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A Look Back … Robert Carey Broughton: From Walt Disney to War Movies

What do Walt Disney Studios and the Office of Strategic Services—the predecessor of today’s CIA—have in common? Accomplished camera effects artist Robert Carey Broughton created award-winning films for both organizations.

From Math to Magic

Broughton was born on September 17, 1917, in Berkeley, California. He spent most of his childhood in Glendale, California, where he attended Glendale High School and Glendale Junior College. Broughton also attended the University of California, Los Angeles, where he studied chemistry, physics, math and optics.

In 1937, Broughton got a job at Walt Disney Studios delivering mail. It wasn’t long before he was pulled to work in the camera department. He started out as an assistant in the test camera department, where he worked on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Broughton’s job was to shoot the test camera to check for continuous action of the animation before finalizing the film.

Next, Broughton worked with the animation camera, which led to operating Disney’s famous multi-plane camera. It was used to create depth in animated featured films, including Pinocchio, Fantasia, Bambi, and many more.

Broughton was very involved with the production of Fantasia. His work on this film and his eye for detail earned him a promotion to camera department supervisor.

Filming the War

With the start of World War II, Broughton answered the call to service by joining the U.S. Army. He was assigned to the Field Photographic Branch of the OSS.

Film had not been used extensively during a war before, but with the beginning of World War II, it became apparent that it could serve a number of purposes:

  • Boost propaganda and morale,
  • Train the troops,
  • Provide intelligence, and
  • Record historical events.

During his time with the OSS, Broughton worked with Hollywood director John Ford to create documentary films about the war. Together, the two men produced The Battle of Midway, which won an Academy Award for best documentary in 1942. Broughton photographed most of the footage and Ford directed the film.

The OSS institutionalized using film in intelligence with the OSS Intelligence Photographic Documentation Project. Its purpose was to establish a worldwide photographic intelligence file of areas of strategic importance.

Creating Magic

After the War, Broughton returned to Disney as an assistant to legend Ub Iwerks—co-creator of Mickey Mouse. Under Iwerks, Broughton began to work on live-action motion pictures, such as Mary Poppins. He helped create the illusion that Dick Van Dyke was dancing with penguins by using Color Traveling Matte Composite Cinematography. This award-winning technology combined live action and animation on film.

In 1982—with 45 years of work at Disney under his belt—Broughton retired. He was known for his passion. Even after retiring, his enthusiasm lived on in his coordination of the retiree club, The Golden Ears.

Broughton was honored as a Disney Legend in 2001. This annual award honors an individual whose creativity and talent have contributed to producing magical films for children of all ages. Each Disney Legend receives an award cast in bronze and a plaque bearing their name, hand prints and signature at the Studios in California.

Broughton passed away on Monday, January 19, 2009. He was 91. Broughton is survived by two sons, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

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Posted: Sep 04, 2009 01:33 PM
Last Updated: Jun 01, 2017 07:40 PM