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Posts Tagged ‘Ub Iwerks’

Flip The Frog

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

Flip the Frog was one of the most original cartoon characters of the 1930s.

Ub Iwerks, the creator of Flip the Frog, started with Walt Disney and animated the first several Mickey Mouse cartoons; then he split off on his own and created Flip the Frog, one of the most memorable of all 1930s cartoon characters. When Flip failed to catch on with the public — he was simply too far ahead of his time — Iwerks eventually rejoined the Disney organization, doing special effects work on Disney animated features and cartoons, and also creating the special effects for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963).

In addition, Iwerks pioneered the use of the Xerox process to transfer line drawings on paper to clear plastic cels for animation, thus eliminating the “inking” process in classical animation; the results can be seen in such films as One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961). Iwerks won two Academy Awards for his work.

As Steve Hulett wrote, “Ub Iwerks was Walt’s strong right arm in the 1920s. He was a designer and work-horse animator on the early Disney shorts, considered so valuable that he was a 20% owner of the studio. But the 20% ownership ended when Iwerks departed Walt Disney Productions after a falling out with the majority owner. Bankrolled by movie mogul Pat Powers, Iwerks developed the frog character above, but within a few years flamed out as an animation kingpin and returned to Disney’s.” It’s too bad. Flip is, to my mind at least, much more interesting, and more varied, than Mickey Mouse.

Here’s Flip in Spooks, from 1932

The Birds is Coming

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Click here, or on the image above, to see the trailer from The Birds.

“We seem to have a compulsion these days to bury time capsules in order to give those people living in the next century or so some idea of what we are like. I have prepared one of my own. I have placed some rather large samples of dynamite, gunpowder, and nitroglycerin. My time capsule is set to go off in the year 3000. It will show them what we are really like.”  ― Alfred Hitchcock

For a more satisfying vision of a future in which things don’t work out as planned, with nature in revolt and the horror left unresolved at fadeout, one could do worse than to rent Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 classic The Birds, in which the director’s mastery to both form and content is evident in every frame. Famously devoid of any musical score at all, other than an electronic pastiche of bird cries on the soundtrack to punctuate the action, The Birds is a master class in camera placement, editing, and the slow accumulation of suspense — scene by scene.

Tippi Hedren is self-assured and resolute in the leading role as Melanie Daniels, while Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy and Suzanne Pleshette lend credible support, and the film itself is handsomely designed, with a sense of solidity and precision in its construction that holds up under repeated viewings. Based on Daphne du Maurier’s short story, with superb special effects by the great Ub Iwerks, The Birds stands as Hitchcock’s last really successful film, after the full-fledged triumph of Psycho.

Those who would like to know more about the film should read Hitchcock /Truffaut, perhaps the best interview book ever done on any director, in which François Truffaut spent weeks with Hitchcock going over his entire career in minute detail — first released in the late 1960s, it has never been out of print, and Truffaut was able to create a revised, expanded second edition just before his tragic death in 1984 — there’s really no better introduction to Hitchcock’s work.

Mary Blair, Pioneering Animator and Designer

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Mary Blair at the Walt Disney Studio in 1941; click on the image above for a brief video biography.

Today, October 21, 2011, on what would have been her 100th birthday, Google honors the work of the pioneering animation artist Mary Blair, born Mary Robinson, who started her career with animator Ub Iwerks, moved on to MGM, and then finally found her true home with the Walt Disney company, where she created her most influential and memorable work.

As Barry Neild reports in The Guardian, “Blair, who was born in Oklahoma on 21 October 1911, was best known for the artwork she contributed to animations including Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Cinderella. She also illustrated a number of children’s books. Blair’s colorful, childlike images – vaguely reminiscent of the cubist movement – are credited with bringing modern art into popular animation and influencing a generation of illustrators.

Walt Disney was so taken with her designs that he recruited her to work on It’s A Small World, an attraction that debuted at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and has since been recreated in all of Disney’s theme parks. Other commissions for Blair, who died in 1978, include giant murals at Disneyland and Disney World.”

Blair is one of the key innovators in animation history, and deserves more recognition than she’s gotten in the past. It’s nice to see her getting a global nod for her many contributions to the art of animation, design, and illustration.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of numerous books and more than 70 articles on film and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu.

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