Remembering Ub Iwerks
We’re remembering Ub Iwerks today, on the 50th anniversary of his death.
If you’re a big Disney fan, you know that Ub Iwerks was the animation genius who helped make Disney animation what it is today. And he helped Walt Disney design Mickey Mouse!
#DisneyLegend Ub Iwerks was born on this date in 1901. He helped Walt design Mickey Mouse and contributed to many Disney projects, from “it's a small world” to Walt Disney World. Photo: Walt and Ub, circa 1929. pic.twitter.com/Ql04kwyh0S
— Walt Disney Archives (@TWDCArchives) March 24, 2021
Mickey and Minnie Mouse were developed by Ub, Walt and another animator, Les Clark, one of the Nine Old Men. He also did the lion’s share of animating, backgrounds and designing lobby posters for theaters exhibiting the early Mickeys.
The earliest Walt Disney Studios cartoons were animated by Ub, including Plane Crazy and Steamboat Willie. He then went on to animate the first year of the Silly Symphonies cartoons and he worked on the Mickey Mouse newspaper comic strips.
As an animator, Ub worked at record-breaking speed. He animated the first Mickey Mouse silent cartoon, Plane Crazy, entirely by himself within a three-week period, completing as many as 700 drawings a day. (Today, the average animator produces 80 to 100 drawings a week.)
Before Mickey, even before Oswald, Ub was with Walt from the early days in Kansas City at the Laugh-O-Gram Studio. But creative differences with Walt wore on Ub, and he left in 1930 to start his own animation studio.
Unfortunately, the studio Ub founded did not see great success, and it closed in 1936. When he left The Walt Disney Studios, Ub had sold his 20% stake in the company for $3,000.
He returned to Disney after his studio folded, but not as an animator. Instead he applied his technical knowledge and went to the technical effects department.
Special effects magic
There, Ub created and refined the multihead, aerial-image optical printer. This allowed the studio to combine animation with live action. The optical printer was capable of combining and layering special effects such as title cards, matte paintings, filters and believable optical illusions.
Examples of the optical printer’s prowess include the twinning of Haley Mills for The Parent Trap. Or Dick Van Dyke dancing with penguins in Mary Poppins.
Ub later developed the xerography process for animation, commonly referred to as Xerox. This eliminated costly steps in the animation process by taking drawings directly from an animator’s pencil on paper to celluloid.
Critics recognized Ub’s genius and awarded him two Oscars for his technical expertise. The special effects for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds were created by Ub.
As Disney started developing things for the parks, Ub’s engineering mindset was put to good use. He was a big part of It’s a Small World, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, The Hall of Presidents, and early futuristic concepts for Walt Disney World. Sadly, Ub passed away before the opening of Walt Disney World.
According to the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, California, “Ub Iwerks was one of the most consequential employees of The Walt Disney Company. Dave Smith, chief archivist emeritus of the Walt Disney Archives, calls Ub ‘an animation genius, perhaps the greatest of all time.’ His work ethic was admired by many; his talent denied by none. His inventions didn’t just go through the motions, they lived, breathed, made the impossible possible, and brought fantasies of tomorrow to a reality today.”
Remembering Ub Iwerks
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