Please note: if an earlier link doesn't work, it may have changed following an update! Check the Category Labels in the side-bar on the right! There you can find animator drafts for sixteen complete Disney features and eighty-six shorts,
as well as Action Analysis Classes and many other vintage animation documents!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Iron Pencil   - Re-recording and Mixing at Walt Disney Productions

Here is an antiquated yet interesting invention: to be able to get consistency in rerecording and mixing of soundtracks at the Disney studios, a console that is generally referred to as The Iron Pencil was designed by Bill Garity and Jackson G. Kuhn (whom I believe to be alumnus of the Department of Physics, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York around 1930).

The patent was applied for on July 31st, 1940, the same day as the filing of the two Fantasound patents, which implies to me that it was invented originally for mixing Fantasia, which was released in November that year. The patent was granted June 24th, 1941, in the middle of the infamous strike.

In its simplest form the console would look like the patent application image: in the center would be the master score, and the musician - or Jim MacDonald - would follow it using a metal pin connected to a pantograph system which in turn moved a lamp throwing a light circle, not much larger than an inch in diameter, on copies of the score marked for that specific track. This would be followed by an operator who, based on the lighted information, would control a fader for just that track, which may have been music, effects or vocals...
The Iron Pencil<< Click On It!
This patent application image, which I painted for clarity, shows two slave consoles, on either side of the master score. There seem to have been connected more consoles this way, maybe six or eight!

It is certainly an archaic system, compared to modern computer-operated mixing consoles, but it was no doubt a vast improvement over having to follow a bouncing ball. Director Jack Kinney believed it still to have been in use around 1973!

Here is the entire patent document:
12 3456
Any editors out there who used it?

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Anonymous George Taylor says...


Great post!

I can't imagine how time consuming making animated films were.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009 at 6:46:00 AM PDT  
Anonymous Ray Gillon says...

Very innovative. Thanks. We made an English version of Terkel. We loved the film.
I just posted this link to my colleagues at Disney post sound.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018 at 12:23:00 PM PDT  

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