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Pinocchio and CIA: How Cleveland Institute of Art grads drafted for Disney

Pinocchio.png
Walt Disney Company
Many of the artists working on Disney's second feature film were graduates of the Cleveland School of Art -- known today as the Cleveland Institute of Art.

There are two film versions of the classic children’s tale “Pinocchio” coming out this year. Yet the original animated Disney film remains the most well-known and has several Cleveland connections.

Pinocchio’s comical sidekick, Jiminy Cricket, performed one of the most popular Disney songs of all time in the 1940 movie. His appearance was created, in part, by Cleveland Institute of Art graduate Amby Paliwoda, an assistant animator on the film.

CIA’s Animation Department Chair Anthony Scalmato said that many of the school’s graduates made their way to the Disney studios in the 1930s.

“Ethel Kulsar… was in inking and painting,” said Scalmato. “She was the very first female storyboard artist at Disney on ‘Fantasia.’”

Scalmato noted that CIA grad George Roether was an effects animator on “Pinocchio.”

“Traditionally, men focused on animation and story,” he said. “Then Disney split up and had women do ink and paint because, he thought, I guess, women had steadier hands. Eventually, they realized women can animate and do story as well.”

Scalmato said that there wasn’t much of a college-to-career pipeline for animators in that era.

“You didn't necessarily have to have a college degree or go to college because animation really wasn't taught in college,” he said. “It was just a lot of really good draftsman and fine artists that ended up having the drawing chops and portfolio. That's why a lot of the original [Disney films were] fairly realistic for [the] time, almost like video in a way, because they did use rotoscoping to trace over videos in some cases.”

Following the 12 Principles of animation to Hollywood

This past summer, CIA senior Alasia Gordon interned at Disney. She’s studying animation and grew up loving Disney films like “The Princess and the Frog” and “The Incredibles.” She said her portfolio likely caught the eye of the studio’s recruiters because she tries to infuse her characters with personality.

“When you walk into a movie theater and you see a character on the screen, you want that character to be believable,” she said. “When I say ‘personality,’ I mean you want to look at that character and be able to relate to it and believe that it’s alive. There’s a lot of subtle nuances that you have to think about in animation, and that takes time to hone-in on.”

One of Gordon's pieces is simply titled "Dance."

Gordon’s studies have included the 12 principles of animation, which she said applied as much as in 1940 as they do today.

“They use them in ‘Pinocchio;’ they use them in everything,” she said. “There's no way around it: squash and stretch, anticipation, staging, pose-to-pose, follow through and overlapping action, easing in, easing out, arcs, secondary timing, exaggeration…”

Much of Gordon’s internship was done remotely, using Disney equipment set up at her home in Cleveland. And that’s inspired her to possibly open an East Coast-based animation studio after graduation.

“There would be more opportunities for people to produce feature films where they didn't have to go all the way across the country to do so,” she said.

Multiple Pinocchios

Professor Scalmato said that CIA has graduated many others who have contributed to animated films over the years – including other versions of “Pinocchio.” One of the earliest was Grace Bailey, head of Disney’s Ink and Paint department.

“She was the artist coming up with the colors that you see for the Disney films,” he said. “Her claim to fame was the Disney Blue.

“David Hilberman was instrumental in the early days [of the company]. He eventually actually broke off of Disney, and he led the Disney strikes to unionize. Just to tie this back to 'Pinocchio,' he and another grad, Ruth Kissane, they made the 1987 'Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night' [for Filmation].”

This year, viewers can see two more adaptions: a live-action musical starring Tom Hanks, which was released this month by Disney. And this fall, Netflix premieres an animated version co-directed by Guillermo Del Toro.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.