Ubbe Eert "Ub" Iwwerks (; March 24, 1901 – July 7, 1971) was an American animator
, character designer
, and special effects technician
, who designed Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
and Mickey Mouse
. Iwerks produced alongside Walt Disney
and won numerous awards, including multiple Academy Awards
Iwerks was born in Kansas City, Missouri
. His father, Eert Ubbe Iwwerks, was born in the village of Uttum in East Frisia
, today part of the municipality of Krummhörn
) and immigrated to the United States in 1869. The elder Iwwerks, who worked as a barber, was 57 when Ub was born and had fathered and abandoned several previous children and wives. When Ub was a teenager, he abandoned him as well, forcing the boy to drop out of school and work to support his mother. Iwerks despised his father and never spoke of him; upon learning that he had died, he reportedly said, "Throw him in a ditch." Ub's full name, Ubbe Ert Iwwerks, can be seen on early ''Alice Comedies
'' that he signed. Several years later he simplified his name to "Ub Iwerks", sometimes written as "U. B. Iwerks".
He is the father of Disney Legend Don Iwerks
and grandfather of documentary film
producer Leslie Iwerks
Iwerks spent most of his career with Disney. The two met in 1919 while working for the Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio in Kansas City,
[Neal Gabler, ''Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination'' (2006), p. 46.]
and eventually started their own commercial art business together.
[Neal Gabler, ''Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination'' (2006), pp. 47–50.]
Disney and Iwerks then found work as illustrators for the Kansas City Slide Newspaper Company
[Neal Gabler, ''Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination'' (2006), p. 50.]
(which was later named The Kansas City Film Ad Company).
[Neal Gabler, ''Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination'' (2006), p. 56.]
While working for the Kansas City Film Ad Company, Disney decided to take up work in animation,
[Neal Gabler, ''Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination'' (2006), p. 58.]
and Iwerks soon joined him.
He was responsible for the distinctive style of the earliest Disney animated cartoon
s, and was also responsible for designing Mickey Mouse.
[Maltin, L. (1987). ''Of mice and magic: A history of American animated cartoons'' (Rev. ed.). New York: New American Library.]
In 1922, when Disney 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
” which had live-action mixed with animation. After the end of this series, Disney asked Iwerks to design a character that became Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
. The first cartoon Oswald starred in was animated entirely by Iwerks. Following the first cartoon, Oswald was redesigned on the insistence of Oswald's owner and the distributor of the cartoons, Universal Pictures. The production company at the time, Winkler Pictures, gave additional input on the character's design.
In spring 1928, Disney was removed from the Oswald series, and much of his staff was hired away to Winkler Pictures. He promised to never again work with a character he did not own.
[Neal Gabler, ''Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination'' (2006), p. 109.]
Disney asked 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 later turned 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. Then, on a train ride back from a failed business meeting, Walt Disney came up with the original sketch for the character that was eventually called Mickey Mouse
. Afterward, Disney took the sketch to Iwerks. In turn, he drew a more clean-cut and refined version of Mickey, but one that still followed the original sketch.
The first few Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphonies
cartoons were animated almost entirely by Iwerks, including ''Steamboat Willie
'', ''The Skeleton Dance
'' and ''The Haunted House
However, as Iwerks began to draw more and more cartoons on a daily basis, he chafed under Disney's dictatorial rule.
[Neal Gabler, ''Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination'' (2006), p. 143.]
Iwerks also felt he wasn't getting the credit he deserved for drawing all of Disney's successful cartoons.
[Neal Gabler, ''Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination'' (2006), p. 144.]
Eventually, Iwerks and Disney had a falling out; their friendship and working partnership were severed in January 1930. According to an unconfirmed account, a child approached Disney and Iwerks at a party and asked for a picture of Mickey to be drawn on a napkin, to which Disney handed the pen and paper to Iwerks and stated, "Draw it." Iwerks became furious and threw the pen and paper, storming out. Iwerks accepted a contract with Disney competitor Pat Powers
to leave Disney and start an animation studio under his own name. His last ''Mickey Mouse'' cartoon was ''The Cactus Kid
''. (Powers and Disney had an earlier falling-out over Disney's use of the Powers Cinephone sound-on-film
system—actually copied by Powers from DeForest Phonofilm
without credit—in early Disney cartoons.)
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
. Newly hired animator Fred Kopietz recommended that Iwerks employ a friend from Chouinard Art School, Chuck Jones
, who was hired and put to work as a cel washer.
The Flip and Willie cartoons were later distributed on the home-movie market by Official Films
in the 1940s. From 1933 to 1936, he produced a series of shorts (independently distributed, not part of the MGM deal) in Cinecolor
, named ''ComiColor Cartoons
''. The ComiColor series mostly focused on fairy tales with no continuing character or star. Later in the 1940s, this series received home-movie distribution by Castle Films
. Cinecolor produced the 16 mm prints for Castle Films with red emulsion on one side and blue emulsion on the other. Later in the 1970s Blackhawk Films
released these for home use, but this time using conventional Eastmancolor film stock. They are now in the public domain and are available on VHS and DVD. He also experimented with stop-motion animation in combination with the multiplane camera
, and made a short called ''The Toy Parade'', which was never released in public. In 1936, backers withdrew financial support from the Iwerks Studio, 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) where he was the director of several of the ''Color Rhapsodies
'' shorts before returning to work for Disney in 1940.
After his 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
Iwerks' most famous work outside creating and animating Mickey Mouse was Flip the Frog from his own studio. According to Chuck Jones, who worked for him, "He was the first, if not the first, to give his characters depth and roundness. But he had no concept of humor; he simply wasn't a funny guy."
Iwerks died in 1971 of a heart attack
in Burbank, California
, aged 70, and his ashes are interred in a niche in the Columbarium of Remembrance at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills Cemetery
Influence and tributes
The ''Ub Iwerks Award for Technical Achievement'', as part of the Annie Award
s, is named in his honour.
A rare self-portrait of Iwerks was found in the garbage bin at an animation studio in Burbank. The portrait was saved and is now part of the Animation Archives
in Burbank, California.
After the Second World War, much of Iwerks' early animation style was imitated by legendary manga
artists Osamu Tezuka
and Shōtarō Ishinomori
In 1989, Iwerks was named a Disney Legend
In the 1996 ''The Simpsons
'' episode "The Day the Violence Died
", a relationship similar to Iwerks' early relationship with Walt Disney
is used as the main plot.
A documentary film, ''The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story'', was released in 1999, followed by a book written by Iwerks' granddaughter Leslie Iwerks
and John Kenworthy in 2001. The documentary, created by Leslie Iwerks, was released as part of The Walt Disney Treasures, Wave VII series
(disc two of The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit collection).
A feature film released in 2014 ''Walt Before Mickey
'', showed how Ub Iwerks, portrayed by Armando Gutierrez
, and Walt Disney, portrayed by Thomas Ian Nicholas
, co-created Mickey Mouse.
The sixth episode from the second season of ''Drunk History
'' ("Hollywood"), tells about Ub's work relationship with Disney, with stress on the creation of Mickey Mouse
. Iwerks was portrayed in the episode by Tony Hale
All Comicolor shorts.
All Comicolor shorts.
*Contract work to Leon Schlesinger Productions – 2 cartoons
*Contract work to Screen Gems/Columbia Pictures – 17 cartoons (Iwerks was only personally involved with 16 of the Color Rhapsody
series, the last cartoon in the deal was completed by Paul Fennell after Iwerks had left his own studio).
* In 1940, Iwerks produced his last series, ''Gran'pop Monkey'', featuring the art of British illustrator Lawson Wood
. Three cartoons were made: "A Busy Day", "Beauty Shoppe" and "Baby Checkers".
* ''Walt Disney'' (2015 PBS film)
* Leslie Iwerks
and John Kenworthy, ''The Hand Behind the Mouse'' (Disney Editions, 2001) and documentary of the same name (DVD, 1999)
* Leonard Maltin
, ''Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons'' (Penguin Books, 1987)
* Jeff Lenburg, ''The Great Cartoon Directors'' (Da Capo Press, 1993)
* Don Iwerks
, ''Walt Disney’s Ultimate Inventor'' (Disney Editions, 2019)
Category:Recipients of the Scientific and Technical Academy Award of Merit
Category:American people of Frisian descent
Category:American animated film directors
Category:American animated film producers
Category:Animators from Missouri
Category:Burials at Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills)
Category:Film directors from Missouri
Category:Walt Disney Animation Studios people
Category:Artists from Kansas City, Missouri
Category:Special effects people
Category:Disney comics artists
Category:Warner Bros. Cartoons directors
Category:Academy Award for Technical Achievement winners
Category:Laugh-O-Gram Studio people