I have been meaning to continue my series of artists who inspire me. As a kid growing up, as a student at CalArts and as an artist at Disney, these two have always inspired.
Frank and Ollie met at Stanford University where they were both enrolled in the Art Department. However they discovered that they were more interested in gags and screwy routines for school shows than they were for painting and design classes. It was the beginning of a long friendship as they gained attention to their monthly cartoons in Stanford’s humor magazine and developed a new perspective on college life. After college they came south to attend Chouinard’s Art Institute where they studied with famed illustrator Pruett Carter. Suddenly drawing and design became very important. Carter’s chief interest in his magazine work was in making the figures look like they were thinking and getting involved in the situations, and showing how they felt about their predicaments. This was a new philosophy for Frank and Ollie and one that stimulated the desires they had in their own drawings. It was still in their minds in 1934 when Carter stopped teaching and the two young students went to the Disney Studio seeking employment.
This began a spectacular 43-year career at The Walt Disney Studio as top animators, directors and story men. Frank and Ollie gave the illusion of life to some of the most endearing animated characters to ever appear on the screen. Their humor, sensitivity, and acting abilities proved to have universal and lasting appeal and their skills at communicating these qualities in their drawings earned them places as two of Walt Disney’s “Nine Old Men.”
In a career filled with milestones, Frank Thomas’ remarkable animation included such indelible moments as the first date and spaghetti dinner in “Lady and the Tramp,” Thumper teaching Bambi how to ice-skate, Baloo the bear telling the man-cub Mowgli that he can’t stay in the jungle in “The Jungle Book,” Pinocchio trapped in the birdcage by the evil puppeteer Stromboli, the lovesick squirrel whose heart is broken in “Sword in the Stone,” Captain Hook playing the piano in “Peter Pan,” the dancing penguins in “Mary Poppins,” among others. He also animated several of Mickey Mouse’s most impressive scenes in such films as “The Pointer,” and “Brave Little Tailor.”
Behind every great animated character is a great animator and in the case of some of Disney’s best-loved creations, it was Ollie Johnston who served as the actor with the pencil. Some examples include Thumper’s riotous recitation (in “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.”
Frank and Ollie went on to co-author a few books together including “Disney Animation, The Illusion of Life”. Still Considered by many to be the ultimate “bible” on animation. While both Frank and Ollie are no longer with us, the animation and artwork they created for the Disney Studios lives on and continues to inspire artists young and old.