For Walt Disney, a great story was central to producing a successful project. As a part of The Walt Disney Family Museum’s ongoing attempt to live up to Walt’s legacy, the Museum shares Walt’s story in a way that lives up to his own standard of great storytelling.
One of the most significant aspects of Walt’s story is that of the Disney family, and how Walt’s personal life impacted his work at the Studio. In the Museum, the family story is introduced through an innovative map by Bay Area illustrator Dave Stevenson. The map provides information on the background of Walt’s family, including its French origins, and the region in England where the name was Anglicized from “d’Isigny” to the current “Disney.”
Stevenson was chosen for the project based on his imaginative and original approach to conceptual mapmaking which seemed to fit with the qualities most remembered about Walt—namely vision and creativity. The way Stevenson’s map introduces the story of the Disney family feels similar to the prologue of many Disney animated films, which open with the pages of a storybook--"Once upon a time…". The map appears at the entrance to the first gallery, which picks up the story of Walt’s family background and launches into Walt’s early life and artistic pursuits.
For the design of the map, Stevenson chose to depict actual locations accurately, but to take greater artistic liberties with decorative additions. These features include a 19th century ship, various animals and geographic elements, and an elaborate compass rose. In a previous interview for Storyboard, Stevenson explained how he chose to represent various features: “I try my best not to take liberties with the overall shapes, contours, and place locations. Once these components are laid down, though, I go a bit crazy with the decorative elements—borders, sea monsters, compass roses and the like—I hope that combination gives the map a fun, interesting feel with a foundation of accuracy.”
Short descriptions appear alongside the most important locations in Disney family history, and a dotted line illustrates movements of the Disney line tracing back to I’Signy-sur-Mer in northwestern France.
For several months in 2010, the Museum featured an exhibit of maps by Dave Stevenson in the Theater Lobby. One of the pieces was a map of the Presidio of San Francisco created just for the exhibit. The map included the location of The Walt Disney Family Museum as well as a number of other cultural and historical highlights of the park.
Other examples of this kind of creative visual storytelling can be found throughout the Museum. Each piece is an imaginative interpretation of a story or concept. For example, in the first gallery just after the Stevenson map are the old-fashioned cut-out animation films telling different segments of the story of Walt’s young life. The videos were created for the Museum in the mode of early animation techniques circa the time period they represent.
Another example is an illustration of “Walt’s Los Angeles” representing the era of the 1920s and 1930s. During this time, the Disney studio resided primarily on Hyperion Avenue in Silver Lake. The map was designed by Christopher Merritt, and like the Stevenson map manipulates scale and distance to focus on specific elements. The map includes the earliest locations of the Disney Studio, such as Walt’s Uncle Robert’s house and the Kingswell Avenue ocation, but more prominently features the Hyperion Avenue Studio. One of the more curious features on the map is a restaurant called Tam O’Shanter. The pub is one of the oldest restaurants in Los Angeles and was so frequented by Walt Disney that many Hyperion staff called "The Tam" by the nickname, "The Commissary."
A third example is a representational flow chart of the departmental organization at the Disney studio. Created for employee familiarization on the new lot in Burbank, the chart shows the flow of operations from one department to the next. The Story Department is represented prominently at the top of the chart, and Direction is shown as the center hub. Animation, Ink and Paint, and other departments exist on spokes around Direction. The chart is from an employee handbook from 1943 for the Disney Studio in Burbank.
Lastly is the Disneyland model, showing an imagined layout of Disneyland. The model was created by the designers and model makers of the Kerner Studio, and is sometimes referred to as the “fun map” version, referencing the concept for the fanciful Sam McKim-designed maps once sold at Disneyland. The maps reinterpret space and scale in a way that makes the layout look appealing and accessible, rather than sticking to accurate scale and color. The model is intended to call to mind what it feels like to experience Disneyland first hand. Walt’s concept for Disneyland was to transport visitors to the actual locations represented in the park; the model attempts to do the same—to evoke memories and experiences of Disneyland for visitors of the museum.
The story arc of the Museum comes to completion in the final gallery, featuring images and video from throughout Walt’s lifetime. The gallery brings to mind the continuing influence and story of the Disney name, even after Walt’s passing.