Walt Disney began the move into features in 1934, pulling selected animators away from the short subjects division that had previously been the whole of Walt Disney Productions. The result was the first animated feature in English and Technicolor, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Snow White became an unprecedented success when it was released to theatres in February 1938, and it and many of the subsequent feature productions became film classics. These first features were presented as being made in 'multiplane technicolor', since both the multiplane camera and technicolor were still something new in the area of animation. Following the successes of these features, Disney expanded his company's operations, moving into live-action features, television, and theme parks. Beside successes like Snow White, Dumbo, and Cinderella, Disney also directed the Feature Animation staff create experimental and stylized films such as Fantasia and Sleeping Beauty which sustained losses and did not recoup their costs until decades after their original releases. In 1962, Walt Disney shut down the corporation's short subject department, focusing its attention mainly on television and feature film production (the next short subject was the widescreen Mickey Mouse cartoon Runaway Brain in the mid 1990s).
After Walt Disney's death in 1966, the animation department found itself without direction. The animators struggled to regain their footing but created films that were technically polished but told lackluster stories, even though most of them were successful. In 1973, lead animator Eric Larson began an experimental recruitment program to see if new young talent could be found to bring new blood to the industry. This began the training of a whole new generation of animators that would bring animation to new heights and greatly influence the world's popular culture. After honing their craft on a series of fairly modest pictures, these new artists finally found true success again with The Little Mermaid in 1989, which was known as the starting of the Disney Renaissance era. A string of successful films, such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King followed suit, and Disney expanded WDFA to a total staff of over 2,400 by 1999, including employees located at satellite studios in Orlando and Paris.
However, the expansion coincided with a decline in both revenue and quality of the department's output. Competition from other studios drove animator salaries to a high level, making 2D animated features a costly proposition, and beginning in 2000, massive layoffs brought staff numbers down to 600. Deciding that the reason for its failing box office draw was the fact that they still used traditional animation methods in a time when Pixar and DreamWorks Animation were producing highly successful CGI animated films, Disney converted WDFA into an all-CGI studio, performing more layoffs and selling off its traditional animation equipment. The Paris studio was shut down in 2003, and the Orlando studio followed suit in 2004. The Orlando studio was turned into an attraction at a Disney theme park.
Walt Disney Animation Studios once announced that Home on the Range was the last traditionally animated film, and from Chicken Little onwards, all future Walt Disney Animation Studios films would be computer-generated imagery CGI animated.
Walt Disney Animation Studios will be returning to traditional animation with the 2009 release of The Princess and the Frog. It would also continue to develop CGI projects such as Rapunzel and King of the Elves.
As of 2007, Ed Catmull serves as president of the combined Disney-Pixar animation studios, and John Lasseter serves as the studios' Chief Creative Officer. Catmull reports to Walt Disney Company President & CEO Bob Iger as well as Walt Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook. Lasseter, who has greenlight authority, reports directly to Disney's President & CEO Bob Iger.
Andrew Millstein, has been named general manager of Walt Disney Animation Studios. In this new position, Millstein is in charge of the day-to-day running of the studio facilities and products.
WDFA did the Sprites and backgrounds for the Sega Genesis, Commodore Amiga and PC Video Game Disney's Aladdin (video game) and the SNES, PC, Sega Mega Drive/Genesis & Amiga video game The Lion King (video game)
Among its significant achievements are: