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|Born||Vladimir Peter Tytla
October 25, 1904
Yonkers, New York, U.S.
|Died||December 30, 1968
Flanders, Connecticut, U.S.
Vladimir Peter "Bill" Tytla (October 25, 1904 – December 30, 1968) was one of the original Disney animators and is considered by many to be the best Disney animator that ever lived. Tytla is particularly noted for the animation of Grumpy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Stromboli in Pinocchio, Chernabog in the Night on Bald Mountain sequence from Fantasia and the title character in Dumbo.
Vladimir Peter Tytla was born on October 25, 1904 in Yonkers, New York. His Ukrainian immigrant parents reportedly recognized talent in their son and encouraged it. In 1914, when Tytla was 9, he visited Manhattan to attend Gertie the Dinosaur, an animated vaudeville act by Winsor McCay. He never forgot it, and some say it changed his life forever.
Tytla attended the New York Evening School of Industrial Design while still in high school. But eventually high school lost out to his interest in art and he quit. In 1920, at age 16, Tytla was working for the Paramount animation studio in New York. His assignment was providing lettering for title cards. He was nicknamed "Tytla the Titler."
His first animation experiences were on Mutt and Jeff short films at the Bronx studio of Raoul Barré and the Joy and Bloom Phable at the Greenwich Village studio of John Terry, later creator of the aviation comic strip Scorchy Smith. His brother Paul Terry, founder of Terrytoons, soon hired Tytla to work on his Aesop's Fables.
Within three years he was earning a very good salary as an animator and supporting his family. The simplistic nature of cartoons at the time did not challenge Tytla who dreamed of becoming a fine artist. He took up his studies again at the Art Students League of New York and studied under Boardman Robinson.
In 1929 he sailed for Europe with some of his school friends to study painting in Paris. There he not only studied painting, but sculpture with Charles Despiau. To this has been attributed the weight and three-dimensionality of his work. In Europe he was able to see first hand the masterpieces he had only read about. True to his nature of never wanting to be second best, Tytla came to the conclusion that he could never top these masters and destroyed most of his work.
Back in America
Tytla returned to the United States with the attitude that he could become a great master of animation by incorporating his rich knowledge of art. Now animated shorts had sound which in turn brought a new enthusiasm and a need for talented animators. Paul Terry offered Bill a job right away. There he met animator Art Babbitt who became his close friend and roommate. Art eventually left to work for Walt Disney because of the challenging work and good working conditions. For two years Art tried to entice Bill to come out to Hollywood, but Bill did not want to leave his family and a well paying job during the Great Depression. Finally in 1934 Tytla flew to Hollywood. He was very impressed and accepted the job even at a lower salary than he was being paid at Terrytoons.
During his "probationary" year in 1935 Tytla worked on three shorts:
- The Cookie Carnival, a Silly Symphonies short, first released on May 25, 1935.
- Mickey's Fire Brigade, a cartoon featuring firefighters Mickey Mouse, Goofy and Donald Duck attempting to rescue Clarabelle Cow from a burning boarding house. First released on August 3, 1935).
- Cock o' the Walk, a Silly Symphonies short, first released on November 30, 1935).
Tytla in The Cookie Carnival was responsible for animating the gingerbread boy and girl as well as the rivalry between the angel-food and devil's food cakes. He animated the broadly comic Clarabelle Cow in Mickey's Fire Brigade. In Cock o' the Walk, Tytla animated his first "heavy," a bully rooster dancing the Carioca. The great Grim Natwick, creator of Betty Boop, remarked, "Bill hovered over his drawing board like a giant vulture protecting a nest filled with golden eggs, he was an intense worker—eager, nervous, absorbed...Key drawings were whittled out with impassioned pencil thrusts that tore holes in the animation paper."
His work did not go unnoticed by Walt Disney who soon came to realize what he had in Tytla. Consequently, both his responsibilities and his wages increased dramatically. Tytla and Babbitt quickly became two of Disney's top-salaried artists, and again shared a residence—this time a Tuxedo Terrace house complete with a maid. He continued to send money home and purchased for his family 150 acre (607,000 m²) of farmland in East Lyme, Connecticut. Babbitt started after hours "Action Analysis" classes and brought in Don Graham to teach. Tytla was an eager participator in these classes (later to become officially sanctioned by Disney) which have been credited with some of the phenomenal leaps in the quality of animation during this period.
Tytla was one of the first animators assigned to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Fred Moore and Tytla were responsible for much of the design of the film and the definition of the personalities of the seven dwarfs. One of Tytla's famous scenes from the film (as described by John Canemaker) is where woman-hating Grumpy is kissed by Snow White. As he brusquely walks away, an internal warmth generated by the kiss gradually slows him, bringing a soft smile and sigh to his lips, revealing his true feelings of love. Grumpy's inner feelings are portrayed solely through pantomime—in his telling facial expressions, his body language, and the timing of his reactions.
One evening of 1936 in the art classes of Don Graham, a vibrant and beautiful 22-year-old actress and fashion model from Seattle named Adrienne le Clerc posed for the animators, including Tytla. She shared his volcanic temperament, but admitted "My glass was half-filled with enthusiasm, his often half-empty with self-doubts. We were, however, definitely yin and yang". Their thirty-year marriage began on April 21, 1938.
Clearly, she was a great inspiration and support for her husband although she complained that in order to get her husband's attention when he was intently working on his animation, she had to stand in the doorway naked.
Continued Disney career
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was eventually completed and released on December 21, 1937. Tytla was next assigned to animate Stromboli, an explosive puppeteer and kidnapper in Pinocchio (1940). Larger-than-life, a monster of mercurial moods—comic and menacing by turns—Stromboli is one of Disney's most three-dimensional and frightening villains.
"Bill was powerful, muscular, high-strung and sensitive, with a tremendous ego," wrote Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston in their book The Disney Villain. "Everything was 'feelings' with Bill. Whatever he animated had the inner feelings of his characters expressed through very strong acting. He did not just get inside Stromboli, he was Stromboli and he lived that part."
Brave Little Tailor was a 1938 short featuring Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Tytla animated the giant who was as dumb as he was huge. The character "became the model for all giants throughout the industry from gags to personality," according to Johnston and Thomas. The short was nominated for the Academy Award for Animated Short Film of 1939. But it lost to Ferdinand the Bull, another Disney short, directed by Dick Rickard, animated by Milt Kahl and Ward Kimball.
Early in 1938, Tytla animated Yen Sid, the old magician in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," which would eventually become a segment in Fantasia (1940). However the character from Fantasia which Tytla is better known for is Chernabog, his own version of Crnobog the Black God, from the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence.
It is often said that Chernabog was based on actor Bela Lugosi, and Walt did bring him in to do live action reference for the character. However, Bill already had a pretty good idea of what he wanted to do and did not like Bela's interpretation of the character. Instead he had Wilfred Jackson (who is credited for the music of Steamboat Willie) act out the part for him, and that is what he used as live action reference. The scene is pure pantomime, but shows the full emotional range of the character, from unabashed glee to profound despair, expressing physical pain at the sound of the church bells at dawn. Chernabog is considered Tytla's supreme achievement in personality animation and marks the zenith of his career.
By 1940 Tytla was tiring of animating heavies. Not one to want to be typecast Tytla requested as his next assignment Dumbo (namesake star of the 1941 film), the baby elephant ridiculed and rejected because of his big ears.
This time his reference was his own infant son, Peter. The intent was to do something untheatrical and sincere, to try to put the personality of a human child into that of an elephant so that it rings true. The happy sequence of Dumbo splashing and blowing bubbles in a bathtub, or playing hide-and-seek between his mother's legs contrasts with the later scene in which Dumbo visits his mother in prison. Dumbo, climbing onto his mother's trunk shows a slight apprehension as she begins to swing him gently back and forth. He relaxes, yet his sadness over the temporary nature of this maternal solace always there. When they finally must part, the slow reluctant pull of Dumbo's trunk away from his mother's is heartbreaking and still expressed the soulfulness of Tytla's animation.
While Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was hugely successful the following films had a hard time making money due to the war in Europe cutting of nearly 50% of their revenue. This led to staff layoff and broken promises with regard to job security, raises and bonuses.
While the top animators like Tytla and Babbit were highly paid, they were all too aware of the low wages being paid to assistants and production people. Babbit even went as far as paying his assistant out of his own pocket. But in early 1941 Babbitt was fired for union activities. The day after Babbit led over 300 Disney studio employees in a strike, demanding union representation. To Disney's surprise and dismay, Tytla joined the strike line. "I was for the company union, and I went on strike because my friends were on strike," said Tytla. " I was sympathetic with their views, but I never wanted to do anything against Walt." The strike lasted over two months and was so divisive that it profoundly altered the course of American character animation. As the strike ended, America entered World War II and the Golden age was effectively over.
Tytla returned to the studio, but "there was too much tension and electricity in the air," according to Adrianne Tytla. With Vladimir, "everything was instinctive and intuitive, and now the vibes were all wrong." Due to the economics of the studio at the time, assignments were less challenging.
In Saludos Amigos (1942) Tytla animated Pedro (a baby airplane) and Jose Carioca (a Brazilian parrot). His small but juicy final portrayals at Disney were a witch and a Nazi teacher in the short Education for Death (1943) and the climactic battle between a giant octopus and an American eagle in the feature Victory Through Air Power (1943).
Tytla's perception that he was unwelcome at the studio; less challenging work, his wife's three-year-long illness with tuberculosis, fear of Japanese attack, and a desire to live on his Connecticut farm eventually led him to the decision to leave the studio. He resigned from the Disney studio on February 24, 1943, an action he regretted for the remaining twenty-five years of his life.
Work at Terrytoons and Famous Studios
After leaving the Disney studio Tytla returned to Terrytoons for a short while. There he was assigned as a film director for the short The Sultan's Birthday (1944). Tytla soon left Terrytoons but would continue to act as a director for the rest of his animation career.
- Starring Little Lulu.
- Starring Popeye.
- Starring Herman Mouse and Henry Rooster. (Herman would later co-star in the Herman and Katnip series).
- Sudden Fried Chicken (October 18, 1946).
- Starring Little Audrey.
- Starring Herman Mouse alone.
- Campus Capers (July 1, 1949).
- Starring Casper the Friendly Ghost.
- Starring Paddy.
- Featuring no recurring characters.
Work at Tempo Productions
Tytla left Famous Studio during the early 1950s to work for Tempo Productions. Tempo was founded in 1946 as a partnership between David Hilberman and Zack Schwartz. They were both former Disney colleagues of Tytla. David had notably served as an art director for Bambi and Zack for "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." They were among the founders of the United Productions of America but later sold their shares to their partner Stephen Bosustow.
At first the two indended to produce educational films but soon found there was only a limited market for them. However Jack Zander, head of the animation department of Transfilm Inc., which produced television commercials, approached them with an offer to produce animated advertisements for his company. They were at first assigned to advertise Camel cigarettes. Later their assignments included Standard Brands, Plymouth automobile, National Dairy Association, Tide and Clark Gum Company. Zack Schwartz had left the company in 1948/1949 but assignments continued. David Hilberman decided to expand the staff. The expansion included hiring Tytla as advertisement director.
The squared-off stylized designs reportedly frustrated Tytla. But he produced some good work there including some stop motion animation. His animated advertisements though are perhaps the least well-remembered part of his career. When the revival of interest in classical animation started in the 1980s, they were long unavailable to audiences, presumably lost. A reason for this was that Tempo proved short-lived, blacklisted during the Red Scare of the early 1950s.
Tytla, however took time to visit his former colleagues at Disney in 1954. Unlike Babbitt he was welcome to do so and even had his picture taken with his old boss Walt. In a letter to Marc Davis written in December 1954 Tytla said "What a helluva swell time I had, It did me a world of good".
His next sources of employment were animated series. He is credited as director for episodes of four different series:
- Popeye (September 10, 1956 –1963).
- Deputy Dawg (September 5, 1959 – 1972).
- Matty's Funday Funnies (featuring Beany and Cecil by Bob Clampett, October 11, 1959 – 1962).
- The New Casper Cartoon Show (1963 – 1969).
He also took time to create one last short for Terrytoons, First Flight Up (1962). His last work of animation on a film was on The Incredible Mr. Limpet (1964). A comedy feature film mixing live action and animation, directed by Arthur Lubin and starring Don Knotts as a fish. However, during this time Tytla became ill and a lot of the actual animation was completed by animation director Robert McKimson, Hawley Pratt and Gerry Chiniquy. All three of them are better known for their Looney Tunes work.
Following this Tytla suffered many small strokes which left him blind in his left eye. On August 13, 1967, the opening night of the Montreal Expo's World Exhibition of Animation Cinema, featured a screening of Dumbo as part of an Hommage Aux Pionniers. Tytla was invited, but worried if anyone would remember him. When the film finished, they announced the presence of "The Great Animator." When the spotlight finally found him, the audience erupted in "a huge outpouring of love. It may have been one of the great moments of his life," recalled John Culhane.
Tytla did try to return to Disney. In a letter dated August 27, 1968, Disney productions vice president W.H. Anderson rejected his offer to do "trial animation", saying, "We really have only enough animation for our present staff." And as late as October 11, 1968, less than three months before Tytla's death, Disney director Wolfgang Reitherman responded to story material Tytla submitted explaining "...I'm sorry to say that your story ideas don't fit into our present program.. We have not forgotten that you are anxious to animate here at the studio, but...So far, we can just barely keep our present crew of animators busy...rest assured you have many friends here at the studio who are pulling for you."
Vladimir Tytla died on his farm on December 30, 1968, aged 64.
- Archived October 27, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. by Eddie Bowers. Original text for this article. Used with permission and based on Vladimir Tytla - Master Animator John Canemaker, Catalogue essay for exhibition at The Katonah Museum of Art, Katonah, N.Y. September 25, 1994 – January 1, 1995.
- Bill Tytla at the Internet Movie Database