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Ollie Johnston Celebrated at El Capitan

Tuesday night the animation industry came to the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood to celebrate the life and work of Ollie Johnston, the last of the legendary Disney "Nine Old Men," who passed away in April at the age of 95.

Hosted by Leonard Maltin, and featuring such Disney vets as Roy Disney, Andreas Deja, Glen Keane, John Musker, Ron Clements, Brad Bird and John Lasseter, Johnston was cherished time and again for his quiet, gentle and sweet nature. In contrast to his close friend and colleague, Frank Thomas, who was very analytical in his character animation, Johnston was more subtle and elusive.

"Ollie's scenes are very casual," observed Deja. "[His] drawings have a gentle touch. He had an amazing range." Johnston used to say, "Don't animate drawings -- animate feelings."

Keane, who was mentored by Johnston in the '70s, recalled always getting lost in minutiae, and Johnston reminding him, "What is the character thinking?" Ironically, when Keane showed Johnston some of his early work on the upcoming RAPUNZEL at his 93rd birthday party, and regaled him with the CG freckles, hair and fabric, Johnston replied, "What is she thinking?"

It was THE ILLUSION OF LIFE, which Thomas and Johnston co-wrote in 1981 after their retirement, and its invaluable "Principles of Animation," which sparked and inspired a whole new generation of animators.

Bird described the complexity of LADY AND THE TRAMP when Tramp first meets Lady, Jock and Trusty. It delves into a host of issues involving gender, breeding and social status. "Ollie's animation was nuanced and more intuitive."

But Lasseter, who has come full circle at Disney, summed up the spirit of Johnston by describing his love of steam trains, a bug that he too has caught, and his vital legacy that he shared with Thomas: "Animation, as we know it today, owes a great gratitude through this book [THE ILLUSION OF LIFE]."

--By VFXWorld Editor Bill Desowitz