Orcasound: It's the 70th anniversary of Pinocchio. Could you have ever imagined?
Bob Baker: It's the 70th anniversary of Pinocchio. I saw the film when it first opened and I went all day. They finally had to tell me to leave and I had to leave after the last showing.
Orcasound: It was the beginning of the relationship between you and Walt Disney.
Bob Baker: Actually, I met Walt for the first time when I was 8-years-old. He used to come down to a store that a friend of mine built. One of these wonderful walk-throughs. They had a Fantasy Land and they had puppets and you would meet the Fairy Princess and she would open the pumpkin and you would get a gift. He (Walt) brought down his two daughters. I've often thought that these walk-throughs influenced him on wanting to have the park for the children.
Orcasound: That was the origins of Disneyworld/Disneyland?
Bob Baker: He had planned a smaller park originally. But then the idea grew…Back to me and Walt, The Three Little Pigs had just come out and I told him how much I loved it and how I wanted to come to the studio. He said, "Well, write us a letter" and I did. That letter came back and said, "I'm sorry we can't let one little boy through because The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf are running around and we're very busy. So the next year Walt came through with his two little daughters again and I told him I didn't get a chance to go to the studio and he said, "Maybe sometime". I guess I was about eight or nine.
When I was about thirteen Pinocchio was being talked about at the studio and there was an animator that lived across the street from me. He knew I had a puppet theatre in my backyard and so he came over and said, "Could you work those puppets while I draw them?" and I did. He took those to the studio and they were quite impressed. They asked me to come out to the studio and bring my puppets. I did and they did some more drawing. Friends of mine had been working there that I had worked with at an amusement place at Catalina Island.
Orcasound: Give us some inside information about the making of "Pinocchio".
Bob Baker: One of the things that people don't know is that they couldn't duplicate the sound of the puppets working, so they actually recorded the sound of this puppet working that I had and that is the actual sound on the film.
Orcasound: So you began working at Disney studios at a very young age.
Bob Baker: I did that and then they gave me other jobs to do around the studio. We planned to do a film with puppets and animation and Walt came in when we were about halfway through and said, "Fellas, put it all on the shelf. We're gonna do "Cinderella". I have been very lucky to work with Disney as a person who could tell them how to do something, or at least my way of doing it. I showed how to use puppets to film in stop-action filming, because that is what we were using at the time.
It was very interesting being a kid and being able to go to the studio. Walt was very interested in children, their reaction and their way of wanting to do things. I'm just lucky, I guess.
Orcasound: Was this your dream job working for Disney?
Bob Baker: Well, it opened the door for me working on "Bedknobs and Broomsticks", "Escape to Witch Mountain" and "Gepetto".
Orcasound: How did you know at such a young age that this is what I wanted to do? You were eight!
Bob Baker: Oh, it started when I was six years old. They (my parents) took me to a department store and I saw a show. My dad took me to the very first show of the day and you couldn't get me out of the store. I saw all six performances of the show. In fact, we even had lunch in the store's tea room and I don't think that my dad was much of a tea room man.
Orcasound: He must have been quite supportive of you?
Bob Baker: He always told me, "I'll support you at whatever you want to do as long as it's legitimate. And he did. He was a wonderful, wonderful man. He made sure I saw ballets and musical comedies, theatre, and all the museums. We had a lot of wonderful people that came to our house and I met a lot of stars.
Orcasound: Were your parents in the business?
Bob Baker: No, he was actually in the tire business. It did very well during the Depression. So I was accustomed to being with people that were much older than I was. One of the major stores in town sent me out to all the major stars homes to do puppet shows for birthday parties.
Orcasound: I heard you did Liza Minelli's 4th birthday party.
Bob Baker: Yeah, Liza used to come up to me and put her arm around me and say, "I love you puppet man". We even had to take Liza home after as they didn't come get her after birthday parties.
Orcasound: You are still active in the puppet world?
Bob Baker: Oh yes, we have a theatre in Los Angeles and we do shows there Tuesday through Sunday. It's the longest ongoing puppet theatre in the United States – almost 50 years. Hundreds of children come through to see shows. We have the children seated on the floor and the puppets come up to them and sit in their laps and talk. Afterwards, they ask their parents how the puppets work and they explain that people wiggle the bars. And they'll say, "Yeah, I know that but how do they really work?"
Orcasound: You now take in students at your theatre?
Bob Baker: We take in people that we train in puppetry. In the 50 years we've been open they have gone on to jobs in the studios, directors, interior people, and costume people. So we feel that they are getting an experience while they're learning and they adapt that to whatever they want when they go on.
Orcasound: What do you think of the new animation?
Bob Baker: Well, a lot of it is good. A lot of it isn't as imaginative in its presentation as it could be. They seem to be so interested in lots of groups of things and lots of things happening. Whereas the original Pinocchio is all done with pencil, basically. It's all the artist being able to draw the thing. Today you have all kinds of technology that you can draw upon to make things fuzzy or bright or do whatever you want. But Pinocchio was all about what an animator could do with his pencil. That opening sequence I've never seen it duplicated anywhere. I'm an ex-President of the Academy of Motion Picture Animation division and I see a lot of animation and truly, I think, "Pinocchio" set precedence. There was nothing like it. There was nothing they could refer to. Everything was made on the spot. In fact, with Monstro the whale they had to build miniatures of the inside of the whale and all the boning so the animators could see how a whale was constructed. They had a lot of things in that film that they had to build so that the animators could draw it. Walt insisted that it be authentic.
Orcasound: You have worked in Hollywood through several eras, what was your preference – today's way of making films or yesterday's?
Bob Baker: Well, I prefer the old way. But they are getting to a time where they are modifying the CGI animation and going back to using some of the older technique. And softening a lot of the stuff. They did it in "Ratatouille". There they were achieving more of what they were able to do with paper animation.
Orcasound: I see you are very passionate about what you do. Is there ever going to be a retirement for you?
Bob Baker: Well, I keep telling everybody I've already got a hobby so I might as well keep doing it.
Orcasound: So that is how you see it as a hobby?
Bob Baker: Yep, it's a hobby that grew up. I started at eight and there's still a lot of things I want to do. I find that I'm doing them a little slower these days. Things don't come as fast as they used to, but it's just a well that they're coming. We'll stay in business as long as we can.