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Monday, January 04, 2010

Walt Disney at Nordisk Film

Imagine my surprise when I found out that the photo I had taken of our new studio location as Christmas card, which you can see in my previous posting, was taken on the stairs leading to the personnel entrance of A/S Nordisk Tegnefilm (meaning Nordic Animation, Inc.), visited by Walt Disney in 1959!

Here is that building photographed today:
Nordisk Tegnefilm
The concise history of A/S Nordisk Tegnefilm for the interested:
Former Disney producer/director Dave Hand worked at the Ring, Frank & Rønde studio in Vedbæk in Denmark for a few months starting in January 1950, after the closure of the Rank animation studios at Cookham in England where he produced the Animaland series. He had sent a letter to Ring and the guys in which he wrote
"If you want to know more, it must be now, as I leave England in three weeks." Producer Arne Rønde, who went to school with Børge Ring, suggested that Ring go and ask him to come to Denmark, which he did. The plan was to make a feature, directed by Hand and paid for by Nordisk Film. From the Rank closing sale, Hand had had Ring buy an animation camera stand with Mitchell camera, as well as a 9-head synchronizer/moviola, which cost, including shipping, Nordisk Film credited to Ring, Frank & Rønde. "I bought a camera!" said Ring - "Did you sign for it?" asked Arne Rønde - "Yes" - "Then we are now bancrupt." Hand himself had bought several animation desks, as his agenda was to start a studio in England with Ed Radage, Stan Pearsal and Ralph Ayres "and I wanted Ring and the guys [Bjørn Frank Jensen and Kjeld Simonsen] to come over.")

Hand not only wanted his cost of living reimbursed in cash but wanted a considerable sum for future use, which he then offered to invest in the project. Nordisk Film's revered and feared general manager Holger Brøndum finally decided that he would be too expensive - and he would only deal with "real people money" which sank the investment idea - shelved the project, then offered help to Ring, Frank & Rønde in the shape of 49% of the shares in the new company, A/S Nordisk Tegnefilm against their own company as repayment of their equipment loan, an offer they had to take. As Ring puts it, Brøndum's motive was that he also wanted the animation studio's lab business for all time. The board of the new company existed of Brøndum, lab head Bernhard Petersen and, it seems, Børge Ring. Then, after a year without much success, Nordisk Film took over the entire company, assets and crew (minus Arne Rønde Kristensen - our very own Karsten Kiilerich's late father-in-law - for they did not need another producer) and their own producer Jørgen Bagger demanded the cheapest possible product. In 1952, after demanding and not getting better conditions while the studio was negotiating a production for an American company in Paris, Børge Ring and Bjørn Frank Jensen left Vedbæk for Marten Toonder Studios in Holland, leaving Nordisk Tegnefilm as a paper company until Ib Steinaa and Kaj Pinal took up animation at Nordisk Film Junior in 1954, at the mentioned premises from July 1957, after which the company returned to its paper state at the end of December 1966 when Steinaa decided to leave and start for himself, taking almost all of the staff with him - the remainder went freelance. Pindal had left Nordisk Tegnefilm for the second time in 1958, when he went to Canada to work for The National Film Board.

I presume Nordisk Tegnefilm disappeared with some restructuring, maybe as late as the Egmont merger in 1991, but probably earlier, because I suspect that we would have heard about that after the collapse of Swan Film in 1987 when Nordisk Film Commercial hired a staff of artists who used to be our assistants to produce commercials for the newly started Danish TV2, not long before we ourselves started A. Film, but I admit that I am guessing here. (Around 1990 the Nordisk Film Commercial animation dept. was closed, as well.)

By the way, Hand's camera was housed in a low "temporary" building onto which a turret was built to accommodate its columns. The camera is long gone - some say it followed filmmaker Per Holst, producer of our own Jungle Jack/Jungo/Hugo films, but its turret still exists, as witnessed by this picture I shot out of my window and which fits somewhat to the right of the earlier photo of the 1910 "Stage 2." Also, the ceiling is lowered and windows were added, so inside it's just an office - there is no trace of the camera stand.
Nordisk Tegnefilm turret
From April 1st 1959 until the end of December 1966, Danish animator Harry Rasmussen worked at Nordisk Tegnefilm, and there he met Walt Disney. It was through Harry that I realized that I had taken the Christmas card photo from Nordisk Tegnefilm's stairs. Much of the info above I found on the now 80 year old Harry's fine (but Danish) homepage on Danish animation history found here, where one can also find the details of Ib Steinaa's crew at Nordisk Tegnefilm.
Then, if you go nearly halfway down THIS page, you can see some previously not known photos of Walt visiting Nordisk Tegnefilm! Two-thirds down THIS page, we see Walt signing the Nordisk Tegnefilm guest book. I wonder if that still exists...?

Harry's Danish text explains that Walt was shown around Nordisk Film by Nordisk Film Junior's managing director Ove Sevel (who also corresponded on a personal level with Disney Foreign head Jack Cutting) and by Jørgen Jørgensen, at that time head of the Copenhagen "Metropol" theater (that had shown a Disney Christmas compilation since 1933 and now houses a H&M clothing store) and manager of the Danish "Walt Disney Mickey Mouse Co." Harry tells about Walt greeting all in the room, making some small talk, then when he seemed to get too interested in the current storyboard for a proposed feature film starring a ping-pong ball come alive, Ove Sevel insisted the company move to the next location. But before he left Nordisk Tegnefilm, Disney signed the guest book in the management office in the other end of the building.
Ove Sevel in his memoires tells that when Walt visited Nordisk Film, he found out there was an animation department and spent the rest of the day there. Personally, I am inclined to believe Harry, who tells me that Walt, who looked very tired, spend at most only about half an hour at NT.

I still need to get a good precise date on Walt's visit, though, as Harry in his website tells us it was June 1960, while the late Ove Sevel, who eventually became managing director of the entire Nordisk Film, in his memoires says it was July 1959. I myself previously found that Walt was in Denmark in July 1961, and based on his appearance I would venture to guess that this also was when he visited Nordisk Film...
[In the time since my posting this, Harry has changed his site to mention that Walt visited on July 6th, 1959, and research by Are Myklebyst confirms this. Also, it is no longer possible to go up the stairs that Walt used - they have been removed. Only the stairs for the more "lowly" personnel are left... (HP 20180829)]

Oh, while it is still allowed: Happy New Year!


I write "Ring, Frank & Rønde" though the studio was actually called "Ring & Rønde." It was soon known to friends as "Ring, Frank & Rønde," because the late Bjørn Frank Jensen quickly became an important partner in the studio, alongside my old mentor Børge Ring and Arne Rønde Kristensen. Also at the studio were Dave Hand's favorite artist the late Kjeld Simonsen ("Simon"), in Denmark now mainly known for his intro to the children's TV program "Bamse's Billedbog" and Kaj Pindal, who is widely known for his work at the National Film Board of Canada and as teacher at Sheridan College.

The feature film that Ring, Frank & Rønde wanted to make with Dave Hand through Nordisk Film was "Klods-Hans" (Jack the Dullard) based on Hans Christian Andersen's story, a story that Allan Johnsen, the producer of the very successful "Fyrtøjet" (The Magic Tinderbox, 1946) had intended as its follow-up. The Klods-Hans (non-)production story is a complicated one, found on Harry Rasmussen's site in Danish. It seems that a lot of work had been done on it before Nordisk Film contacted Ring, Frank & Rønde about the picture.

Furthermore, Ove Sevel in his memoires "Nordisk Film ...set indefra" ("...seen from within") mentions that putting Jørgen Bagger in charge of A/S Nordisk Tegnefilm was one of the few mistakes made by Holger Brøndum. Bagger later became equally unloved as stage head of a small film department owned by the publishing house Gutenberghus (that later became Egmont, which merged with Nordisk Film in 1991 and bought 50% in our very own A. Film in 1995!) and he then started his own company, Jørgen Bagger Film, mainly producing slide films with sound.

Finally, one could ask "don't you fear that Nordisk Film will do a similar trick with your own company A. Film as with Ring & Rønde?" to which I answer that Nordisk Film has a vested interest in the continued growth of A. Film. Through Egmont, it represents 50% of the shares in the company - while it owned 51% of Ring & Rønde. Nordisk Film, now an international conglomerate, must have learned from past experience: they would not want another paper company on their hands. Also, with productions like "Terkel in Trouble" and "Journey to Saturn," Nordisk has seen first-hand what we can do together, and is, as we are, proud of being part of A. Film!

[Again, in the time since my posting this - only 8 months later, actually - things changed. Because A. Film had to put its rights into another Egmont company, it was bleeding money profusely without much income, and Nordisk Film decided to close this company (in effect saying "we made more money on you than you lost, so just let's call it quits"), but allowing A. Film to continue as a new company with the proviso that the earlier of any projects continued by the new company (now A. Film Production) were to be re-paid out of new income. Also, A. Film Estonia and A. Film L.A., Inc. were allowed to continue independently, and are now loosely affiliated with A. Film Production on a project-to-project basis. I became sole owner of A. Film L.A., Inc at that point. We have, since leaving Nordisk Film/Egmont in 2010 produced five theatrical feature films and co-produced five more, and are in the middle of our 6th film, this one also made for Nordisk Film, called Checkered Ninja. (HP 20180829)]

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Anonymous Michael Sporn says...

All this history is amazing to me. I can't get enough of it. The few films we were able to see in the US have always seemed oddly rich yet simple. They were certainly unusual to my western eyes.

I have a 16mm B&W copy of "The Magic Tinderbox" and always found it an odd piece of work. The animation seems inspired more out of Fleischer than Disney. I don't think I've screened it in the last 20 years. Maybe I will soon.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010 at 5:21:00 AM PST  

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