Animator Vladimir Tytla, nicknamed “Bill” by his friends and family, brought unprecedented depth, feeling, and personality to Disney characters—so much so that today he is considered “Animation’s Michelangelo.” Among the artist’s most famed masterpieces are Stromboli, the evil puppeteer in Pinocchio; Chernabog, the menacing, winged devil featured in Fantasia; and the endearing baby elephant in Dumbo.
As fellow Disney Legends Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston recalled in their book The Disney Villain:
“Everything was ‘feelings’ with Bill… He did not just get inside Stromboli, he was Stromboli and he lived the part.” Animator and fellow Disney Legend Eric Larson observed Bill’s intensity and “all-out sincerity. He’d act out a scene in his room and I thought the walls would fall in.”
Born October 25, 1904, in Yonkers, New York, Bill won a job lettering title cards for the Paramount animation studio at age 16. He later accepted an artist’s position at Paul Terry’s animation studio. Fascinated with the fine arts, he later enrolled in New York’s Art Students League and, in 1929, traveled to Paris to study painting. He returned to Terry Studios the next year, but was unhappy when his friend and colleague, animator Art Babbitt, moved to Hollywood to work for Disney in 1932. After many invitations from Art, Bill finally took a trip west and joined The Walt Disney Studios on a ‘trial basis’ in November 1934.
During his “probationary” year, Bill’s versatile acting ability became apparent when he animated a broadly comic Clarabelle Cow in the short Mickey’s Fire Brigade and a bully rooster dancing the carioca in Cock o’ The Walk.
As a result of his genius, Bill was soon tapped to join fellow Legend Freddie Moore in developing and animating the Dwarfs in Disney’s first full-length animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. A perfectionist, Bill made sure that even in mob scenes each Dwarf performed strictly according to his own unique personality.
After the astounding success of Snow White, Bill became one of the Studio’s highest-paid animators, earning more than $300 a week. His supreme moment in animation remains Chernabog, the god of evil in Fantasia;” the character’s emotions range from unabashed evil to the expression of physical pain when he hears church bells ring at dawn. Other films Bill contributed to include Saludos Amigos and Victory Through Air Power, as well as the war-themed short Education for Death.
In 1943, Bill left Disney to animate theatrical shorts for other studios and to direct television commercials. Among his non-Disney credits is the 1964 live-action and animated feature The Incredible Mr. Limpet, starring Don Knotts.
Bill Tytla passed away on December 31, 1968, in East Lyme, Connecticut.