"The greatest animator in the world."
Ubbe Ert Iwerks (1901-1971) (pronounced "Aub", not "Oobe") was a prolific animator, director and technician, and had an important, if tangential, role in the History of Animation, and particularly in the history of Disney shorts and films. He is recognized as the co-creator of Mickey Mouse, as well as his precursor.
Iwerks and Disney first met in late 1919, both trying to make a living as artists. While they had a brief stint together for the Kansas City Film Ad Company, Walt decided to leave and start his own studio in 1922, with Ub being the first man he hired due to admiring his drawing skills, to work on his earliest cartoons, the "Newman Laugh-O-Grams". Unfortunately, Walt's fledgling studio quickly went bankrupt, with Ub going back to the Kansas City company while Walt left for Hollywood to start fresh. Circa 1924, when Walt began work on his Alice Comedies, he quickly contacted Iwerks for help, resulting in a six year partnership with him.
Ub quickly gained a reputation among the earliest Disney animators for his drawing and animating skill--as Friz Freleng recalls "At the time, just making a character move was an accomplishment. he could make characters walk and move; he could move a house in perspective. I thought he was a genius when it came to the mechanics of animation." He was also noted for his speed, being able to crank out an impressive 700 drawings a day, beating a record set by then-fastest animator Bill Nolan.
When producer Charles Mintz swindled the bulk of Walt's animators out from him, as well as his character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Ub was one of the three animators that stayed loyal to Walt, and left with him to form his own studio. In two weeks, Iwerks managed to crank out the first short starring a character that he had created with Walt -- an early Mickey Mouse. Soon after, he helped out Walt by animating the bulk of a prototype sound cartoon that would change the face of animation forever -- Steamboat Willie.
Over the next year or two, Iwerks continued animating for Disney, as well as training many of the new recruits coming in. But tension soon rose between Walt and Ub due to issues with control over his work, with Walt wanting to retime Ub's work, much to his anger, among other issues. Upon being asked by Mr. Pat Powers to lead his own studio, Ub left Disney, dealing a crippling blow to the studio which had relied on him so much.
In the meantime, Ub started work on a new series of short comedies called Flip the Frog, obviously deriative of Disney's own Mickey Mouse. Despite being backed by fairly good budget and a league of excellent staff, including top animator Grim Natwick, the Flip series failed to catch on with audiences, who favored Disney's own shorts instead. Ub tried again with an even shorter lived series called Willie Whopper, which was once again a failure. During this time, Ub managed to build a prototype for what would later become the Multi-Plane Camera. Ub also began work on a series of independently distributed Silly Symphonies clones called the ComiColor Cartoons, but poor distribution and audience reception quickly sank the series after three years.
However, he did return to Disney in the 40's to work on improving/introducing new technology for them (including a new matte system to allow live action/animation blending in films like Song of the South and The Three Caballeros. He also made the infamous Xeroxing process used in Disney's Dark Age films, starting with 101 Dalmatians) and did the same later in his life on hit films such as Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, introducing a new matte system which allowed the titular birds of the film to appear on screen (since it was impossible to train all of those birds the way the film required them to do in live action).
He also contributed on various projects in the Disney Theme Parks including "It's a Small World", Great Moments with Mr Lincoln, and the Hall of Presidents.
If you're looking to find his work, check out the following:
- Cartoons That Time Forgot: The Ub Iwerks Collection Vol. 1 & 2
- Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Black & White Vol. 1 & 2
- Walt Disney Treasures: The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
- Walt Disney Treasures: Disney Rarities
- Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphonies and More Silly Symphonies
- Alice in Cartoonland DVDs from VCI and Inkwell Images
- Return of the 30's Characters: For a handful of shorts missing from the other collections, anyways.
You can find his life story, a documentary created by his own grand-daughter, Leslie Iwerks, on the "Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit" DVD. It is also available in book form.
- Summer: Last Disney short before leaving to form his own studio.
- Fiddlesticks: First Flip the Frog short.
- Autumn: Last Disney short he worked on that was released.
- Puddle Pranks
- The Cuckoo Murder Case
- The Village Barber
- The Village Smitty
- Laughing Gas
- Africa Squeaks
- Ragtime Romeo
- The Village Specialist
- Movie Mad
- The Soup Song
- The New Car
- The Office Boy
- Room Runners
- Phoney Express
- Funny Face
- The Goal Rush
- The Music Lesson
- The Milkman
- School Days
- Stormy Seas
- Nurse Maid
- What a Life
- The Bully
- Jack and the Beanstalk
- Chinaman's Chance
- Soda Squirt
- Flip's Lunch Room
- The Air Race
- Stratos Fear
- Cuckoo the Magician
- The Headless Horseman
- Viva Willie
- Jack Frost
- Insultin' the Sultan
- The Good Scout
- The Brave Tin Soldier
- Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp
- Rasslin' Round
- The Little Red Hen
- Don Quixote
- The Valiant Tailor
- Puss in Boots
- The Queen of Hearts
- Old Mother Hubbard
- Humpty Dumpty
- Mary's Little Lamb
- Simple Simon
- Sinbad the Sailor
- The Brementown Musicians
- Hell's Fire
- The Three Bears
- Balloon Land
- The Big Bad Wolf
- Dick Whittington's Cat
- Tom Thumb
- Little Boy Blue
- Ali Baba
- Happy Days
- Porky & Gabby: First of four shorts outsourced to his studio.
- Porky's Super Service: Second of four cartoons outsourced to his studio.
- Porky's Badtime Story: Third of them. Directed by Bob Clampett.
- Get Rich Quick Porky: Fourth of them.
- Beaver Valley: Part of Disney's True Life Adventures series. Special effects worker.
- The Olympic Elk: Fourth of The True Life Adventures series. Special effects worker.
- The Three Lives of Thomasina
- The Birds
- Trolley Troubles: The debut of Disney's first real star, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
- Plane Crazy (the official debut of Mickey Mouse)
- Steamboat Willie
- The Skeleton Dance (The first of the Silly Symphonies line of cartoons)
- Chuck Jones worked for Ub--twice, in fact, but was fired both times. He still spoke highly of him in "Chuck Reducks".
- John Kricfalusi repeatedly praises his work.
- Heterosexual Life Partners: Walt and Ub, until 1930 when they had a falling out when Ub left to form his own studio. Even when Ub returned to Disney, he and Walt rarely spoke to each other, and Ub hated talking to him by then.
- Homage: The train sequence of The Three Caballeros was Les Clark's tribute to Ub's early, simplistic art style.
- Rubber Hose Limbs: Ub was a prolific user of these.
- The Stoic: Ub could be a cold, distant figure in real life -- as mentioned in his biography, when he learned that his ner-do-well father (who abandoned him and his mother as a teenager) had died, he coldly replied "Throw him in a ditch."
- The Dark Age of Animation
- The Golden Age of Animation: Contributed to the rise of it.
- The Silent Age of Animation: Where he got his start.