Walt Disney Studios


October 16th, 1923


Walt Disney’s Studio first found its headquarters in Burbank, California. A personal winner of of twenty Academy Awards within his lifetime, with a total of 63 total nominations, as well as 4 Special or Honorary Oscars, Disney is remembered as an icon and pioneer in the animation industry. He developed the first sound cartoon, with the help of animatorUb Iwerks. An innovator in being the first to use three-strip Technicolour, and multi-plane animation, Disney created the now-ubiquitous Mickey Mouse.  

Disney first began working in the arts through a commercial art studio, where he met animator Iwerks. After Iwerks was laid off from his job, DIsney and him decided to form their own commercial arts studio, where they began producing animated advertisements for the Kansas City Slide Company, later renamed the Film Ad Company. 

In 1920, Disney produced a cartoon short making fun of the poor road conditions in Kansas City, earning notice of Milton Feld, the owner of Newman Theatre chains. He contracted Walt and Iwerks to produce together 12 more cartoons satirizing various topics of the day, called Laugh-O-Grams. With Iwerks, Disney began producing the series of animated joke reels, called Lafflets. He created a six-minute, his first full-length cartoon which was released in theatres on July 29th was Little Red Riding Hood, and other titles soon followed such as Jack and the Beanstalk, Puss in Boots, Alice in Wonderland.

Disney’s studio went bankrupt in 1923 and he headed to Hollywood, where Roy Disney laid the foundation for a second studio at his uncle’s garage. Using techniques pioneered by Max Fleisher for Out of the Inkwell series, Disney produced with Iwerks the Alice Comedies (1924-1927), this series was successful and allowed Disney to expand his animator staff.

In 1927 Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was created, and at this time disney started experimenting with Iwerks a character called Mickey Mouse, and the first shorts created with Plane Crazy and Gallopin’ Gaucho. After the release of The Jazz Singer (1927), which showed studios the potential of the talky, Disney quickly produced a third Mickey Mouse cartoon that used synchronized music and sound, but no dialogue: Steamboat Willie.It was the first sound cartoon in film history, released on November 18th, 1928. Steamboat Willie was a sensation, and led to the production of many first b&w and later Technicolor cartoons featuring Mickey, Minnie and Pluto, with Disney himself providing the voice for Mickey.

In 1931, Disney received a special oscar to recognize the importance of the first sound cartoon.By the mid 30’s, all of Disney’s cartoons were using breakthrough Technicolour three-strip techniques, as well as multi-plane camera which allowed for depth in the screen space.

In 1928, Silly Symphonies was launched, Disney’s second series, featuring the memorable Skeleton Dance which synchronized tightly sound and visual action. The Three Little Pigs (1933) was produced as a part of Silly Symphonies as well, earning an Academy Award win in 1933.Ub Iwerks and Burt Gillett directed the series in its early years, receiving five more Academy Awards through the 30’s. The anthropomorphic Mickey Mouse inspired other characters such as Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto. Donald Duck was perhaps the 2nd most successful series behind Mickey Mouse, nominated eight Academy Awards, one of which it won in Der Feuhrer’s Face (1942). Disney’s cartoons had began taking on a new level of sophistication in the expression and liveliness of the cartoon animals depicted by the 40’s. 

 Before ending the Silly Symphonies, Disney introduced the replacement series, Walt Disney Specials. The first short to have appeared was Ferdinand The Bull – a realistic animation of a bull who lives in Spain.

Many other cartoons were featured in the series’ history, including The Truth about Mother Goose, Paul Bunyan, Noah’s Ark, Goliath II, and the first animation to use Xerox type process to ink cels, Symposium on Popular Songs (1962). This particular 20 minute short featured Professor Ludwig von Drake, a musical McDuck character, and features inserts of stop-motion animations with fruits and vegetables, as well as musical segments.

Disney’s personal style as an innovator and pioneer in the animation industry led to the first feature length animation Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), which was made at a great financial risk to the company. Fortunately, the film was a huge success, resonating in minds of many generations of children, as well as adults, and won that year a special Oscar for significant screen innovation.Disney continued producing feature-length animations, including Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941), Bambi (1942).

In 1940, Disney moved his studio to a much bigger plant in Burbank due to the continued success of the studio, raising the bar for many other animation studios working at the time. Fantasia (1940) was a landmark in animation, and earned Walt Disney another honorary Oscar in 1941 as well as the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award that year.

In 1941 of May, the animators of Disney staged the first strike in history, seeking better pay and working conditions. Disney fought with the strikers, forcing many of them out of the studio to find work elsewhere, but eventually agreed to give them what they wanted. During the WWII campaign, Disney’s studio produced many shorts to aid the war effort, such as series of training and morale boosting films with the United States Government.

Disney Studios also produced documentaries, such as Academy Award-nominated features The Grain That Built a Hemisphere (1942), and Victory Through Air Power (1943). Throughout the 50’s, Disney Studio was responsible for well known feature animations such as Cinderella (1950), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Peter Pan (1953), and One Hundred and One Dalmations (1961).

With the television as a popular phenomenon in the 50’s, Disney launched Disneyland in 1954, which preceded the opening in July 1955 of the famed theme park in Anaheim, California of Disneyland. Becoming a popular weekly television series Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, which Disneyland was renamed to, the series was a fixture of family friendly television programming and produces other popular series on TV including Davy Crockett and Zorro.

Disney adapted Mary Poppins in 1964, and was the first animated feature to use a sodium-loss process to make special effect mattes in film.

On December 15th, 1955, Walt Disney, who in his lifetime came to represented family entertainment, died during surgery to remove a lung tumor.

In 1975, he received the Winsor McCay lifetime achievement award given to him by ASIFA.


  • Lenburg, Jeff. Who’s Who in Animated Cartoons: An International Guide to Film & Television’s Award-Winning and Legendary Animators. New York: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2006. Print.