SBCC students all ears for pioneering Disney animator

Hannah Scott, Channels Contributor

The man who sculpted the iconic statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse holding hands, created Tinkerbell’s golden pixie dust, and put spots on 101 Dalmatians shared his life’s story with City College students Wednesday.

Blaine Gibson entertained a group of 100 students and faculty members in a crowded art studio with stories of his 45 years with the Disney Corporation. The speech was sponsored by the art department.

This was the man who sculpted every U.S. presidents’ face for the Hall of Presidents at Walt Disney World. But Gibson, now 90, got his start growing up on a farm in Colorado, playing in mud.

“I started by cutting out silhouettes of farm animals,” he said. “I’ve always loved animals; I had that in common with Walt.”

Gibson’s first sculptures were made out of the mud and clay off his farm’s irrigation ditches. He said he could still remember how perfect the consistency was.

He began drawing as a young man, and his mother was an initial supporter. “You can draw as well as any of these guys, Blaine. Send in your drawings to Disney,” Gibson said, quoting his mother. “So I did.”

At 21, Gibson was accepted into an animation class at Walt Disney Studios. He recalled how “the music of “Fantasia” was permeating the place.”

Gibson then showed the audience his earliest sketches with Disney – black and white cartoon faces conveying their labeled emotions and traits – on a large white screen behind him.

While working as an animator at the studio, he never gave up his hobby of sculpting. Then in 1961, Disney created a new development and designs division and needed a supervisor.

“Walt chose me to give up animation and head up the sculpting department,” Gibson said.

Using 3-D designs and old pictures of his past work, Gibson explained just how much the movie animators benefitted from the sculptures he had created. The turning of the deer’s antlers in “Bambi,” the intricately ribboned hats of Sleeping Beauty’s three fairy godmothers – the incredible detail put into these Disney animations owe their famously flawless execution to Gibson’s work.

Looking around his audience, Gibson asked if anyone had ever been to Disneyland. Seemingly pleased at the plethora of eagerly raised hands, Gibson told stories of his contributions, including work he did on “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Haunted Mansion” rides, the Enchanted Tiki Room, and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.

“I was there the one time when Lincoln first sat up… And then sat back down, and sat back up, and sat back down,” Gibson said, laughing at the memory.

Helping with the presentation was Dane Goodman, director of the Atkinson Art Gallery.

“When Disney first started, it was totally radical, new art form,” Goodman said. Goodman then asked if Gibson had had “any sixth sense that he was becoming involved with something that would have such a worldwide impact.”

Gibson replied – simply – that he had not.

“His vision was absolutely beyond belief,” said Gibson of Walt Disney. “I was in awe of it, really.”

After praising the work of the City College art department, Gibson explained that he will never stop drawing. He then concluded by urging every art student to “keep the magic alive.”