Vike Profile: Disney animator Ollie Johnston

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Vike Profile: Disney animator Ollie Johnston

Eric Bo-Han Yap, News Editor

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Palo Alto High School Senior Oliver “Ollie” Johnston poses for his picture in Paly’s 1931 yearbook. His passion in art led him into a career of animation with Disney. “You’re not supposed to animate drawings, you’re supposed to animate feelings,” Johnston said to fellow artist Andreas Deja.

In recognition of the legendary scenes he animated in stories such as Bambi and Alice in Wonderland, Oliver “Ollie” Johnston won the Disney Legend Award in 1989 and the National Medal of Arts in 2005.

Johnston was a leading animator and throughout his 40+ year career with Disney, he became a member of the “Nine Old Men” and worked on some of the most successful Disney stories, including Bambi, Snow White, and Pinocchio.

“I can’t remember the first drawing I ever made, but I know I started in kindergarten,” Johnston said in an interview with Disney. “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.”

After finishing his senior year at Palo Alto High School in 1931, Johnston went on to study art and animation at Stanford University.

He started his career at Disney in 1934 and became a directing animator starting on Disney’s 1940 Pinocchio. His career work primarily consisted of working on animated features which include Fantasia, The Jungle Book, and Peter Pan.

Johnston won the Disney Legend Award in 1989 and the National Medal of Arts in 2005, both in recognition of the legendary scenes he animated in stories such as Bambi and Alice in Wonderland.

What set apart Johnston’s animation was how he added emotion and feeling into his characters, according to himself in an interview with Disney.

“I seem to have kind of a reservoir of feelings about how people feel in different situations,” Johnston said. “And while somebody else might be more interested in the drawing of the character in that situation, I was particularly interested in how the character actually felt.”

His legacy impacted the style of Disney animations from Snow White and onward.

Some of the most memorable sequences he animated includes the heartbreaking death of Bambi’s family by the hunter and Pinocchio’s nose growing as he lies to the Blue Fairy.

His approach with empathy in creating some of the most influential Disney stories also garnered the support of Walt Disney himself and his membership within the “Nine Old Men” is testament to the fact that the Disney community dearly supported his career work.