Lost Notebook Herman Schultheis and Disney

The Lost Notebook Herman Schultheis and the Secrets of Walt Disney’s Movie Magic by John Canemaker

It’s hard to imagine how monumental a book is going to be before you even crack the spine. I’d avoided the reviews of the book but when you read hundreds of blogs each week, you’re bound to run into people talking about things you’re trying to avoid. I ran into this with The Lost Notebook but had to hold off until I could read my copy.

The Lost Notebook Herman Schultheis and the Secrets of Walt Disney’s Movie Magic was an instantaneous hit with animation and Disney Studios researchers. It was hard to miss the articles in which they gushed about the book. It was written by the inimitable John Canemaker based on the notebook of a Disney employee from the late 1930s.

John Canemaker is an animation historian and a professor of animation at the Tisch School of Arts at New York University. He’s written several books on Disney animation and is a well-respected historian and critic.

I’ve read a lot of books on the studios and never ran across Schultheis, so I wasn’t sure what to expect; especially a book with as much hype as The Lost Notebook. The book is owned by the Walt Disney Family Museum and they worked with publisher Weldon Owen to release a full-size replica of the notebook, which made the book a very large 12″ X 12″. Not quite a coffee table book, but very close.

The story of how the notebook came into possession of the Walt Disney Family Museum is very interesting. The book sheds light onto how some historical documents are just waiting to be discovered, especially when the true value might never be known. It’s also a great opening to the book.

Once we get into the book, it’s broken down into two unique sections: a semi-biography of Schultheis and the notebook reproduction.

Why The Lost Notebook?

Schultheis found himself at the Disney Studios in 1939 after trying to find employment at studios all over Southern California. An emigre from Germany, he wanted to use his unique engineering and artistic skills to work on films. While at the Disney Studio, he chose to take a lot of photos and he detailed and recorded many of the special effects used in the films while he was there.

Basically, he took tons of photos during the production of Fantasia, The Reluctant Dragon and Pinocchio. In most cases, many of these processes for the special effects would have been lost without Schultheis recording them.

The notebook was created without consent or knowledge of anyone at the studio. He did end up showing it to many people, in hopes of continuing his employment, but it didn’t work. A theme that Canemaker keeps returning to was that Schultheis was full of braggadocio and often took credit for projects he just observed. It added to the alienation that Schultheis felt from his attitude and from the prejudice against his German heritage.

The real treasure is the reproduction of the notebook. The book is large and it’s a full-scale photographic reprint of the notebook. You can see the layout, the handwritten notes and all of the illustrations that are included. Although modern animation studios use computers for most effects, it’s incredible to see how painstaking and time-consuming some seemingly simple scenes took.

Canemaker has also curated each page of the notebook, explaining what Schultheis has documented. Canemaker puts the pages into their proper historical perspective and offers invaluable insight into the book.

At times it was incredibly dense and other times it was incredibly charming. During the filming of the Reluctant Dragon, Schultheis took many behind-the-scenes photos. There are over 50 photos alone of Frances Gifford, the young starlet who Benchley keeps meeting in the film.

The story of Schulthies’ life is very tragic for someone so promising. You come to understand how his braggadocio and his German heritage (at the stirrings of WWII) really shaped his short-lived Disney career and ultimately stopped his employment elsewhere.

After reading the book, I can understand Canemaker’s excitement over this peek into the Disney Studios of the 1939-1940 era. It really surprised me how many people that Schultheis had photographed and added to his notebook that are simply unknown. Throughout the book, Canemaker points out the number of artists, special effects people and cameramen who are simply unknown.

Who Is The Lost Notebook Herman Schultheis and the Secrets of Walt Disney’s Movie Magic For?

The Lost Notebook is a must for anyone interested in the history of the Disney Studios. It’s a rare look at how certain departments worked and helped to create the masterpieces we cherish today. If you’re a fan of the Reluctant Dragon, Fantasia or Pinocchio, then you’re going to love the insights the book provides. It’s a very large and very expensive book but well worth it for the inside look it provides. Frankly, seeing how many of the effects were done is still mind-boggling.

I also urge you to pick up a copy because we need more books like this; we need titles that take a serious and academic look at animation and the Disney Studios.

Disney Book Update

We had some more books show up at ImagiNERDing headquarters.










Two Guys Named Joe by John Canemaker

Two Guys Named Joe: Master Animation Storytellers Joe Grant & Joe Ranft is a book that sat on my shelf unopened for almost four years, and I can’t figure out why. John Canemaker, animation historian extraordinaire has written a wonderful book about two Joes (Ranft and Grant) that influenced the Disney Studios and Pixar very heavily. I’ve covered books by Canemaker before, including Before the Animation Begins and The Art & Flair of Mary Blair. His book on Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men is a must have for fans of Disney animation.

Continue reading Two Guys Named Joe by John Canemaker

Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men & the Art of Animation by John Canemaker

Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men & the Art of Animation by John Canemaker

Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation by John Canemaker. 2001, 308 pages.

Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men and the Art of Animation is the first book to take an in-depth look at the artists that shaped the Walt Disney Studios before and after Walt’s passing. The Nine Old Men reference relates to Franklin Roosevelt’s description of the Supreme Court Justices—Walt used it as a joke and it stuck (the name came from a 1937 book called Nine Old Men). The Nine Old Men would become the most creative and powerful people at the Studios. The litany of characters that they have brought to life is simply astounding.

Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men & the Art of Animation by John Canemaker

John Canemaker is an animation historian, animator and professor of film animation at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He is a very successful author with seven books (three just about Disney animation) and 100’s of essays and articles to his name. Mr. Canemaker is also noted for several award-winning short films.

Mr. Canemaker begins the book with a look at the Nine Old Men’s formative years: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Most of the Nine Old Men were hired at the Studios in the mid-1930’s. Before them, were legendary men that were mentors and friends to the new artists. Vladmir Tytla, Grim Natwick, Norman Ferguson, Hamilton Luske and Fred Moore were put in charge of various departments and sections of Snow White. As time progressed, many of the Nine Old Men were mentored by these animation pioneers. For many reasons, the previously mentioned animators left Disney or found they could not keep up with the younger crowd. Mr. Canemaker touches on the influential animator’s lives throughout the chapters on the Nine Old Men.

Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men:

  • Les Clark,
  • Wolfgang Reitherman,
  • Eric Larson,
  • Ward Kimbal,
  • Milt Kahl,
  • Frank Thomas,
  • Ollie Johnston
  • John Lounsberry, and
  • Marc Davis.
Table of Contents for Walt Disney’s Nine Old men by John Canemaker

Mr. Canemaker devotes a chapter to each animator and takes you from their birth to the present day (in 2001) or their passing–he has created a condensed biography and Mr. Canemaker successfully brings the important details to the top that seem relevant to the creation of the animators. You follow each artist from their birth, early family life, school, travels and eventual beginnings at Disney. All of the Nine Old Men stayed with the Disney organization until their retirement They were also faithful to the Studio during the Strike. Undoubtedly, this cemented Walt’s opinion of them. Family photographs, animated film stills and corporate images fill the volume. Mr. Canemaker shares a lot of great anecdotes about the artists. Did you know that Ward Kimball attended over 22 schools growing up and that Marc Davis’ family traveled the country, rarely settling in one place for more than a few months? Wolfgang Reitherman was a pilot in World War II and claims that he was only a director because Walt told him to be one.

Throughout each chapter, Mr. Canemaker shares what makes each animator so important to the Disney Studios and animation. As you go through the chapters, you see each animator as a different personality to the whole. Each one distinct and filling a specific role within the Studios. After the Animation Strike, the Nine Old Men were charged with being the review committee for the Studios. A film couldn’t be made without their direct involvement and an artist could be fired at their whim. After Walt’s passing, the Nine Old Men were the creative force and were often left stumbling as to the direction to be taken at the Studio.

As expected, a majority of the book does focus on animation. Marc Davis was really the only one of the Nine Old Men asked to work on the Disneyland Project. The book does cover that section of Marc’s career; starting with the Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland in 1962, the World’s Fair attractions, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. Ward Kimball is mentioned in conjunction with Disneyland through his shared loved of trains with Walt. This book truly shines as a mini-biography of the Nine Old Men and how they moved the art of animation forward.

Bottom Line: This is a book that I highly recommend for animation enthusiasts and people interested in the Disney Studios formative years. It brings together information about the early years of the Studio and the roles of the Nine Old Men in animation, the Studio and the Company–unlike any other resource. Most of the book does deal with animation and the classic characters that were created but it does focus on the theme parks with Marc Davis and Ward Kimball’s contributions.

You want this book if you have any interest in learning more about Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men and their art.