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I am so bummed that this video isn't 15 minutes long. There is so much more to discuss. The Disney brand is fascinating, including the ways in which that brand reaches so far beyond any set of words or bands and into a deep cultural idea. It is, in some ways, outside of what we usually consider a brand, and in other ways maybe the most powerful brand outside of, like, nation states.

Thanks to these people for their knowning or un-knowing help:
Kevin from
Lindsay from
Pencil Bandit:
Kade Fisher:

Here's a good tidbit I had to cut from this 1922, which Ubbe Iwerks (co-creator of Mickey Mouse) first met Walt Disney, Walt was 19 years old and was literally practicing variations on his signature! Disney's constant variation of his signature apparently started at an early age, and the piece of his signature that he seemingly couldn't settle on was the D. In the end, it was likely not Disney who created this iconic D, but someone working at the company after his death.

Walt Disney was obsessed with the "Disney" image...with his own image and that of his creations. That was certainly unhealthy. It also probably had some seriously negative consequences on him and the people around him. But it also played a part in creating something wonderful.


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Good morning, John. Last week after VidCon I went to Disneyland, and was reminded that like most children of the 80s and 90s and probably even today, I grew up knowing that this word was 'Disney', but not really understanding why. Like this is not a 'd', and this isn't really a 'y', it's like 'Gisnep'. Why?! Well John, I had some Coca-cola, and opened way too many tabs on my browser, and done (?~0:20) a lot of research, and I found this story to be very weird.

So your first gue-- wow, my hair!

So your first guess is that it's Walt Disney's signature, right? And yet, here's Walt signing his name on an episode of what's my line, and that doesn't look familiar. But, it turns out that Walt Disney had lots of signatures. Some of them resemble the Disney logo, some of them do not, but none of them have a 'D' anything like the loopy d. I can imagine this constant innovation on his signature in two ways. It may be just another manifestation of his perfectionism, which was well known, or it may be a man who was pretty obsessed with his own name.

But before we go any deeper into this, we have to discuss something else very weird about the Walt Disney Pictures logo- for almost 50 years, there wasn't one. Every movie had a different treatment (?~1:04) for the title card. There was a Disney signature that, with slight variations, showed up repeatedly, originally not as a logo bus as a signature after a statement thanking the staff in 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. That signature was last used as a title card in The Rescuers in 1977, but it was never identical to a previous usage, making it decidedly not a logo.

The graphic design nerd in me feels like this must be an intentional choice, because it was very contrary to how every other movie studio was doing things. it's almost as if Walt and the Walt Disney company wanted there to be a perception that this was a person presenting it, rather than a corporation. So the name is the brand, not the branding. Here is a man you can trust to make children's content. Savy.

After The Rescuers, The Fox and the Hound used a non-descript serif font, almost like a palate cleanser, before 1985's The Black Cauldron launched with the now familiar loopy D. This was one year into Michael Eisner taking over as CEO, and becoming the first person to run Disney who was not a Disney family member. Now there are a number of Disney designs that look similar to this final incarnation that I imagine will be in use until the universe ends. There's this from the 1950's Peter Pan board game, which matches the Disney logo almost perfectly, except for that D. And then there's this signature, and actual Walt signature that contains lots of the element - that w, the looping t, the big circle on the i, even the quick and intense return on the s. But that D though! Where did it come from?

Well the closest I could find is in the final end card of The Aristocats, which came out in 1970. Maybe importantly, this was the first movie Walt Disney Pictures released that Walt himself did not work on. It's on the screen for like three seconds, but it's clearly as close as we get to the loopy D before the early 80's when Disney launched it's home video division, using this familiar logotype as the title card. But in the box art - the loopy D!

Soon that logotype with the Cinderella castle and shooting star would become the first actual logo of Walt Disney Pictures. So somewhere, someone behind the scenes in the early 80's decided to make that little D loop into a big, bold spiral. They pushed that so far that the first letter in one of the most iconic brands of all time doesn't read clearly as a letter. Under Eisner's leadership, this clean and playful logotype became the logo type for the entire studio, and then a Disney channel, a Disney World, and the Disney company as a whole.

And it's easy to make it read more clearly, as London-based illustrator Pencil Bandit made clear with these modified versions, but that's not what they wanted. Almost all of this logotype was taken directly from one of Walt's many signatures, except for it's most bold, iconic, and confusing choice. But because Disney is all about magic, and magic can be lost when you find out how it's done, we probably will never find out how this happened, or who did it. And maybe that's for the best.

John, I'll see you on Tuesday.