Frank Thomas, the second-to-last surviving member of Disney's "Nine Old Men" group of supervising animators, passed away on September 8, four days shy of his ninety-second birthday. He had been in declining health for several years.
Read more for excerpts from the official Disney announcement.
Frank Thomas, one of the most talented, inventive and influential animators in the history of the art form, a member of Walt Disney’s elite "Nine Old Men," and a pioneering animator who worked on many classic shorts and features during his 43-year career at the Disney Studios, passed away on Wednesday (9/8) at his home in Flintridge, California. He was 92 years old. Thomas had been in declining health following a cerebral hemorrhage earlier this year.
In addition to his achievements as an animator and directing animator, Thomas (in collaboration with his lifelong friend and colleague Ollie Johnston) authored four landmark books: Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life, Too Funny for Words, Bambi: The Story and the Film, and The Disney Villain. Thomas and Johnston were also the title subjects of a heartfelt 1995 feature-length documentary entitled "Frank and Ollie," written and directed by Frank’s son, Theodore (Ted) Thomas.
In a career filled with milestones, Thomas’ remarkable animation included such indelible moments as the first date and spaghetti dinner in "Lady and the Tramp," Thumper teaching Bambi how to ice-skate, Baloo the bear telling the man-cub Mowgli that he can’t stay in the jungle in "The Jungle Book," Pinocchio trapped in the birdcage by the evil puppeteer Stromboli, the lovesick squirrel whose heart is broken in "Sword in the Stone," Captain Hook playing the piano in "Peter Pan," the dancing penguins in "Mary Poppins," among others. He also animated several of Mickey Mouse’s most impressive scenes in such films as "The Pointer," and "Brave Little Tailor." Noted animation historian/author/filmmaker John Canemaker, described Thomas’ special talents in his book, Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men. "Thomas is particularly known and admired for his ability to animate emotionally sensitive material; the saddest scenes, the most romantic, most deeply felt sequences, the sincerest heart-tuggers usually found their way to his drawing board."
John Lasseter (head of creative for Pixar Animation Studios and director of the "Toy Story" films and "A Bug’s Life") said, "Frank was a giant in our field and he meant everything to me and to all of us who love the art of animation. Besides being one of the key guys to help elevate animation from a novelty to an incredible art form, he was so generous in passing along his knowledge and experiences to the generations that followed. The books that he wrote with Ollie had a big impact on so many of us working in animation today. Frank was one of my main mentors and a tremendous influence on me. I feel very privileged to have known him." Leonard Maltin, animation historian, film critic, and author, observed, "Frank helped to invent animation as an art form and took it to incredible new heights through his work at Disney over four and a half decades. He and his lifelong friend and colleague, Ollie Johnston, had a remarkable gift for explaining and articulating how they did what they did. That’s a rare quality in an artist. Even in his nineties, Frank retained a youthful spirit and indomitable sense of humor."
Thomas retired from animation in January, 1978. Over the next five years, Thomas and Johnston devoted full time to researching and writing the definitive book on their craft, Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life. The book distilled forty years of knowledge and experience into what many consider the finest book ever written about animation. Too Funny for Words was published six years later and explored the gags, humor and story elements that went into the features and shorts. Walt Disney’s Bambi: The Story and the Film (1990) told the behind the scenes story of the creation of one of the greatest animated films of all-time. Their final collaboration, The Disney Villain (1993), explored the richest and most colorful rogue’s gallery in film history.
In addition to his career as a top animator, Thomas also expressed his musical talents as the piano player in the popular jazz group, The Firehouse Five Plus Two. Formed in 1940s, the group consisted of other Disney employees, and achieved success with their numerous Dixieland jazz recordings and personal appearances. They officially disbanded in 1971. In 1995, Thomas was the subject of a feature length documentary, "Frank and Ollie," released by Walt Disney Pictures. Written, produced, and directed by Frank’s son, Theodore (Ted) Thomas, and produced by Ted’s wife, Kuniko Okubo, the film played film festivals around the world and received acclaim for its insightful look at the lives, careers and extraordinary friendship of the two legendary animators.
No funeral is planned but details regarding a life celebration will be announced shortly. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made in Frank’s name to the Character Animation Program at CalArts (California Institute of the Arts) in Santa Clarita, California.