Ub Iwerks

flip the frog

ub iwerks self portrait

Ub Iwerks (1901 – 1971) was an American animator and special effects technician who created several of Walt Disney’s early characters including Mickey Mouse.  Iwerks was considered by many to be Disney’s oldest friend, and he spent most of his career working for Disney in some capacity. The two met in 1918 while working for the Kansas City Art Studio, and would eventually start their own commercial art business together.

He was responsible for the distinctive style of the earliest Disney animated cartoons, and was also responsible for creating several early characters including Mickey Mouse, Clarabelle Cow, and Horace Horsecollar. The first few Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies cartoons were animated almost entirely by Iwerks. Disney and he had a falling out over the credit for the characters success. Their friendship and working partnership was severed when Iwerks accepted a contract with Disney competitor Pat Powers to start an animation studio under his own name.

The Iwerks Studio opened in 1930. 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 studio was never a major commercial success. From 1933 to 1936 he produced a series of shorts in, named ComiColor Cartoons. The ComiColor series included Little Black Sambo, a racially stereotyped work that was eventually banned in the United States. In 1936 backers withdrew financial support from the Iwerks Studio, and it folded soon after.

He spent the next four years producing Looney Tunes shorts before returning to Disney in 1940, after which he 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. 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 his Academy Award nominated achievement for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963).

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