7 Interesting Patents Owned By Disney

Meet the Robinsons showcases the inventive side of Disney //Credit: Disney

Disney, famous for both its association with childhood innocence and terrifying control over the modern media landscape. But one aspect that gets less attention is how Disney has often been on the cutting edge of filmmaking technology. In this article, we will look at several inventions and processes that Disney has patented over the years. And how they used them in their movies.

1. Method and Apparatus for Synchronising Photoplays

During sound animation’s early years, Walt Disney, Wilfred Jackson, and William Garity developed the following method to perfectly match movie images and soundtracks. Once the musical director gave the production an idea of the film’s sound the animators and artists would begin animating story segments and preparing synchronisation sheets. These provided precise timings to synchronise actions and particular musical beats. The developed animated film also contained beat marks to provide timings and remove distractions when the musicians were recording. Music and animation were then combined. Several early Disney animations used this method. And despite its challenges, this method helped animation and sound become more closely synchronised.

2. Control Device for Animation

Another innovation William Garity helped Disney develop was the Multiplane camera. This invention positioned a camera above several transparent layers. Different scene elements were then put on the layers. Creating the illusion of depth within the scene. While filmmaker Lotte Reiniger had been using similar methods of creating depth, Disney patented the invention. Using visual depth to great effect in short (The Old Mill) and feature films (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves). 

Walt Disney showing off blueprints for the Multiplane Camera // Credit: Disney

3. Method of Creating Cartoon Effects

Some Disney patents were revolutionary, others, are mundane. This patent focuses on creating rounded effects like shadows by placing a layer of transparent material with a uniform colour in the shape of an effect over a drawn animation cell and photographing it. Essentially superimposing an effect rather than drawing it. Though underwhelming, this method certainly saved the artists time as they would not need to painstakingly draw every aspect of an effect. Which also saved on production costs.    

US Patent 2,260,092, which is held by Disney
US Patent 2,260,092, which is held by Disney // Credit: Disney ( via USPTO)

4. Sound Reproducing System

Synchronising animation and sound was not Disney’s only auditory advancement. When making Fantasia William Garity and John Hawkins developed the idea of a sound system that used multiple speakers around a venue. Allowing for a surround sound experience. Some now also consider Fantasound, as it was known, to be the precursor to stereo sound. As such it has had a real lasting impact on the film industry.

5. Photographic Animation Transfer Process

David Spencer’s invention involved photographing a rough sketch of a character or scene. The film negative was then placed over a transparent cell sheet with light-sensitive dye on it. The dye was then cured through exposure. Thus replicating the original sketch. This process was faster than the previously used Xerox method. But later computer advances and Disney’s implementation of the CAP system made this process obsolete.

6. Method for Flattening Acetate-Based Films Using Steam

Despite modern Disney’s intent to remake and replace its older properties, Disney also patented a way to help with film preservation. One of the biggest problems with acetate-based film is its tendency to become damaged by heat or humidity over time. However, Disney developed a method that used a specific amount of steam to flatten the film. Allowing for playback to capture its soundtrack. With many films shot on acetate stock, this method is invaluable for preservation. 

7. Real-Time High-Quality Facial Performance Capture

One of Disney’s most talked-about recent innovations is its advancements in facial capture technology. Disney’s technology now allows for the capture of more detail in an actor’s facial performance. Thus allowing the animated characters they are playing to display more emotion. But will this patented method lead to more great performances, like with Thanos in Infinity War? Or will they simply use it to recreate deceased performers e.g. Peter Cushing in Rogue One? Only time will tell. 

Disney’s development of Real-Time Facial Capture Technology // Credit: Disney

And this is just a glimpse into Disney’s patent collection. That said, no matter your feelings on the company or the results of their inventions, it’s undeniable that Disney, from its inception until today, remains an innovator (for better and worse) in the film industry.

Also Read: Disney Shifts Its Focus Away From Cinemas

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Posted by
Josh Greally

Writer and filmmaker. I have a masters in directing film and television and have written film reviews for several smaller sites in the past. Films are my life, but I also enjoy writing, reading, listening to music and debating.