Legendary Disney Animator Ollie Johnston, Last of Walt Disney's 'Nine Old Men,' Dies at Age 95

Pioneering Filmmaker/Author Brought The 'Illusion Of Life' to Such Disney

Classics as 'Snow White,' 'Pinocchio,' 'Peter Pan' and 'The Jungle Book'

Over 43-Year Career

Apr 15, 2008, 01:00 ET from Walt Disney Studios

    BURBANK, Calif., April 15 /PRNewswire/ -- Ollie Johnston, one of the
 greatest animators/directing animators in animation history and the last
 surviving member of Walt Disney's elite group of animation pioneers known
 affectionately as the "Nine Old Men," passed away from natural causes at a
 long term care facility in Sequim, Washington on Monday April 14th. He was
 95 years old. During his stellar 43-year career at The Walt Disney Studios,
 he contributed inspired animation and direction to such classic films as
 "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Pinocchio," "Fantasia," "Song of the
 South," "Cinderella," "Alice in Wonderland," "Peter Pan," "Lady and the
 Tramp," "Sleeping Beauty," "Sword in the Stone," "Mary Poppins," "The
 Jungle Book," "Robin Hood," "The Rescuers," and "The Fox and the Hound."
     In addition to his achievements as an animator and directing animator,
 Johnston (in collaboration with his lifelong friend and colleague Frank
 Thomas) authored four landmark books: Disney Animation: The Illusion of
 Life, Too Funny for Words, Bambi: The Story and the Film, and The Disney
 Villain. Johnston and Thomas were also the title subjects of a heartfelt
 1995 feature-length documentary entitled "Frank and Ollie," written and
 directed by Frank's son, Theodore (Ted) Thomas. In November 2005, Johnston
 became the first animator to be honored with the National Medal of Arts at
 a White House ceremony.
     Behind every great animated character is a great animator and in the
 case of some of Disney's best-loved creations, it was 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."
     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," observed, "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
     John Canemaker, Academy Award(R)-winning animator/director, and author
 of the book, Walt Disney's Nine Old Men & The Art of Animation, noted,
 "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."
     Born in Palo Alto, California on October 31, 1912, Johnston attended
 grammar school at the Stanford University campus where his father taught as
 a professor of the romance languages. His artistic abilities became
 increasingly evident while attending Palo Alto High School and later as an
 art major at Stanford University.
     During his senior year in college, Johnston came to Los Angeles to
 study under Pruett Carter at the Chouinard Art Institute. It was during
 this time that he was approached by Disney and, after only one week of
 training, joined the fledgling studio in 1935. The young artist immediately
 became captivated by the Disney spirit and discovered that he could
 uniquely express himself through this new art form.
     At Disney, Johnston's first assignment was as an in-betweener on the
 cartoon short "Mickey's Garden." The following year, he was promoted to
 apprentice animator, where he worked under Fred Moore on such cartoon
 shorts as "Pluto's Judgement Day" and "Mickey's Rival."
     Johnston got his first crack at animating on a feature film with "Snow
 White and the Seven Dwarfs." Following that, he worked on "Pinocchio" and
 virtually every one of Disney's animated classics that followed. One of his
 proudest accomplishments was on the 1942 feature "Bambi," which pushed the
 art form to new heights in portraying animal realism. Johnston was one of
 four supervising animators to work on that film.
     For his next feature assignment, "Song of the South" (1946), Johnston
 became a directing animator and served in that capacity on nearly every
 film that followed. After completing some early animation and character
 development on "The Fox and the Hound," the veteran animator officially
 retired in January 1978, to devote full time to writing, lecturing and
     His first book, Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life, written with
 Frank Thomas, was published in 1981 and ranks as the definitive tome on the
 Disney approach to entertainment and animation. In 1987, his second book,
 Too Funny For Words, was published and offered additional insights into the
 studio's unique style of visual humor. A detailed visual and anecdotal
 account of the making of "Bambi," Walt Disney's "Bambi": The Story and the
 Film, the third collaboration for Thomas and Johnston, was published in
 1990. The Disney Villains, a fascinating inside look at the characters
 audiences love to hate, was written by the duo in 1993.
     In addition to being one of the foremost animators in Disney history,
 Johnston was also considered one of the world's leading train enthusiasts.
 The backyard of his home in Flintridge, California, boasted one of the
 finest hand-built miniature railroads. Even more impressive was the
 full-size antique locomotive he ran for many years at his former vacation
 home in Julian, near San Diego. Johnston had a final opportunity to ride
 his train at a special ceremony held in his honor at Disneyland in May
     The pioneering animator was honored by the Studio in 1989 with a Disney
 Legends Award. In 2003, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences
 held a special tribute to him (and Frank Thomas), "Frank and Ollie: Drawn
 Together," in Beverly Hills.
     Johnston moved from his California residence to a care facility in
 Sequim, Washington in March 2006 to be near his family. He is survived by
 his two sons: Ken Johnston and his wife Carolyn, and Rick Johnston and his
 wife Teya Priest Johnston. His beloved wife of 63 years, Marie, passed away
 in May 2005. Funeral plans will be private. In lieu of flowers, the family
 suggests donations can be made to CalArts (calarts.com), the World Wildlife
 Fund (worldwildlife.org), or National Resources Defense Council (nrdc.org).
 The Studio is planning a life celebration with details to be announced

SOURCE Walt Disney Studios