40. The Assistant Animator Parts 3 and 4

Dale Oliver



     Sometimes even the greatest of animators aren’t naturally great draftsman and even struggle at their own drawing. This was definitely the case for Frank Thomas. Thomas’s excellent skills as an actor, his understanding of movement, and his expert analysis made him one of the all time greats in the history of the medium. Although his skills and deep thinking show through his animation quick a bit of clean-up was needed. For much of his career the man with the prime responsibility of that was Dale Oliver.


     Dale Oliver was an upbeat guy who was born inLincolnville,Kansason December 14, 1919. In 1942 he entered theUSarmy as a glider pilot and fought in World War 2. During his time in the war he carried a sketchbook around with him and drew what he observed. After the war in 1947 Oliver joined the Disney studio as an assistant. Although Oliver at times worked with Eric Larson he is best known for assisting the great Frank Thomas for decades.


     Oliver was known for working real hard on cleaning up a drawing and with Frank refining it to perfection in every last detail. Among the films he worked on with Frank include Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, the Sword in the Stone, and the Jungle Book. All of these films had significant amounts of animation done by Thomas and Oliver. Thanks to Dale’s cleanup Frank’s rough drawings look crystal clear and beautiful on the silver screen.


     Dale Oliver was a very generous man and did a lot to help out others at the studio. Floyd Norman remembers cleaning up a scene for Frank and doing a not-so-good job but Dale came to the rescue and made it look great before the master say the work done. He was very encouraging and didn’t like to talk about his fascinating war history which many were interested in. Dale even taught classes at the union for several years where he taught animation to lots of young talent in the industry. After Thomas left the production of Fox and the Hound producer Wolfgang Reitherman decided Oliver should be an animator. With the chance to prove himself as an animator finally there he took advantage of the opportunity and did some of the highest-quality animation in the many ways flawed film. However tragedy was soon to strike and in 1981 Dale and his fiancée were involved in a serious auto accident. His fiancée was killed and he was in a coma for several days. This accident ended Oliver’s career at Disney and forced him to retire. In 2003 Dale Oliver passed away at the age of 84. However his legacy and unsung work will live on forever.

Walt Stanchfield


     When most people hear Walt when relating to the Disney studios 99.9 percent of the time they automatically assume you’re talking about Walt Disney. Well actually there is another Walt that is a crucial figure in Disney history. Not only did Stanchfield provide years of fantastic service as an assistant to both John Lounsbery and Ollie Johnston but his legacy continued when he gave frequent lectures to the second generation of Disney animators. The lectures are pure genius and true eye-openers to any artist in animation or not. If you haven’t already, you need to get the Drawn to Life books that compile Stanchfield’s lectures. They’re a must to anybody interested in the field of animation and really important in the artistic development of many people, myself included.


     Walt Stanchfield was born on July 14, 1919 inLos Angeles,California. He would attend Chouinard Art Institute, the prototype for Cal Arts and the school that held classes to strengthen the drawing of the Disney Animators. Donald Graham, a teacher at Chouinard, taught several classes at Disney on action analysis from 1933 to 1941. This was crucial in the artistic development in that time period and in making the studio’s talent capable of making feature films. Stanchfield’s first job in animation was at the Charles Mintz studio in 1937. He would go on to serve in the military in World War 2 before returning to animation when joining the Walter Lantz Studio. In 1948 he was hired by the Disney Studio, a place he’d stay deeply dedicated to for the rest of his life.


     The first film Stanchfield worked on was the Adventures of Ichabob and Mr. Toad, a package feature released in 1949. He first worked as an assistant for John Lounsbery, one of the most talented and underappreciated top animators in the history of animation. Lounsbery was respected for his versatility in design and acting as well as his expert ability at animating involving animals and caricatured action. He was an excellent draftsman and had the capability to animate with the complex style and expert technique of Milt Kahl, the acting subtly of Frank Thomas, and the creativity and imagination of Ward Kimball. Among the films he worked on with Lounsbery where Cinderella, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp, and Sleeping Beauty. After 10 years with John Walt moved on to work under Ollie Johnston for another ten years. Ollie’s style was very different from that of Lounsbery. He was very intuitive and focused many on feelings and emotions rather than caricature and technique.Johnstondrew very softly and lightly on the paper.


     Eventually on The Jungle Book Walt Stanchfield got to animate a few very minor scenes but received screen credit as a character animator. He would continue this for the Winnie the Pooh featurettes and the Aristocats. On the Rescuers Stanchfield went back to assisting Ollie one last time before being promoted to the position of coordinating animator. However the 1980s were largely a time of turmoil for the Disney Studio and the animators got moved off the lot to a warehouse inBurbankin 1985. By that time virtually all the old guys were dead or had retired and the staff was largely a bunch of young and talented but inexperienced animators. Walt was one of the few veterans remaining on the crew. By the late 1980s Stanchfield had stopped animating and turned his attention to his lectures. They stand out because they challenge you to interpret what you are seeing in front of you and to really think about the meaning of it. The lectures also teach you how to be simple while still communicating in the most effective way. These were really influential to many of the younger animators including Glen Keane, Andrea Deja, Mark Henn, Tom Sito, Ruben Aquino, Eric Goldberg, and Tina Price. Stanchfield continued to come once a month to Disney to lecture well into the 1990s before passing away in 2000. Walt Stanchfield will always be remembered as a great artist and his work will continue to influence all artists in animation for the years to follow.

2 Responses to “40. The Assistant Animator Parts 3 and 4”

  1. Matthew Koh Says:

    “However the 1980s were largely a time of turmoil for the Disney Studio and the animators got moved off the lot to a warehouse in Burbank in 1985”

    Actually, it’s in Glendale, according to the documentary “Waking Sleeping Beauty”.

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