Friday, October 30, 2009

Ub Iwerks

While it is true that Mickey Mouse's character was mostly developed by Walt Disney, not many people know about the man who first drew out our round eared friend and made Mickey a visual reality. In this sense, Ub Iwerks was the first draftsman of Mickey Mouse. He was Walt Disney's longest partner in the animation business, and perhaps Disney's oldest friend. Here's a blog tribute to Iwerks, for it is unfortunate that not many people know this man behind the Mouse. He definitely deserves more credit for his work.

People assume that Walt Disney was a super octopus being drew everything and made the films himself. Actually, Walt Disney only animated in the beginning of his career and was really more of a master storyteller than a draftsman. Disney was certainly responsible for making the Disney company a corporal success, but it was Ub who did a lot of the craft work--- the animating. In Disney and Iwerk's first company, the Laugh-O-Grams Studio, Ub pretty much animated all the shorts. He also did most of the animating for the Alice Comedies and Silly Symphonies, and sometimes animated entire episodes. AND he set the blueprint of Mickey by first drawing Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, the character Mickey Mouse was based on. What a guy huh?!

The work for Ub grew too demanding, so he decided to break off the partnership with Disney and tried to set up his own studio. He was funded by financial competitor Pat Powers, who conflicted with Disney earlier during the production of Steamboat Willie. Unfortunately, while Ub was a talented draftsman, he could not outmatch Disney in terms of narrative and character development. Thus his business venture didn't work out so well, and he returned to Disney Studio. He helped develop the ground breaking xenographic technique (which was used in Sleeping Beauty). Henceforth he worked mostly on special effects such as combining live action with animation (in the film Song of the South). He also worked for WEB Enterprise, which is today's Disney Imagineering (the company that designs and builds Disney theme parks. Randy Pausch, the former professor from Carnegie Mellon University who gave the Last Lecture, worked for Imagineering). Ub even worked outside the studio and was nominated for an Academy Award for special effects on Alfred Hitchcock's film the Birds.

In 1999 a documentary was made on Ub, called the Hand Behind the Mouse: the Ub Iwerks Story. So that's comforting that the man did receive some degree of recognition. Anyway, since it's Halloween tomorrow (HALLELUJAH) I thought it would be appropriate to link the Skeleton Dance, a Silly Symphonies Halloween special completely animated by Ub Iwerks. Happy Halloween! And enjoy!


  1. lol. Such an odd video. Entertaining at parts, though.
    Enlightening post, though. I thought Disney was the artist for Mickey. D= Ub Iwerks werks, too, though. (Teehee.) Such an odd name. Ub Iwerks. It sounds like someone who can't pronounce M's and has bad grammer. ("Um... I works.")

  2. When I first read about him I thought his name sounded like someone w/ a cold trying to say "um" xD.I always pronounced his name as E-werks lol, idk i should ask someone about that. It's sad, they should have a statue of him and Disney w/ Mickey Mouse in disneyland (or world, I get confused between the two) His name comes from Frisian roots

  3. merci pour cet article ! Ub Iwerks reste de loin un pionnier dans l'histoire de l'animation