Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Ollie Johnston's Birthday

Today is Ollie Johnston's 94th birthday. Happy Birthday, Ollie! Thanks for all the great scenes and the books that you and Frank wrote explaining your approach. Best wishes for the day and for the coming year.


Pete Emslie said...

There is ample evidence that much of the great Disney animation from yesteryear showed a parallel between an animator's work and his own personality. Ward Kimball's characters always displayed his eccentricity and sense of the absurd; Milt Kahl's characters often had an aura of bravado and sophistication, etc. And so it seemed too with Ollie's characters, in that there was always a feeling of warmth, something particularly in the eyes, that made them incredibly likeable. (Even rascals like Smee and Prince John!)

Admittedly, Ollie Johnston is my favourite of Walt's "Nine Old Men". It was his animation of Baloo in "The Jungle Book" that had such a powerful influence on me when I first saw the film in 1967 at the age of seven, that it steered me on a course to wanting to oneday work for Disney. I did achieve that goal eventually, albeit not as an animator but as a character illustrator, having found my comfort level in the print medium.

In 1981 I was fortunate enough to visit the Disney Studio for the first time. Once inside the gate, the first guy I saw on the lot was Frank Thomas. Not being a shy fellow, I went over to say hello to a guy who had become one of my artistic heroes. Frank was really kind to me and told me that he and Ollie were using office space at the Studio to compile some artwork for inclusion in their upcoming book, and that I was welcome to drop by and see it if I would like to. Obviously, I did not need any more coaxing than that!

Later that day, I took Frank up on his offer and went over to the Animation Building (the REAL one) and got to meet Ollie as well. These two gentlemen were very generous as they answered all my questions on their Disney careers and showed me various pieces of original art that they were trying to decide on for their "Illusion of Life" book.

Having started my own Disney career in 1984 in their Canadian Consumer Products division, I had a couple more opportunities to meet Frank and Ollie and was becoming friends with them. The next time I went out to the Disney Studio, my contact there, archivist Dave Smith, had called both Frank and Ollie to let them know I was there and to find out if they might be at the Studio anytime that week to say hi. Though Frank was out of town at the time, Ollie made a special trip in just to visit with me . It was a wonderful occasion where Ollie and I visited for about an hour in Dave's office and he was happy to chat about all of my favourite films he had animated on.

In 1990 I had the chance to transfer to the art department at WDW in Florida and Ollie was kind enough to write a letter of recommendation for me to help secure a work permit from US Immigration to get me down there. We've remained friends in the years since and I saw both Frank and Ollie several times while I was illustrating at Disney World. Sadly, the last time I saw them was about 1993, a year before I left WDW to return home to Canada. They were both still very spry at that time, looking much younger than their 81 years.

Ollie Johnston is every bit as warm and wonderful as he comes across as in the "Frank and Ollie" documentary. He's a very dear man and one of my true artistic heroes. He deserves to be celebrated today, his birthday. Here's to you, Ollie!

(You can see my caricature of Ollie along with Frank, Marc, Ward, and Walt himself on my website link)

Nancy said...

Happy birthday, dear friend Ollie. You and Frank were and are my two favorite actors from the Disney studio.
Thank you for your support for young animators, your wonderful books, and your wonderful animation.

Tom Sito said...

Happy Birthday Ollie, indeed!
It's a good day to recall Ollie's lesson to us when thinking of Mo-Cap, Polar Express stuff and other live action dependent animation. Ollie said:
"Disney Animation is not about copying life, it is CARICATURE of life. It's about life-plus."