Bill Garity gave Disney animation a technical edge. Among his contributions, the film pioneer helped put sound to the 1928 animated short Steamboat Willie, the first cartoon to feature synchronized sound. Walt Disney soon came to rely on Bill, naming him the Studio’s first manager.
“Bill Garity is an unsung hero of Disney history,” Dave Smith, Disney’s Chief Archivist Emeritus, once said. “With his pioneering efforts in sound and camera techniques, he helped set Disney Studios apart from others, while his planning and supervisory expertise resulted in the building of a highly efficient Studio in Burbank.”
Born in Brooklyn on April 2, 1899, Bill attended Pratt Institute of Art in New York. During World War I, he served two years with the Radio Research and Development section of the U.S. Signal Corps. After the War, he met radio pioneer Lee DeForest and, for the next seven years, helped develop early sound for film.
In 1927, Bill installed an audio sound system in New York’s Capitol Theatre to accommodate the first newsreel with sound; it featured footage of aviator Charles Lindbergh’s Washington reception after his successful Atlantic crossing.
A year later, Bill met Walt while developing the Cinephone motion picture recording system. Their meeting was fate; Walt was determined to lift animation to a unique storytelling art form, and Bill had the technical know-how to help him achieve his lofty goal.
With the success of Steamboat Willie and his new sound cartoons, Walt purchased Bill’s recording system for his small Hollywood studio and asked if he would install it and train a technician.
Bill’s anticipated 60-day trip to California lasted more than 13 years when he joined The Walt Disney Studios in 1929.
While there, Bill headed a department of 18 skilled engineers, who helped design, build, and extend the capabilities of the animated cartoon. The team, under Bill’s able guidance, also created the multiplane camera, which gave depth to animated films beginning with the 1937 short The Old Mill. It was also used by such animated classics as Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi. The invention, which made it possible to create camera movements which simulated live-action films, earned an Academy Award® in the Scientific and Technical category.
In 1940, Bill’s team invented “Fantasound,” an innovative stereo system installed in theaters for Disney’s classic Fantasia. The stereo system, which greatly enhanced the effect of the musical animation masterpiece, also earned a nod at the 1941 Academy Awards.
A year later, Bill left the Studio to pursue other entertainment ventures. He later served as vice president and production manager of Walter Lantz Studios.
Bill Garrity passed away on September 16, 1971, in Los Angeles, California.