Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ollie Johnston

As you may have heard, Mr. Ollie Johnston, the last remaining survivor of Walt Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” the nine original animators who helped build and define for all ages the glorious cinematic art form of animation, passed away Monday. Ollie contributed to so many classics such 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.

The write-up by the Associated Press was rather shoddy, I thought, and so I want to share Disney’s press release on this legend, because the parallels to screenwriting are obvious. Additionally, in the second paragraph, I loved what
John Lasseter had to say about what he learned from Ollie, which should be burned into our minds and stamped upon our hearts as the golden rule of screenwriting...

“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 (Rescuers) and more than a few of the 101 Dalmatians.

“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.’”

Always, always be aware of what a character is thinking. Seems so obvious, right? And yet so absolutely crucial to the craft.

You can go here for
part 2 and part 3 of the videos about Ollie. Very, very cool. You learn that Ollie would never let his characters take one step that would betray their emotional logic. You can go here to view his official website where, at the top, is a simple question: "What is the character thinking and why does he feel that way?"


Anonymous said...

RIP Ollie. You've left an incredible legacy and will be missed.

On a semi-related note: MM I'm not sure if you've listened to the Spline Doctors spline-casts (Animators from Pixar). All of them are good but I'd definitely recommend listening to the Mark Andrews/Mathot one where they discuss story and the one with Brad Bird.

Keep up the great work.

- Joe

Jim said...

A very sad week for fans of character animation everywhere - thanks for bringing his name to the attention of writers and artists outside of the field of animation.

Ollie was my favorite animator out of the Nine Old Men and was a great inspiration to me in the early years of my career. Two years ago I was lucky enough to spend some time with him in his home and talk about the artform he propelled throughout the 20th century. I can tell you that the gentle sincerity he effuses in the clips above were apparent in real life as well.

A great post from Brad Bird on meeting Ollie Johnston can be found here:
Brad Bird on Ollie Johnston.

Thanks again.

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