What do Walt Disney and Winnetka have in common?
John Nash Ott!
Dr. Ott, who was a native Winnetkan for many decades, was a talented photographer, cinematographer, botanist and inventor. He is credited with developing the process we know today as time-lapse photography, and spent decades studying light and its effects on plant growth at his specialized greenhouse at 40 Woodley Road in Winnetka. Exploring plant growth by filming them under different lighting conditions, Dr. Ott made significant discoveries about natural and artificial light and the benefits of full-spectrum lighting. He parlayed these discoveries, and his expertise in time-lapse photography, into a film career that included his own television program here in Chicago, How Does Your Garden Grow in the 1950s, and several partnerships with Walt Disney Films, including work on the documentary Secrets of Life, Cinderella and Fantasia.
The Winnetka Historical Society is fortunate to be the recipient of a large collection of 16 mm films created by John Nash Ott and donated by Ott’s son. With a grant received from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the Historical Society has been digitizing several hundred of these old films to preserve their images and make them available to film historians, people interested in science filmmaking, as well as the general public.
Take a few minutes and explore some of these vintage films here on our website.