Walt Disney’s impact on modern entertainment is nearly peerless, but a new independent film is turning back the clock to explore the legend’s early days long before the classic movies and theme parks that helped steer popular culture. Walt Before Mickey focuses on Disney’s life after serving in World War I, where he worked as a commercial artist and struggled to make a name as an animator in the years leading up to his breakout success.
Set in the 1920s, the production took special care to recreate the look and spirit of the time, and Film graduate Ashton Bracciodieta was one of the many crew members helping to tell this chapter of Walt’s story. Working on set as digital imaging technician, the role had him responsible for securing and backing up all of the film data shot on camera – in a sense putting the weight of the entire production in his hands.
“Not many people know what we do, but digital imaging is a big responsibility because you essentially have everything that was paid for on that footage, and if you mess it up you’ve thrown it all away,” he says. “Every night I took home all the hard drives because I was that protective. From the actors to the crew, people really cared about this project.”
The cast was led by Thomas Ian Nicholas as Walt Disney with Jon Heder as his brother Roy. Directed by Khoa Le, the script is based on the book Walt Before Mickey: Disney’s Early Years, 1919-1928 from author Timothy S. Susanin, and Ashton was impressed with the efforts that the creative team put into making the Disney brother’s personal and professional relationship feel alive.
“The idea to show this part of their history was really cool, and they had the right actors playing the right roles,” he says. “Thomas Ian Nicholas as Disney? You couldn’t have picked a better person to play him, he was in his game and so passionate the whole time. Then if you look at Jon Heder, then look at Roy Disney, they’re almost the same person. All the actors did their jobs really well, and it was great working with them. I think Disney fans will enjoy it.”
Walt Before Mickey begins its theatrical run in select theaters on June 20.