In the post earlier this week about animation executive Max Howard, I wrote (somewhat flippantly) that nobody understood why “almost anybody who worked in musical theater could become an animation executive at Disney” in the 1980s and ’90s. Of course, many people do know. A Brew reader, who prefers to remain anonymous, emailed a nice capsule history of what happened during that period:
Roy Disney was seeking a leader to put animation on a solid footing to move forward. He sought the advice of Robert Fitzpatrick, then-President of CalArts. Bob had just finished his stint as the director of the highly-successful Olympic Arts Festival, and he suggested that perhaps an arts management structure might be the most natural for Animation–both are project-based, but maintain ongoing management and cultural growth/identity.
Bob’s lieutenant on the Olympic Arts Festival was Peter Schneider. Bob connected Peter and Roy, and the rest is pretty well-known. Peter had worked with Howard Ashman and Alan Menken on “Little Shop of Horrors,” he brought in a lot of the Olympic Arts and theater colleagues in those early years in the 1980s including Thomas Schumacher, Kathleen Gavin, Karen Schmidt, etc.
As Ashman and Menken further identified Animation as a form of Musical Theater, the talents from that world naturally began to migrate to Animation. People often forget that there was no real paradigm for how Animation might work, structurally, in the 1990s, so they brought in all kinds of talents from all manner of entertainment, a lot from Theater, since it seemed to bear a stronger resemblance to the creative environment of Animation.