NB.: The term Cartoon as referred to in this page functions as an 'abbreviation' of the more correct term Animated Short which is an animated cartoon of a limited length, usually about 7 minutes. This was Barks' working field in some of his Disney Studio years.



Starting as a cartoonist

Northwest Mounted (1936)

Barks wrote a story in which Black Pete kidnaps Minnie Mouse in order to force her into showing him to a gold mine but Mickey Mouse intervenes. Barks drew 400 storyboard sketches plus modelsheets showing Mickey and his horse Tanglefoot. The story was later shelved.


Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

In 1936 Barks contributed a few gags to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs when it was still in the planning stage. None of them were used in the final film a year later. This sketch is from a sequence in which all sorts of accidents happen following Sneezy's 'outburst'.

Bambi (1942)


While Barks was working in the story department at the Disney studios he got the opportunity to contribute gags for the upcoming Bambi feature animated film. He hatched the memorable scene in which the faun encounters an icy lake for the first time in its life and he contributed a series of roughs showing the action. A few of them are shown here.





Barks contributed another idea for the film. A few of his roughs are seen here. It is a scene in which a squirrel tries to teach a chipmunk how to crack a nut. The scene was never used in the finished film.



Starting as a storyteller

I started as an in-betweener. After about six months, I wasn't working out very well as an in-betweener, but in the meantime, I had managed to sell a few gags to the story department and the comic strip department, and they figured I might be all right as a story man, so they put me in the story department. There I learned how to write stories.
Barks went on to be credited as script- and plotman in more than 30 of the short cartoons. His first one was Modern Inventions in which he came up with the famous gag of Donald being bossed around by a barber's chair.


Finding a situation

On the stories that we did for animation, we always tried to get a good, interesting climatic situation, and then find the reason for that situation. And that would give us a beginning of a story, and then we'd build up the gags all the way up to that big situation. It was a good way of making stories.


Putting a story together

First, just jotting down a bunch of gags that would come to my mind. Then, I would start hooking the gags together, and pretty soon I'd have a little synopsis. From that, I'd break it down into a longer synopsis. By the time I'd get to the bottom of my synopsis I'd know whether I was going to have enough material.



I remember when I worked in the story department, they had an analysis one time of what it is that makes a story plausible. And one rule was that whenever you're going to have some event happen, don't just drag it in and have it happen. Plant it ahead. Plant it twice, if you're going to have the character pick up a gun and shoot somebody later in the movie. Of course, nobody ever did that in Disney movies, that's just an example. Plant that gun twice before he ever handles it, somewhere earlier in the story.


Floyd Gottfredson

At one time Barks met the famed Mickey Mouse comic strip artist Floyd Gottfredson who gave him this sound advice: In the strip, the reader can hold it up, and he looks at it for a long, long time, but when it's on the screen, he sees it for a twenty-fourth of a second, and it's gone. There's no chance for him to look at it too long. Barks later reminisced: I remembered what he had told me, and I toned down my action a little bit after having talked with him.


Barks at the Good Scouts storyboard in 1937


The basic idea of using a storyboard on which you can pin individual sketches that would eventually form a whole story is, that the writers and the cartoonists can act out the story by pointing to the sketches thereby creating a continuity that would not be apparent by looking at one drawing after another in a pile. But the sketches are never meant to stand alone as it would be the case with the panels of a comic book story.


Work influences

My sense of dramatics, and the sense of pathos, and the sense of just slapstick humor. Each of those is a field that is practically isolated by itself, yet with my Disney training, I was able to put all three of those elements into one story, and they'd all fit together naturally. I would say the key was to have a reason for everything. And if you could find a reason for something, you could drag anything in.
I think that what I got out of my Disney training more than anything was to analyze whether anything was necessary to a story. And so, when I felt I needed a little drama - tears rather than a laugh - I could bring it in. My training at Disney's showed me how to bring that in.


One of Barks' sketches for Good Scouts (1938)

The working procedures in the story department

I was able to think up gags and hook them into stories. The drawing was mostly done with these big blue pencils - you know, a big pencil that has a red half and a blue half. We would sharpen those and use a common note pad, a memo pad that's about five by seven inches (13x17cm - Editor's remark). We'd take these blue pencils and make the story sketch and letter down at the bottom af the story sketch what dialogue would be said. We'd tear those things off when we got them finished and stick them up with pushpins on the storyboard until finally we had a whole story laid out. It was practically in the form of a comic strip.
The progress of the characters and what they said was all right there on the little rough sketches on the storyboard. We used the red end of the pencils once in a while for emphasizing some particular sound or special effect we wanted to get like a splash of water or raindrops.


Climax gags

A climax gag is really a sequence of jokes or pantomime. In animation it was sometimes an excuse for animators to really do their stuff. I could never have been an animator. I became bored with thinking up animation gags in which the characters just moved endlessly. I wanted to keep things moving on to some new situation. I didn't want to stay for seven hundred drawings on one spot.
I might have felt differently about it if I had worked on the animation itself. There may have been charm in taking a character like Pluto, for example, and putting a plumber's helper on his back end and working him into about seven minutes of contortions or having him stuck on fly paper for seven more minutes. The animator might have had a good time doing it, but it wasn't for me.


Running gags

That was the thing that hooked all things together. If you develop a running gag, then you bring some sequence to a climax; you bring in your running gag to connect up to where you start your next sequence.




PAINTINGS   Date 2006-03-06