Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Disney Legend and One of Walt’s Nine Old Men ~ Ollie Johnston

Disney Legend and One of Walt’s Nine Old Men
º ~ Ollie Johnston ~ º
October 31th, 1912 ~ April 14th, 2008
Worked for Disney
1935 ~ 1978
Born in Palo Alto, California, on October 31, 1912, Ollie attended grammar school on the campus of Stanford University, where his father served as professor of romance languages. After graduating from Palo Alto High School, he returned to Stanford and spent his last year of study at Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles.
On January 21, 1935, Ollie joined The Walt Disney Studios as an apprentice animator, working on such early Disney shorts as "Mickey's Garden" and "The Tortoise and the Hare," which won an Academy Award for Best Cartoon. He went on to work as animator and directing animator on more than 24 feature films including, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Fantasia," "Song of the South," "Cinderella," "Alice in Wonderland," "Lady and the Tramp," and "Sleeping Beauty," among others.
Ollie Johnston infused an unusual level of warmth and heartfelt emotion into his Disney characters. As lifelong friend and fellow animator Frank Thomas recalled, "Ollie was the only one of the Studio animators who was sensitive to character relationships and how they affected story," explained Frank -- "Back then cartoon characters seldom touched unless they hit each other. But one day Ollie said, 'You know, the act of two people holding hands communicates in a powerful way.' And he was right. His warmth made a difference in so many of our characters."
Indeed, Ollie animated such memorable friendships as that of Baloo and Mowgli in "The Jungle Book" and the sycophantic relationship shared by Sir Hiss and Prince John in "Robin Hood." And he valued his own relationship with the characters he animated, including Thumper in "Bambi," Mr. Smee in "Peter Pan" and the trio of fanciful fairies in "Sleeping Beauty." Ollie says, "They were all good friends, whom I remember fondly."
Ollie married a fellow Disney employee, ink and paint artist Marie Worthey, in 1943. Marie Johnston died May 20, 2005. Ollie's lifelong hobby was live steam trains. Starting in 1949, he built a 1" scale backyard railroad, with three 1/12 scale locomotives, now owned by his sons. This railroad was one of the inspirations for Walt Disney to build his own backyard railroad, the Carolwood Pacific Railroad, which again inspired the building of the railroad in Disneyland. Ollie was a founding Governor of the Carolwood Pacific Historical Society along with his fellow Disney animator and railfan, Ward Kimball. The 1/4 scale Victorian depot from Ollie's backyard was moved and restored to a location near Walt Disney's Carolwood Barn at the area of the Los Angeles Live Steamers club in Griffith Park, Los Angeles.
In the 1960s Ollie acquired and restored a full-size narrow-gauge Porter steam locomotive, which he named the "Marie E." On May 10, 2005 it ran during a private early morning event on the Disneyland Railroad. To date, the only time The Walt Disney Company permitted outside railroad equipment to run at any Disney Resort. This engine and its consist were sold to John Lasseter (of Pixar Studios fame). The engine is fully operational and ran recently at the Santa Margarita Ranch near San Luis Obispo, CA, in May 2007.
Brad Bird paid a tribute to Ollie Johnston with an animated cameo of Johnston in the 2004 Pixar film The Incredibles, as well as a cameo in his 1999 film The Iron Giant, where he played a train engineer.
On November 10, 2005, Ollie Johnston was among the recipients of the prestigious National Medal of Arts, presented by President George W. Bush in an Oval Office ceremony.
Johnston co-authored, with Frank Thomas, the reference book Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life, which contained the 12 basic principles of animation. This book helped preserve the knowledge of the techniques that were developed at the studio. The partnership of Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston is fondly presented in the documentary Frank and Ollie, produced by Thomas' son Theodore.
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