On the occasion of the official Disney tribute to the animation legend who passed away in April, AWN offers remembrances from those who knew and were influenced by him.
The passing of the remarkable Ollie Johnston, the last of Walt Disney's original hand-picked team of animation pioneers, marked a sad transition for everyone who's ever enjoyed a Disney film. It also caused me to reflect not just on how much this magical man meant to me personally, but how much he influenced generations of animators, Walt Disney himself, and the shape of entertainment in general. Ollie remained passionate and enthusiastic about the art form he helped to invent well into his advanced years. He made a rare return visit to the Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank on his 94th birthday in 2006 and was surrounded by throngs of young Disney artists who came to celebrate the occasion. We showed him some of the new films we were working on, and his eyes flashed with excitement and welled up with emotion. Five months later, I visited him for the last time at his home in Flintridge, California. His energy was low, but his love of animation, interest in the future of the medium, and curiosity about our projects was as strong as ever.
Humble, quiet, and unassuming, Ollie was a master of his craft. Through his artistry, imagination, hard work, and determination to pass along the knowledge and experience of Walt Disney and his fellow "Nine Old Men," he proved to be an invaluable contributor to popular culture. In fact, modern animation would not be what it is today without the patience, wisdom and guidance of Ollie (and his equally brilliant and talented creative partner and lifelong friend, Frank Thomas).