|Born||January 17, 1913
San Francisco, California
|Died||January 9, 1992
Burbank, California, U.S.
|Education||Polytechnic High School, University of Southern California|
|Occupation||Painter, Animator, Walt Disney Imagineering, formerly known as WED Enterprises|
|Home town||Los Angeles, California|
|Board member of||Walt Disney Imagineering|
Claude Coats (January 17, 1913 – January 9, 1992) was an American artist, animator and set designer, known for his work with the Walt Disney Animation Studios and Walt Disney Imagineering. His pioneering work with the company helped define the character of animated films, and later, immersive installations with his designs for Disneyland. Coats, known as "The Gentle Giant" was inducted a Disney Legend in 1991.
Claude Coats was raised in Los Angeles and graduated from Polytechnic High School. On an athletic scholarship, Coats attended University of Southern California as an architecture student, but later received his bachelor's degree in drawing in 1934. He later attended Chouinard Art Institute and studied watercolor painting with Paul Sample. Upon matriculation, Coats became an active member of the "California Water Color Society," which garnered the interest of the film industry. Coats accepted an interview at Disney’s Hyperion Studio and began an apprenticeship in background painting in 1935. While working at the studio, Claude met his future wife, Evelyn Henry, an Inker in the Ink and Paint Department. The couple were married in July 1937 and went on to have two sons, Alan and Lee.
Claude and Evelyn were avid world travelers. They visited remote locations at Petra, Jordan, and Machu Picchu, long before these became popular tourist destinations. They joined the first American tour groups to visit China when that country was opened to Western visitors. Claude would return with a sketchbook and film to create vivid paintings of his travels. When he decided it was time to discover Antarctica, Claude realized his long-time dream to visit all seven continents. Penguins would become a favorite subject to paint and sculpt.
Career as Background Painter
Coats' earliest film work included the animated shorts Mickey's Fire Brigade and Pluto's Judgement Day. He also painted sets for the Silly Symphony musical shorts, earning him membership to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. His distinctive, layered style is prominently featured in the Oscar winners The Old Mill and Ferdinand the Bull. He was personally selected as one of the artists by Walt Disney to paint the sets for the studio's first full-length film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, also the first full-length animated film created in the United States. He would continue his contributions and color styling to over twenty other Disney animated films.
Career as Imagineer
In 1955, Coats was again appointed by Disney to the staff of WED Enterprises (now known as Walt Disney Imagineering). This "second career" as one of Disneyland's art directors and show designers brought his dynamic film sets to an immersive, three-dimensional space. These designs, along with those of Mary Blair, themed the Carousel of Progress, Ford Magic Skyway and it's a small world at the 1964 World's Fair as well as WDI's future installations. Coats would go on to serve as the designer for Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Snow White's Scary Adventures, Pirates of the Caribbean, World of Motion and Horizons. Until his retirement in November 1989, Coats would go on to do major designs at every extant Disney theme park, including the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris.
In 1991, he was awarded the Disney Legend award. He died on January 9, 1992 in Burbank, California.
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
- Pinocchio (1940)
- Fantasia (1940)
- Dumbo (1941)
- Saludos Amigos (1942)
- Victory Through Air Power (1943)
- The Three Caballeros (1944)
- Make Mine Music (1946)
- Song of the South (1946)
- Fun & Fancy Free (1947)
- Melody Time (1948)
- The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
- Cinderella (1950)
- Alice in Wonderland (1951)
- Peter Pan (1953)
- Lady and the Tramp (1955)
Walt Disney Imagineering
- Mr. Toad's Wild Ride (1955)
- Rainbow Caverns Mine Train (1956)
- Alice in Wonderland (1958)
- Grand Canyon Diorama (1958)
- Submarine Voyage (1959)
- Ford Magic Skyway (1964)
- Carousel of Progress (1964)
- it's a small world (1964)
- Pirates of the Caribbean (1967)
- Adventure Thru Inner Space (1967)
- Haunted Mansion (1969)
- Snow White's Scary Adventures (1971)
- Mickey Mouse Revue (1971)
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage (1971)
- If You Had Wings (1972)
- Universe of Energy (1982)
- World of Motion (1982)
- Horizons (1983)
- Anderson, Paul F., “New York World’s Fair,” PERSISTENCE OF VISION, Issue #6/#7, 1995.
- Ghez, Didier, ed., WALT’S PEOPLE, Vol. 6, 2008.
- Horan, Jay. WDI Key Employee Interviews. 1982.
- Janzen, Jack and Leon, “Disney Show Designer Claude Coats,” The “E” Ticket, No. 31, Spring 1999.
- Kurtti, Jeff. Walt Disney’s Legends of Imagineering and the Genesis of the Disney Theme Park. Disney Editions, 2008.
- Maltin, Leonard. The Disney Films. Crown Pub., 1973.
- McClelland, Gordon. The California Style: California Watercolor Artists 1925-1955. Hillcrest Press, 1985.