted. But take a(n inexperienced)
guy like Milt and expect him to do ANYTHING, you know, in the picture, was extraordinary. But he very quickly became one of the real great
animators at the Disney Studio. Remember these kids came in because primarily they drew exceptionally well, and I never corrected anything that I
thought would work. I never tried to say, well, they should have a little more of an action or something during the thing. So I drew many key drawings so I knew they'd start out certainly.
DJ: What scenes did you particularly enjoy when you saw it last time?
GN: I think the whole series where she is picking flowers and the hunter
comes in. I think in some ways that was the most successful scene.
DJ: (Showing him pictures of Snow White dancing with the dwarfs I
asked him if this would have been particularly difficult — this was actually done by both Natwick and Campbell.)
GN: No, this was really one of the easier scenes to do because it was moving
so much we could use lots of rotoscope and for that reason it was on the close-up stuff that we had to be very careful of her eyes, nose and lips and
what happened (to those things). Well, I was pretty well pleased with most of these scenes because the skirt was moving and it was at a fast tempo.
DJ: So the faster the scenes, the easier it was?
GN: Ordinarily, they could not pinpoint a defect.
DJ: It was a beautiful scene.
GN: I thought it was a very fortunate scene.
DJ: In some of the scenes you did, one can see the similarity in your drawing and the original model for Snow White, Marge Belcher (Champion). Was that intentional?
GN: No. But eight years in art school, I may have sensed certain things that the assistant would not. But I had a terrific pair of eyes at that time.
DJ: Were there any scenes that were particularly difficult that you had to work hard at more than the others?
GN: Well, the ones that I would say that about would be the ones where she
was moving more slowly and I started to tell you once before and I think this has been printed before: I received one scene, there were, I think one
hundred and one drawings. And I used (number) one and one hundred and one (of the rotoscoped images). Because she was singing "Some Day My
Prince Will Come" I believe. (Author's note: here Mr. Natwick is apparently confusing two different sections of the film. The scene using only the first and
last of a set of rotoscoped images was actually, as mentioned earlier, of the one when Snow White was running down the stairs. However, he most likely
did throw out the rotoscopes of the scene spoken of here since using them would, undoubtedly, create even more problems as he will explain.) You can
imagine "Some Day (he starts singing) My Prince Will Come"..... So I just threw them all out (the rotos) and animated the whole thing (free-hand)
because I was sure that it would jitter if I had used those drawings. Now it's very possible that in photographing it they were unaware that she almost sat
still at that time. So I think what I did with that - I know in one case, something like that, while she was staying pretty still in one mood, I
deliberately (asked the director that the camera) panned over to one of the dwarfs, because the rotoscope would have been monotonous to see her in
that almost one, still, position. We were given total liberty to do what we wanted to and every time I felt if it would do better to pan over to a dwarf
clapping their hands or something and then come back to Snow White (we would do it). The animation (is pretty much set by) the animators, the
director (directing animator), once he gets those rotoscope drawings and nobody ever jumped on us for any mistakes we made (laughs). So I guess most of it looked all right to Walt.
DJ: Do you remember going to a sweat box session with Walt and being nervous?
GN: On Snow White?
GN: I can't recall one. In fact, I never was nervous because when I was working for Walt I was offered jobs about every month or so...
DJ: I don't mean nervous about getting fired, I mean...
GN: Oh, nervous about MY work? Oh, some of them were very tough. Some we had to take liberties with.
DJ: Can you recall which ones?
GN: Not off hand. I'd have to go through the picture. (Here I show him photos and re-prints from the movie, one with Snow White telling Grumpy to
wash. "Yes, that's my scene." An when she's kissing Grumpy: "Oh yes, and I think I animated the Grumpy there, where he gets his nose stuck in a tree. I
feel very sensitive about that..I mean I recall it. But maybe I didn't.")
DJ: Bill Tytla did Grumpy.
GN: Oh yes, I remember talking to Bill about some of the scenes.
DJ: Oh you did?
GN: Well, yeah..That one, because for two years I had a room next to Bill and we became very close. Bill and Art Babbitt lived together at that time.
DJ: And all of this was easy for you to do?
GN: Well, the drawing was an awful lot of fun. But to get the spacing and the timing and the picture, for instance, how long - how many frames - would that
be held so the audience would get it...the timing of it (was more challenging). The rotoscope, of course, gave you a great deal of help. But it didn't give
you the psychology of the thing. And we had to put in the accents.
DJ: Can you talk more about that - about what you just said?
GN: I guess it just comes down to a sense of directing. This was after twenty years or so (of drawing). I hadn't been in animation all that time but gone to
art school and drawing...But you want to be sure that the audience knows what's happening. Much of the commercial stuff, for example, the timing is
WAY off. You get a picture of a character and then they do something and you don't exactly know what they did. I remember, I had an experience - I
won't mention the director's name - but when I first worked at Walt's, they didn't have any animation for a week or two. I cleaned-up and made color
drawings of the different models and characters that were used.
DJ: In Snow White?
GN: Not in Snow White. But one of them was Cookie Carnival
. I drew or re-drew the head drawings of some of them - polished them up. Like the hair on the Cookie Queen was whipped cream or something. And later on I
animated some of these so felt that I knew the character before I ever got them. I was thinking of another case. One of the early pictures I worked on, I believe it was Mickey's Fire Brigade
and Mickey Mouse was a fireman and he fell through the roof of a house and landed in a bathtub (with) Clarabell Cow who was in there. Now I always wanted to make sure that
the audience knew what happened before he got a response.
DJ: It was Ben Sharpsteen (the director).
GN: Yeah. Anyway, I'd animated this thing, Mickey fell in in a splash. Now
I wanted to be sure that the splash was out of the way - water dripped out of his eyes and THEN SUDDENLY he realized he's in a bathtub with a naked
cow and he's very, very surprised. But Ben whittled it down so he's surprised as soon as he landed and I never...It wasn't very long before one
day Walt's secretary called me up and said: "Walt would like to talk to you after work." And so, after work, I walked in and Walt was sitting behind a
big, long table with all (different) scenes and drawings (on it) and telephones and everything else and he reached down and got a box of cigars and he said:
"Do you smoke cigars, Grim?" And all of us, animators, quite a few of us smoked cigars. Cigarettes would go out too quickly - you'd be making a
drawing and a cigar would still be lit afterwards. And so he lighted a cigar and I sat down on the divan about a third longer than that one (points to a six
foot divan) and he went back and picked up a stack of cards and flipped through them and said: "Some nice things have been said about you Grim."
Then there were a few...I forgot how he wandered off in the end of a sentence (laughs) and he said: "Is there anything you'd like to say yourself?"
Well I didn't want to blackball Sharpsteen because we worked together in New York and his desk was next to mine (at the time) and..
DJ: Everybody hated him apparently.
GN: Oh? I never hated him because I was pretty much of senior member (authors' note: Grim was nearly 45 went he went to Disney's, easily the
oldest animator by far of a group young enough to have been his children - perhaps another reason of his departure after Snow White was completed.).
I had grown past that age where you hate people.
DJ: They were afraid of him, I mean.
GN: Yeah, I don't think they were afraid of him - they didn't dare punch him
on the nose but I had known him way back in the early days and so I didn't want to say anything against Sharpsteen. I Said: " Walt, I don't think"....I
said "I'm kind of a slap-stick animator. I like the psychology of animation and I feel in some cases that Ben's changed my drawings. In fact," I said, "I
don't think you are getting MY animation." And we had quite a long chat there, me trying to avoid knocking Sharpsteen. And Walt said: "Do you
think you'd do better with another director?" And I said I didn't think it would hurt any. I didn't think it would do any worse. Well, the next director I got in with - it's called Alpine Climbers
. Who directed that?
DJ: Dave Hand.
GN: Yeah, Dave Hand. And there were some real tough scenes in there. As
a matter of fact, one of them that I animated of Mickey trying to steal eagle eggs and the eagle - there was a little scrap between Mickey and the eagles -
they used that as a test scene for animators who came out from the East. They had them re-animate that (to) see how good it was. So on that
particular picture not one drawing was changed, not ONE TINY THING was changed. Nothing in the picture was changed and I got a $500 bonus on
that one. So that was my answer to Sharpsteen. Not once in the next four years that I was there did Walt ever say a word to me about my animation.
DJ: You said there were tough scenes in the Alpine Climbers. Were there any tough scenes in Snow White?
GN: Well, the main toughness is to be sure the eyes are lined up, that the
nose doesn't get too big or that the lips get out of place a sixteenth or a sixtieth of an inch. You've got a blank face there where you have to be very,
very careful, the inbetweens had to be watched very carefully unless it was fast action. But it is...yeah, Snow White, you had to know how to animate to
really get the timing because sometimes there's a stuttering in the movement or the tracing of lines are bad. You've got to be sure that the flow of the
dress was always a natural flow. And we discarded many drawings because we felt that it slowed it up a little bit and we could get what we wanted in by
putting in a couple of our own inbetweens somewhere else. We re-timed quite a lot of that as well - of the same thing as the splash in the bathtub. I
think that Sharpsteen put it in too soon (Mickey's surprise). He lost the psychology of the scene. The thing an animator can do PRE-EMINENTLY
is to psyche an audience if they know how to time it. If they can't feel it, they can't do it.
DJ: So for Snow White, you re-timed some of the director's timings?
Is that what you're saying?
GN: Well, it was only photographed and it moved, and gave its position. But, yeah, well, like that one scene of one hundred drawings. We, I forget
whether I re-timed that completely or whether I cut away from it a little quicker and cut to the dwarfs or something. But we had total privilege, which we used - that privilege or re-timing any of that.
DJ: So you would say the most difficult part was the details of the face and the drapery of the costume, rather than an actual movement,
getting out of a chair, for instance, or....that was all pretty easy for you then?
GN: Yeah, I think so. The drawing was the thing you had to watch. That could get off very easy.
DJ: Because the animation is very beautiful and it looks like a lot of study has been made of the live action to get it that realistic and still have the exaggeration necessary for the cartoon.
GN: Yeah. I didn't like any of my animation in the Fire Brigade because Sharpsteen had re-timed everything that he....he kept changing things and
changing things. Now that might have been all right for these kids that were learning how but, boy, it was a pretty bad start and I'd been animation for six
or eight years. Probably longer than Sharpsteen had.
DJ: Now did you notice that when you were doing Snow White from the live action rotoscope, that you had to exaggerate a lot of the motion?
GN: Oh, you exaggerate anytime you are photographing, or have it done over.
DJ: The rotoscope was re-photographed you mean?
GN: I think if they ran it and it didn't look quite right they'd undoubtedly re-shoot it.
DJ: And as far as exaggerating the rotoscope, was that easy for you
to do? For some animators it wasn't easy.
GN: Oh, I can't remember any problems and, of course, we had the moviolas - we could run it over and over again. And as I said, in that one
scene, we threw out one hundred (rotoscoped) drawings. We didn't use it.
DJ: Because there's still a stretch and squash even in Snow White but it's different than the dwarfs.
GN: Oh yes. We wouldn't dare all of a sudden over-do it or something. Yeah, you had to be very cautious, but we tried to get it into the drawing.
See, we took..we re-drew the rotoscope. Her chin was down to her bosom. She was about five heads high or something but the girl was probably seven
heads high so we picked it up by making a trim, little (figure), we moved the waist-line up and moved the neck-line down and tried to overcome
difficulties by making a brace less outer collar. So we changed her enough and we trimmed her down, of course. If her skirt was out too long, too far,
(we'd) perform a little arc and twist it the other way. We did everything that we would like to see happen.
DJ: Who's we?
GN: Well, Marc and even Les Novros. And I primarily made the changes. But after we did it, we re-shot some of it (our animation) and ran it and all
looked at it at once and if there was something I wanted to point out, I'd say "Be sure to catch this." And Marc was a brilliant, brilliant artist and Les was an excellent artist.
DJ: Can you remember anything specific that you pointed out - something while you were watching one of the test things.
GN: No, I guess not. Any problem that came up while they were drawing,
either of them, they'd just bring it over to me and say, "Can we change this?" and if it seemed easy to do and there was no reason not to do it, we would
do it. Oh, I've seen rotoscope that didn't work at all.
DJ: For Snow White?
GN: No, not in Snow White, but in Fleischer they used some of it and you'd
know it's been traced. It's just...you've got to overcome the fact that this is traced photography and still get this nice svelte drawing in there that made her feminine.
DJ: Did this come easy to you in the beginning or did you have to gradually get it to where you felt comfortable with it?
GN: I think we had to work it over and if we discovered something that
worked, we'd tell each other.
DJ: When you worked on the key scenes for Snow White - how did you draw it - I mean, did you start with the head, did you start with the body?
GN: Yes, you usually start with the head - that proportions everything else. The girl - she probably was close to - about five heads high - I forget exactly
now - and you were sure...We, very often if it was the first few heads we'd draw we'd be sure they were the right height. So that was where some of the
artists who work with rotoscope get off. They get the head a little too big or too small and that throws everything else off. There's no way you can
overcome (it), so we watched that very carefully.
DJ: Did you ever look at any of Ham Luske's scenes and think: "This could be better" or something?
GN: (laughs) I never looked at one of his scenes except when they appeared in the first test reel or something.
DJ: And what did you think then?
GN: I never thought of it as being Ham's really. He was one of the fellows that I respected very highly and I don't think we....I ever talked the character
over with him at any time. I can't recall it. I'm sure he looked at some of my scenes in the finished picture and realized that they worked and I did the same with his.
DJ: Did Jack Campbell ever discuss with you any of the problems he might be having with Snow White, that you can remember?
GN: Never, never once. But Jack, he'd been a professional artist before he ever got into animation so he was one of the good...well, Walt had a bunch of
wonderful...Without great draughtsmen, he could not have made Snow White. You could get...there were artist good enough at other studios to
draw the dwarfs. But, of course, in fellows like Bill Tytla and Freddie Moore and those guys, you had superb artists, superb animation artists.
DJ: Do you remember anything about Norman Ferguson? He drew the witch.
GN: Well, probably not a better (animation) artist in the world, Russia,
Denmark, England, or anywhere else who could have done what he did (with) it. He grew up on Broadway and he had a natural sense of
exaggeration. His problem, if he had any, was going too far. And possibly he did that because he was not the greatest draughtsman and so he did
it...what he picked up (was) by going to vaudeville every week and (so) having a high sense of the theatrical.
DJ: Do you remember looking at his drawings of the witch when you were doing Snow White?
GN: Oh yeah. Not while he was working of Snow White, earlier on. At one time he was a couple of (desks from me).....When I was starting in the
business and hadn't been there too long I had the desk two desks away from him and I knew him personally because he was one of the New Yorkers.
And I used to take my drawings over to him and ask him, "How does this look" or "what did you think," or "have I stretched it too far?" He was a
nice, quiet-spoken fellow. Later on he came over to UPA and then he began asking ME questions.
DJ: But do you remember looking at his Witch drawings?
GN: Oh yes, because, of course, sometimes the two characters appeared in the same scene. But I thought he did a superb job. I didn't visit him while he
was working on the witch but when I first started I knew him well enough that I went deliberately into his office and said: "How many feet of animation a
week do they expect here?" And he gave me a brush-off answer, he said: "Why, I sometimes do fifteen feet a day." (laughs) Of course, I remember
one character we did at Walt's - a fellow came up from the front office and said: "Walt will be satisfied if we get a foot and a half a week out of this."
They were caricature drawings but they were pretty slow to work on.
DJ: You had to draw Snow White from every angle, of course?
GN: Apparently yes, but apparently we were lucky, or else the camera move may have helped. But remember - gosh, in three art schools - in, well, three
of the best art schools in the world for about eight years of going to life classes every night for that long, you learn something about drawing.
DJ: And the animation is something that you yourself had a feel for?
GN: Yeah, they always called me a natural animator. I never was aware of
that but I was told it by many of the people I worked with. Particularly, at the first studio I worked at, the Hearst Studio, I began doing things that the
animators had never tried but that was because I'd been drawing in life classes for...how many drawings would that be? Three quarters of a
year...about two times eight - several thousands of nude bodies in all kinds of positions.
DJ: Can you recall what were your earliest scenes from Snow White
after the easy experimental-type ones you described earlier?
GN: The first ones I think (were) where she's walking in the woods.
DJ: The sequences were not drawn in the order they appear in the
film were they?
GN: No, the first scenes were not complicated ones, I think they did that on purpose. For instance, her scene with the Huntsman I think is the best scene
I had in there. I felt later, after she had gone through the forest, holding the bird on her finger was a very touching scene(this was actually just prior to the
one with the confrontation with the Huntsman). There were some scenes I wasn't satisfied with but I didn't think they were enough to hurt the picture
and I knew that a lot of higher-up guys than me had seen them and said OK (laughs).
This article is Copyrighted © 1988 by David Johnson, and has beed printed here for the
first time in Animation Artist Magazine with Johnson's permission. David Johnson is a monthly columnist for Animation Artist Magazine, and we thank him for his insight
and willingness to contribute his knowledge and talent to the animation world