Ubbe Ert Iwwerks (March 24, 1901 – July 7, 1971), known as Ub Iwerks (/ / UB EYE-wurks), was an American animator, cartoonist, character designer, inventor, and special effects technician, known for his work with Walt Disney Animation Studios in general, and for having worked on the development of the design of the character of Mickey Mouse, among others. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Iwerks grew up with a contentious relationship with his father, who abandoned him as a child. Iwerks met fellow artist Walt Disney while working at a Kansas City art studio in 1919. After briefly working as illustrators for a local newspaper company, Disney and Iwerks ventured into animation together. Iwerks joined Disney as chief animator on the Laugh-O-Gram shorts series beginning in 1922, but a studio bankruptcy would cause Disney to relocate to Los Angeles in 1923. In the new studio, Iwerks continued to work with Disney on the Alice Comedies as well as the creation of the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit character. Following the first Oswald short, both Universal Pictures and the Winkler Pictures production company insisted that the Oswald character be redesigned. At the insistence of Disney, Iwerks designed a number of new characters for the studio, including designs that would be used for Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar.
Ubbe Ert Iwwerks
March 24, 1901
Kansas City, Missouri, U.S.
|Died||July 7, 1971 (aged 70)|
Burbank, California, U.S.
|Resting place||Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery|
|Occupation(s)||Animator, cartoonist, film producer, special effects technician|
|Notable work||Oswald the Lucky Rabbit|
Flip the Frog
Mildred Sarah Henderson
|Children||2, including Don Iwerks|
|Relatives||Leslie Iwerks (granddaughter)|
One of Iwerks' most long-lasting contributions to animation was a refined version of a sketch drawn by Disney that would later go on to become Mickey Mouse. Iwerks went on to do much of the animation for the early Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony cartoons, including Steamboat Willie, The Skeleton Dance and The Haunted House, before a fallout with Disney led to Iwerks' resignation from the studio in January 1930. Iwerks' final Mickey Mouse cartoon would be 1930's The Cactus Kid. Following his separation with Disney, Iwerks, operating under Iwerks Studio, would go on to create the characters Flip the Frog and Willie Whopper along with the ComiColor Cartoons series as part of a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, but the new studio failed to rival its competitors. Iwerks would go on to direct two Looney Tunes cartoon shorts for Leon Schlesinger Productions and several Color Rhapsody cartoons for Screen Gems before joining Disney again in 1940, after which he worked with special visual effects on productions such as 1946's Song of the South.
Iwerks had two children, Donald Warren Iwerks and David Lee Iwerks, both born with his partner Mildred Sarah Henderson. Iwerks died of a heart attack in Burbank, California, in 1971 at age 70. Iwerks was posthumously named a Disney Legend in 1989. His likeness has been featured in his granddaughter Leslie Iwerks' 1999 documentary The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story as well as the 2014 feature film Walt Before Mickey, in which he is portrayed by Armando Gutierrez. Iwerks received three nominations at the Academy Awards, for which he won one. He also posthumously received the Winsor McCay Award at the 1978 Annie Awards and the Hall of Fame award at the 2017 Visual Effects Society Awards.
Iwerks was born in Kansas City, Missouri. His father was born in the village of Uttum in East Frisia (northwest Germany, today part of the municipality of Krummhörn) and emigrated to the United States in 1869 around the age of 14. The elder Iwerks, who worked as a barber, had fathered and abandoned several previous children and wives. When Ub was a teenager, his father abandoned him as well, forcing the boy to drop out of school and work to support his mother. Iwerks despised his father and never spoke of him; upon learning that he had died, he reportedly said, "Throw him in a ditch." Ub's full name, Ubbe Ert Iwwerks, can be seen on early Alice Comedies that he signed. Several years later, he simplified his name to "Ub Iwerks", sometimes written as "U.B. Iwerks".
Disney work (1919–1929)Edit
Iwerks spent most of his career with Disney. The two met in 1919 while working for the Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio in Kansas City, and eventually started their own commercial art business together. Disney and Iwerks then found work as illustrators for the Kansas City Slide Newspaper Company (which was later named The Kansas City Film Ad Company). While working for the Kansas City Film Ad Company, Disney decided to take up work in animation, and Iwerks soon joined him. There he attached a motor drive to the camera with a switch that resembled a telegraph key, reducing the number of people needed to animate from two to just one.
Iwerks was responsible for the distinctive style of the earliest Disney animated cartoons, and was also responsible for designing Mickey Mouse. In 1922, when Disney began his Laugh-O-Gram cartoon series, Iwerks joined him as chief animator. The studio went bankrupt, however, and in 1923 Iwerks followed Disney's move to Los Angeles to work on a new series of cartoons known as "the Alice Comedies" which had live-action mixed with animation. After the end of this series, Disney asked Iwerks to design a character that became Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. The first cartoon Oswald starred in was animated entirely by Iwerks. Following the first cartoon, Oswald was redesigned on the insistence of Oswald's owner and the distributor of the cartoons, Universal Pictures. The production company at the time, Winkler Pictures, gave additional input on the character's design.
In spring 1928, Disney was removed from the Oswald series, and much of his staff was hired away to Winkler Pictures. He promised to never again work with a character he did not own. Disney asked Iwerks, who stayed on, to start drawing up new character ideas. Iwerks tried sketches of frogs, dogs, and cats, but none of these appealed to Disney. A female cow and male horse were created at this time by Iwerks, but were also rejected. They later turned up as Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar. Ub Iwerks eventually got inspiration from an old drawing. In 1925, Hugh Harman drew some sketches of mice around a photograph of Walt Disney. Then, on a train ride back from a failed business meeting, Walt Disney came up with the original sketch for the character that was eventually called Mickey Mouse. Afterward, Disney took the sketch to Iwerks. In turn, he drew a more clean-cut and refined version of Mickey, but one that still followed the original sketch.
The first few Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony cartoons were animated almost entirely by Iwerks, including Steamboat Willie, The Skeleton Dance and The Haunted House. However, as Iwerks began to draw more and more cartoons on a daily basis, he chafed under Disney's dictatorial rule. Iwerks also felt he wasn't getting the credit he deserved for drawing all of Disney's successful cartoons. Eventually, Iwerks and Disney had a falling out; their friendship and working partnership were severed in January 1930. According to an unconfirmed account, a child approached Disney and Iwerks at a party and asked for a picture of Mickey to be drawn on a napkin, to which Disney handed the pen and paper to Iwerks and stated, "Draw it." Iwerks became furious and threw the pen and paper, storming out. Iwerks accepted a contract with Disney's former distributor, Pat Powers to leave Disney and start an animation studio under his own name. His last Mickey Mouse cartoon was Wild Waves (1929) and final Disney film was the Silly Symphony Autumn (1930). (Powers and Disney had an earlier falling-out over Disney's use of the Powers Cinephone sound-on-film system—actually copied by Powers from DeForest Phonofilm without credit—in early Disney cartoons.)
After Disney (1930–1940)Edit
The Iwerks Studio opened in 1930. Financial backers led by Pat Powers suspected that Iwerks was responsible for much of Disney's early success. However, while animation for a time suffered at Disney from Iwerks' departure, it soon rebounded as Disney brought in talented new young animators.
Despite a contract with MGM to distribute his cartoons, and the introduction of a new character named "Flip the Frog", and later "Willie Whopper", the Iwerks Studio was never a major commercial success and failed to rival either Disney or Fleischer Studios. Newly hired animator Fred Kopietz recommended that Iwerks employ a friend from Chouinard Art School, Chuck Jones, who was hired and put to work as a cel washer. The Flip and Willie cartoons were later distributed on the home-movie market[clarification needed] by Official Films in the 1940s. From 1933 to 1936, he produced a series of shorts (independently distributed, not part of the MGM deal) in Cinecolor, named ComiColor Cartoons. The ComiColor series mostly focused on fairy tales with no continuing character or star. Later in the 1940s, this series received home-movie distribution by Castle Films. Cinecolor produced the 16 mm prints for Castle Films with red emulsion on one side and blue emulsion on the other. Later in the 1970s Blackhawk Films released these for home use, but this time using conventional Eastmancolor film stock. They are now in the public domain and are available on VHS and DVD. He also experimented with stop-motion animation in combination with the multiplane camera, and made a short called The Toy Parade, which was never released in public. In 1936, backers withdrew financial support from the Iwerks Studio, and it folded soon after.
In 1937, Leon Schlesinger Productions contracted Iwerks to produce four Looney Tunes shorts starring Porky Pig and Gabby Goat. Iwerks directed the first two shorts, while former Schlesinger animator Robert Clampett was promoted to director and helmed the other two shorts before he and his unit returned to the main Schlesinger lot. Iwerks then did contract work for Screen Gems (then Columbia Pictures' cartoon division) where he was the director of several of the Color Rhapsody shorts before returning to work for Disney in 1940.
Return to Disney (1940–1964)Edit
After his return to the Disney studio, Iwerks mainly worked on developing special visual effects. He is credited as developing the processes for combining live-action and animation used in Song of the South (1946), as well as the xerographic process adapted for cel animation, which was used in 101 Dalmatians (1961). He also worked at WED Enterprises, now Walt Disney Imagineering, helping to develop many Disney theme park attractions during the 1960s. Iwerks did special effects work outside the studio as well, including the birds for his Academy Award nominated achievement for Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963). Iwerks' last credit for Disney was for perfecting the travel matte system for the Mary Poppins sequence "Feed the Birds"
Iwerks' most famous work outside creating and animating Mickey Mouse was Flip the Frog from his own studio. According to Chuck Jones, who worked for him, "He was the first, if not the first, to give his characters depth and roundness. But he had no concept of humor; he simply wasn't a funny guy."
Ub Iwerks had a garage gun shop.
Iwerks died in 1971 of a heart attack in Burbank, California, aged 70, and his ashes are interred in a niche in the Columbarium of Remembrance at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills Cemetery. The last project he worked on was the Hall of Presidents.
He is the grandfather of documentary film producer Leslie Iwerks.
Influence and tributesEdit
The Ub Iwerks Award for Technical Achievement, as part of the Annie Awards, is named in his honour.
A rare self-portrait of Iwerks was found in the garbage bin at an animation studio in Burbank. The portrait was saved and is now part of the Animation Archives in Burbank, California.
In 1989, Iwerks was named a Disney Legend.
A documentary film, The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story, was released in 1999, followed by a book written by Iwerks' granddaughter Leslie Iwerks and John Kenworthy in 2001. The documentary, created by Leslie Iwerks, was released as part of The Walt Disney Treasures, Wave VII series (disc two of The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit collection).
The sixth episode from the second season of Drunk History ("Hollywood"), tells about Ub's work relationship with Disney, with stress on the creation of Mickey Mouse. Iwerks was portrayed in the episode by Tony Hale.
|Fiddlesticks||August 16||Flip the Frog||
|Little Orphan Willie||October 18||Flip the Frog|
|Flying Fists||September 6||Flip the Frog||Filmed in both two-strip Technicolor and B&W|
|The Village Barber||September 27||Flip the Frog||First non-woodland cartoon|
|The Cuckoo Murder Case||October 18||Flip the Frog||
|Puddle Pranks||December 6||Flip the Frog||
|The Village Smitty||January 31||Flip the Frog||First appearances of Flip's cat girlfriend and Orace|
|The Soup Song||January 31||Flip the Frog||Bandmaster Paul Whiteman is caricatured|
|Laughing Gas||March 14||Flip the Frog||Only appearance of the walrus|
|Ragtime Romeo||May 2||Flip the Frog||
|The New Car||July 25||Flip the Frog||
|Movie Mad||August 29||Flip the Frog||Caricatures include Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin|
|The Village Specialist||September 12||Flip the Frog||Only appearance of Mrs Pig|
|Jail Birds||September 26||Flip the Frog||First time Orace is Flip's horse|
|Africa Squeaks||October 17||Flip the Frog||No longer shown on American television due to offensive black stereotypes|
|Spooks||September 21||Flip the Frog||Second Halloween-themed cartoon|
|The Milkman||February 20||Flip the Frog||
|Fire! Fire!||March 5||Flip the Frog||Fourth time a curse word is heard. Orace says "damn!" when he loses a game of checkers against Flip|
|What a Life||March 26||Flip the Frog||First time Flip interacts with humans|
|Puppy Love||April 30||Flip the Frog||First appearance of Flip's dog|
|School Days||May 14||Flip the Frog||First appearance of the spinster|
|The Bully||June 18||Flip the Frog||Final appearance of the orphan boy|
|The Office Boy||July 16||Flip the Frog||
|Room Runners||August 13||Flip the Frog||
|Stormy Seas||August 22||Flip the Frog||
|Circus||August 27||Flip the Frog||Copyrighted on September 7, 1932|
|The Goal Rush||October 3||Flip the Frog||
|The Phoney Express||October 27||Flip the Frog||First "official" appearance of Flip's human girlfriend. She bears a strong resemblance to Fleischer Studios's Betty Boop. The original title for the cartoon was called "The Pony Express", but later changed to "The Phoney Express" by Pat Powers|
|The Music Lesson||October 29||Flip the Frog||Only appearance of Flip's friends|
|The Nurse Maid||November 26||Flip the Frog||This cartoon has two racist scenes that you won't find on TV. There's an angry "Chinaman–Fu Man Chu" type with long fingernails trying to scratch the eyes out of Flip. Later, a cigar store Indian has several gags with runaway animals|
|Funny Face||December 24||Flip the Frog||In the public domain|
|Coo Coo, the Magician||January 21||Flip the Frog||Cameo of the spinster at the beginning|
|Flip's Lunchroom||March 4||Flip the Frog||Only Flip the Frog cartoon to have Flip's name in the title|
|Technocracked||May 8||Flip the Frog||Possibly filmed in two-strip Technicolor or cinecolor|
|Bulloney||May 30||Flip the Frog||Final time a curse word is heard. The bull says "damn!" after he's defeated by Flip|
|A Chinaman's Chance||June 24||Flip the Frog||
|Paleface||August 12||Flip the Frog||Final appearances of Orace, Flip's girlfriend, and the spinster|
|The Air Race||n/a||Willie Whopper||The First Willie Whopper cartoon, however it was never released, due to a plot hole. A remake, Spite Flight, was released|
|Play Ball||September 16||Willie Whopper||The First Official Willie Whopper cartoon|
|Soda Squirt||October 12||Flip the Frog|
|Spite Flight||October 14||Willie Whopper||A remake of the unreleased Willie Whopper Cartoon, The Air Race|
|Stratos Fear||November 11||Willie Whopper|
|Jack and the Beanstalk||December 23||Comicolor||First Comicolor cartoon.|
|Davy Jones Locker||January 13||Willie Whopper||The First of only two Willie Whopper cartoons to be filmed in Cinecolor|
|The Little Red Hen||February 16||Comicolor|
|Hell's Fire||February 17||Willie Whopper||The only cartoon made by Ub Iwerks to have a curse word in the title. This is also the last of the only 2 Willie Whopper Cartoons filmed in Cinecolor|
|Robin Hood, Jr.||March 10||Willie Whopper|
|The Brave Tin Soldier||April 7||Comicolor|
|Insultin' the Sultan||April 14||Willie Whopper|
|Puss in Boots||May 17||Comicolor||two other prints exist|
|Reducing Creme||May 19||Willie Whopper|
|Rasslin' Round||June 1||Willie Whopper||Working title: Rasslin' Around|
|The Queen of Hearts||June 25||Comicolor|
|Cave Man||July 6||Willie Whopper||Music composed by Bennie Moten and his orchestra|
|Jungle Jitters||July 24||Willie Whopper||No longer shown on American television due to offensive black stereotypes|
|Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp||August 10||ComiColor|
|Good Scout||September 1||Willie Whopper||
|Viva Willie||September 20||Willie Whopper||Final Willie Whopper cartoon. After this cartoon, the rest are Comicolor cartoons|
|The Headless Horseman||October 1||Comicolor|
|The Valiant Tailor||October 29||Comicolor|
|Don Quixote||November 26||Comicolor||Preserved by the Academy Film Archive in 1998|
|Jack Frost||December 24||Comicolor|
All Comicolor shorts
|Little Black Sambo||February 6||No longer shown on American television due to offensive black stereotypes|
|Brementown Musicians||March 6|
|Old Mother Hubbard||April 3|
|Mary's Little Lamb||May 1|
|Sinbad the Sailor||July 30|
|The Three Bears||August 30|
|Balloonland (aka The Pincushion Man)||September 30||This is known as both Balloonland and The Pincushion Man|
|Simple Simon||November 15|
|Humpty Dumpty||December 30|
All Comicolor shorts
|Ali Baba||January 30|
|Tom Thumb||March 30|
|Dick Whittington's Cat||May 30|
|Little Boy Blue (aka The Big Bad Wolf)||July 30||This cartoon is variously known both as Little Boy Blue and The Big Bad Wolf.|
|Happy Days||September 30||Last of the Comicolor cartoons, based on the comic strip Reg'lar Fellers. The last cartoon made prior to reorganizing the studio|
- Contract work to Leon Schlesinger Productions – two cartoons
- Contract work to Screen Gems/Columbia Pictures – 17 cartoons (Iwerks was only personally involved with 16 of the Color Rhapsody series, the last cartoon in the deal was completed by Paul Fennell after Iwerks had left his own studio)
- In 1940, Iwerks produced his last series, Gran'pop Monkey, featuring the art of British illustrator Lawson Wood. Three cartoons were made: "A Busy Day", "Beauty Shoppe" and "Baby Checkers".
|Skeleton Frolic||January 29, 1937||Color Rhapsody|
|Baby Checkers||1940 (exact date unknown)|
|Beauty Shoppe||November 13, 1940|
|A Busy Day||1940 (exact date unknown)||Last Iwerks directed cartoon prior returning to Disney|
|1960||Academy Awards||Technical Achievement Award||For the design of an improved optical printer for special effects and matte shots.||—||Won|
|1964||Best Effects, Special Visual Effects||The Birds||—||Nominated|
|1965||Academy Award of Merit||For the conception and perfection of techniques for Color Traveling Matte Composite Cinematography.||Petro Vlahos||Nominated|
|1978||Annie Awards||Winsor McCay Award||—||—||Won|
|2017||Visual Effects Society Awards||Hall of Fame||—||—||Won|
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