This short is dated by more than the constant references to Sleeping Beauty in the introduction; yes, all right, that’s the movie that Walt had in production at the time—Walt was a master at using the TV show to increase interest in whatever the studio was releasing or encouraging people to visit the park or what have you. But by the end of Walt’s lifetime, even, it would be weird to have artists go off on a hike somewhere to paint a tree on a Saturday—while wearing sport coats and slacks.
The four artists are Eyvind Earle, Marc Davis, Joshua Meador, and Walt Peregoy. All four were artists who worked at the Walt Disney Studios. The four men all go into the hills, presumably not far from Burbank but who knows, and they all paint a single live oak tree. During the week, the four work together to create one work with an overriding artistic style—the character designs are worked out by animators creating together. Peregoy seems to work subordinate to Earle, at least for this feature, and he has to be sure that his background paintings are in the style developed for the feature by Earle. But on Saturday, the men can paint however they want, and if they’re all painting the same tree, they’re all painting it very differently.
Each man has a very distinct style. They use different techniques, different media, even different means to apply the paint—one uses a palette knife! There’s obvious ability in all four men. I may not like Peregoy’s rather Cubist style, but it’s still clear that he knew how to paint. I do like the style of the others, though, and again, I am aware that people who are not me like Cubism! He was the background painter for Rocko’s Modern Life, eventually, and I’m wondering if that’s part of why I never got into that show—an artistic aesthetic that doesn’t do anything for me.
But it is an interesting way to look at the creation of an animated picture. Because these are four men deeply involved in its creation, all with very different artistic styles, and they all managed to work together to create one cohesive film together. Walt refers to the work as not unlike what musicians do to produce a symphony—all working together in a single style. And these paintings are their virtuoso moments, their opportunities to shine as individuals. If you are interested in the creative process, the short is worth seeking out, and I’m fairly sure it’s been packaged over the years for exactly that purpose.
There are people who will tell you that Disney stifles creativity. I mean, for one thing, unless you’re Bill Plympton, you have to make a movie with other people. Hundreds of people are involved. And you can’t let everyone draw the way they want to unless you’re going for a very specific look that frankly would be pretty headache-inducing. But Walt knew there was always a time to shine, I think, and he was more encouraging of individual creativity than people necessarily remember.