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Not Just Your Average Joe:
Disney Legend Joe Grant

by Mike Lyons

Joe Grant.

The dedication to John Canemaker's book, Before the Animation Begins, reads: "For Joe Grant, who continues to inspire us all."

Truer words were never written. At age 91, Joe Grant serves as a bridge between Disney's illustrious past and their current successes. He began his career at the Disney studio in 1933 as a conceptual artist and story man and still works there today!

During the studio's first Golden Age, Grant was head of the Character Model Department. He worked on the studio's first feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as well as Saludos Amigos, Make Mine Music and Alice in Wonderland. With Dick Huemer, Grant was in charge of story for Fantasia and Dumbo. Grant left Disney in 1949, but returned to the studio in the '90s, to contribute conceptual art for today's seemingly endless string of Disney blockbusters. In fact, one of Grant's conceptual ideas became the basis for "Carnival of the Animals," a segment in the upcoming Fantasia 2000. This makes Grant the only Disney artist to have worked on both Fantasia's.

Joe Grant, who was honored as a Disney Legend in 1992, recently took time out for a very "animated" interview.

Mike Lyons: Well, first off, if someone had told you, back in the late Thirties, when you were working on the original Fantasia, that sixty years later, at the turn of the century, you'd be working on the sequel, what would your reaction have been?

Joe Grant: Surprise [laughs]. But, Fantasia was, more or less, destined to be repeated sometime again, because it was an extraordinary adventure. I think Roy Disney has done a remarkable job [with Fantasia 2000], which is very faithful to "the Disney plan." The original had a different approach. This one is a little more lighthearted. I'd like to see these things continue on. There's a chance that we could help to immortalize some great music, as well as some of the more modern stuff.

ML: For the first Fantasia, Walt Disney placed you and Dick Huemer in charge of, not only story direction, but also charged you with picking out the music. How did you decide which pieces of music to use?

JG: We played and played music, just short of lunacy [laughs]. It was really quite difficult. It worked back and forth. Either something was suggested by the drawings, or by the music itself. But, there's always a good story in a good piece of music.

ML: You worked extensively with Dick Huemer at the studio. You once drew a caricature of the two of you -- it depicts a head, that's half of your face and half of Dick Huemer's face. Does that caricature sum up your working relationship with him -- sharing the same brain, so to speak?

JG: Definitely. I think that explains it quite well. For Fantasia, Dick had a background in music and so did I. My grandfather was the first violinist in the L.A. Symphony. Music was played at all hours in my house. If my dad came home a little "swacked," he'd play Chopin until three or four in the morning. I had music all over me.

ML: You and Dick Huemer worked on the story for Dumbo together. Where did that concept come from?

JG: It came from outside the studio, in that, it was a little book that was done up in the form of a scroll. There was something like six or eight pictures in it. Walt gave it to us and said, "See what you can do with this." We took it into a room and figured that it can't be a bad idea, although it's skimpy. There was a handicapped elephant and a circus background, so we knew that there had to be a story in there somewhere. That was really how it began.

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