"A Farewell To The Mouse"
(A Letter Sent to Disney Upon My Departure)
May 8, 2001
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I know you receive a great deal of these kinds of "Leaving the Company" emails and will, undoubtedly, be seeing many more over the coming weeks and months. So, I will try to keep this one as light and brief as possible. Try to think of it as my final "Potts Picks" article, if you will.
Many of you may already know that I have left the studio. For some, this fact may have slipped by unnoticed. But, whatever category you may fall into, I can assure you that the decision to leave Disney Feature Animation was neither an easy or quick choice to make.
You see, I have a very deep affinity for and commitment to the medium of character animation as both a vocation and as an art form. It is an appreciation that I have cultivated since I was a child. I feel it has been a dream come true and a great blessing to have worked in the animation industry and particularly at Disney Feature Animation for the past 20 some years. The shouldering of the arduous work of Disney quality animation and the resulting characters that I have helped bring to life on the screen are achievements that I am indeed proud of. I also feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with such fine fellow artists during this time. To have helped contribute to the great rediscovery of Disney Feature Animation through the success of the "The Little Mermaid", "Aladdin", "Beauty & The Beast", "Pocahontas", "The Lion King", "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", and "Atlantis."
But, despite the joy of having been associated with these productions, I have known for some time that there was trouble in paradise. I have watched with increasing concern and consternation as the artists of the studio were ever increasingly left out of the creative process to the point where their contribution was reduced to little more than numbers on a ledger. I helplessly watched as projects not fully developed were pushed into production, despite the warnings of animation veterans, and saw millions and millions of dollars needlessly wasted. I have seen focus groups and business people steering the path of projects and effectively stealing the soul out of an idea right before our eyes. I have endured the pain of having my voice silenced as my harmless "Potts Picks" articles in "The Twilight Bark", (Remember that? The newsletter created as an outlet and a source of information by the artists for the artists?), were stopped by the powers that be.
These things, (and many others that would be pointless to recount in this writing), I could no longer bear. To that end, I made the personal decision in 1998 when I left the ill fated "Kingdom of the Sun" that, if things did not improve in the department, I would finish out my contract and move away from Feature Animation. It is an understatement to say that things did not improve. On the contrary, conditions worsened. Morale at the studio has not been lower since I began work in the animation department some 20 years ago and, from what I understand from the old timers, it has never been lower in the whole 65-year history of Feature Animation production. I am also well aware that the majority of my artistic colleagues, from the top down, share these sentiments.
Through my final years at Disney I have made it a point to always remain professional in spite of some very unscrupulous and unprofessional behavior focused both personally and at the production staff. I continued, to the end, to honor my word and fulfill contractual obligations by offering the highest quality character design and animation that I was capable of achieving in the style, tradition and philosophy handed down to me by Eric Larson, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston among others.
I would like to thank the creative leads of the studio. By this I mean the directors of the films I have been associated with. The people who, from time to time, made things tough for me, but who helped push me into areas of greater creativity that I was not even aware were within me. I have enjoyed working as a team on the Disney animated pictures, side by side with other fine artists in an effort to make something greater than anything we could have done on our own. In the end, it is the people of Feature Animation that I will miss. It is that and the personal feeling of accomplishment in my life. The feeling of being a part of a great family of entertainment. A legacy shared with some of the great films of all time: "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves", "Cinderella", "Peter Pan", "Lady and the Tramp" and "Dumbo" to name just a few.
I wish you all well in whatever changes may come to Feature Animation. And, in closing, I encourage all the creative staff left, when the smoke of recent developments clears and the damage is accessed, to return to using our hearts as well as our heads to create stories and characters that we KNOW are true. To avoid settling for what we think executives and audiences want to see, but instead to trust our instincts and our imaginations to lead the way. This is the kind of gut level creativity that I believe Walt Disney himself brought to the art of film animation and to theme parks and to television and to anything else he touched. It is what made Walt Disney Studios great, it is what made Walt Disney Studios last and it is what is most needed right now.
So, in the words of Mrs. Potts, "Back to the cupboard with you, now."
With great affection and admiration,