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Walt (bottom row, right) and his staff at the Hyperion studio.
Walt (bottom row, right) and his staff at the Hyperion studio.
The Walt Disney Company started in 1923 in the rear of a small office occupied by Holly-Vermont Realty in Los Angeles. It was there that Walt Disney, and his brother Roy, produced a series of short live-action/animated films collectively called the ALICE COMEDIES. The rent was a mere $10 a month. Within four months, the ever-growing staff moved next door to larger facilities, where the sign on the window read "Disney Bros. Studio." A year later, in 1925, the Disneys made a deposit on a Hyperion Avenue lot in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles. Construction began on the new studio shortly thereafter. During the next 14 years, many changes took place at the Disney studio: Mickey Mouse was "born" in 1928, followed by Pluto, Goofy, Donald Duck, and the rest of the Disney gang.

In 1937, Disney's innovative first full length animated feature, SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, was released to critical acclaim and worldwide success. In order to expand and meet the expectations of his audience, Walt saw a need to increase the size of his studio. With profits from SNOW WHITE, he made a deposit on 51 acres of land in Burbank and began designing a modern studio specifically for the purpose of making animated films.

Walt was personally involved with all aspects of designing the studio. From the layout of the buildings to design of the animators' chairs, nothing was left to chance. His main concern was to produce a self-sufficient, state-of-the-art production factory that provided all the essential facilities for the entire production process.
Walt and company discuss the progress made at the new Studio lot.
Walt and company discuss the progress made at the new Studio lot.
Employees in front of the Animation Building.
Employees in front of the Animation Building.
The Animation Building, housing the Disney Artists and animators, was planned in the center of the lot. Across a small street were built the Inking and Painting and the Camera buildings, where the artwork was completed and photographed.

Next to Camera, in the Cutting building, the post production process occurred. Sound facilities included dubbing, scoring, effects, and voice recording studios. Many of the buildings were linked together by an underground tunnel, so even in bad weather, the process of making animated films was not disrupted. To enhance the campus-like setting, all of the utilities were placed underground which was an innovation for 1940.

During the 1940s and 1950s many prominent animated features were produced in Burbank, including FANTASIA, BAMBI, CINDERELLA, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and PETER PAN.


James Mason is menaced by a giant squid during the filming of 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA.
James Mason is menaced by a giant squid during the filming of 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA.

Beginning in the late 1940s, Disney launched into the production of live-action features and television programs. The Studio lot was subsequently expanded during the 1950s, to include sound stages and production craft facilities.

Sound Stages
Many of the interior scenes for Disney films were shot on five live-action sound stages.

Stage 1 is part of the original lot that was built in 1940. It was first used for filming the live-action scenes for FANTASIA. Stage 2 was built in 1949 in conjunction with Jack Webb, who used the stage for the filming of the television series DRAGNET. A popular television show filmed there was THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB. Stage 2 is one of the largest sound stages in Los Angeles at approximately 31,000 square feet.

A live-action reference for a scene in LADY AND THE TRAMP.
A live-action reference for a scene in LADY AND THE TRAMP.
In 1954, Sound Stage 3 was built specifically for 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, complete with watertank. Stage 4, completed in 1958, was first used for DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE. In 1988, it was divided into two television stages, thus creating Stages 4 and 5.


Riverside Lot
Across the street from the Studio now stands the new Feature Animation Building and The ABC Building. This is where Walt was planning to build a place called Mickey Mouse Park. There were to be lifelike statues of Mickey and Donald, and guests could take pictures with their favorite characters and enjoy a train ride. However, as Walt's ideas continued to grow, he realized more space was needed to fulfill his dreams. Shortly thereafter he acquired more than 200 acres of orange groves in Anaheim, California. Those orange groves became the site of Disneyland.

The back-lot shops were built to provide the many crafts and services required by live action productions. The Machine Shop, which is no longer in use, housed machines and equipment that produced innovative camera and projection objects for the film industry. During the construction of Disneyland in the mid-fifties, this shop's engineers designed and hand-built many of the automobiles, train parts, boats, trams and carts that were required by the new park. Hollywood Records now occupies the building.

Close by you'll find the Electric / Plumbing building containing machines and equipment for repairing and maintaining the many systems within the Studio complex.

Nearby was the Staff Shop where they made molds, plaster casts, and fiberglass figures, many of which are in use at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
Walt looks on as a set piece is fabricated in the Studio Mill.
Walt looks on as a set piece is fabricated in the Studio Mill.

The Electric/Plumbing building has its own machines for installing and repairing all plumbing and mechanical equipment within the Studio, along with equipment for work in sheet metal, welding, and plastics.

Next to Electric/Plumbing was the Special Effects shop, where our craftspeople created the myriad of unique effects that have come to be associated with Disney films. Flying cars, spaceships, miniature paddle wheelers, and medieval armor that comes to life are just some of the effects produced by this department.

The Paint Shop, which is in another large metal building, does everything from spraying cars and furniture to be used on a movie set, to spraying the set itself.

Other prominent shops throughout the back-lot include Sign Graphics, Crafts Service, and the Mill.

Back Lot
For more than 30 years, the back-lot featured exterior sets used for outdoor live-action filming. These consisted of a Western Street, Zorro Pueblo, Residential Street, and Town Square.

Most of the buildings on the Western Street were constructed in 1958 for the ELFEGO BACA and TEXAS JOHN SLAUGHTER television shows. Other productions which modified the structures for filming were DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE, THE LOVE BUG, THOSE CALLOWAYS, and THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG. The last major feature films to utilize the street extensively were HOT LEAD AND COLD FEET and THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG RIDES AGAIN.

Sets representing a downtown area were constructed in 1965 for THE UGLY DACHSHUND and FOLLOW ME BOYS. They were changed extensively for various films, and then completely demolished in 1981 to make way for a new town set for SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES.

There were four original buildings on the Residential Street originally constructed in 1960 for THE ABSENT-MINDED PROFESSOR, including the main house and garage used for the laboratory. Other houses were used for THE SWAMP FOX and the original THAT DARN CAT.

A well-known set was constructed for the ZORRO television series in the 1950s. This was once the Pueblo de Los Angeles with a fort, a jail, a square, an inn, and a church. Later, one of the old Spanish squares was redesigned to become a French village. Hills, pools, berms, and caves were built nearby for other productions.

With the increased use of "on location" shooting, the back lot sets were gradually replaced by the Property building, the Zorro parking structure, the Frank Wells office building, and Stages 6 & 7.

The Golden Oak Ranch
Walt Disney first leased the Golden Oak Ranch, which is situated in the nearby Santa Clarita area, in the mid-1950s for the SPIN AND MARTY segments of THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB. Because of the variety of natural settings available there, the Studio purchased the 700-acre property in 1959. Disney films shot at the Ranch include: OLD YELLER, TOBY TYLER, THE PARENT TRAP, THE SHAGGY DOG, FOLLOW ME BOYS, and more recently THE SANTA CLAUSE, PEARL HARBOR, PRINCESS DIARIES II and the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN II & III.

A western street was created for the renowned television miniseries ROOTS II in the late 1970s, and remained an active filming location until it's removal in 2008. Other ranch sites include a rural bridge on a lake, an entertainment and event venue, "THE GOLDEN OAK HALL," farm houses, barns, fields, country roads, tree groves, a forest area, a creek bed, and a running waterfall. Currently being developed is a pine lake designed to give the feeling of a High Sierra setting.


Film imaging facilities have existed at the lot from its earliest days, starting with the Process Lab, building which was adjacent to Inking and Painting. Through the years the building housed a motion picture laboratory, primarily employed for animation, and photo/visual effects facilities.

Fred MacMurray flies in this process shot for THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR.
Fred MacMurray flies in this process shot for THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR.

In the 1950s, as live-action films increasingly played a major role in the success of the studio, so did the inclusion of visual effects. Such memorable films as 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE began a tradition of combining complex optical effects with miniatures and matte paintings to create rich fantasy worlds on the screen. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the Process Lab, renamed Photo Effects and then Visual Effects, was home to the distinguished artists and technicians responsible for the effects seen in MARY POPPINS, THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR, BLACKBEARD'S GHOST, BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS, PETE'S DRAGON, and TRON.

During the 1980s, the unit was named Buena Vista Visual Effects Group and expanded its facilities into the Camera building to include a motion-control stage. In 1990, the unit became Buena Vista Visual Effects (BVVE) and shifted rapidly to digital-imaging technologies. Rooms within the Camera building, which formerly housed multi-plane cameras used to shoot animation, were filled with computer equipment. BVVE transitioned to Buena Vista Imaging in 1996.

Today, Buena Vista Imaging occupies the Camera building, providing a full range of photo-optical and digital-imaging services, which include a black and white lab, digital workstations, film recorders and scanners, optical printers, and title graphics.

Post Production Sound
The Main Theater is a state-of-the-art digital sound dubbing and screening facility that was first used to mix the sound for FANTASIA. Sound mixers blend dialogue, music, and sound effects tracks to the various levels appropriate for a movie theater. The acoustics are designed to simulate a theater that is three-quarters full. Although the theater is empty during the mixing session, extra padding in the seats and specially designed walls absorb and reflect the sound. This helps the sound mixers to know what the final product will sound like when it is released to the public.

A sound recording session on Stage A.
A sound recording session on Stage A.

Stage A, situated next to the Main Theater, was originally used for scoring. For many years, the music for innumerable Disney movies and cartoons was recorded here. In 1985, the stage was converted to a dubbing stage and theater. Like the Main Theater, Stage A is an all-digital, state-of-the-art dubbing facility.

Stages B & C were designed to provide sound elements for the animated films. Because of the Studio location near the Burbank Airport, special priority was given to soundproofing with "building within a building" design for noise reduction.

Stage B is known as the dialogue stage, where character voices were recorded for many animated classics including ALICE IN WONDERLAND, LADY AND THE TRAMP, PETER PAN, and THE JUNGLE BOOK. The tradition continues today, as Stage B is still used for such recent films as ALADDIN, THE LION KING, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME. Today, that tradition continues not only on Disney films, but also with Pixar hits such as TOY STORY, BUGS LIFE, TOY STORY 2, and MONSTERS INC. Stage B accommodates Automatic Dialog Replacement (ADR), a process that allows the talent to re-record their dialogue. One such use is for scenes shot on location, where an talent's lines were destroyed by outside sound or noise, such as a plane flying over at the time of filming.

Stage C was originally used for the recording of various sound effects for the animated features and short subjects. Many of the unique sound-effects props and gadgets for these processes were invented by Disney technicians. Today, Stage C serves as a dubbing stage for film and television. It was recently renovated in 2001 and like the other stages it features an all-digital, state-of-the-art film console.