Lifelong Learning Important for Personal and Business Development: A Lesson from the Disney Company

Walt Disney was continuously improving his art.  In fact, many people say he elevated the animated cartoon to an art. As shorts became less profitable, Walt knew he had to diversify. He began to train his staff to ready them for “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” To do so, he brought experts into the studio to teach the animators how to draw better. Some of these lessons are now available in “Before Ever After” (affiliate link).

One of the major problems was that the men applying for animator positions never learned how to draw with lines. Schools and art teachers taught how to draw with smudging. Make a line. If it isn’t right, you can smudge it with your thumb or an eraser to make it look better. Applicants would bring in a lot of “slick” work that may have looked good but didn’t actually demonstrate drawing ability. Animation requires expert control of line; smudging just won’t get it.

Even established animators lacked the skills it would take to move animation forward. Walt recognized this and sent Don Graham a memo about beginning a training program for employees. He wanted a life-drawing class, but animation is more than just drawing. It’s acting, composition, framing, and camerawork.

More importantly, Walt wanted the studio to move toward character animation. Rather than a series of gags and actions that didn’t necessarily make sense, he wanted the stories and drawings to show the character’s motivation. Too often a character would run on screen simply because he had to be there. Walt wanted animators to show the character’s mood through his or her movement.

Another failing was that characters failed to anticipate their desires. They would move to the door, get out the keys, unlock the door and put the keys in their pocket as if each action was separate from every other. In real life, people walk to the door while getting their keys out. Walt felt the animators lacked the ability to observe the real world and bring those observations to the screen, simply because many animators didn’t actually think about how everyday things were done.

By instituting a “culture of learning [that] became central to the studio,” Walt was able to help his animators bring something new to the world – the animated feature – and everything it took to get it to the big screen.

If you want to read more about Disney and creativity, check out “Disneyland Is Creativity” and “The Haunted Mansion Is Creativity.” Read more about the Disney Company in “Penguinate! The Disney Company.” Check out other Disney stories at This is part of our Disneycember coverage. Doug Walker, the Nostalgia Critic, and Channel Awesome appear to have coined the term “Disneycember.” Come back every day during December and read an article.