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How Disney Used the Multiplane Camera to Make Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Updated on July 21, 2013

Disney shapes the future of cartoons

Walt Disney and his brother, Roy, arrived in California in 1923 with hopes of producing short cartoon films. They started Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio with the two as equal partners. Shortly after, a New York distributor agreed to release Walt Disney’s series of short films about a little girl living in a cartoon world and the name was changed to the Walt Disney Studio.

In 1927, the Jazz Singer broke the “silent movies” barrier, becoming the first feature-length movie with synchronized dialogue sequences. Taking his cue from the Jazz Singer, Disney decided to launch his third Mickey Mouse cartoon with fully synchronized sound. Animation has never been the same since. Steamboat Willie opened to glowing reviews in November 1928 and became an immediate sensation around the world.

Snow White broke all the rules

In 1934, Walt Disney announced he was creating the first full-length animated movie. Dubbed “Disney’s Folly,” Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs went on to become a major box office hit, drawing a standing ovation the night it premiered in 1937.

Snow White grossed $3.5 million in the US and Canada and by May 1939, it’s total international gross of $6.5 million made it the most successful film of all time until it was displaced by Gone with the Wind in 1939. These were mind-boggling figures in Depression-era America.

There were several innovations that made Snow White so exciting and such a radical concept. First, it ran 83 minutes, about 10 times longer than the usual cartoons which were typically about 8 minutes. The movie was also the first made in Technicolor and it had an official soundtrack.

The famous multiplane camera
The famous multiplane camera | Source

The multiplane camera

But what made Snow White unique was the special camera Disney used called a multiplane camera. The camera created a three-dimensional effect using two-dimensional drawings by moving them past the camera at various speeds and at various distances from one another.

The camera also created the illusion of depth. Some parts of the artwork were left transparent to allow other layers to be seen from behind. By having different layers of artwork moving at different speeds, depth could be created – the further away from the camera, the slower the speed.

The appearance of rotation was created by moving the background and foreground images in opposite directions. Disney used this effect when the wicked Queen drinks her magic potion tp turn herself into the old hag who sells Snow White the poison apple.

This display case in the lobby of the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco shows many of the Academy Awards he won, including the distinctive special award at the bottom for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
This display case in the lobby of the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco shows many of the Academy Awards he won, including the distinctive special award at the bottom for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. | Source

The Golden Age of Animation

Snow White was hugely successful for Walt Disney and he received one large and seven miniature statuettes. The movie ushered in an era of era of success for him and was quickly followed by Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941), Bambi (1942). These movies were not as immediately financial hits for the studio, primarily because of World War II but became much more so in decades to come as these and other films were re-released in theaters and later on videocassettes and DVDs.

All in all, Walt Disney and his studio produced an astounding 576 animated movies such as Lady and The Tramp and live action films such as Follow Me Boys and Treasure Island.

After The Little Mermaid was made in 1989, the studio switched from hand drawn and painted animation to using a new Computerized Animation Production System or “CAPS.”

Snow White still tops the charts

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was not only a groundbreaking animated film, but it also has grossed a phenomenal $184,925,486 since its 1937 premiere and subsequent releases. Allowing for inflation, the film is still in the top 10 American film moneymakers of all time.

This is an interesting video that shows how Disney and his cartoonists made their movies. It also shows the multiplane camera as well as how they produced some of their sound effects.



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    • profile image


      2 years ago

      best info on disney animation thanks for this article keep it up.

    • Danette Watt profile imageAUTHOR

      Danette Watt 

      7 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks Docmo I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. Coincidence? There are no coincidences in life, it's all serendipity (IMHO). As in-depth as your hubs are that I've seen, I'm sure you'd do justice to a hub on the multi-plane camera.

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 

      7 years ago from UK

      What a wonderful coincidence ... I was walking through Disney holy wood studios few days ago in Walt Disney World and saw a wonderful exhibit called one man's dream that outlined the history of Walt Disney's achievements. I walked past the ' multi-plane camera' and took a picture of it using my iPhone with a vague idea of doing a hub about it! This is brilliant and tells us how innovative Disney was in technical and creative brilliance. Great hub, Danette! Love the video too.

    • Danette Watt profile imageAUTHOR

      Danette Watt 

      7 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks Mary, I"m glad you enjoyed this hub about one of your favorite characters. I appreciate you taking the time to read it and leave a comment.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      7 years ago from New York

      I'm not only a Disney fan but I've loved Snow White since I was a little girl...yes, I once was a little girl! Your research is impeccable and very interesting. This was a great read.

      Voted up, awesome, and interesting.

    • Danette Watt profile imageAUTHOR

      Danette Watt 

      7 years ago from Illinois

      Well thanks KDuBarry03.

      I'm sure you've never seen a Shirley Temple movie (and maybe never even heard of her) but her movies were a big hit during the Depression also and she was quite a popular (and, I'm sure, well-paid) child star. I imagine people were so starved for fun, laughter and 'feel-good' moments they were willing to pay to get that experience.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I absolutely love Snow White! I am, actually, quite shocked that it made so much money in the Depression. You definitely completed great loads of research to share with us. Thank you!


    • Danette Watt profile imageAUTHOR

      Danette Watt 

      7 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks Daisy! Now that you've read some of the background on the camera and Disney, you'll probably watch it with a fresh viewpoint.

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image

      Daisy Mariposa 

      7 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)


      I have seen this animated movie many times. In fact, we have a copy at home.

      Thanks for spending the research time to create a fascinating article about this great movie.

    • Danette Watt profile imageAUTHOR

      Danette Watt 

      7 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks for the compliment and I'm glad you learned a little something about this movie and how it was made.

    • photosbecomearts profile image


      7 years ago from Tampa, Florida, USA

      Surely your husband loves you even more for doing that research about Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs. It's an effort in your part and I'm also glad I came into your hubs and benefits good learnings from it. Thanks for that.

    • Danette Watt profile imageAUTHOR

      Danette Watt 

      7 years ago from Illinois

      Thanks photosbecomearts. Snow White is my husband's favorite Disney movie (because of the 7 Dwarfs) and it was interesting to do the research. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • photosbecomearts profile image


      7 years ago from Tampa, Florida, USA

      I had fun reading this hub! I mean, I've always been a fan of Disney characters like Snow White, so thanks for sharing this story. Voted up!

    • cardelean profile image


      8 years ago from Michigan

      Wow, that was great information. I definitely learned a lot from that. I will watch Snow White with a much different lens now. UP!

    • ChristineVianello profile image


      8 years ago from Philadelphia

      I love Disney films and the older cartoons. Great hub, love the video.

    • Danette Watt profile imageAUTHOR

      Danette Watt 

      8 years ago from Illinois

      Hi Docmo, I'm glad you enjoyed the hub, especially since you are such a Disney fan and, as your last sentence implies, quite knowledgeable.

      I can't imagine anyone today hand drawing everything, except maybe a purist. I did read about the 7 little Oscars and you can actually see them in the picture of the Oscars in the case.

      @ Denise -- Thanks. I actually chose this Disney film (there are a lot I like, including Jungle Book for the songs) because it is my husband's favorite Disney movie, believe it or not.

      Thanks to both of you for voting it up.

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 

      8 years ago from UK

      As a firm Disney fan, I am delighted with this hub. this film is a remarkable achievement of inspiration and perspiration- the hours it took to hand draw those images and all the innovative ideas that was the forerunner of every animated movie since. I ma sure you know that the at the Academy awards the following year Walt received a special achievement Oscar - a standard size Oscar and 7 little ones!voted up!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Wow! This hub must have taken quite a bit of time to research and write. It is chockful of info. Enjoyed it. Rated it up. cool!


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