Ollie Johnston

Animator and Disney Legend Ollie Johnston is Born in Palo Alto, CA

Disney animator Ollie Johnston was born on this day in 1912 in Palo Alto, California. From his earliest memories, he enjoyed drawing and he once said, “I can’t remember the first drawing I ever made, but I know I started in kindergarten. Like most people who like to draw, I drew all my life, all through high school, generally drawing when I wasn’t supposed to be.” Yet when Ollie decided to become an artist professionally, the decision was not met with great enthusiasm.

Art was what I really liked.

Of course people said, ‘You’ll be living in an attic on bread ends and carrot tops. Artists can’t make any money.’ This was in the middle of the depression.” But Ollie proved them wrong and secured a job at Disney in 1935. Although he really wanted to be an illustrator more than an animator, working for two or three weeks as assistant animator on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs changed his mind about that when he realized the heart that could be put into animation. “Just because they’re a bunch of mere pencil drawings going through these routines and giving these performances, to me that was real. I think that was the type of thing that really interested me because I like to watch people, I was interested in how they move and how they acted, and I was interested in their emotions. That’s what Walt wanted. He wanted the emotions. The heart and soul of his pictures were the emotions.” In addition to being one of the foremost animators in Disney history, Ollie was also considered one of the world’s leading train enthusiasts. The backyard of his home in Flintridge, California, boasted one of the country’s finest hand-built miniature railroads. Even more impressive was the full-size antique locomotive he ran for many years at his vacation home in Julian, near San Diego. Ollie had a final opportunity to ride his train at a special ceremony held in his honor at Disneyland in May 2005. Ollie passed away in 2008 after having worked on many of Disney’s most beloved animated films throughout his 43-year career with Disney. But besides those films, he left a legacy with the books he penned with his longtime friend, Disney animator and Legend Frank Thomas. Amongst his four books, Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life remains the definitive book for artists and animation enthusiasts alike.