Disney has had its ups and downs during its time but nobody can deny how it changed cinematic history – especially when Walt released ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ in 1937. But we on SzeeMedia want to do a series of posts where we honour the women behind these fantastic films that have changed the world. Over the next few months at the weekends, we will be posting an homage and giving you an insight into the women behind the scenes of Disney’s classics.
Starting with Snow White.
While the demure, softly-spoken (frankly 2D) character herself may not be making any feminist waves, the women involved in creating her character and her film certainly did. We have three in particular that we want to look into today:
Taking on the epic feat of creating one of the first feature length animated films was something that Walt Disney knew wasn’t going to happen easily without hard work. The inspiration to create the film came after Walt had been to a screening of a silent movie adaptation in 1916 of the Snow White fairytale which starred Marguerite Clark. He knew then that this was a story that he wanted to showcase to the world in a manner that they had never seen before.
With a budget of $250,000 (which is the equivalent to approximately $4,500,000 today), Walt began to hire animators, production workers, inkers and painters. It’s the inkers that we want to focus on today. The team of inkers were employed to ink the outline of each frame of each sequence in Snow White once handed to them by the artists. While this could be completed easily with the technology of today, this wasn’t the case as everything had to be completed manually.
The team of inkers were all female and Walt referred to them as his ‘girls’ – there were 158 of them in the team. In diaries from the inkers, the majority agreed that Disney was very paternal towards them – but this didn’t stop him from ensuring that everything was perfect. The icon was known for wanting everything just so, everything perfectly how he envisioned it to be. This meant that the normal working week just didn’t cut it for what he wanted and when he wanted Snow White to be ready for release – sometimes, the inkers were working 80 hour weeks, leading them to sheer exhaustion. All in all, the production employed 102 assistants, 32 animators, 20 layout artists, 167 ‘in-betweeners’, 25 watercolour artists, our team of inkers and painters and finally, 65 effects animators. Overall during the time of production, 2 million illustrations were made using 1500 different shades of paint – all of which were created in part by the all-female team of inkers. You go, girls!
Even though Snow White had a significant impact on pop culture, the character herself left a lot to be desired in terms of development and girl power. Walt was meticulous in how he wanted her to be presented – the artists that were involved in her character design were the very same that created Betty Boop so they made her sexier than Walt had wanted. They even dared to have her show a little bit of ankle which Walt was firmly against. So, he sent the design back to the drawing board and insisted that she was to be as innocent as possible – she was, after all, only supposed to be 14 years old. Instead of anything like Betty Boop, the artists instead donned her in a peasant dress which covered up her skin. They did decide, however, to keep the pouty red lips.
To go with this design, they needed someone who had as equally an innocent voice. The first actress who auditioned was Deanna Durbin who was also a singer who appeared in plenty of films and songs in the 1920s-30s. Following her audition, though, Walt said that she had too much of a mature voice to match Snow White. He wanted something as soft and elegant as her innocent nature in the film.
Enter Adriana Caselotti.
Walt found her voice was so perfect for the role that he did something that we are certain you wouldn’t be able to get away with today in modern filmmaking – he got her to sign a contract that meant that her voice would only appear in Snow White. Caselotti stuck to this, too, as she only had one small role in the Wizard of Oz. This meant that Disney got exactly what he wanted – her voice was unique to the character and easily identifiable as Snow White.
Lucille La Verne
Finally, we have the Wicked Queen Grimhilde herself. For every good girl, there has to be a bad girl and the Queen was the first of the Disney villains to make her mark on the big screen. Determined to be the fairest of them all, Grimhilde orders an assassination to be carried out on her step-daughter, Snow White, who is fairer than she is so that she can regain her status. However, when the Huntsman’s conscience kicks in, she realises that she has to take matters into her own hands by turning into the Old Hag to trick Snow White.
However much Walt may have loved Lucille’s voice for the posh Queen to portray her grace and sternness, he was worried that her voice didn’t work for the transition to the Old Hag. The animators told Lucille this, stating that they needed someone who sounded older and raspier. She asked for a few moments to have a break from the recording studio and when she returned, asked them to give her a chance. They began recording and she gave the ideal performance of the Old Hag that they were looking for. When asked what she had done to mix up her voice, she replied with a shrug, “Oh, I just took my teeth out.”
We stan a toothless Queen.
These are just a few examples of the women involved in the production of Snow White and we can’t wait to explore the others more as this series progresses.