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October 31

October 31, 1912 – Animator, Member of Disney’s Nine Old Men, and Disney Legend Ollie Johnston is Born

“I remember one morning I was lying in bed in our boardinghouse. Frank [Thomas] was shaving, and I was waiting till he finished with the razor…he turns around and says, ‘Oh, by the way, they want you to take a tryout at Disney’s.’ I thought, ‘Gee whiz. Here I am going to art school. My dad just paid my tuition. Oh, well, I’ll try it. I’ll go out there and see if I can’t make some money and pay my own way, go back to art school.’ So I went out and took the tryout. Somehow I made it. After I had been there another two weeks after that, I found out this is the only place I would ever want to be.” – Ollie Johnston

On October 31, 1912, Oliver Martin Johnston, Jr., was born in Palo Alto, California. His father was a professor of romance languages at Stanford University; it was in the Stanford art department that Johnston met Frank Thomas, who became his lifelong friend and co-animator. In his senior year, Johnston transferred to the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles. In 1935, he joined the Walt Disney Studios as an inbetweener on Mickey Mouse cartoons, and worked on early shorts that included Mickey’s Garden and The Tortoise and the Hare. Johnston worked on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as an assistant animator. His animation roles soon grew and he got the plum role of directing animator of Bambi and Thumper in Bambi, the evil stepsisters in Cinderella, Mr. Smee in Peter Pan, and the three good fairies in Sleeping Beauty, among others. He retired in 1978, with his last film being The Rescuers, in which he was caricatured as Rufus the cat.

With Frank Thomas, Johnston published the book Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life, which discussed the 12 principles of animation. This book has become a staple in the study of the techniques of animation. Johnston was also known for his love of model trains. He built  his first backyard railroad in 1949, and inspired Walt Disney to become involved in the hobby himself. Johnston was named a Disney Legend in 1989; as the last surviving member of the Nine Old Men, Johnston was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2005. He passed away on April 14, 2008.


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