Corny Cole: Draw Every Day
It was a crisp autumn evening this past Friday, and the lights of Burbank’s Animation Guild were burning bright at the packed opening of The Fine Art of Corny Cole, honoring late animator. The memorial show, which celebrates the life and later work of the prolific artist and teacher, saw a full house to start things off, with the tone of the evening far from mournful. Instead, an atmosphere of reunion and fond remembrance persisted, as family, colleagues, and former students all came to pay tribute to this clearly beloved man.
Described by those who knew him as profoundly inspirational, tireless, and genuine, Corny Cole touched the lives of hundreds of artists in his long career. Many spoke of him with great fondness, claiming him as the reason they had discovered their own passion for animation. Everyone seemed to have an anecdote about his playfulness, his love of pranks, or his unyielding commitment to social justice. Students who had him at the California State Summer School of the Arts (CSSA) years ago mentioned how they still kept the packets of notes he’d given out, with the command “Draw every day!” written boldly across the front. Animators who had worked with Cole shared their stories of production cram sessions, citing his unflagging energy for what he loved to do.
Born in 1930, Cole was a Southern Californian native, who grew up surfing on the beaches of Santa Monica. He attended the Chouinard School of Art in the 1950’s and, though he never got a degree, said that he spent a total of thirteen years in and out, always loving the chance to draw.
Soon after, Cole started at Warners, where he worked alternatively as an assistant and animator on Looney Tunes with Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng, then as a production designer on UPA’s Gay Purr-ee (1962), and The Phantom Tollbooth (1969). Cole became known for his distinctive design style, and went on to design for Lee Mishkin’s Oscar-winning Is It Always Right To Be Right? (1970), as well as doing boards and design for Richard Williams’ 1977 feature Raggedy Ann and Andy, and on early work for Williams’ infamous The Thief and the Cobbler.
Cole would go on to work on numerous short projects, including commercial campaigns for Duraflame, Baskin-Robbins, and Log Cabin Syrup. He was a huge force behind the layout and character design of the television hit Alvin and the Chipmunks. Not all his work aimed at general audiences; he also labored over a short piece intended for 1981’s Heavy Metal. Called Heaven and Hell, the sequence deftly showcases Cole’s matured, delicate style, and the kinetic flow of lines and figures for which he had become known. In 2006, Cole was the recipient of the Windsor McKay Annie Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Corny had once told former boss Chuck Jones, “The art world is out there in the street." True to his beliefs, Cole would go out to in L.A. or to Skid Row to sketch real people as often as possible. During his time working as part of Chuck Jones’ unit, he proudly shared a studio in L.A. with other fine artists, and continued to stay in touch with a large network of amateurs and professionals. After running a variety of workshops over the years, many for free and out of peer’s houses, Cole began teaching at the California Institute of the Arts in 1992, where he remained until 2009.