Friday, May 09, 2008


Oliver Martin Johnston, Jr. (October 31, 1912 – April 14, 2008) was an American motion picture animator. He was one of Disney's Nine Old Men, and the last living member. His work was recognized with the National Medal of Arts in 2005. He was a directing animator at Walt Disney Studios from 1935 to 1978. He contributed to many films including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia, Bambi and Pinocchio. His last full work for Disney came with The Rescuers, in which he was caricatured as one of the film's characters, the cat Rufus. The the knowledge and techniques that were developed at the Disney studio in his time are priceless.

When I was young, everyone thought I would grow up to be an artist. I drew on everything. I enjoyed creating the captions almost as much as drawing the characters. Peas-NO-Nuts, The King Wizard of Mad Mumblings, Whombie of the Desert, and Frothy Froth kept me as busy as any homework assignment in high school.Working my way through college became a slow and tedious process. I decided to delay my cartoon career and set out on my own to discover the world. I joined the Air Force. They had no need for a cartoonist, but computer geeks were practically non-existent and the need for them was growing. They put me in electronics school. A year later the USAF decided I had enough electronics background, so they sent me to computer classes. Six months later I emerged as a Control System computer technician in the Strategic Air Command. Most of my cartoons were now done on computer paper. The Air Force frowns on perpetrators of unauthorized writing or drawing on a government surface I found out, but they never caught me. After the Air Force, I joined AT&T and they sent me to school to get a First Class Radio License, a requirement for repairing and tuning microwave generators and radio transmitters carrying thousands of phone messages across the airways of the USA. Then I got married, had two of the most unique children imaginable, and spent years of coaching youth soccer. By 1975, AT&T had discovered my background in computers and sent me to school to introduce me to computer software,somewhat akin to Luke going over to the dark side, being a hardware geek until this point. I found this niche satisfied my creative cravings (so what if it was in a computer language that nobody ever read as long as it worked) and it was rewarding when my 50 lines of novel coding did the job of a 1000 lines of esoteric criteria. When the kids went off to college, I thought about my deviation from the original course of my life. AT&T would not pay for me to become an cartoonist, abstract or otherwise, so I changed my major to Computer Information Systems (CIS) and got my BBA degree. I did manage to get Frothy Froth published for a couple of years in a local AT&T newsletter, circulation 900.

Fast-forward now to that night when Ward and I were in line to meet Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, the last two of Disney's famed Nine Old Men, in town to promote a collection of limited edition sericels and prints from THE JUNGLE BOOK.I knew that at this moment we were in was a time-lock, where the control of time is being handled by those in charge of it. I could see the admiration in my son's eyes as the line moved closer to these animation giants. At last we were standing in front of them. Frank was doing most of the talking as Ollie was a bit under the weather. Ward gathered the courage to speak to Frank, "Very nice to finally meet you. You know, I'm an artist and I want to become an animator. What advice do you have to give to someone just starting out?" Frank's eyebrows went up slightly when Ward mentioned that he wanted to become an animator. He leaned in closer and said these three things to Ward:


It was quite the definition of satisfaction for me to witness this event. Ward still displays this quote on his drawing board for inspiration.


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