Prior to the time of our merger in 1970, Optical Systems was involved in the development of the company’s patented process for the production of computer assisted animation for the movie and television industries.
Heading up that division was a well-respected French animator named Jean de Joux, the inventor of the process. De Joux’s system utilized a special animation table on which an artist would draw images on 70mm film for transfer to video tape. The process promised significant savings in time and money, however it was not well received by established Hollywood animators who were accustomed to drawing on a much larger 9 x 12 inch field. De Joux invited many of these professionals to experiment with the table. Most however, were Disney trained and either uncomfortable drawing on the small 70mm field or simply resistant to change.
One animator however, a British cartoonist named Gerald Scarfe, did create a short piece for us called “Long Drawn Out Trip” which was a satire on his view of life in Southern California, and the Hollywood movie industry in particular. Actually his little film was very clever and was nominated to be shown at the annual Filmex competition in Hollywood in the winter of 1973.
One particular segment dealt with Mickey Mouse smoking a marijuana cigarette. The character rolls his own joint, lights it up, takes a series of long drags and evolves from Disney’s cute little cartoon figure into a long-haired, droopy-eyed and wasted hippie. The audience roared and our film, of course, won first prize in its category.
To my knowledge that showing at Filmex was the cartoon’s only exhibition anywhere, because the following day the Los Angeles Police department descended on the El Capitan Theatre as well as our offices on Olympic Boulevard. They confiscated our little film and everything involved in its creation.
However, unbeknownst to any of us, Gerald Scarfe must have kept a copy of the controversial cartoon for himself and taken it back with him to Canada. Wouldn’t you know it, the particular segment that deals with the degradation of Disney’s icon can be found today on YouTube (at least until Disney goes after it). Be our guests. Click “Play” below.
I’m afraid that the failure of de Joux’s animation system to appeal to Hollywood professionals and the fate of our Mickey Mouse character portended a sad demise for the company’s animation division. Old dogs? New tricks?… A million dollars out… C’est la vie.
Actually, Gerald Scarfe went on to establish an impressive career for himself as an animator. Many years after his Los Angeles Mickey Mouse experience, one of his most significant credits was as production designer on the animated film, “Hercules” for, no surprise, The Walt Disney Company.
Scarfe won many honors including “Cartoonist of the Year” in 2006 and Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2008.
Most significant of his animation accomplishments however, is his work in 1982 for the critically acclaimed motion picture, “The Wall,” featuring the music of Pink Floyd.
Geoff Nate’s readers are in for a treat as we share with you several of Scarfe’s animated highlights from “The Wall” in our “Begged and Borrowed” section, or simply click the play buttons below. Be our guests: