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Bill Justice, 1914-2011

Bill Justice in his animation years (Photo via Cartoon Brew)

The sad news arrived today that Disney animator, artist and Imagineer Bill Justice passed away this morning only a day after his 97th birthday. During a remarkable 47-year career at the company, Justice contributed to the animated features of Disney’s golden era as well as the later theme park triumphs of WED Enterprises.

Born February 9th, 1914, in Dayton, Ohio, Justice grew up in Indiana and studied art there before moving west in 1935 and signing on as an animator at Disney in 1937. He worked on a number of the classic animated features (contributing the character of Thumper to Bambi) as well as famously creating Donald’s arch-nemeses, the mischievous chipmunks Chip and Dale. Later, with fellow artists X. Atencio and T. Hee, Justice began to experiment with stop-motion animation using both cut paper and found objects; this technique was used in a number of shorts such as Noah’s Ark (1959) and A Symposium on Popular Song (1962) as well as in many well-loved feature film title sequences of the period. Here’s one from 1961′s The Parent Trap:

And here’s one of his animated segments from A Symposium on Popular Song:

Justice even appeared as himself in a 1961 episode of the Disneyland television show entitled The Title Makers, which showed how he, T. Hee, and Atencio created these sequences.

Like many of his peers at Disney during this era, Justice was a renaissance man who wound up working in many different media. In 1965, Walt moved Justice to WED Enterprises and made him an Imagineer, where his skills as an animator served him well as a programmer of Audio-Animatronic figures. Justice programmed figures for the big-name attractions of the time, including Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. For Walt Disney World he would program the vast robotic casts of The Hall of Presidents and The Mickey Mouse Revue.

Wathel Rogers and Bill Justice programming the Country Bear Jamboree, 1969

Justice also designed this logo for Disney's ACES motion-control camera system

But like any good renaissance man, Justice was always busy working on a number of small projects that used his talents to plus every corner of the Disney empire. Perhaps best-known to Walt Disney World history buffs is his character mural that decorated the pre-show area for 1973′s The Walt Disney Story in the Magic Kingdom. Containing more than 170 characters from all of the Disney features and many of the most popular shorts, the mural took four months to complete.

The tradition, for several years, was for new characters to be added to the mural after each new Disney animated feature was released, but this practice was discontinued some time in the mid-1980s. Sadly, the mural has been little-seen since the Walt Disney Story closed in 1992 and the preshow area became increasingly disused, with only a brief revival as exhibit space for Walt Disney World’s 25th anniversary in 1996. When the attached building became the Main Street Exposition Hall a few years later, Justice’s character mural was placed off limits and concealed behind a curtain. The area is currently being extensively remodeled to accommodate a Mickey and Minnie meet-and-greet, and many fans worry that the mural will not survive the changes.

But Justice’s contributions extended down to even the most small-scale project. Take, for instance, the Magic Kingdom’s Baby Station, for which Justice painted a mural after the facility’s refurbishment in 1976.

Justice paints Dalmatians for the Baby Station in 1976

The Baby Station had opened from an extensive rehab in January of 1976, and Justice visited from California that March to paint a decorative mural for the area. Said Eyes & Ears, reporting on Justice’s visit:

Bill started off by painting Goofy and Donald ‘painting’ a sign at the entrance to the station, saying ‘Welcome to Babyland’, with some Dalmatian puppies playfully looking on. And of course, several of the puppies stumble into the buckets of paint and off they go romping around the Station walls, leaving hundreds of small footprints and meeting many of their favorite Disney characters.

A count of the mural components shows there are 74 Dalmatians with 1,268 spots on their backs leaving 186 footprints and meeting 34 other Disney characters. That’s quite a mural!

The Ladies Man? Justice with Babyland hostesses Helen Schley and Jean Cullity.

Eyes & Ears spent some time asking Justice about his life and career, and we’ll post this as a tribute.

Justice, who hails from Indiana, answered a Disney ad for animators back in 1937, and began his long career with our company. But he was not new to the field of art, his schooling included art lessons four hours a day for four years through high school, then on to a professional art school.

When Bill joined Walt Disney Productions, he was put to work on our company’s first full-length animated feature film, “Snow White.” He moved up to become one of our key animators and worked on such Disney classics and “Fantasia,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Bambi,” “Peter Pan,” “Babes in Toyland,” and “Mary Poppins.”

Bill told us one story we found interesting … of how he had created two new Disney characters some years back, Chip and Dale, and was later asked by a friend to speed up a record at a party as a joke. When he sped up the platter, the highpitched chatter that came out was just what he had been looking for to be his two new characters’ voices … so Chip and Dale became speaking characters.

Along came television and Bill moved to directing animation and cartoons for the “Mickey Mouse Club.”

Around 1968, Bill left the Studio for WED, where he became involved in a new art form … Audio-Animatronics. He put his animation talents to work on a computer programming machine, as he say behind the console and brought mechanical characters to life with natural movements. He worked on attractions including Hall of Presidents, Haunted Mansion and Peter Pan.

Today, Bill is still with WED as both an animator and designer. And if you visit his mural, you’ll see that his talent of bringing Disney characters to life is more evident than ever!

Justice paints the Baby Station mural with help from a few friends

Justice was a true Disney legend, and our thoughts go out to his family today.

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