Magazine article Insight on the News

Great Artists - and Nice Guys

Magazine article Insight on the News

Great Artists - and Nice Guys

Article excerpt

This memoir of two Disney animators affirms well-spent professional and private lives.

Frank and Ollie is a lavishly illustrated chronicle of two artists -- Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston -- who for nearly four decades contributed to the enduring charm of Disney animation Completed a year ago, the film is enjoying a revival. in art houses. The video version almost certainly will become a fixture in home collections and on the Disney Channel.

Director Theodore Thomas (a son of Frank) undertook the project informally in 1987. A documentary filmmaker whose extensive credits include the National Geographic special The Grizzlies and two installments of the PBS series Planet Earth, Ted Thomas spent a few years talking about the project before shooting interview material with his father and Johnston in 1992 and 1993.

The longevity of the subjects -- both are 83 years old -- has been boon, but Johnston recently reveal how intimations of frailty can p the mind of a professional animator: "When my pacemaker gets going better, everything should work okay," he says, explaining that he'd had one inserted a few days earlier. "I decided I might need to take some precautions after I noticed my pulse running down in the low 40s. I got really concerned when it stopped for 2 1/2-seconds. That got me. That's a long time when you're an animator: 60 frames of film."

Thomas and Johnston met as art students at Stanford University in 1931. Born six weeks apart, they discovered that their mothers had been born and raised in the same rural town near Champagne-Urbana, Ill. Both their fathers were educators: a high-school principal in Fresno, Calif., and a professor of Romance languages at Stanford. "We were bound to be thrown together, since there were only about six of us in the Stanford art department," Thomas jokes. "Most of the guys were pursuing law or engineering careers."

As college friends, they created caricatures for Chaparral, the campus humor magazine, and performed in an annual revue. Frank's enthusiasm for his classes at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles during the summer of 1934 also aroused the interest of Ollie. Both left Stanford to enroll.

Frank went to work at Disney in September 1934 and Ollie followed four months later. …

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