Disney Animator Ollie Johnston – Page 2

MURPHY: Is part of that too that there were lots of people working on it?

JOHNSTON: Yes, definitely. Back on Pinocchio there were four of us working on the character of Pinocchio. You were cast only on that character Walt thought you could do the best. After the war, the animation was divided by blocks of footage by the supervising animators. You would take and do all the characters in a particular sequence. You would work up your thumbnails and you would work out how you thought a particular sequence should go. You would have some younger animators under you and you would hand them some of the work to do. After the war, it was different. Down to “The Rescuers” there were rarely two supervising animators on the same sequence. You did all the stuff. For instance, I wouldn’t have been cast on Medusa because Milt Kahl did all that but I might be cast on a sequence where Medusa was and in that case he would do Medusa and I would do the little girl. One animator would do a whole sequence.

MURPHY: In the later animation, I’m more conscious of the influence of the characters who did the voices on the animation. For instance, a Phil Harris or an Andy Devine or a Pat Buttram. Maybe it’s because I’m more familiar with the actors of the present day than I am of those that did the voices for the earlier features.

JOHNSTON: I think that’s right because we had well known actors do them. For example, the Cricket’s voice was done by a popular fellow, Cliff Edwards.

MURPHY: Ukulele Ike!

JOHNSTON: And he had a real warm voice. Many of them, such as Cliff Edwards, weren’t as well known as some actors who appear on TV. but they were well-known, especially on radio.

MURPHY: Oh, I know they were well known! I guess in the later characters, you saw more of the nuances of the actual actors who were doing the voices in the characters themselves.

JOHNSTON: I think that’s because we got more and more refined. Walt wanted more and more refinement. It started with Pinocchio and Bambi. Snow White has great drawing and animation but if you look at the Dwarfs themselves, they are not as refined as the character of Pinocchio himself. He’s more refined and doesn’t have his mouth over on the side like Grumpy did. Now Stromboli did but that was because Bill Tytla drew him that way. He would stage the mouth where it would show the best. He did great drawings and he had that inner feeling better than anybody. In our book, you’ll notice our drawings from “Bambi”. They are more refined and believable. I don’t say realistic because Walt did not want realism. You would find that if you put them next to a real deer they would be more a caricature and not truly real. But we became more and more refined. Even in “Cinderella”, the mice were more refined than in “Snow White”. The voice did change the drawings more and more. Many people said my Prince John looked more and more like Peter Ustinov who did the voice. It’s because I studied his voice so carefully; all the inflections and nuances and how his eyes and mouth would change as he read the lines.

MURPHY: Any of the characters you worked on, you have a particular affection for?

JOHNSTON: All of them!!! Almost all. After you work on a character for 3 or 4 years, you know exactly how that character would wash his teeth or how he would eat or how he would sleep or how he would greet someone if they walked in the room or how he feels about himself. You got to know so well because you lived with him 24 hours a day. You think about him a lot and talk to your wife and kids of course, but you always, are thinking about that character and how he’d react to what you’re seeing.

MURPHY: Do you go back and like to see old shows? I suppose you saw a lot for the book?

JOHNSTON: Yes. I don’t like to see my work too soon after I’ve done it. I like to wait a while and then go back and look at it.

MURPHY: I suspect that’s similar to when I’ve been in or directed a play. To see another production of that play too soon after I’ve done it isn’t good. I have a tendency to want to jump in and make corrections. I need to be removed from it some time to be able to see it objectively again.

Johnston: “The first animation I did was on Mickey’s Elephant.”

JOHNSTON: That’s the way I am. I don’t like my work too well if I see it too soon. You see the disappointments or something didn’t turn out as you had hoped. Some guys could. Woolie Reitherman, our director, was pretty good at that. He could sit back and look as though he had nothing to do with it.

MURPHY: Is he as athletic as he appears in pictures?

JOHNSTON: Yeah, he plays tennis two or three times a week and he’s in his seventies. You can’t wear the guy out. He used to call a meeting at 4.00 in the afternoon, and by 5.00 p.m. we’d be looking at our watches. Walt Johnston: The first animation I did was on Mickey’s Elephant was that way too. They both had a lot of adrenalin.

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