Ollie Johnston Jr, the creator of Bambi and the last living member of Disney’s celebrated “Nine Old Men,” who set the standards for the art of animation, has died at 95.
Johnston died Monday afternoon of natural causes at a long-term care facility in Sequim, Washington, according to a press release from Walt Disney Studios. John Lasseter, chief creative officer for Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios called him “one of the greatest animators of all time.”
Johnston helped create Disney’s legendary status, beginning with his animation of the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio. He helped to create such celebrated characters as Bambi and Thumper in Bambi, the Three Good Fairies in Sleeping Beauty, Pongo and Perdita in 101 Dalmatians, and Mowgli and Baloo in The Jungle Book.
Among the most famous scenes he created were Pinocchio’s nose growing when he lied to the Blue Fairy in the 1940 movie; Thumper reciting his lesson about eating clover greens under his mother’s watchful eye in Bambi and Baloo performing The Bare Necessities in The Jungle Book.Johnston was born on Oct. 31, 1912, in Palo Alto, California, and studied art at Stanford University, where his father was the head of the romance languages department. He joined Disney in 1935 and quickly worked his way through its ranks.
Oliver Martin Johnston, Jr. (born
He was a directing animator at
Johnston co-authored, with Frank Thomas, the classic reference book
Born in Palo Alto, California, Johnston attended Stanford University- where he worked on campus humor magazine the Stanford Chaparral with fellow future animator Frank Thomas - then went on to the
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
In the 1960s Ollie acquired and restored a full-size
On November 10,
Characters and scenes animated by Johnston
Pinocchio: Pinocchio talking to Blue Fairy, telling a lie Fantasia: The Pastoral Symphony Bambi: Baby Bambi; older Bambi meets neighborhood; Thumper recites poetry on the meadow; meets Stag The Three Caballeros: The Flying Gauchito
- Make Mine Music: Casey At The Bat, Peter And The Wolf
- Melody Time: Little Toot, Johnny Appleseed
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad: The District Attorney, Ichabod Crane Cinderella: Drizella and Anastasia
- Alice in Wonderland: The King of Hearts
Peter Pan: Mr. Smee Lady And The Tramp: Lady, Jock, Trusty Sleeping Beauty: Flora, Fauna, Merryweather One Hundred and One Dalmatians: Pongo, Perdita, Nanny Cook, Puppies The Sword in the Stone: Merlin, Wart, Archimedes, Laughing Owl Mary Poppins: Waiter Penguins The Jungle Book: Baloo, Mowgli, The Girl The Aristocats: Cats and geese, Amelia, Abigail, Uncle Waldo
- Robin Hood: Sir Hiss, Prince John
The Many Adventures of Winnie The Pooh: Rabbit, Kanga, Roo
- The Rescuers:
Miss Bianca, Bernard, Rufus, Penny, Orville
- Too Funny for Words: Disney's Greatest Sight Gags (ISBN 0-89659-747-4)
- Walt Disney's Bambi—the Story and the Film (ISBN 1-55670-160-8)
- The Disney Villain (ISBN 1-56282-792-8)
Apr 24th 2008
From The Economist print edition
Ollie Johnston, last of Disney's elite animators, died on April 14th, aged 95
IF YOU interviewed Ollie Johnston in the last years of his life, sooner or later he would start to change. The trim body, lean as a whippet's, would begin to prowl and strut, then round on you with an accusing, pointing arm, just like the evil prosecutor in “Toad of Toad Hall”. Or he would cock his head, gyrate it, fidget and twitch, for all the world like the rabbit Thumper as he explains to Bambi why he doesn't like clover greens. He would skip and stumble to play little Penny carrying a slithering cat in “The Rescuers”, or tilt stiffly from side to side like a waiter-penguin from “Mary Poppins”.
All these vignettes, performed in his 80s with a young man's grace, had come from decades of observation. For the plump, elderly Good Fairies in “Sleeping Beauty” (1959) Mr Johnston and Frank Thomas, his lifelong friend and fellow animator, would lurk behind little old ladies in the supermarket, noting how they bounced as they walked and how they pinned up their hair. For “101 Dalmatians” (1961), in which he drew the parent-dogs Pongo and Perdita, he studied every nuance of ears, noses, flanks and tails. Dog-nous had helped him too in his first job as an assistant animator, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937), in which Dopey's paw-flapping stupidity was based on hound behaviour.
Of the elite animators Walt Disney gathered round him in the 1930s, the “Nine Old Men” as he called them, it was generally agreed that there was none like Mr Johnston. His background was suitable enough for the work: middle-class Californian, Stanford University art department, Chouinard art school in Los Angeles, until in 1935 he was hired, at $17 a week, by the studios in Burbank. But his approach was different. Where his colleagues focused on the “extremes”, the beginning or end of an action, he worked like an “in-betweener”, filling in with his quick, clear lines the smallest progressions of movement in a cheek, a hand or a leg, finding and sustaining the inner rhythm of the character.
The trouble with noses
What mattered for him was not movement, but the emotions behind it. “What is the character thinking, and why does he feel that way?” was the question he asked himself as he sat down to draw. As a student he had dreamed of being a magazine illustrator, producing portraits so alluring that buyers would feel they had to read the stories. Here his portraits could actually move and breathe. They could touch hands. He wanted to know the whole track of their lives to that moment, so that the way Sneezy blew his nose, or the delight of first-mate Smee as he sucked the liquor from his thumb in “Peter Pan” (1953), or the shambling dance of the bear Baloo in “The Jungle Book” (1967) would be informed by a universe of experience.
Some characters were harder than others. Mr Johnston could never find the spark in Lewis Carroll's Alice, with her prim hairband and her white apron, and thought the film a failure. In “Bambi”, where he excelled himself with the pathos of the fawn discovering his mother dead in the snow, or acknowledging with a slight, shy droop of the head the magnificence of his father, or stumbling through the forest on legs as thin as the grass, he found the face too bland, and the nose too short, to register as much as he wanted. He had more nose to work with in “Pinocchio” in 1940; but there, typically, he drew just the beginning of the transformation, as the puppet-boy, “who doesn't know a darn thing”, was suddenly, astonishingly confronted by the Blue Fairy and his own lies. The six-foot-long nose, with a bird's nest swaying at the end of it, was somebody else's thought.
The work of a Disney animator, as the studios roared from strength to strength, could be as numbing as the daily grind on any other production line. The constant perusal of the storyboards pinned along the wall; the mute challenge of the pile of medium-grade bond paper and the pencil-sharpener full of shavings; the exposure-sheet tacked to the drawing-board, giving the exact times allotted to the scene and the dialogue; the knowledge that 30 feet of drawings, at 16 drawings a foot, would have a running time of merely 20 seconds. But Mr Johnston made light of it, adoring the work and passing on his expertise enthusiastically to others. The only thing he possibly loved more was the inch-scale hand-built railway that ran round his garden, which with huffing and panting and articulated pistons moved much like an ideal cartoon character: everything functional, everything with a purpose.
Those who came to see him in the studios might find him acting, rather than drawing. Disney routinely brought in actors to help the animators, but their bodies and faces seldom matched up to the ones Mr Johnston had in his mind, with their flowing capacity to squash, stretch and rebound. He could sometimes give the idea better himself, by getting up and doing. When his characters had to speak he would draw with a mirror beside him, giving them the lines of his own mouth making letters and his own eyebrows rising and falling. “You get an idea, your eyes begin to widen,” he noted. “Your cheeks start to come up; your whole face moves...The entire pose should express the thought.” Small wonder that so much of his own life got into his drawings, and so much of their life into him.