receives National Medal of the Arts
George W. Bush and Laura Bush present the National Medal of Arts award
to Ollie Johnston.
White House photo by Eric Draper.
Johnston is renowned for his role in pioneering film animation with the
Walt Disney Studios. He created, drew, and developed story lines for
some of the most endearing characters on screen.
Born in 1912
in Palo Alto, California, Ollie Johnston attended Stanford University
and the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, studying under Pruett
Carter. He joined Walt Disney Studios in 1935, after only one week of
first assignment at Disney was as an in-betweener on the cartoon short,
Garden. (An inbetweener is an
artist who creates the drawings that appear in-between the extremes of
an action that are drawn by animator.) The following year, he was
promoted to apprentice animator, working under Fred Moore on such
shorts as Pluto's Judgment Day
and Mickey's Rival.
His first feature-length film was Snow
White and Seven Dwarfs followed
shortly by Pinocchio.
sensitivity and acting abilities proved to have lasting appeal and his
skills at communicating these qualities in his drawings earned him a
spot as one of Walt Disney's "nine old men." This irreverent reference
had nothing to do with age but rather referred to the studio's elite
inner circle of animators.
Johnston's proudest accomplishments was his work on the 1942 film Bambi,
which pushed the art form to new levels in its portrayal of animal
realism. In 1946, for the film, Song
of the South, Johnston became a
directing animator. He served in that capacity until his retirement in
January 1978 following work on The
Fox and the Hound.
retiring from the studio, Johnston has found success as the author of
several books on Disney animation (written in collaboration with his
lifelong friend and colleague, the late Frank Thomas). His first book, Disney
Animation: The Illusion of Life
(1981), serves as the definitive treatise on the storytelling, comedic,
and drawing principles that help today's animators. Later books include
For Words (1987), Walt
Disney's Bambi, The Story and The Film
(1990), and The Disney Villain
inspired and helped train a new generation of animators to continue the
Disney tradition and serves as a senior ambassador for the art form he
helped pioneer and popularize. The concepts he developed are the basis
for animation courses taught in schools today.
Listen to NPR Radio Audio About Ollie