“I think I always knew that I’d be an artist,” Carson Van Osten says, “and although I was too young to remember it, my parents told me that I said I wanted to draw cartoons for Walt Disney when I grew up.” And since 1970, Carson Van Osten has done just that. He’s helped bring Disney characters to life, in a wide breadth of media all around the world.
After attending the Philadelphia College of Art, Carson instead became a professional musician and recording artist, founding the rock group Nazz along with Todd Rundgren. Moving to Hollywood, he applied his artistic skills as an assistant animator, layout man, and background artist at Fine Art Films, creating animated titles and interstitial segments for The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, The Ken Berry ‘Wow’ Show, Jonathan Winters’ Hot Dog, and The Dean Martin Show. He also worked on the animated feature Shinbone Alley, based on the “Archy and Mehitabel” stories by Don Marquis.
He arrived at Walt Disney Productions in 1970, beginning as an illustrator of Mickey Mouse comic books.
“I did like to draw Mickey and Goofy stories from the start,” Carson says. “And the Studio needed them more—Tony Strobl and Al Hubbard drew the ducks.”
Carson became a staff comic strip artist and story man in 1974, working alongside legendary Disney comic artists Floyd Gottfredson and Manuel “Gonzy” Gonzales. “We all worked in the same big room and got to be great friends,” Carson says. “They loved to talk about the early days at Disney.” Carson was an interested and attentive listener. “I still think about Floyd often, especially when I draw Mickey in the 1930s style.”
One of his best-known works is the Disney Comic Strip Artist’s Kit, a seven-page primer on staging, perspective, and other design fundamentals inherent in comic panel art. It is still in use today, all around the world. “I wrote and drew those sketches around 1975, and I’m so tickled to know that people still find them helpful today. Frank Thomas saw it and used it for an animation class he was teaching at the Screen Cartoonists Guild. That’s how some sketches wound up in the book that he and Ollie wrote, Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life.”
In 1980, Carson became a manager in Creative Services for Disney Consumer Products, providing art supervision and concepts for Disney West Coast Licensing. He also oversaw motion picture tie-in advertising, Disney publications, and the Disney Music Company.
“I really liked the variety of work for 2D and 3D products, book or magazine art, record cover ideas, and more. It was changing and challenging every day.”
In 1988 Carson took on the role of vice president in Creative Resources for Disney Consumer Products, providing art supervision and guidelines for art production, as well as helping to establish some of the first licensing style guides for the group. In 1994 he became vice president of Creative Services for the European regional office of Disney Consumer Products in Paris, and, starting in 1997, he was vice president of International Creative Development for the Disney Publishing Group. In that role, he provided art and editorial supervision for key international publishing projects.
Other projects to which Carson has contributed were the logo concepts for Mickey Mouse’s 50th and 60th birthdays, The Walt Disney Studios, and the Disneyland Hotel clock tower “Mickey” at Disneyland Paris. More recently, he has served as a consultant for the Disney Epic Mickey and Where’s MyMickey? games.
“I retired from Disney in 2000,” Carson says, “but I have continued to do projects for my friends there as an outside consultant and illustrator. Most of my work is for books, but I’ve also done concepts for licensing, interactive games, and other areas, too; including seminars about the history of Disney Consumer Products.
Carson passed away Tuesday, December 22, 2015.
Altogether, I’ve been doing some kind of work for Disney regularly for the past 45 years.”