files/pictures/picture-35.jpgOllie Johnston, the last surviving animator of Disney's famed Nine Old Men, passed away April 14, 2008. Johnston worked for the Mouse House from 1935 to 1978, working as an animator on such classics as SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, FANTASIA, BAMBI and PINOCCHIO. He last worked on THE RESCUERS, a film for which he was caricatured as the cat Rufus.
Along with longtime friend and collaborator Frank Thomas, Johnston co-authored the seminal animation reference book THE ILLUSION OF LIFE, which is used as an animation textbook in schools around the globe. Johnston's friendship and partnership with Thomas was warmly chronicled in the 1995's documentary FRANK AND OLLIE, directed by Frank's son Theodore.
Oliver Martin Johnston Jr. was born in Palo Alto, California, and attended Stanford University, where he met Thomas on the staff of the STANFORD CHAPARRAL humor magazine. Later he would attend the University of California, Berkeley, and Chouinard Art Institute.
He first joined Disney, working on shorts such as MICKEY'S GARDEN and THE TORTOISE AND THE HARE. In 1943, he married Disney ink & paint artist Marie Worthey, who passed away on May 20, 2005.
His lifelong love of trains inspired him to build a scaled railroad and locomotives in his backyard, which inspired the train at Disneyland.
He was named a Disney Legend in 1989, and in 2005, Johnston was one of the recipients of the National Medal of Arts.
Johnston was the great animator behind many a great animated character. Some examples include Thumper's riotous recitation (BAMBI) about "eating greens" or Pinocchio's nose growing as he lies to the Blue Fairy and the musical antics of Mowgli and Baloo as they sang THE BEAR NECESSITIES in THE JUNGLE BOOK.
Johnston had his hand in all of these and worked on such other favorites as Brer Rabbit, Mr. Smee, the fairies in SLEEPING BEAUTY, the centaurettes in FANTASIA, Prince John and Sir Hiss (ROBIN HOOD), Orville the albatross (THE "RESCUERS), and more than a few of the 101 DALMATIANS.
Roy E. Disney, director emeritus and consultant for The Walt Disney Company, said, "Ollie was part of an amazing generation of artists, one of the real pioneers of our art, one of the major participants in the blossoming of animation into the art form we know today. One of Ollie's strongest beliefs was that his characters should think first, then act, and they all did. He brought warmth and wit and sly humor and a wonderful gentleness to every character he animated. He brought all those same qualities to his life, and to all of our lives who knew him. We will miss him greatly, but we were all enormously enriched by him."
John Lasseter, chief creative officer for Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios and a longtime friend to Johnston, added, "Ollie had such a huge heart and it came through in all of his animation, which is why his work is some of the best ever done. Aside from being one of the greatest animators of all time, he and Frank [Thomas] were so incredibly giving and spent so much time creating the bible of animation -- DISNEY ANIMATION: THE ILLUSION OF LIFE -- which has had such a huge impact on so many animators over the years. Ollie was a great teacher and mentor to all of us. His door at the studio was always open to young animators, and I can't imagine what animation would be like today without him passing on all of the knowledge and principles that the Nine Old Men and Walt Disney developed. He taught me to always be aware of what a character is thinking, and we continue to make sure that every character we create at Pixar and Disney has a thought process and emotion that makes them come alive."
Glen Keane, one of Disney's top supervising animators and director of the upcoming feature RAPUNZEL, said, "Ollie Johnston was the kind of teacher who made you believe in yourself through his genuine encouragement and patient guidance. He carried the torch of Disney animation and passed it on to another generation. May his torch continue to be passed on for generations to come."
Andreas Deja, another of today's most acclaimed and influential animators, paid tribute to his friend and mentor in this way: "I always thought that Ollie Johnston so immersed himself into the characters he animated, that whenever you watched Bambi, Pinocchio, Smee or Rufus the cat, you saw Ollie on the screen. His kind and humorous personality came through in every scene he animated. I will never forget my many stimulating conversations with him over the years, his words of wisdom and encouragement. 'Don't animate drawings, animate feelings,' he would say. What fantastic and important advice! He was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, and it was an honor and joy to have known him."
John Canemaker, Academy Award-winning animator/director, and author of the book, WALT DISNEY'S NINE OLD MEN & THE ART OF ANIMATION, said, "Ollie Johnston believed in the emotional power of having two pencil drawings touch each other. His drawings had a big emotional impact on audiences, that's for sure -- when Mowgli and Baloo hug in THE JUNGLE BOOK; when Pongo gives his mate Perdita a comforting lick in 101 DALMATIANS; when an elderly cat rubs against an orphan girl in THE RESCUERS -- Ollie Johnston, one of the greatest animators who ever lived, deeply touched our hearts."
Read Brad Bird's (RATATOUILLE) tribute on Cartoon Brew here
Read Andrew Gumbel's feature
on Johnston in THE INDEPENDENT.
Read Disney Insider's tribute to the entire Nine Old men here