Writing in Ink & Paint: A Conversation with Author Mindy Johnson

Award-winning author and historian Mindy Johnson drops by Fülle Cr. to discuss her critically acclaimed books for Disney, Tinkerbell: An Evolution and Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney's Animation. She also contributed to Taschen's The Walt Disney Film Archives: The Animated Movies (1921 - 1968). In the latter, she writes poetically and in great detail about Peter Pan and Cinderella, her commentary being worth the admission price alone. We discuss all of the above and more below!

Jason Anders: I am sitting here with your book, Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney's Animation, overwhelmed by the exhaustive effort that went into this study - where did the idea to research the women of Disney animation come from, and what were your first steps in bringing it to life? 

Mindy Johnson: I had completed my previous book, Tinker Bell - An Evolution, and noticed that the portions I'd included on the Ink & Paint/color aspects of Tinker Bell's development were the most anyone had explored about that part of the animation production process to that point. I pitched the idea of a book exploring the world of Ink & Paint - to be honest, my editor and I both thought it would be a charming 'little' book. Happily, we were wrong! It quickly became clear this was an epic story and this couldn't be a small book!
Do you remember how your fascination with Disney began?

Sunday nights as a young girl fascinated with a certain fairy who darted her way across our television screen each week!

When did you decide to pursue writing as a profession? What challenges did you face from that moment to publishing your first book?

With a background in music, film and education, writing had been a part of my life for some time, but the notion of writing a book presented a new challenge. Researching any subject can present a wide range of 'rabbit holes' that take you down paths you couldn't possibly imagine, or lead to complete dead-ends, but that's the fun of the writing adventure!

In addition to being a writer you are also a musician, songwriter, playwright, and teacher...

I enjoy the diversity of each of these disciplines. Often diving into another creative avenue can offer fresh perspective on what you're pursuing in another creative outlet. 
Where did the inspiration to write Tinker Bell: An Evolution come from?

I was mounting a campaign for a re-release of Peter Pan for the Studio and was exploring the artwork at the Animation Research Library for something unusual -- a new way to tell the story of this animated masterpiece. A staff member mentioned there was a folder that held a number of fairy images and they were all possibly Tinker Bell, but when we examined the folder, they looked nothing like the Tinker Bell we know and love. Thus began a seven year journey to connect the dots on the 'evolution' of this tiny fairy. Since she's one of my favorite characters, this book was a complete joy to write. I traveled to London several times for research and had the great privilege of reviewing J.M. Barrie's papers, photographs and materials - including leafing through a number of the small notebooks - his 'Fairy Notes' that he carried in his coat jacket to jot down ideas and notions about his writing. You could still smell his pipe tobacco seeped into the pages! 

Your pieces in Taschen's Walt Disney Film Archives book are so masterfully written - did you select the subjects or where they assigned to you by the editor?

I received an email from the Taschen editor inquiring about the possibility of writing these specific sections. With my Peter Pan experiences and, as Cinderella is also one of my favorite animated films, it was a perfect fit, but my main purpose for writing these segments was the ability to be showcasing the brilliant work of Mary Blair! She made such delicious color and style choices on these two films. It was a great joy to examine her work further and to cast light on the impact her artistry had on these films!
What is your favorite Disney animated film?

Cinderella holds a special place in my heart, but the same can be said of most of the animated classics from Walt Disney. From my work on Ink & Paint, I have a new found understanding of the artistry involved with each production and there is something magic about each of these films -- it's too hard to choose just one!

You're referred to as a Disney Creative Consultant - what does that title entail?

That's an all-encompassing title which covers a wide range of things from creating original content on various projects, writing books and/or producing docu-series for the new Disney Streaming service Disney+!

Reading Ink & Paint it feels like this project must have been a true journey for you personally...

It was - and continues to be - quite a journey! It was about five years of extensive research, interviews and writing which involved such adventures as from digging under people's beds and into closets to find artwork, photographs and materials that had never been published before, to finding a number of remarkable women who became dear friends and who granted me the privilege of sharing their stories and artistry.

What is your advice for writers pursuing a career similar to yours?

Find something that you enjoy and keeps you curious - it'll be a constant presence and a large part of your life, but well-worth the journey!
Tell me about your new book due out next year, Pencils, Pens & Brushes.

Absolutely! This delightful volume has been a joy to work on! In the writing of Ink & Paint, there were some remarkable backstories to so many of these unsung artists. Telling their stories for younger readers has long been in my mind and I'm elated this treasure is happening. It's perfect for all ages and I'm thrilled to have the brilliant artistry of Lorelay Bove' featured throughout this celebration of these accomplished women!  Pencils, Pens & Brushes - A Great Girls Guide to Disney Animation releases August 19th!

Purchase all of Mindy Johnson's books HERE

Dancing Hippos in America: A Conversation with Author Mindy Aloff

Mindy Aloff has published essays, interviews, and articles on dance, literature, film, music, and other cultural subjects in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Village Voice, and more. She is a renowned dance critic and scholar, analyzing dance in Disney animation for her Disney Editions book, Hippo in a Tutu. With her newest publication, Dance in America, she spans three centuries with the biggest anthology on American dance ever published. She stopped by Fülle Cr. to discuss these projects and more.

Jason Anders: So let's jump right into your newest work, a book called Hippo in a Tutu: Dancing in Disney Animation, which studies dance in Disney's animated shorts and features; you have been a professional critic and teacher of dance for quite some time, and have even written a book called Dance Anecdotes, which contains stories about dancing all over the globe. So why Disney for the subject of your book, and when did the idea first come to you?


Mindy Aloff: The idea for the book, as such, wasn't mine: it was a longtime concept of an editor at Disney Editions, Christopher Caines, who is also a working choreographer - and, not incidentally, the author of the title, Hippo in a Tutu. He noticed that although there was a fair amount of published writing about music at Disney there was little about dance, and he thought such a study could fill in an important gap. Around six years ago he approached me with the suggestion that I might write the book; I drafted a proposal and the editorial director of Disney Editions, Wendy Lefkon, liked it... even though I didn't have an animation background.

However, the reason that Christopher tapped me was that nearly ten years before, in the early 1990s, I'd written two stories about dance in animated films. One, assigned by the dance editor of The Village Voice, was based on a festival of Warner Bros. cartoons at Film Forum in SoHo during which I saw 100 shorts in a row and stumbled into the street with the conviction that, as far as dance went, Disney exhibited more understanding and technical prowess. This story was never published.

The second, much more abbreviated, was one of the published Dance columns I wrote for the "Goings on about Town" section of The New Yorker, to which I contributed between 1989 and 1993. In 350 words or so, I evaluated dancing in Disney and Warner's and explained why, with respect to the dance passages of its animated films, Disney was my preference. Others in Great Britain had also written about dancing and Disney around that time: you can read the lovely 1989 essay "Disney's Dances" by Alastair Macaulay (now the chief dance critic at The New York Times) originally published in The Dancing Times and reprinted in Robert Gottlieb's new anthology, Reading Dance. The subject was in the air. I was just very lucky that Disney Editions reached out to me.
Tell me about the process of tackling this subject matter. 

It was nothing if not research. I began by going through the John Canemaker Collection at New York University's Bobst Library: a huge compendium of writings and art that John had used in the course of writing his many Disney histories and donated to the library. It was there where I first encountered some of the meticulous transcripts that recorded the story conferences of Walt Disney and his staff during the 1930s and early '40s. My favorite was one on Alice in Wonderland, which languished for several decades in development: in the transcript, Walt Disney spends a heartbreaking amount of time trying to figure out the psychological reasons why certain events in the Lewis Carroll books happen in the sequence they do. Reading it, I kept wanting to leap through time into the conference room and whisper into Mr. Disney's ear, "But Charles Dodgson was a mathematician, and these sequences play out certain math games." No one ever mentions that fact in the transcript, and it would have saved the team so much vexation!

While in New York, I also set up a 90-minute oral history interview at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts with Marge Champion, the live-action reference dancer for Snow White, the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio, the Twirling Blossom in the "Nutcracker Suite" section of Fantasia, and for Hyacinth Hippo in Fantasia's "Dance of the Hours," which she also choreographed. (An edited version of that interview is included in Hippo in a Tutu.) And I began to buy the DVDs of animated shorts and features by Disney, Warner's, Fleischer, and other studios as Disney had none to lend. I also began to buy books on animation, most of them out of print and many of them not held by area libraries. Happily, one day, in two oversized boxes, a dozen relevant Disney histories arrived at my doorstep from Disney Editions: I could never have afforded them, even used. And I spent days at the Dance Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center researching related topics, as well as on the Internet, where I discovered that the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York owned a copy of the 1916 silent live-action feature Snow White, which Walt Disney had so enjoyed as a teenager, and that it was available as part of a DVD box set of American silents, which I was able to track down and (dipping deep into my savings) buy for study.

Disney Editions also set up three trips for me, each a week long, to the company archives in Burbank and Glendale. These were extraordinary experiences. On the first visit, I was able to interview animator Andreas Deja and the co-directors of The Little Mermaid, Ron Clements and John Musker and, over the phone, Kathryn Beaumont - the voice and live-action reference for Alice in Wonderland. I also spoke on the phone with Disney connoisseur Harry Arends and met film producer Les Perkins and other animation historians. Most of the week, though, was spent in the Burbank campus archives with the great Dave Smith and his excellent staff and at the Animation Research Library in Glendale, where archivist Fox Carney produced one treasure after another: inspirational drawings, live-action reference films. On the second trip, I spent all my time in the Burbank archives and at the ARL where archivist Ann Hansen, apprised of my research, brought to the table the full set of pencil drawings that Ub Iwerks made for "The Skeleton Dance", Disney's first Silly Symphony, as well as the art by another hand of Persephone dancing in another early Silly called "The Goddess of Spring."

On the third trip I touched base with both the Burbank archives and the ARL; however, most of it was spent at the Disney Photo Library in Glendale. And there were many conversations and interviews I conducted by telephone and online with the Disney historian Ross Care and most wonderfully of all, with the composer and Disney historian Alexander Rannie, whom I have yet to meet in person but with whom I have spent the equivalent of weeks in conversation through e-mail and over the telephone discussing Disney animation. Alex's unique combination of brilliance, respect for accuracy, collegial generosity, and optimism in the face of bleak doubt have been almost as important to the completion of this book as the spiritual contributions of my daughter, Ariel, and the editorial exactitude and imaginative sympathy of Christopher Caines. At one point, when I thought I'd hit a brick wall in my efforts to find out any information about the second half of the life of Hattie Noel (who served as the live-action reference for the body of Hyacinth Hippo), Alex got in his car and drove to libraries as well as through the neighborhood in which she lived. He sent me a report, which I've quoted in the book.

You cannot put a price on the kindness and intellectual curiosity of colleagues like Alex, or Jeff Kurtti, the Disney author and interviewer who, in essence, gave me the entire history of the Disney-Dali collaboration, Destino, and whose family opened their home to me to stay when I couldn't afford a hotel. In the event, the acknowledgments for Hippo in a Tutu spell out all the good souls who contributed to its realization.

Do you have an all-time favorite piece of animation?

For a long time my very favorite was Lotte Reininger's feature-length silhouette cut-out film from the 1920s, The Adventures of Prince Achmed, which I saw in college. That is still a stupendous achievement and film of entrancing beauty. However, in the past decade it has been replaced by the animated sequence in the early Ingmar Bergman ballet picture Summer Interlude from the late 1940s. The animation consists of stick figures on the label of a long-playing record which, as the record turns, come to life for a pas de deux. It is both as simple and as profound as a pre-schooler's drawing, and I've never seen anything else quite as emotionally affecting. At one point I wrote to The Ingmar Bergman Foundation in Sweden to find out the name of the animator and the circumstances of the making of the passage and they kindly shared all that information via e-mail. However, when I changed computers, that all got lost. Jean-Luc Godard was once quoted as saying that he thought Summer Interlude was the finest film that Ingmar Bergman ever made; Godard and I agree on this point, and I'm a Bergman fan.

When I was in elementary school my favorite animated moment was when Disney's Lady and the Tramp enjoyed a spaghetti dinner together in an alley. As a very little kid, my favorite was when Peter Pan and the Darling children flew in the night sky.
Do you remember where your love and passion for dance began?

In the Philadelphia Academy of Music on an evening in 1956 when my father took me to see a performance of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. The love and passion were born when I saw a ballet by Heinz Rosen called La Dame a la Licorne, about the unicorn tapestries of Cluny. The ballet, I learned later, was a critical disaster, but the image of the ballerina unicorn pointing her toe shoe in a gesture that rhymed with the horn on her mask was the moment I threw in my lot with ballet and art and poetic association.

Let's talk about another book of yours, Dance Anecdotes.

Dance Anecdotes came to me at a moment when I was desperate for work and also had a two-year-old child and aging parents. It was part of a series that Oxford University Press publishes and most of the people who write those books have all the stories at hand. I didn't: I researched. And I had a vision; I wanted to include stories that would show theatrical and nontheatrical dancing as a vocation, even a mission, and I wanted stories that children as well as adults might find of interest. It's a luxury to hold a vision and the result was that the book took me seventeen years to complete. My editor at Oxford, the late great Sheldon Meyer, truly understood me and he waited, serving as editor even after he had retired from the press. I heard that mine was the very last book this wonderful editor worked on. The paperback edition is dedicated to his memory as well as to the memories of my parents, both of whom died in the time I worked on it.

Who are a few of your favorite dancers of all time?

Goodness, there are way too many! But one "dancer" you might not have thought of was the outstandingly graceful baseball player, Satchel Paige.

Are there any other films created by different studios that you feel achieved greatness in their marriage of dance and animation? 

Absolutely! Max Fleischer's studio, Disney's chief competitor during the 1930s, produced dancing sequences that were gorgeously musical, charming, and beautifully drawn. Betty Boop starred in several of them, such as her "Snow White" and "Poor Cinderella." I'd also cite the very simple slow marching dance of Winsor McCay's Gertie the Dinosaur, the amazing animations of Lotte Reininger, Alexander Shiryaev, and Wladyslaw Starewicz from just before or just after World War I, Gene Kelly's duet with Jerry Mouse in Anchors Aweigh, and even the animated credits to The Pink Panther. But you must remember that I'm not an animation historian. I'm missing entire repertories, which I'm sure that your readers will fill in.

Which film do you feel is the prime example of cartoon choreography?

Fantasia.

Where did the idea for your new anthology book, Dance in America, originate?

Dance in America is a compendium of other people's writings—seventy-one other people. I wrote an introduction, of course, but I'm not represented in it as a contributor: There was no room. 

In May of 2010 I sent a message to the Library of America's editor-in-chief, Geoffrey O'Brien, to say it was nice to see him at the recent reception for current and former fellows of the Guggenheim Foundation and to ask if he had any time to meet about the “dance writing project” that he and I had discussed at the reception. I had worked with Geoffrey on the reference book he used to edit, The Reader's Catalogue, in the 1990s, as the contributor in the Dance section, and I was teaching my annual “Dance in Film” course at Barnard at the time (Geoffrey often writes about film for The New York Review of Books), and so it was natural for us to speak about dance, film, and—since he was an editor—writing projects. 

At our first meeting in the Library of America offices, Geoffrey and Max Rudin, then LoA's Publisher and now its President, weren't sure that there was enough material for an anthology restricted to American writers and/or American dance. Robert Gottlieb had just published his landmark anthology of international dance writing in English, Reading Dance, and it was nearly 1,400 pages long. Was anything left? But I had some ideas about writings that Bob hadn't chosen. Also, I wanted to include genres of writing outside formal essays or articles: I wanted poems, letters, journal entries, and other unanticipated sources. And I very much wanted authors who are rarely if ever associated with dance as a substantial subject of their work. I've been reading a lot about dancing from the time I was in grade school, and I knew that dance writing is a genre of surprises. To find treasures, sometimes it's necessary to think unconventionally. I spent a lot of time reflecting on the collection and raking my memory as a reader, as well as actively researching and reading material new to me.
What challenges did you face in the research process?

The best part of the research was learning so much—including what the resources were to try to find out anything about whether dance writing existed anywhere from sea to shining sea before the United States of America did! And having to think so hard about what “America” means, especially now, was educational indeed. I also was introduced to the fact that my sense of myself as proficient at basic math was a preconception that had to be revisited. I made three different tables of contents over the years of putting the anthology together, and the first one was 2,000 pages long, with something like a couple of hundred contributors. That's when I learned that I didn't know how to count and had, in my wishful way, considerably overshot my allocated 550 pages of text. I was also introduced to the realities of permissions fees: For instance, the cost of anthologizing some poetry was simply prohibitive for an anthology from Library of America, a nonprofit press. Money counts: Who would have thunk it? 

So, I tried to narrow the collection's focus in every way possible. Early on, I cut the English-language writings I had gathered from Cuba and Canada and the English translations of South American classics, for instance, Jorge Luís Borges's reflections on the tango, the complex and evocative partnered dance of his native Argentina. I regretted that, as the tango has been quite popular and influential in the United States, sometimes in its supple, chess-like, improvisatory Argentinian form, sometimes in its regulated competitive ballroom forms, and sometimes as a staged choreography, such as the tangos that Rudolph Valentino used to do in silent movies or bravura dancers perform in tango revues. The fact that I'm one of those pokey readers who lingers over every word was a huge challenge. Hello, midnight espresso! And then there was the scanning of possible passages from hundreds of books and periodicals. I was very lucky there, as three wonderful Barnard students stepped up to help: Susanna Friscia (now a freelance journalist), Rhitu Risal, and Ariel Rivkin.

What is it that excites you most in writing about dance?

Truly? That I can do it. Dance writing involves so many perceptual skills and so much memory (the fun factor of taking notes in the dark without looking is quite overrated) and so much knowledge about how music and sound and movement and composition and running times for the chaos part and—OMG! What color were the bodices, and were there ten people on stage or twelve?—Well, as the novelist put it, God is in the details; you can see right here how the effort to write about dance can break down the English language and, in certain high-stakes platforms, the critic's very mind. The idea that one might have an opinion, too, and that the opinion is why you were assigned to review the show in the first place, can drive a critic out of the the dance-critic biz altogether and into a new career in sales. Every time, I sit down to the computer and think, “Aloff, you're sunk.”

And then I remind myself—I'm being absolutely literal here—of the most important experience I had concerning the solving of puzzles. For, ultimately, writing is a version of puzzle-solving, sometimes with just a few pieces and sometimes with thousands. Anyway, I was in the seventh-grade math class of the immortal Mr. Sewall at Philadelphia's Beeber Junior High. Mr. Sewall gave the class an assignment of solving a math problem that covered all the blackboards in the classroom and called upon every mathematical procedure we were supposed to have mastered to date. So, I duly copied it and took it home, sure that I'd never get it. I asked my father, an electrical engineer, to help me. But he was of the devil's party, that is, he told me that unless I did it myself it would never count in the largest scheme of things, whatever that is. So, I sat down with pencil and paper and started at the beginning, on the left, and went from required operation to required operation, until, after an hour or so, I arrived at an answer, which I remember to this day: 3/400. Would you think that was the right answer? The fraction was lopsided; it has no je ne sais crois. But it's what I found, and the next day it was what I turned in.

The following day, Mr. Sewall announced that two people in the class had gotten the right answer. One was in decimals, and the girl who had turned it in said that she'd worked on it with her father, and Mr. Sewall nodded approvingly. Don't even think of asking me how I felt! For the second answer, he said that he'd written it on a 3 x 5 card and put it in a sealed but translucent envelope and that, since he was standing next to me, I could read the answer aloud and would the problem solver stand up. He placed his thumb on the envelope so that I could see it was a fraction, and that the top number, the numerator, was a 3. I began to scream. And he moved his thumb on the envelope so I could see that the bottom number, the denominator, was 400. I've never forgotten that lesson: When you think you're lost, intellectually speaking, go forward step by step. It doesn't always get you out of the woods; there are puzzles where you have to somehow put yourself in the zone to provoke an epiphany from absolutely out of the blue to get clear. But step-by-step often does work, and the process has a comforting dimension. I used it the morning of 9/11, when I was on the subway heading uptown to work and my daughter had just taken the subway to her school, ten blocks away from Ground Zero. 

But back to dance reviewing: After re-running that junior-high experience as a talisman, I embark on my first draft. Most puzzles eventually have solutions, and just that knowledge—even if you yourself aren't the one who will solve them—removes the high anxiety attendant on the undoable. And, myth or wish or fiction as that may be for the most rarefied enigmas, the prospect of solution is exciting.
What is one thing you learned while writing this book that you didn't know before?

As the dance historian Joanne Barclay Skoller discovered and wrote about, between 1846 and 1847, the ballet Giselle was performed between 30 and 50 times in Boston, Massachusetts, alone. Think about that: Giselle was given its world première, by the Paris Opéra Ballet, in 1841. And in a mere five years it was being performed across the Atlantic, in just one city (that is, exclusive of the performances in New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere in the U.S.), at least 30 times in a single year. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

What subject would you most like to tackle next?

An encyclopedia of the world's luxury spas, hotels, cruises, and Guide Michelin restaurants. If you're aware of an interested publisher, I'm listening.

Buy Mindy's new book, Dance in America, HERE!

Celestial Sounds: A Conversation with Composer Lena Raine

Lena Raine is an award-winning composer and producer, having written original soundtracks for highly-acclaimed video games, solo albums and orchestral works. Her score for the recipient of Best Independent Game at this year's Game Awards, Celeste, beautifully punctuated the video game's highs and lows, bringing its emotional aspects to their peak. Lena dropped by Fülle Cr. to discuss the making of that soundtrack, her love of the genre, and the music that inspires her.  

Jason Anders: What is it about composing scores in the gaming world that you love, and what inspired you to do so in the first place?

Lena Raine: Games offer something for composers that no other medium really allows you to do. You get to score experiences and craft aural spaces that people can get lost in for hours. It's a unique thing usually reserved for installation art that doesn't really get much appreciation. I love the magic that is writing music that then evokes things for people as they play through a game, enhancing the experience in ways that only an interactive medium can do.

Do you remember what first sparked your interest in becoming a composer? 

Music has always been a major part of my life. My dad was performing in bars and doing sound design and composition for theater and dance while I was growing up. I performed in choirs from childhood up through college. I think it was inevitable that I'd become involved in music in some way. For me, that spark was the music in games I played. My first interests in composing came from replicating the music I loved. Then, when I started writing my own music, it pulled from those sounds in a lot of major ways. It's probably why I'm still so adhered to games as a medium. They run through the lifeblood of everything I write.
You recently joined the Celeste team onstage at The Game Awards to accept "Best Independent Game" - what was that moment like for you, and what challenges did you face along the way in your journey arriving at that moment as an artist?

Really really amazing. And kind of hilarious, too. I was involved in The Game Awards as a nominee, as a performer, and as a presenter. So when the Best Independent Game award started coming up, I was suddenly taken backstage by a stage manager to get ready to present the award for Best Direction. But as soon as I got back stage, another stage manager came up and asked if I was part of the Celeste team. I then got hurriedly re-seated in case we won. So I was on edge already, mentally preparing to be on stage for hundreds and on camera for millions, and then being jostled around by stage folks. It was mostly just hilarious because I had no idea if we were going to win, but then suddenly (after Ninja and a prawn Muppet hammed it up a bit) the cameras were on us and we headed up. As a side note, I'm glad I got to handle one of the trophies in dress rehearsal because I would not have been prepared for how heavy they are!

What is your origin story in being brought on to compose the score for Celeste?

I had been working as a quest designer and level designer in AAA games and managing to do music as a part-time thing when I had the spare time. At some point I had the inclination to branch out and do my own solo project as Kuraine. I had started writing a lot of electronic music, really moody deep house sort of stuff. So I released four of my most solid tracks as an EP called Singularity. I was friends with a number of folks in the indie scene at the time, but one of my good friends knew the developers on Celeste and she passed along my music to them. They super loved my work on Singularity, and so Matt reached out to me in a Twitter DM asking if I'd like to write the music for the game that he and the team were about six months into designing. I had been relatively familiar with their work, and got to play an early build, and thought it really gelled with the kind of music I love to write, so I said sure! It worked out super well, and I really felt like a core member of the development team. By the end of the project we had a really good vibe going, and so I'm looking forward to possibly working on more things with all of them.
It's incredible that the soundtrack was released on vinyl and the B-Sides on cassette! You wrote in your liner notes about the project becoming far more personal than you were expecting - tell me about that experience. 

Honestly, the process of writing the music for Celeste took place over one of the most turbulent 18 months of my life. Between starting the game and finishing it, I had gone from living in Seattle and working as a designer on Guild Wars 2, to uprooting and moving to Montreal to work for Ubisoft on Far Cry 5 for a year, to realizing I wanted to do music full-time, leaving my job and Montreal, staying with friends back in Seattle while I looked for a place, and then finishing everything after I had found a new apartment again. I wrote on three different computers, changed programs I was using to write, and had to buy a new smaller PC to work off of after moving back to Seattle since my desktop tower was on a moving van going across the continent. It's honestly a miracle I was able to do all of that and finish the score at the same time. It was very much my own mountain to climb, but I'm in a better space now.

What has the success of Celeste been like for you, both personally and professionally?

In a purely personal way, it has allowed me to try and get my life on track following the turbulence that ensued during Celeste's development. In a monetary way, it's allowed me to lay low and take on smaller projects while I figure out where I want my career to go. In a professional way, it's opened up a lot of connections with creators that I admire, and has paved the way for me to work on the projects I'm most passionate about and want to pursue. I don't think I'll be doing a Call of Duty or Assassin's Creed or whatever any time soon, because I feel like the AAA space is already difficult enough to navigate. But I have a number of things lined up, mostly with good friends in the industry, that I'm super excited to continue and begin work on.

Do you have a favorite track from the score?

I've been asked this a few times, and I don't remember how I've answered, but I think despite its short length and intensity, my favourite is still Anxiety. It's probably the most personal of the tracks, since it very accurately depicts my own experiences with anxiety and having a panic attack, so scoring that became a very honest depiction on my part.
Name three albums that you love.

Oh god there's so many! Off the top of my head: Archandroid by Janelle Monae, the soundtrack to Xenogears by Yasunori Mitsuda, and Dangerous by Michael Jackson.

What are you currently working on that we can be looking forward to?

I'm on the verge of finishing up my debut solo album as Lena Raine! I spent a lot of time this year needing to calm down and relax, and so I began writing songs with a limited palette of Rhodes piano, zither, and a small string section. I started a rule for myself where if I found myself in a situation where my anxiety or stress were getting to a boiling point I'd sit down with one of those instruments and start writing something relaxing. Eventually, the songwriting got to a point where I was very clearly scoring a specific emotional arc for myself, so I began to think of it as an album. By the time I finished, I reached out to my girlfriend who has done a number of wonderful covers for me and she painted the exact sort of feeling I described in writing these tracks, which I'm using as the cover art. I'm also actually working with a record label on this release, so they're doing the heavy PR lifting this time around. I'm so excited to start getting the word out in 2019!

If you had to sum up your music in three words, what would they be?

Evocative. Personal. Odd.

Buy the vinyl release of the Celeste original soundtrack HERE!

Eat Like Walt: A Conversation with Author Marcy Carriker Smothers

Marcy Carriker Smothers is a noted personality in the Northern California world of food and wine. From radio shows to books on food, her love of dining and Disney recently led to a wonderful new book, Eat Like Walt: The Wonderful World of Disney Food. This week Marcy drops by Fülle Cr. to discuss the making of her book and her favorite places to dine in Disneyland today!

Jason Anders: Where did you first dream up the concept of exploring the history of Disney food as a book?

Marcy Smothers: My agent asked what I was going to do that's different from any of the blogs, and I knew I wanted to write about the food at Disneyland. I started thinking about the culinary history of Disneyland, which had never been written about before, and wondered if Walt had set out to make the food experience at Disneyland entertaining and immersive like the attractions. During my research for the proposal, I found a newspaper insert from an Orange County newspaper where Walt said, "Welcome to the Kingdom of Good Eating, where the food is as fabulous as the fun." Bingo! Proof of concept. 

What makes Disneyland your favorite place? 

Visiting Disneyland was always the most special day of the year for me as a child growing up in southern California. As an adult, and like millions of others, I feel at home there. It really is the happiest place on earth.

What is the origin of your passion for food?

I grew up teaching myself to cook out of defense and curiosity. We ate a lot of TV dinners when I was a kid. I remember the first thing I made was a hamburger patty with Lawry's garlic salt. I think I was ten. It was delicious! I've hosted several food radio shows, including one with Guy Fieri called Food Guy and Marcy. That led to my first book, Snacks: Adventures in Food, Aisle by Aisle.

Did you pitch the concept to Disney before anything had been written?

I wrote the proposal first, researching on my own. That took about six months. My Imagineer pals Tom Fitzgerald and Kathy Mangum vetted it for me before I submitted it to Disney Editions.
What was the process of pitching to Disney like?

The pitch was a blast! I was in my agent's office in New York. Wendy Lefkon, Editorial Director for Disney Publishing, came into the room a fan of the project. While we didn't make a deal right there and then, it was pretty clear it would happen. We decided our anthem would be "Let's Go Fly a Kite" because we were so excited to work together. About three months later I had a contract. 

Exploring the Disney Archives must have been a thrill!

It's as exciting as Christmas. You present your wish list to the archivists and they do their best to fulfill it. Holding memos that Walt held brought me to tears. The Research Library and Art Archives at Walt Disney Imagineering was equally thrilling.

What were some of your most memorable moments interviewing Disney Legends?

Far and away the most memorable is how each and every one of them care deeply about ensuring Walt's legacy. It's as if they all still work for him.

What is your favorite thing that you learned about Walt while writing this book?

How human he was. Many of the people that knew Walt (everyone in my book knew him, by the way, no third person accounts) used that word often to describe him.

Which locations would recommend for a unique Disneyland dining experience today? Mine would be a table by the water at Blue Bayou Restaurant then catching a show at The Golden Horseshoe with a Churro Sundae. 

For the vintage experience, go to the Plaza Inn, which was probably Walt's favorite (originally Swift's Red Wagon Inn) and ask to sit at Walt's table. That restaurant is largely the same as Walt and John Hench reimagined it in 1965. For a modern day experience, and my personal favorite, sit on the top deck in the very back of the Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country. With the Disneyland Railroad now running along the Rivers of America, the view of Tom Sawyer's Island plus the Mark Twain and Columbia sailing ships, it's both nostalgic to Walt's era and present day practically perfect!
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

I get asked this all time. In my opinion, it's really simple: Writers write. You don't need the job title "author." Just a good story you want to share and the discipline to put it down on paper.

Do you have an all-time favorite Disneyland restaurant?

Really tough to pick one! That's like asking "What's your favorite attraction?" The aforementioned Hungry Bear Restaurant for the ambience reasons I outlined. For the food, it's a three-way between the Plaza Inn for a sit down meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans and biscuit. The Bengal Barbecue in Adventureland for any and all of their skewers. And when I am lucky enough to be a guest - Club 33!

Buy Marcy's book at EatLikeWalt.com!

Mufasa's Pride: A Conversation with Alton Fitzgerald White

The only African American actor who has played a lead role in five iconic hit shows on Broadway, Alton Fitzgerald White drops by Fülle Cr. to discuss the journey from his boyhood home in a Cincinnati housing project to playing a record-breaking 4,308 performances as King Mufasa in Disney's The Lion King, which he writes about in his Disney Editions book, My Pride: Mastering Life's Daily Performance.

Jason Anders: In your book you write about being influenced by your time spent in front of the television, which I definitely relate to - tell me about the positive impact that TV had on your life.

Alton Fitzgerald White: Television was different when I was a kid growing up in the 60s and 70s, parents could leave their children in front of the TV and not be afraid of them seeing something that was inappropriate. Variety shows were something that the whole family could watch; I loved that they were about entertainment, not competition. I have the blessing of benefiting from programs in my childhood that were meant to make you laugh and feel good, it was an escape and it was inspiring. Learning how to speak well and how to present yourself were things I learned from watching TV, and I soaked it up.

Which shows did you most enjoy watching?

Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, Dinah Shore and fun shows like Gilligan's Island and Afterschool Specials came on during the afternoon and were all about fun and glamour. At night we had The Flip Wilson Show, which was huge because it was the first successful variety show hosted by an African American. It was a manifestation of all my dreams, "He looks like me, he's singing, dancing, acting, and hosting... it's possible for me when I grow up." 

What do you find is the best way to cope with the rejection that inevitably comes with this career?

I write in my book about the concept of service. When I do have moments of doubt, a lot of it comes from my ego (which is never fully satisfied), and I have to remind myself that it's all about service. You are talented. Look back on your history, you've worked before and you will work again. The right "service" will show up for me that I can do willingly, gratefully, passionately and happily. If I audition for something, my responsibility is to go in there and do the best I can which means going in prepared. Prepare for whatever your service is, and if it's a match it'll happen - nothing will stop it from happening. Showing up and doing well is all you can really control, do that and you'll get to your destination against any odds. Focus on what you can do. Rejection is sometimes protection from things that are ultimately not good for you. Choose to focus on those moments and see them as lessons - don't get stuck in feelings of rejection, it's about moving through it. Service helps me to move through it.

A term you use in your book is "commonplace achievements", how do you define that?

It's the little victories in life. When I do my public speaking, I guide whoever I'm speaking to on a gratitude meditation. You may look back and see that you've had a promotion, a new car, a new relationship... but what about the little bitty things, like when you were running late to work and doing everything you could to get there on time and then actually making it? Those are the little things that we tend to discount. There are things we ask for and then we get them, but we never really take the time to acknowledge them. Simple things that mean a whole lot in the moment, things that actually work in our favor; the more that you recognize those things the more you'll realize that you get a lot of what you ask for. We tend to find the things that never work out for us more attractive because many times it’s more dramatic, but it's important to give the commonplace achievements attention as well.
Were you armed with this thinking going into your career?

These are things that I learned in my career and in life. Any career that we pursue is so consuming it's important to have a balance of what's happening in other parts of our lives. Any career, especially in show business, is so unpredictable that it helps to be rooted in things that you know work for you for sure.

What were the biggest challenges on your road to Broadway? 

The biggest obstacle was really believing that it was possible. Getting into a Broadway show is like getting into the NFL, and it really makes you think about how many people are pursuing it versus how many people actually get there. What makes me think that I'm an exception? Especially when I was younger and didn't know anyone on Broadway I would think, "Wow, what does it take? I couldn't possibly be enough."

When you're pursuing anything it's so easy to slip into desperation because you want it so badly. Desperation takes the air out of everything. When I was investing my time and money to get to New York for an audition - to buy the music and to prepare - I wanted it to be worth my investment. My focus was, let me not just think about the end result, let me stay on the journey and in the moment... the moment is all there really is. Our fantasies take us there, but all you really have is here and now. I went from believing "this will never happen for me" to getting an audition, and I knew that I really didn't want to blow my shot. Creating a space for the possibility of it happening was probably the most difficult thing.

When you're performing full time do you stay completely in the moment or are you planning for what's next?

When I was performing eight shows a week there was a whole set of skills that came into play that I needed for thriving through it. Part of that for me was staying open to how I could turn the present opportunity into other opportunities. That's the "business" part of show business. When I was younger I would do a lot of workshops because it was a chance to meet other creative teams. It's important to take whatever you have presently, connect the dots, and help it hopefully lead to other opportunities.

What was your experience in landing The Lion King? 

I had my first audition with Julie Taymor before it came to Broadway just after I had been cast in Ragtime - I wanted to meet her and instinctually I knew that we clicked. I had a work session with the stage manager who told me what Julie likes. I absorbed that and saw it as a huge blessing because all I had to do was put my own stuff into what he told me. After the audition she said, "It might finally be time for us to work together." That's where the journey began.  

What did you love most about playing Mufasa?

Mufasa was all of the wonderful, varied and positive things he represented. He's this iconic father who loves his son so much, and I was honored to be a black male actor playing this character that represented everyone, even though the message wasn't specifically black. What he represents is human - in spite of race or gender he was just an iconic father. My prayer is that people tap into their own Mufasa, their own king or queen within them – their own courage and leadership. 

For many kids The Lion King was their first theatre experience and could potentially be just like me seeing Flip Wilson as a kid and saying, "That could be me when I grow up." Knowing that I could be that for some other minority kid is huge and very gratifying. What Mufasa represents is very powerful and his image is one of the things that helped me do it for so long.

When did the idea of documenting your journey as a book first spark?

When I hit the 4,000 mark and people kept telling me how lucky I was! If one more person told me how "lucky" I was, I was going to explode. "Luck" discounts any hard work or sacrifice and it felt like a backhanded compliment. I started writing down what I sacrificed and what I did, even though it may have looked easy. People don't realize what it takes for theatre actors to perform eight shows a week, we need the stamina of athletes. I started thinking about how my spirituality, my foundation, is what helped me keep moving forward in all parts of my life and wrote about that, too. 

I thought about self-publishing but then had a meeting with Thomas Schumacher, the head of publishing at Disney, asking him about a book which he had just released about introducing kids to theatre. He asked what I was writing about and I told him my idea and he asked me to send him some stuff. A couple of months later he told me, much to my surprise, that "Disney might want to publish this." I got a literary agent, found an editor, and then it was published. A few weeks ago it had its first birthday. 
How has the reception been?

It's been amazing. I didn't really know what to expect, I have discovered a whole new service for myself. It wasn’t about how many books I would sell or how much money would be made, but more about being able to share my story and hopefully inspire and touch people, not as a character but as me. It's been a dream. I did my best, authentically putting it out into the world without expectations, and have reaped wonderful spiritual and financial rewards. 

Do you still have surreal "pinch me" moments?

Every time I sign the cover for someone I still can't believe I wrote a book. I just can't believe it! It was never in my realm of possibility. I don't like typing and I don't know anyone more impatient than I am, I never imagined having the time to sit down and being able to write. That frustration with the whole "luck" thing and how insulting it felt, I had no other way to express it. I started typing just to get it out of my system and it turned into this thing. The main thing I love about all of this is that I started writing for myself as therapy - I needed to remember my story and how I went from being the shy kid afraid to sing in front of anybody to 4,000 performances. 

I love the title - were there ever any other working titles?

It was always My Pride. There's no greater feeling than making yourself proud. If you know that you've done your best and you've made yourself happy, that's something that no one can take away from you unless you allow them to.

In terms of pride, it is important who we surround ourselves with. Surround yourself with like-minded people who inspire you, who push and challenge you, not people who just tell you what you want to hear or people who are constantly complaining. It's another reason I chose that title, to remind you to be protective of your spirit and not just give it up to anybody who might take advantage of it and not appreciate it. 

When did you become cognizant of who you surround yourself with?

As I was pursuing the business and started getting more roles and making more money I had groups of friends who I loved and thought we wanted the same things - what they say is true, you can't take everybody with you. It's heartbreaking but people's agendas, dreams and desires change. That’s okay, but there's nothing worse than getting good news about a show or anything in life and being worried to tell your friend because it will turn into a conversation about their problems and you feel guilty because they don't seem to be doing so well - especially when you really know them and know they are not doing all they can possibly do for themselves or their situation. It can feel like a burden. I think for a lot of us it's hard to "break up." We sometimes wind up dragging people along even though they drain our energy, and that is something that we all have to be conscious of... in life, and especially in the business, because it's so unpredictable. It is vital to be deliberate with where you put your energy and your overall investments.  
What advice do you have for those pursuing a career and are feeling discouraged? 

It is important to be realistic with what your dreams are. You need to really know what your strengths and weaknesses are. In some cases, know what type you are and commit to that. Being honest with yourself is important. Be prepared. How prepared are you to get that big break that you say you've been waiting for? Become incorporated and be prepared to make money so that you won't be eaten alive by taxes. Do it because you're your own best investment. In 2018 they changed a lot of the tax laws for actors and we can't write off a lot of the things that we used to write off, which is really hurting a lot of people. Becoming incorporated many years ago helped me not have to worry about a lot of that. I say all of this because some people finally get their shot and become overwhelmed by it. You can sabotage it if you're not prepared emotionally and financially. As artists, we can never forget that pursuing the arts is a business.

A book about money is something I'm actually thinking about writing. I think that people who pursue against-the-grain, self-employed careers that have terrible relationships with money need it. We as actors carry the label of "starving artist" and if once we start getting work we don't have a healthy relationship with money it can be intimidating. As soon as someone becomes successful and commercial (which is the idea to begin with) we call them a sellout. Why can't they just be a "thriving artist" instead of a "starving artist"? If you don't put conscious energy into that mentality shift it's so easy to sabotage it.  

What is one musical you think everyone should see? 

My favorite musical is Once on This Island. I saw the original thirteen times. It's just a musical about love. It was this 90-minute show with no intermission and no major sets, it was just earthy beautiful music about the power of love. The music and human story are both extraordinary, told through black islanders but their color becomes secondary because it is about similar journeys that many of us go through. A show that can make you think about your own life but also entertain you is a very special thing. That takes real craftsmanship, to not be put in one category, and have you walking out of the theatre thinking "what if I hadn't had the experience I just had?" It's heart-opening and a show that I think everyone should see. 

If you had to describe yourself using only four words, what would they be?

Passionate. Honest. Courageously vulnerable. 

Buy an Autographed copy of Alton's book, My Pride: Mastering Life's Daily Performance, HERE!