Walt Disney: Visionary and Inventor

multiplane camera with walt disney

December 11, 2020

Written by: Jim Smith

Most people recognize Walt Disney as a pioneer in the fields of animation and entertainment. But do you consider him an inventor?  Here’s a lesser known fact – Walt Disney was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2000, for development of the multiplane camera.

walt disney and multiplane camera design
The Multiplane Camera – Image: Disney

The multiplane camera was a filming system designed to give animation more of a multi-dimensional feel. The camera lens was mounted at the top of the layered system, and would film through several (up to seven) layers of drawings, able to focus on any one of the layers, creating a more dynamic animated product. The Disney version of the multiplane camera was technically invented by William Garity in 1937 for the Walt Disney Studios, to be used in the production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The camera was first tested in a Silly Symphony short The Old Mill, which won the 1937 Academy Award for Animated Short Film.

The Old Mill, 1937 – Image: Disney

While Disney’s version was the gold standard for which Walt was eventually inducted, there were other more crude versions of the camera developed before Walt’s version – most notably the first version, which was developed by the original Mickey Mouse animator, Disney Legend Ub Iwerks, in 1933. Disney’s multiplane camera was used prominently in many Disney films, including Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty, and The Jungle Book.

Pinocchio village scene – filmed using multiplane camera – Image: Disney

Here’s an additional piece of trivia – The Little Mermaid was the final Disney film to use a multiplane camera.  Since Disney’s multiplane cameras were no longer in operation during production of the film, the multiplane process was filmed by an outside facility. The physical multiplane camera process was made obsolete by the invention of a “digital multiplane camera” feature in the digital animation process, which has been in use ever since.

There are three original Disney multiplane cameras still in existence. One is located at the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California. A second camera is located at the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, and the third is located in the Art of Disney Animation attraction at Walt Disney Studios Park in Disneyland Paris.

Multiplane camera at the Walt Disney Family Museum (photo taken from above the camera system, looking down)

Just when you thought Walt did it all, you can add one more feather to his cap!

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