29. Bill Justice
For number 29 in our countdown the honoree has one of the longest and most diverse careers in Disney history. He animated on both features and shorts, directed shorts in both hand-drawn and stop-motion, and then worked as an imaginer. He also lived longer than all the other old animators who made the list (Don Lusk is still alive but unfortunately I didn’t have room for him on the list. I’ll do something to honor his career sometime in the future though.) His name is Bill Justice and today I’ll tell you his story.
Bill Justice was born on February 9, 1914 inDayton,Ohio but grew up mainly in Indiana. He went to high school with future Disney story great and colleague Bill Peet. After high school Justice went on to the John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis where he graduated as a portrait artist in 1935. In 1937 he joined Disney’s animation studios as an inbetweener in the bullpen on the tail end of Snow White. I can never get enough of this story that Bill Justice told Jim Korkis about the Snow White after party: “In 1938 Snow White was a huge hit. You can’t believe how big it was. Walt and Roy announced that they were going to throw this huge, incredible thank you party for everyone who worked for them. All costs from the rooms to food and drink and in fact whatever you wanted to order would be taken care of by Walt. You know at the studio there was a strict dress code in those days for employees. Men came to work in jackets and ties although they were allowed to take them off when they sat down at their drawing boards. Women were not allowed to wear pants and sober-colored skits and blouses weren’t very appealing. The Disney brothers had sent out a memo that if you were in animation you weren’t supposed to ‘dip your pen in the company’s ink and paint’ which was their way of saying ‘behave yourself with the ink and paint girls.’ If you told a dirty joke in the earshot of Walt, you might get fired. He didn’t put up with any of that kind of stuff. So anyway for over two years all of us had been under terrible pressure, working long hour days and nights to finish Snow White. When I came at the end of the production I still felt the stress. When we arrived at the Norconian Hotel there were pools to swim in, tennis courts, a golf course, music, and plenty of food and alcohol and something just snapped. An animator picked up an ink and paint girl and dumped her in the pool fully clothed. Followed by others jumping in and hell broke loose quickly. Swimsuits flew out the windows. There were naked swim parties, people got drunk and often were surprised by what room they were in and who they were sleeping next to when they awoke the next morning. Fred Moore walked off one of the upper floor balconies thinking he was on the ground floor and ended up in a tree fortunately. You know he was one of my idols. I never saw Freddie Moore do a bad drawing. As a wedding gift from my wife Kim I got a sketch of a woman’s head with a hat done by Freddie. Walt was horrified and in shenanigans. He and his wife drove home that next morning. He never referred to that party again and if you wanted to keep your job, you didn’t mention it either when you were working in the studio.” Sorry for such a long quote I just wanted to share it. I can guarantee that quote’s the edgiest I’ll go on this blog. After Snow White Bill went on to animate the cupids, centaurs, and centaurettes in the Pastoral Symphony in Fantasia before animating scenes with Thumper in the ambitious project Bambi. In particular he was the assistant to Frank Thomas on the ice skating sequence. “My talents were considered cute,” reflected Justice. “So as a result I did little bunnies, kittens, and cuddly things.” On Bambi he also animated the cut sequence in the film where Bambi’s mothered was killed on screen. The sequence was scrapped because it feels much more real not seeing what happened. During World War 2 Bill animated on Saludos Amigos, Victory Through Airpower, and the Three Caballeros among other projects. After the war Justice focused mainly on animating on shorts instead of features, most significantly on the Chip ’n Dale shorts. However he did animate scenes with the white rabbit and flowers in Alice in Wonderland as well as some with the lost boys and children in Peter Pan. In 1956 Bill Justice moved to directing animated shorts starting with hand-drawn shorts such as a Cowboy Needs a horse and What’s the Truth About Mother Goose (which also was the directing debut of Wolfgang “Woolie” Reitherman. He also directed the opening animated sequence of the Mickey Mouse Club. More ambitiously Justice directed many shorts that experimented with stop motion animation, most notably Noah’s Ark(1959) and A Symposium for Popular Songs (1962.) in 1965 Bill moved into WED where he worked until was retirement in 1979. He continued to stay involved with Disney and animation fans until his death at the age of 97 on February 10, 2011.
Bill Justice’s still is very appealing and has cute proportions. This can very easily be seen in both his animation on Bambi and on the Chip ‘N Dale shorts. Also he had a great sense of staging and action. Study his scene of goofy with the golf club (it’s in the Disney Archives Animation Book) and you’ll see what I mean. Spacing too was another one of Bill’s assets in his scenes.
The impact Justice has had on Disney exceeds Disney Animation. He had a huge impact on WED and Disney television as well as stop-motion animation. Noah’s Ark was a groundbreaking stop motion film and helped pave the way for further exploration into the art form. I personally am not a big stop-motion animation fan and don’t think the characters are very believable when it’s used but it’s still animation and Bill Justice was a crucial figure in its development. Also he kept the quality of Disney shorts high way after most of the most talented animators had long committed to only doing features.
I think Bill Justice should be a great inspiration to anyone in any aspect of the animation industry or that has any interest in the Disney Company. He did a wider variety of work and projects than almost anybody in the company’s history. Also he was a great animator as well as a superb director. Last Bill’s spirit and dedication was very helpful for both Disney animators and fans for decades. Thank you Bill Justice for your contributions and we’ll miss you greatly.
Snow White- Assistant Animator
Fantasia- Animator on Pastoral Role
Bambi- Animator on Thumper
Saludos Amigos- Animator
Victory Through Airpower- Animator
Three Caballeros- Animator
Make Mine Music- Animator on All the Cats Join In sequence
Alice in Wonderland- Animator on White Rabbit and Flowers
Peter Pan- Animator on Lost Boys and Children