Ub Iwerks

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Ub Iwerks
A publicity photograph (c. 1929) of Iwerks and his most famous co-creation, Mickey Mouse
Ubbe Ert Iwwerks

(1901-03-24)March 24, 1901
DiedJuly 7, 1971(1971-07-07) (aged 70)
Resting placeForest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery
OccupationAnimator, cartoonist, film producer, special effects technician
Years active1920–1971
EmployerWalt Disney Animation Studios (1923–1930, 1940–1965)
Leon Schlesinger Productions (1937) Columbia Pictures (1937–1940) Cartoon Films Limited (1940)
Notable work
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
Mickey Mouse
Mildred Sarah Henderson
(m. 1927⁠–⁠1971)
Children2, including Don Iwerks
RelativesLeslie Iwerks (granddaughter)

Ubbe Ert Iwwerks (March 24, 1901 – July 7, 1971), known as Ub Iwerks (/ˈʌb ˈwɜːrks/), was an American animator, cartoonist, character designer, inventor, 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.

Early life[edit]

Iwerks was born in Kansas City, Missouri. His father was born in the village of Uttum in East Frisia (northwest Germany, today part of the municipality of Krummhörn) and immigrated to the United States in 1869.[1] 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."[2] 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".[3]

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,[4] and eventually started their own commercial art business together.[5] Disney and Iwerks then found work as illustrators for the Kansas City Slide Newspaper Company[6] (which was later named The Kansas City Film Ad Company).[7] While working for the Kansas City Film Ad Company, Disney decided to take up work in animation,[8] and Iwerks soon joined him.

He was responsible for the distinctive style of the earliest Disney animated cartoons, and was also responsible for designing Mickey Mouse.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12] 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.[9] However, as Iwerks began to draw more and more cartoons on a daily basis, he chafed under Disney's dictatorial rule.[13] Iwerks also felt he wasn't getting the credit he deserved for drawing all of Disney's successful cartoons.[14] 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.[citation needed] Iwerks accepted a contract with Disney's former distributor, Pat Powers to leave Disney and start an animation studio under his own name. His last Mickey Mouse cartoon was The Cactus Kid.[15] (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.[9] The Flip and Willie cartoons were later distributed on the home-movie market[clarification needed] 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.[16] 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 (1963).

Iwerks' most famous work[citation needed] 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."[citation needed]


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[edit]

The Ub Iwerks Award for Technical Achievement, as part of the Annie Awards, 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.



Title Release Date Series Notes
Fiddlesticks August 16 Flip the Frog
  • First cartoon by Ub Iwerks
  • First Flip the Frog cartoon
  • Filmed in both two-strip Technicolor and B&W
Little Orphan Willie October 18 Flip the Frog
Flying Fists September 6 Flip the Frog Filmed in both two-strip Technicolor and B&W
The Village Barber September 27 Flip the Frog First non-woodland cartoon
The Cuckoo Murder Case October 18 Flip the Frog
  • First Halloween-themed cartoon
  • First time a curse word is heard. The telephone in the detective office says "damn!" when it fails to wake up Flip
Puddle Pranks December 6 Flip the Frog
  • Final woodland-themed cartoon
  • This and Little Orphan Willie were never copyrighted
  • Only appearance of Flip's frog girlfriend


Title Release Date Series Notes
The Village Smitty January 31 Flip the Frog First appearances of Flip's cat girlfriend and Orace
The Soup Song January 31 Flip the Frog Bandmaster Paul Whiteman is caricatured
Laughing Gas March 14 Flip the Frog Only appearance of the walrus
Ragtime Romeo May 2 Flip the Frog
  • First time Flip wears a hat
  • Second time a curse word is heard. Flip says "damn!" when he fails to get his music sheet to stand up
The New Car July 25 Flip the Frog
  • Starting with this cartoon, Flip's design slowly changes
  • Some plot elements in this cartoon are reused from a Disney Oswald cartoon, Trolley Troubles
Movie Mad August 29 Flip the Frog Caricatures include Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin
The Village Specialist September 12 Flip the Frog Only appearance of Mrs Pig
Jail Birds September 26 Flip the Frog First time Orace is Flip's horse
Africa Squeaks October 17 Flip the Frog No longer shown on American television due to offensive black stereotypes
Spooks September 21 Flip the Frog Second Halloween-themed cartoon


Title Release Date Series Notes
The Milkman February 20 Flip the Frog
  • First appearance of the orphan boy
  • The third time a curse word is heard. In the end, where Flip, the boy and Orace sing Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here, Orace sings "What the hell do we care?"
Fire! Fire! March 5 Flip the Frog Fourth time a curse word is heard. Orace says "damn!" when he loses a game of checkers against Flip
What a Life March 26 Flip the Frog First time Flip interacts with humans
Puppy Love April 30 Flip the Frog First appearance of Flip's dog
School Days May 14 Flip the Frog First appearance of the spinster
The Bully June 18 Flip the Frog Final appearance of the orphan boy
The Office Boy July 16 Flip the Frog
  • The secretary is a caricature of Joan Crawford
  • Contains inappropriate content
Room Runners August 13 Flip the Frog
  • Contains inappropriate content
  • Fifth time a curse word is heard. Flip says "damn!" after he falls down a flight of stairs
Stormy Seas August 22 Flip the Frog
  • Possibly a withheld 1931 release
  • Final appearance of Flip's cat girlfriend
Circus August 27 Flip the Frog Copyrighted on September 7, 1932
The Goal Rush October 3 Flip the Frog
  • In the beginning, there is a scene considered inappropriate where the bandmaster shoots the clarinet player just for playing wrong
  • First appearance of Flip's human girlfriend
The Phoney Express October 27 Flip the Frog First "official" appearance of Flip's human girlfriend. She bears a strong resemblance to Fleischer Studios's Betty Boop. The original title for the cartoon was called "The Pony Express", but later changed to "The Phoney Express" by Pat Powers
The Music Lesson October 29 Flip the Frog Only appearance of Flip's friends
The Nurse Maid November 26 Flip the Frog This cartoon has two racist scenes that you won't find on TV. There's an angry "Chinaman–Fu Man Chu" type with long fingernails trying to scratch the eyes out of Flip. Later, a cigar store Indian has several gags with runaway animals
Funny Face December 24 Flip the Frog In the public domain


Title Release Date Series Notes
Coo Coo, the Magician January 21 Flip the Frog Cameo of the spinster at the beginning
Flip's Lunchroom March 4 Flip the Frog Only Flip the Frog cartoon to have Flip's name in the title
Technocracked May 8 Flip the Frog Possibly filmed in two-strip Technicolor or cinecolor
Bulloney May 30 Flip the Frog Final time a curse word is heard. The bull says "damn!" after he's defeated by Flip
A Chinaman's Chance June 24 Flip the Frog
  • No longer shown on American television due to offensive Chinese stereotypes
  • Final appearance of Flip's dog
Paleface August 12 Flip the Frog Final appearances of Orace, Flip's girlfriend, and the spinster
The Air Race n/a Willie Whopper The First Willie Whopper cartoon, however it was never released, due to a plot hole. A remake, Spite Flight, was released
Play Ball September 16 Willie Whopper The First Official Willie Whopper cartoon
Soda Squirt October 12 Flip the Frog
Spite Flight October 14 Willie Whopper A remake of the unreleased Willie Whopper Cartoon, The Air Race
Stratos Fear November 11 Willie Whopper
Jack and the Beanstalk December 23 Comicolor First Comicolor cartoon.


Title Release Date Series Notes
Davy Jones Locker January 13 Willie Whopper The First of only two Willie Whopper cartoons to be filmed in Cinecolor
The Little Red Hen February 16 Comicolor
Hell's Fire February 17 Willie Whopper The only cartoon made by Ub Iwerks to have a curse word in the title. This is also the last of the only 2 Willie Whopper Cartoons filmed in Cinecolor
Robin Hood, Jr. March 10 Willie Whopper
The Brave Tin Soldier April 7 Comicolor
Insultin' the Sultan April 14 Willie Whopper
Puss in Boots May 17 Comicolor two other prints exist
Reducing Creme May 19 Willie Whopper
Rasslin' Round June 1 Willie Whopper Working title: Rasslin' Around
The Queen of Hearts June 25 Comicolor
Cave Man July 6 Willie Whopper Music composed by Bennie Moten and his orchestra
Jungle Jitters July 24 Willie Whopper No longer shown on American television due to offensive black stereotypes
Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp August 10 ComiColor
Good Scout September 1 Willie Whopper
  • Music composed by McKinney's Cotton Pickers
  • Stereotypes of ethnic (Chinese, Jewish, Black) boy scouts
Viva Willie September 20 Willie Whopper Final Willie Whopper cartoon. After this cartoon, the rest are Comicolor cartoons
The Headless Horseman October 1 Comicolor
The Valiant Tailor October 29 Comicolor
Don Quixote November 26 Comicolor Preserved by the Academy Film Archive in 1998[17]
Jack Frost December 24 Comicolor


All Comicolor shorts

Title Release Date Notes
Little Black Sambo February 6 No longer shown on American television due to offensive black stereotypes
Bremen Town Musicians March 6
Old Mother Hubbard April 3
Mary's Little Lamb May 1
Summertime June 15
Sinbad the Sailor July 30
The Three Bears August 30
Balloonland (aka The Pincushion Man) September 30 This is known as both Balloonland and The Pincushion Man
Simple Simon November 15
Humpty Dumpty December 30


All Comicolor shorts

Title Release Date Notes
Ali Baba January 30
Tom Thumb March 30
Dick Whittington's Cat May 30
Little Boy Blue (aka The Big Bad Wolf) July 30 This cartoon is variously known both as Little Boy Blue and The Big Bad Wolf.
Happy Days September 30 Last of the Comicolor cartoons, based on the comic strip Reg'lar Fellers. The last cartoon made prior to reorganizing the studio


  • Contract work to Leon Schlesinger Productions – two 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.[18] Three cartoons were made: "A Busy Day", "Beauty Shoppe" and "Baby Checkers".[19]
Title Release Date Notes
Skeleton Frolic January 29, 1937 Color Rhapsody
Baby Checkers 1940 (exact date unknown)
Beauty Shoppe 1940 (exact date unknown)
A Busy Day 1940 (exact date unknown) Last Iwerks directed cartoon prior returning to Disney

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ub Iwerks | American animator and special-effects technician | Britannica". www.britannica.com. Retrieved December 26, 2021.
  2. ^ Iwerks, Leslie; Kenworthy, John (April 23, 2001). The Hand Behind the Mouse. Disney Editions. ISBN 978-0-7868-5320-5.
  3. ^ For example in the opening credits of Little Black Sambo (1935).
  4. ^ Neal Gabler, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination (2006), p. 46.
  5. ^ Neal Gabler, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination (2006), pp. 47–50.
  6. ^ Neal Gabler, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination (2006), p. 50.
  7. ^ Neal Gabler, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination (2006), p. 56.
  8. ^ Neal Gabler, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination (2006), p. 58.
  9. ^ a b c Maltin, L. (1987). Of mice and magic: A history of American animated cartoons (Rev. ed.). New York: New American Library.
  10. ^ Neal Gabler, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination (2006), p. 109.
  11. ^ Kenworthy, John; The Hand Behind the Mouse, Disney Editions: New York, 2001. p. 53.
  12. ^ Kenworthy, John; The Hand Behind the Mouse, Disney Editions: New York, 2001. p. 54.
  13. ^ Neal Gabler, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination (2006), p. 143.
  14. ^ Neal Gabler, Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination (2006), p. 144.
  15. ^ Kaufman, J.B.; Gerstein, David (2018). Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse: The Ultimate History. Cologne: Taschen. p. 53. ISBN 978-3-8365-5284-4.
  16. ^ The Mouse Machine: Disney and Technology
  17. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
  18. ^ Stanchfield, Steve (March 20, 2014). ""Beauty Shoppe" (1940) with Gran' Pop Monkey". Cartoon Research. Retrieved June 10, 2020.
  19. ^ Lenburg, Jeff (1999). The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons. Checkmark Books. p. 88. ISBN 0-8160-3831-7. Retrieved June 6, 2020 – via Archive.org.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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)

External links[edit]