Dave Bossert, a 32 year veteran effects animator of the Walt Disney studio who worked on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin,et al, was gifted the original Kem Weber-designed desk that had been his steady support and companion on his departure. His affection for this desk grew into a wonderful new monograph on Weber’s important design contributions to the Walt Disney studios in Burbank.
After the cozy mish mash of the Hyperion studios, Burbank was a streamlined factory. Workers complained that some of the spirit was gone, but in exchange they had the most efficient and beautiful machine from which to make their innovative and highly technical animated films.
Bossert tracked down Weber’s original drawings and renderings for both the exterior physical plant and the custom furnishings at UC Santa Barbara. Each type of artist had a different desk: the flat, expansive kind for directors who had to lay out entire scenes or sequences, the tilt topped, back-lit kind for animators and assistants, the file cabinets, the shelving, the meticulously thought through workstation. Artist input was solicited for the preferred angle of light, the chair style, the comfort, the ease with which they could accomplish the maximum quantity of high-value, technical work.
Bossert was not there during the time period of my Vanity Fair story research on the Ink and Paint department which was the earlier Golden Age, but I know that the workers I interviewed very much appreciated this attention to their comfort and productivity and Bossert says in his era too, they all felt enduring capability and inspiration from their custom-designed surroundings.
Weber was German-born and had worked under a master of the Wiener Werkstatte as well as for the Barker Bros., but there is also much Bauhaus and International style as well as mid century modern in his influences. He found in Walt Disney a true patron who worked with him on almost every aspect of the studio design and who allowed him creativity as well.
Interestingly, Walt admired this kind of industrial design but not the worker collectivity theory behind it for almost as soon as they got to the new studio, the famous Disney strike began for which there was much retribution.
Weber desks have gone at auction for very high prices especially when they were attached to famous animators. I admire Weber’s work, even the smaller occasional pieces, and especially wish the commissary and the coffee shop still existed. Walt’s Weber-designed office is extant in the pink Animation Building, a testament to how innovative his thinking was on every aspect of the dynamic company he created.
Bossert’s beautiful book is for sale here.
Images courtesy of Dave Bossert, copyright UCSB.