During the Depression of the early 1930s, Douglas Snelling was a bright, creative young teenager who was fascinated with Hollywood movie culture. There was a cinema in his isolated New Zealand west coast town of Wanganui and he began to paint movie marketing-style posters and small displays, and taught himself how to draw cartoons of famous Hollywood, royal and political leaders of the day. Before he was 16 years old, he had set up a successful graphic and exhibit design studio in rented premises, employing other boys of his own age to create eye-catching window displays for the cinema, local shops and the town council.
In 1937, Snelling sent a portfolio of his cartoons to Walt Disney in Hollywood and was encouraged to seek work there as an animator. But his United States visa allowed him only six months of casual employment, so he freelanced for several film studios as a cartoonist drawing their actors on set, for distribution to entertainment magazines.
On return to New Zealand in early 1938, Snelling began writing and illustrating magazine columns about his experiences of Hollywood. He also illustrated a set of black and white projection slides to give a series of lectures on Hollywood to cinema audiences. In 1939, he joined Warner Bros in Wellington as a publicist and designer of promotional displays, stunts, posters and advertisements to attract audiences to their latest films.
During the Second World War, Snelling lived near Kings Cross and worked on war manufacturing projects with Otis Elevators and the Kriesler radio electronics factory. During the last year of the war, 1945, he designed the bakelite case and several advertising posters for a new Kriesler radio. He also found freelance work painting his cartoon portraits and scenes on the walls of restaurants and bars in Kings Cross and Kensington. And he published some colour illustrations of new furniture concepts in a new lifestyle newsletter called Cavalcade (edited by architect W. Watson Sharp).