Ub Iwerks (March 24, 1901 - July 7, 1971) (age 70) was a two-time Academy Award winning American Animator, Cartoonist and special effects technician, who was famous for his work for Walt Disney. He was born in Kansas City, Missouri.
His name is explained by his Frisian roots; his father, Eert Ubbe Iwerks, emigrated to the USA in 1869 from the village Uttum in East Frisia (northwest Germany, today part of the municipality of Krummhorn). Ub's birth name can be seen on early Alice Comedies that he signed. Several years later he simplified his name to "Ub Iwerks".
Iwerks was considered by nany to be Walt Disney's oldest friend, and spent most of his career with Disney. The two met in 1919 while working for the Pesman Art Studio in Kansas City, and would eventually start their own commercial art business together. Disney and Iwerks then found work as illustrators for the Kansas City Slide Newspaper Company (which would later be named The Kansas City Film Ad Company). While working for the Kansas City Film Ad Company, Disney decided to take up work in animation, and Iwerks soon joined him.
He was responsible for the distinctive style of the earliest Disney Animated cartoons. In 1922, when Walt began his Laugh-O-Gram cartoon series, Iwerks joined him as chief animator. The studio went bankrupt, however, and in 1923 Iwerks followed Disney's move to Los Angeles to work on a new series of cartoons known as "the Alice Comedies". After the end of this series, Disney asked Iwerks to come up with a new character. The first Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was animated entirely by Ub Iwerks. Following the first cartoon, Oswald was redesigned on the insistence of Universal, who agreed to distribute the new series of cartoons in 1927.
In the spring of 1928, Disney lost control of the Oswald character, and much of his staff was hired away; Disney soon left Universal afterwards. Disney asked Ub Iwerks, who stayed on, to start drawing up new character ideas. Iwerks tried sketches of frogs, dogs, and cats, but none of these appealed to Disney. A female cow and male horse were created at this time by Iwerks, but were also rejected. They would later turn up as Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar. Ub Iwerks eventually got inspiration from an old drawing. In 1925, Hugh Harman drew some sketches of mice around a photograph of Walt Disney. These inspired Ub Iwerks to create a new mouse character for Disney, eventually called Mickey Mouse. Thus, in a very real sense, Iwerks can be called the true creator of Mickey Mouse because Iwerks, and not Disney, originated the character.
The first few Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies cartoons were animated almost entirely by Iwerks. However, as Iwerks began to draw more and more cartoons on a daily basis, he soon found himself unable to cope under Disney's harsh command; Iwerks also felt he wasn't getting the credit he deserved for drawing all of Walt's successful cartoons. Eventually, Iwerks and Disney had a falling out; their friendship and working partnership were severed when Iwerks accepted a contract with a competitor to leave Disney and start an animation studio under his own name.
The Iwerks Studio opened in 1930. Financial backers led by Pat Powers suspected that Iwerks was responsible for much of Disney's early success. However, while animation for a time suffered at Disney from Iwerks' departure, it soon rebounded as Disney brought in talented new young animators.
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 Iwerks Studio was never a major commercial success and failed to rival either Disney or Fleischer Studios. From 1933 to 1936 he produced a series of shorts in Cinecolor, named ComiColor Cartoons. Backers withdrew further financial support from Iwerks Studio in 1936, and it folded soon after.
In 1937, Leon Schlesinger Productions contracted Iwerks to produce four Looney Tunes shorts starring Porky Pig and Gabby Goat. Iwerks directed the first two shorts, while former Schlesinger animator Robert Clampett was promoted to director and helmed the other two shorts before he and his unit returned to the main Schlesinger lot. Iwerks then did contract work for Screen Gems (then Columbia Pictures' cartoon division) before returning to work for Disney in 1940. (The cartoons created by Iwerks' own studio remained largely unseen for many decades, but have been released to DVD by several companies.)
After the return to the Disney studio, Iwerks 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).
Iwerks' most famous work outside creating and animating Mickey Mouse was Flip the Frog for his own studio. Iwerks was known for his fast work at drawing and animation and his wacky sense of humor. Animator Chuck Jones, who worked for Iwerks' studio in his youth, said "Iwerks is Screwy spelled backwards". Ub Iwerks died in 1971 of a heart attack in Burbank, California, aged 70.
Influence and homagesEdit
A rare self portrait of Iwerks was found in the trash at an animation studio in Burbank. The portrait was saved and is now part of the Animation Archives in Burbank, California.
Iwerks Entertainment, a filmographic company, was founded in 1985 in honor of Ub Iwerks.
The 1986 DC Comics character Dr. Ub'x was named in his honor.
In the 2005 Fairly OddParents episode "The Good Ol'Days", Timmy and his Grandpa Pappy, are transported to an early Disney-style cartoon. In it, two street signs that intersect are the streets of Ub and Iwerks.