Disney animator David Hand’s influence on New Zealand animation

        Category: Blog Drawn animation | Article posted on: November 9, 2010

The book of keys

Disney animator David Hand was invited to England in 1944 to help set up GB Animation. It was to be a studio of sufficient size and capacity with which to challenge Disney’s supremacy. Key drawings and character sheets believed to be by David Hand were later taken to New Zealand by animator Bob Morrow, with the aim of setting up a studio there. Mitchell Manuel tells the story in the following guest post.

The History of the Keys

By Mitchell Manuel.

The images illustrating this blog post are from a book of keys put together by Robert Snowden Morrow, a Scotsman, who came to New Zealand in the late 1940’s with ambitions to build an animation studio in NZ.

Bob trained in Cookham (Rank Organization – British Gaumont) in the mid 1940’s and trained with David Hand, John Reed, Ralph Wright and Ray Paterson – to what degree and with which American I do not know. Bob was impressed with David in particular.

Pinocchio rough drawing

Pinocchio after clean up

Basically, the images were a collection of keys which allegedly David Hand, John Reed, Ralph Wright and Ray Paterson had brought with them to England when they left Disney. Bob was adamant that this was in fact true and was part of a small consignment which he was then able to bring with him to NZ. When I often questioned him about the images and their authenticity he would chuckle and say ‘look at them, they flow symmetrically and with rhythm’ and my being naive at the time didn’t see it for what they were – treasures of a period where excellence, artistry and craftsmanship was truly magnificent and unbelievable.

The pencil drawings are original keys from the original movies. There are also a number of images that are photostat or xeroxed copies from model sheets etc.



The book of KEYS were meant to be used as a training medium for animators which is why they all appear to be keys with key holes and registries for animation desks which were original keys from Disney.

In the eighties, I trained with Bob’s small company Morrow Productions and befriended both he and his new business partner and budding animator Michael.H.Walker. During the 50s, 60s, 70s and up until 1980 Morrow Productions made an impressive amount of animated training films, documentaries and commercials and these have since been given to the NZ film archives https://www.filmarchive.org.nz/ for safe keeping and for historical use.

Sadly Bob passed away in 1981 and Michael in 2004. I worked then and continue to work in the NZ film industry and was gifted the images/keys in the late eighties when Michael believed that the keys were worthless and of no real value. Personally, Michael was incorrect in his summation of the keys and over the years a number of people have expressed that belief. The times have changed and Disney memorabilia is more in demand then ever before.

Michael turned his back on animation to focus instead on feature and television movies. The animation business of Morrow Productions ceased when the NZ competition became fierce and the advent of computer animation, in its infancy, was a huge learning curve for both Michael and I – both of which we decided wasn’t a direction we wanted to follow.

Having left animation behind, Michael and I made three films: Kingi’s Story, Kingpin and Mark II. Check out https://www.nzonscreen.com/title/mark-ii-1986. We won modest accolades but then in the late 80’s Michael was struck down by an illness which required more stress free work and but to a pension retired as a mentor to myself and others.

Coming back to the keys however, I had sent similar keys to David Hand’s grandson David inquiring as to the images his grandfather produced and out of our correspondence David had told me his grandfather was not much of a collector of his own work and David asked If I could send him my original keys for exchange for a book. Suffice to say I lost touch of David and the keys were not sent since I wasn’t prepared to part with them a decade ago.

Since looking up David’s website https://www.dhprod.com/Mem.html I see that he is now selling copies of the keys and some of which I have which he does not. When I was emailing him there was no intention on my part to sell or use the images except for the delight and interest of collectors, his angle, although quite legitimate, wasn’t something I was keen to help him with.

In terms of origin, technically the keys are British and American in origin but have made their journey here to NZ by way of Disney, David Hand, Gaumont, Morrow Production’s and then to myself.

The book of keys have from my estimate contain about several hundred keys from Disney and Gaumont and is not a serious collection as such but I have had people wanting to buy or seek to procure via my so-called charity but I have not been so forthcoming to part with the originals and I suspect that my collection isn’t as rare as some suspect.

I have visited a number of antique animation key sights in the USA and marveled at the keys for sale and display and honestly I am very disappointed in the quality and questionable sources from which they came. I understand that Disney shut down access to the Disney keys, cells, images in the sixties since he could predict that if he had not taken such a step that the history of not only Disney but significant American animation history was being eroded by thrifty vision-less hawkers and thieves. I think David was none of the before mentioned but a visionary nevertheless.

Disney was and is a visionary of his time and American animation being at the cutting edge and forefront of an amazing animation history that has affected and enchanted millions and countless more.

Ferdinand the Bull

Richard Taylor, Creative Director of Weta Workshop in Wellington, New Zealand, loved the drawings. Other animators in NZ have seen them and have been inspired. However, the only American people who have actually seen the book in its entirety and verified their authenticity – as well as offered me some kind of remuneration are two Americans who worked on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the rings Twin Towers. Bert and Jennifer Klein whom I believe may still be senior animators for Disney. Bert was particularly struck by Ferdinand the Bull. As you may have guessed I didn’t part with them and only met with the couple on the basis that we wouldn’t discuss selling or buying and was simply like-minds meeting to admire beautiful art although ironically by Americans looking at American art in New Zealand.

You have to put images like these in context to NZ animation – there are brilliant animators in NZ but Disney art from the ’40s in Wellington, New Zealand doesn’t come along every day.

Gepetto rough

Gepetto cleaned up.

Snow White and the seven dwarfs

See Animator Issue 19 for more information about G B Animation.

2 thoughts on “Disney animator David Hand’s influence on New Zealand animation

  1. Hans Perk

    These drawings are very interesting to see: to me they show the interest that the GB animators had in Disney’s originals, and the efforts that David Hand put into his teaching. A very obvious give-away that these are not Disney originals (excepting maybe the photostat Snow White and Donald Duck model sheets) is that they are all, without exception, punched at the top. Disney used bottom pegs, nearly religiously. We can also not see the ever-present “MANAGEMENT BOND – A Hammermill product” watermark, but then again, this can be difficult to spot from scans like these. It seems that these were prepared as teaching materials, and as such these drawings must have been eye-opening for the Rank crew in Cookham. Several of the drawings are, of course, directly related to the GBA films, including the lion cubs on this page. Thank you for showing us these!

    1. David

      Thank you for your comments Hans. Mitch has sent me a photograph of the book of keys (now added at the start of this post). The holes were punched to insert the drawings in a loose leaf binder. The bottom peg holes are out of view on most of the scans due to the restricted scanning area.

      Are they originals from David Hand and not Disney? This a question to be asked and debated. We welcome your input. Maybe someone reading this has similar animation artwork that will provide an answer.

      Hand was supervising director on the animated features “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) and “Bambi” (1942). He was at the Disney studio during the production of “Pinocchio” (1940). He was in a perfect position to collect these drawings for training purposes.

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