Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Remembering Ollie Johnston

Last night at the El Capitan theater in Hollywood, industry people and family members gathered to remember the last of the Nine Old Men.

... I'll ... never forget Ollie's enthusiasm and encouragement when I left Disney to pursue computer animation at Lucasfilm Ltd. I invited him (and Frank) to speak to our small group of pioneers. The principles of animation that I learned from them gave me an edge in this new frontier, and were 100% responsible for our success there and later at Pixar. Competitors would ask what software was I using to make my computer animation so funny. Ollie taught us that it's not the tools that make something entertaining; it's how you use them ...

-- John Lasseter

I worked with Ollie in the late seventies. Not only was he a terrific animator and artist, he was one of the gentlest, nicest human beings who ever lived. If he ever had mean or vindictive words to say about anyone, he must have uttered them in the dark of night in a small, empty room. Because I never heard, and never knew anyone who heard, any kind of snark coming from Ollie Johnston.

Even at the end of his animating career, his greatest joy was sitting in his first floor office creating animation. As one veteran of the time told me: "Ollie does eight, nine, ten feet a week, every week. And it's great stuff. I don't know how he keeps it up."

But he did keep it up, year after year, picture after picture. And for that we should all be grateful.

Photographs copyright Mark Kirkland.


Kevin Koch said...

It was a fine and moving evening. Howard Green and everyone involved should take a big bow for a job very well done.

Mark Kirkland's photos (a few of which are featured here) were one of the highlights, but really the whole evening was beautiful and inspiring.

Anonymous said...

We all owe Ollie as well as Frank a great debt for sharing not only their knowledge but their love of the art form with the rest of us. It sounds like it was a wonderful event. I'm sorry I missed it. How were people notified?

Kevin Koch said...

It was by invitation only. The only tickets I know of that were available to the public were a hundred tickets that were given away through Cartoon Brew.

Anonymous said...

This was not the first recent memorial service that was handled that way. We are not exactly "the public," we are in the business, and some of us actually had a relationship with Ollie. Was there a space problem? Was the theater full?

Anonymous said...

Well, I hope that the present day Disney Co. would honor Ollie (and his fellow master animators) with more than just platitudes about past glories and actually create a place where the art form he helped define would flourish for years to come .

Princess & The Frog is a nice first step , but why does it seem like hand-drawn animation is still the poor Cinderella at Disney ? I would have thought that attitude would go away with the end of the Eisner/Stainton reign-of-error. Why don't they have several hand-drawn movies in development now if it's an art form , not a genre ? (as many have so eloquently proclaimed)

Kevin Koch said...

Steve, the place was completely full (well, I didn't venture up to the balcony, but the downstairs was packed), and the audience appeared to have a lot of people with connections to Ollie. My impression was they easily could have filled a venue twice the size of the El Cap.

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