Last of Walt Disney's "Nine Old Men" dies

Tue Apr 15, 2008 7:28pm EDT
 
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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The last of Walt Disney's original team of animators, known as the Nine Old Men, has died at the age of 95, a Walt Disney Co spokesman said on Tuesday.

Ollie Johnston worked for Disney for 43 years, drawing characters for animated Mickey Mouse short films before contributing to such classics such as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Pinocchio," "Peter Pan" and "The Jungle Book."

Johnston died of natural causes in a long-term care facility in Sequim, Washington on Monday.

Born in Palo Alto, California in 1912, Johnston showed early artistic promise and attended Chouinart Art Institute in Los Angeles. During his final year of college in 1935, Disney approached Johnston to join his fledgling animation studio.

Starting with "Song of the South" in 1946, Johnston became directing animator and served in that capacity in nearly every subsequent film. He retired in 1978 after completing some work on his final film, "The Fox and the Hound."

Johnston devoted his retirement to writing, lecturing and consulting and to model trains, of which he was considered one of the world's foremost experts.

In 2005, he became the first animator awarded a National Medal of the Arts, and he and his lifelong friend and fellow Disney animator, Frank Thomas, were profiled in the 1995 documentary "Frank and Ollie."

Disney Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter, who pioneered computer animated films such as "Toy Story" and "Cars," considered Johnston and Thomas as mentors.

"He taught me to always be aware of what a character is thinking, and we continue to make sure that every character we create at Pixar and Disney has a thought process and emotion that makes them come alive," Lasseter said in a statement.

Johnston is survived by two sons.

(Reporting by Gina Keating, editing by Dan Whitcomb and Sandra Maler)

 
<p>Walt Disney animator Ollie Johnston works on a drawing for "Jungle Book" in this August 1965 publicity photo released to Reuters on April 15, 2008. Johnston, the last of Walt Disney's original team of animators, known as the Nine Old Men, has died at the age of 95 in Sequim, Washington, a Walt Disney Co spokesman said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Walt Disney Company/Handout</p>