Brian Sibly recalls the veteran Disney animator, Wolfgang Reitherman, who died earlier this year (1985).
It is a great many years ago now that I played truant from school and sneaked into my local cinema to see Walt Disney’s Fantasia for the first time, yet I recall the occasion as if it were yesterday. Since, like most children, I was infatuated with dinosaurs, I particularly remember the feelings of awe and terror which I experienced when, to the strident dischords of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, a tyrannosaurus and a stegosaurus battled to the death in a stark, primeval world. I had never seen a dinosaur move before (who had?). I marvelled: how was it done?
Some twenty years later, I was to meet the artist who had animated that devastatingly powerful piece of film, Wolfgang (Woolie) Reitherman, when he came to England to help promote the latest Disney film, The Fox and the Hound. A tall, gangly man with a smile-creased face, he had expressive artist-hands that said, in elegant gestures, what he rarely articulated with his slow drawling voice. One hand would make sweeping movements, as if sketching on air; the other, with its gold Mickey Mouse signet ring, made occasional stabs with a large, half-smoked cigar as if it were a paintbrush. ‘Animation’s terrific!’ he enthused. ‘It captures the eyeballs!’