Joe Grant and I worked a long time together while he did his second stint at Disney, from 1989ish to 2005ish. We would work in my office sitting across my Kem-Weber-designed, original Disney studio director desk meant to accommodate one person on each side, and he would sit back and put his feet up on the desk and his arms behind his head and we would talk about ideas and thoughts as we shaped concepts for the new idea I had to make Pocahontas. Joe worked as Walt Disney's right hand man for most of the 30s and 40s, running his character model dept., designing all the characters with his all-star team of artists for all the films being made. But more than that, Joe was his confidant, his Consigliere, and story advisor. They would meet at the end of every work day, sharing a cocktail in Walt's office and relaxing as they discussed the daily dilemmas and staff issues.
Joe and I met as I was completing my first film, The Rescuers Down Under. I was dumbstruck at the how vibrant, vital, exuberant, clever, with it, funny, fun and personable, the great Joe Grant turned out to be that day at lunch at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank. By the end of that lunch I had a new best friend and we started to meet and discuss future film ideas and stories that would make great animated features or shorts. Joe and I struck up a fast and deep friendship almost immediately. We both loved working together, as natural a fit as I have ever had working creatively with anybody. His intellect, wit, and vast wealth of experience was an advanced art education every single day. Joe would usually pop in around 1p.m. and stay for a few hours, sucking on coffee nips all afternoon. We would go over the drawings he and I had done since the day before, and discuss new ways to push our story even further. He worked in two ways. He would either sit down quietly at home at night and just start drawing, didn't matter what. He would not specifically draw pertinent drawings for the film, he would just draw without thinking. Let the pen wander. Eventually his mind would drift into a Pocahontas idea and he would start to go down that road visually, but he never forced anything, just let it float into his pen tip as light as a feather. Not important whether it fits our current thinking, or is good or viable, just important to let the drawings begin. His other method was the same except in written word form. He had an interesting way of jotting down random thoughts, stream of consciousness writing, and letting his imagination fire off as he wrote, making it up as he drifted into an animated realm of his mind that only Joe knew how to activate. I was unbelievably blessed to have had that opportunity to sit there and work with Joe exactly the way he had worked with Walt Disney, Bill Peet, J.P. Miller, Mary Blair, James Bordrero, Albert Hurter, Dick Kelsey, Martin Provensen, and his partner during his first disney tenure, which ended in 1950, Dick Huemer. Joe taught me many many things over the years, but the greatest lesson of all was not to fight change. Embrace the way life shifts you into new roles and new opportunities. Let age refine you and shape you into a more dimensional artist. Never stop being curious and active in your life and in your art. Here is Joe's favorite quote with which he lived by from Henri Bergson:
To exist is to change,
To change is to mature,
To mature is to create oneself endlessly.
Here are a few pages of Joe's stream of consciousness writings: