Mumbai: Ollie Johnston, one of the greatest animators and the last surviving member of Walt Disney’s elite group of animation pioneers known as the ‘Nine Old Men’, passed away from natural causes at a long term care facility in Sequim, Washington on 14 April. 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, Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, Robin Hood, and The Rescuers.
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 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.
The Walt Disney Company director emeritus and consultant Roy E. Disney 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."
Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios chief creative officer John Lasseter and long time 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."
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.
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.
The Studio is planning a life celebration with details to be announced shortly.