Search form

Jules Engel Tribute

Animation pioneer Jules Engel, who passed away Sept. 6, 2003 at the age of 94, was loved by many and inspired many generations of animators by way of his teaching, art and animation career. ANIMATION WORLD MAGAZINE will pay tribute to this inspirational man in a collection of thoughts and pictures from those who knew and admired him. We have been receiving many e-mails already from people who were touched by him. Please add your remembrances, anecdotes, express your feelings about him as well as any photos or drawings you would like to share in this online memorial to Jules Engel. Just e-mail us at by Sept. 23 to be part of this tribute article to be published Sept. 25. Contributions may be edited for space, but we will include something from every one. Please include your title and where you are from.

Following is the official obit issued by CalArts, regarding his death and funeral services on Sept. 13, 2003:

Jules Engel, a true pioneer in the art of animation and one of the most beloved educators in the history of CalArts, died on September 6 in Simi Valley, CA, following a short illness. He was 94.

Engel's illustrious career as an animator, producer, film director and fine artist ranged from working on the Walt Disney classics FANTASIA and BAMBI to creating groundbreaking cartoons for the United Productions of America (UPA) and Format Films, and, later, to his own internationally celebrated abstract animations and live-action films.

In 1970, Engel founded CalArts' Program in Experimental Animation, widely recognized as one of the world's foremost centers for animation arts. In 2001, CalArts hailed his indelible contribution to the arts by conferring on him the title of Institute Fellow, the highest honor it awards to faculty.

"Jules' death is an enormous loss for us at CalArts," said Steven D. Lavine, president of CalArts. "Jules was the spiritual center of our School of Film/Video in that he always championed the personal vision of the individual artist.

"Over the years, CalArts students have always appreciated his keen advice, generosity and personal graciousness. Jules summed up his teaching philosophy perfectly when he said, 'It's not what I give to my students that's so important; it's what I don't take away.' He will be greatly missed by the entire CalArts community."

Engel was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1909 and moved to Oak Park, Illinois, when he was a boy. Inspired by the work of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo while in high school, he came to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the arts. Once in Los Angeles, he was first hired by a local artist to sketch landscapes.

Engel began his career in animation at the studios of Charles Mintz, where he was first employed as an inbetweener. In the late 1930s, he moved to the Walt Disney Studios and used his expertise in capturing movement to design the choreography for several key sequences in the landmark animated feature FANTASIA, including "The Chinese Dance," "The Russian Dance" and "The Dance of the Hours." While at Disney, he also worked as a key colorist on BAMBI, one of the studio's all-time masterpieces.

During World War II, he served in the Hal Roach Motion Picture Unit of the Army Air Corps.

Engel was one of the founders of the innovative animation studio UPA, where he, along with Robert Cannon and others, developed theatrical cartoons such as GERALD MCBOING-BOING, MADELINE and MR. MAGOO, from 1944 to 1959. Engel, who had been a fine artist since the 1930s, drew on contemporary art to design sophisticated color palettes that gave UPA animations their distinctively modern look and sensibility.

In 1959, Engel joined forces with friends and UPA colleagues Herb Klynn and Buddy Getzler to launch Format Films. There, he worked on several popular cartoon shows including THE ALVIN SHOW and THE LONE RANGER. Engel also collaborated with Dr. Seuss author Theodore Geisel and Oscar-winning filmmaker and designer Saul Bass. In 1962, he directed and produced the Oscar-nominated animated short, ICARUS MONTGOLFIER WRIGHT, based on a script by science fiction writer Ray Bradbury.

Other important Engel works include the experimental film COARAZE (1965) and the animations ACCIDENT (1973), TRAIN LANDSCAPE (1974), RUMBLE (1975), SHAPES AND GESTURES (1976), VILLA ROSPIGLIOSI (1988) and AVIARY (1997).

In 1968, his friend Anaïs Nin introduced him to Herb Blum, the first dean of CalArts' film school, who then hired Engel to start an animation program at the new CalArts campus in Valencia. Engel launched the Program in Experimental Animation in 1970 and continued to direct it until 2001. Later that year, he was named Institute Fellow. He was the third recipient, following filmmaker Alexander MacKendrick and composer Mel Powell, of CalArts' highest honor.

In more than 30 years at CalArts, Engel was an influential educator and a cherished mentor to generations of animators, filmmakers and artists. Many of his former students are leading figures in the world of film and animation today. They include John Lasseter (director of TOY STORY and A BUG'S LIFE, exec producer of FINDING NEMO and SPIRITED AWAY), Henry Selick (director of THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH), Tim Burton (director of BATMAN, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS and ED WOOD), Stephen Hillenburg (creator of SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS), Joanna Priestley (director of UTOPIA PARKWAY and SURFACE DIVE), Christine Panushka (creator of the award-winning Website ABSOLUTE PANUSHKA), Ellen Woodbury (supervising animator on THE LION KING and HERCULES), Paul Demeyer (director of RUGRATS IN PARIS: THE MOVIE), Eric Darnell (co-director of ANTZ), Kathy Rose (Guggenheim Fellowship-winning filmmaker and performance artist), Joyce Borenstein (director of ONE DIVIDED BY TWO and THE MAN WHO STOLE DREAMS) and Mark Kirkland (director on THE SIMPSONS), among numerous others.

Engel's films were screened around the world and honored at film festivals in Venice, Edinburgh and Oberhausen. Throughout his career, he won five Golden Eagle Awards, an Annie Award and a Jean Vigo Award. He received the Winsor McCay Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Animated Film Society (ASIFA-Hollywood). Engel also won the Norman McLaren Heritage Award from the Association Internationale du Film d'Animation (ASIFA-Canada) for his "inspiring achievements as a mentor at CalArts."

In addition, he collected the "Friz" Lifetime Achievement Award from the Santa Clarita International Film Festival and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Black Maria Film and Video Festival. Earlier this year, Engel was the subject of a retrospective at the ANIMAC International Animated Film Festival in Lleida, Spain, and was also honored with the Pulcinella Award for Career Achievement at the Cartoons on the Bay Festival of International Animation in Positano, Italy.

Engel also served on the executive committee of the Shorts Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for 35 years.

Engel's paintings, drawings and prints have been shown at museums and galleries since 1945, including exhibitions at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. He is represented by Tobey C. Moss Gallery in Los Angeles.

A retrospective of Engel's films will be held on November 23 at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT), the new arts venue housed in the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex in downtown Los Angeles. The one-night tribute to Engel will feature prints restored by the iotaCenter, a Los Angeles organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the art of light and movement. In addition, a biography of Engel written by film scholar and CalArts alumna Janeann Dill is forthcoming from London-based publishers John Libbey & Co.

Engel survived two wives, Irene and Elaine. He was still creating animation and fine art when he was hospitalized three weeks ago.

Services will be held at Forest Lawn Memorial Park-Hollywood Hills in Burbank on Saturday, September 13, beginning at 2:30 pm.

In lieu of flowers, friends suggest donations to the Jules Engel Scholarship Fund at CalArts (661) 253-7814) or the Jules Engel Preservation Project (310) 433-4655 or

Further information, call Forest Lawn at 800.204.3131 or Tobey C. Moss Gallery at (323) 933-5523.