Ubbe Ert Iwwerks Walt Disney’s first “Imagineer”…

                                                           Finally, 2020 has arrived and for Disney fans and Guests worldwide, it herald’s in the greatest plethora of new shows, attractions, lands, enhancements and re-imagining in perhaps the Company’s history. EPCOT will experience 4 new neighborhoods, attractions like Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, United Kingdom’s Cherry Tree Lane & Mary Poppins Attraction, new circle-vision movies and much more. In fact, EPCOT will showcase the largest addition of new experiences of all the parks. We saw the new Skyliner debut last year, Hollywood Studios finally unveiled the long-awaited land…Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge with its two incomparable attractions, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Smugglers Run.

                                                                                To be honest, it is beyond the scope of this piece to name and detail all that awaits fans this year. Let it be said that these additions will cement the Disney Parks as the premier go to place for unrivaled storytelling, adventure and magic. But with that said, we must not forget the past, especially the people who made this future possible. One of Disney’s newest offerings is the Disney+ Streaming subscription service where fans can access any and all things Disney.

                                                                                Disney+ is where you can see a new six-hour documentary which chronicles the history of Walt Disney Imagineering. This research and development branch of the Disney company, was originally known as Walt Disney, Inc, or WED Enterprises. “The Imagineering Story is directed and produced by none other than Academy Award nominated producer and director Leslie Iwerks, granddaughter of Ub Iwerks, the man who gave form to Mickey Mouse himself. Ub was more than just the “Fastest pencil in the business”, he was an innovator, inventor and lifelong friend of Walt’s. For those who have never heard of this genius, and for those who have, here is a quick bio of the “Man behind the Mouse…”  

                                                                                       It would be impossible to mention any Disney character, past or present without evoking the name of Ubbe Iwwerks. This life-long friend of Walt Disney’s, a brilliant animator and inventor was perhaps the most important person in the beginning of the fledging Walt Disney Studios with the exception of Walt’s brother Roy.

                                                                                Walt and Ub (He later shortened it to Ub Iwerks) came from almost the same backgrounds, hardscrabble and struggling. Ub (Nee… Ubbe Eert Iwwerks) was born on March 24, 1901 in Kansas City to German and Dutch descendants. His father, Eert Ubben Iwerks was an amateur inventor was 57 years old, 31 years older than his mother, Laura May Wagner who was 26. His father who invented many Phonographic and recording system probably sparked the interest Ub had in things mechanical. However, when Ub was 14 years old, his father deserted the family, leaving Ub the sole supported of his mother. This devastated young Ub and he never spoke of his father again, even refusing to talk about him to his own family.

                                                                                Ub struggled to support his mother, but found relief and an outlet by drawing and art. At 18, he enrolled in the Fine Arts Institute of Kansas city. He was a natural artist and fine draftsman. His first art job was at the Pesmen-Ruben Commercial Art Studios where he met and made friends with another young artist hired a month later, Walt Disney.

                                                                                With so much in common and their love of art and animation, they became friends. However, after the Holiday rush was over they were both let go. Walt and Ub decided to start their own commercial art studio, finally naming it the Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artist. However, that failed in about a month. That is when Ub saw an ad for an artist at the Kansas City Slide Co. It was decided that Walt would take the job. Ub was hired a little later. Both men began making short 30sec to 1min animations for a local theatre owner, Newman. Called the Newman’s Laugh-o-Grams, they gave a comic look at Kansas City, its street problems and Police force. Soon after Walt quit, forming his own company, “Laugh-o-Gram films” He persuaded Ub to quit the Slide Co. and work for him. With his brother Roy and other investors, they started to work.

                                                                                They got a contract with a distributor, the Pictorial Clubs, but after making several films, the Pictorial Clubs went bankrupt and so did the Laugh-o-Grams Films. The only monies received were the original $100.00 deposit on the cartoons. It was during this time Walt came up with the idea of a live girl playing in a cartoon world, as opposed to Coco the Clown, another contemporary cartoon who played in the real world. Walt called it “Alice’s Wonderland” starring a four-year-old Girl Virginia Davis. However, the film was only half finished when he had to close shop.

                                                                                Ub needing money to support him and his mother, returned to the Slide Co. and Walt moved to California. Once in California Walt contacted a Major cartoon distributor in New York, Margaret J. Winkler and convinced her to handle his “Alice Comedies” But Walt had no studio or crew but managed to do all the animating himself and with Roy, working the camera began the Disney Brothers Studio on October 16, 1923, when they signed that contract with Winkler. But Winkler was not happy with the cartoons, the animation was not up to par, he needed Ub! At first Ub was reluctant to leave a paying job but decided to go to California anyway. With Ub now on the payroll, the comedies were vastly improved because Ub was not only a brilliant animator, coming up with fresh ideas, he was also the fastest. He could output 600 drawings a day, and it takes approximately 24 frames to make one second of animation!

                                                                                However, in 1926 Margaret Winkler married a Charlie Mintz who took over the production company. Charles was very critical of the Alice series, wanting better quality and was not sending in the money as fast as Walt and Ub wanted. By this time, the Alice series had run its course and Universal Studios asked Charlie Mintz for a new cartoon, he asked Disney’s studios to do just that. Ub came up with “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” and for two years, it was a success. It was during this time that Ub on a blind date found his bride-to-be, Mildred Henderson of Topeka Kansas. After courting for a year, they were married in January of 1927.

                                                                                But Charles Mintz seeing the success of Oswald conspired to take him from the Disney’s. When Walt went to New York to renew the contract and get more money, Mintz had secretly hired away all of Walt’s animators and even tried to get Ub. Legally, Oswald belonged to Mintz and after realizing his animators defected, Walt returned to California dejected and without a character. When Walt returned, only Les Clark, Johnny Cannon, and Ub were left. Since the defecting animators had three Oswald’s to complete, Walt had Ub work in top secret developing the new character they came up with: “Mickey Mouse.” Ub did the design of Mickey and gave him his form and function and Walt gave him his personality and drive. It was a perfect symbiosis and gave Mickey two fathers. Ub designed him to be simple to draw, round circles for the body and head and even his hands had four fingers, all to make animating him quicker, for after all time was money.

                                                                                Now they had a central character and since the recent solo over the Atlantic by Charles Lindbergh gave rise to the first silent Mickey cartoon, “Plane Crazy” totally animated by Ub. The next was the “Galloping Gaucho” again penned by Ub. These did not do well, but with the advent of the infant sound on film technique recently developed, Walt realized that synchronized sound would make the difference and he was right. Again, with Ub almost single-handedly animating the next Mickey, “Steamboat Willie” Walt finally settling on using a sound-on film technique offered by a Pat Powers, who at the time Walt did not know was a rogue and conniver and that the system he used was bootlegged from other manufactures. Therefore, after the second attempt to put sound to Willie, it was successful and Steamboat Willie made its debut at the Old Colony Theatre in New York on November 18, 1928 a date that is considered the birthday of Mickey Mouse.

                                                                                Mickey was a hit and the rest is history. All thanks to Ub and his amazing animating talents. However, as the company expanded and became more complex, Walt started to micro-manage so to speak, constantly changing exposure sheets, re-writing scripts etc, and Ub felt that Walt’s shadow was covering him, and he was not getting the recognition he deserved. When Pat Powers, like Charles Mintz tried to take over and push Walt’s company out of the picture, he convinced Ub to start his own cartoon studio, with him a the helm and Powers would finance him. It was too much of a temptation and in 1930, Ub resigned. Walt was devastated when he heard about Ub’s resignation.

                                                                                                Ub would return to the Disney studios ten years later in 1940. It took a while for both Walt and Ub to reconcile but even though both men were not very demonstrative, workers could detect the unspoken affection between them. Ub’s real interest in animation was the technical side and in the following years, he invented or developed many advancements that the industry still uses today. He invented the Multiplane optical printer and the Multiplane camera, both, which helped the Disney Company make strides in animation. He received many awards and an academy-award nominated achievement for his special effects works on Hitchcock’s “The Birds”

                                                                               Ub was crushed when his life-long friend and confidant Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966. Ub later passed away in Los Angeles on July 7, 1971 at age 70. With both Walt and Ub gone, an era passed by, probably never to return. Both men complimented each other, Walt had the dreams and ideas and Ub’s animation talents would bring it all to life. Ub was truly the Man behind Mickey Mouse.

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