For the man who is credited for giving shape, movement, and personality to Mickey Mouse, Ub Iwerks became a pioneer in animation and helped launch one of the biggest industries in popular culture. In honor of the man who defined a generation of moviegoers and animation fans, the Ub Iwerks Award was created and given to individuals or companies for technical advancements that make a significant impact on the art or industry of animation.
Past recipients of this award include Dr. Ed Catmull for his breakthrough technologies at Pixar, Scott Johnston for his innovative work in Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Digital Domain, Inc. for their groundbreaking innovations in Titanic, and Eric Daniels for the development of the 'Deep Canvas' process for Walt Disney's Tarzan.
About Ub Iwerks
Ub Iwerks was born in Kansas City, Missouri on March 24, 1901 to Dutch immigrants, and was one of the pioneering animators who worked with Walt Disney.
Ub met Walt Disney in Kansas City in 1919, and partnered with him in his fledgling animation company, animating on the Laugh-O-Grams, Alice in Cartoonland and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit series. When Charles Mintz took over production of the Oswald cartoons, Disney called upon Iwerks to create a replacement for Oswald. Iwerks designed the most iconographic character in the history of animation, Mickey Mouse.
Along with his assistant, Les Clark, Iwerks animated the early Mickey cartoons at an incredible rate of speed. It is said that he animated the first one, Plane Crazy in just two weeks. A friendly long-distance rivalry developed between Ub and Bill Nolan in New York to see who could produce the most footage in a single week. Iwerks came out on top, animating more scenes in the first two years of the Mickey Mouse series than any of his peers. He was also responsible for a great deal of the animation in the Silly Symphony series, including Iwerks' greatest achievement as an animator, the ground breaking cartoon, Skeleton Dance.
Lured away by Disney's former distributor, Pat Powers, Iwerks dissolved his partnership with the Disney's and formed his own studio in 1930. He created a cartoon frog named Flip, and for the first year or so, animated and directed the many of the shorts single-handedly as he had done at Disney. However, he had already achieved the highest level of proficiency in animation while at Disney. The work held no new challenges for him, and his interest in the shorts began to wane. When Grim Natwick joined the studio in 1931, Iwerks gradually turned over the day-to-day direction of the cartoons to him, focusing on technical development in the shop behind the studio. Iwerks' tinkering resulted in the development of an early version of the multiplane camera.
Ub returned to Disney in 1940, not long after his studio folded, and remained there for the rest of his career, focusing on technical innovation. He developed techniques for optical compositing, animation xerography and film processing that revolutionized the animation business, just as his design of Mickey Mouse had done decades earlier.
In 1978, Iwerks was posthumously awarded ASIFA-Hollywood's highest honor, the Winsor McCay Award. The special award for Technical Achievement in his name was added to the Annies in 1999.