Friday, 13 May 2011

The Mysterious Jack...

What's occurred to me for quite a while and even longer is that fact about one Disney animator who seems to be very unknown in the Disney legacy. He's one animator that I've tried to research on and it's all been difficult. His style in animation is fairly recognizable, but the person isn't. The animator that I'm referring to is the mysterious Jack Campbell.

Why Jack in my head today? Well, he's an animator that's style somehow interests me - it's very unique from the other Disney animators. His animation is somewhat best known for "rotoscoping". A lot of his animation was heavily rotoscoped and he seems to be often cast as a "human animator". Although, not ALL his assignments were rotoscoped and human cast. He has had some animation that was squishy and cartoonie but he rarely does that type of animation.

Since the animator really interests me, but I hardly know anything about him. Even Disney animation historians know extremely little about the animator which I find very strange, even in a century like this. There isn't any birth records of him known, and only an estimated death date that I heard. I've even tried asking Joe Campana some information and he was surprised to find that there was very little found. However, I'm going to write as much as I know about Campbell and his animation assignments.

Since, I have no idea what date he was born in or family relatives. I can tell that as far as Campbell's arrival at the Disney Studios was sometime around 1934. He was actually named "John Campbell" as his birth record but always known as "Jack". I wasn't sure if his middle name had a "D" initial or "Charles", as told by Joe. He was originally Grim Natwick's assistant for the first Disney animated feature Snow White. According to Grim, Jack was unhappy on the position he was in and he wanted to animate. Since there were few animators who could draw the girl, Jack was later promoted to an fully-fledged animator and was working on Ham Luske's unit who was the Supervisor.

Jack's animation on the film had a very use of "rotoscoping" in his footage. Rotoscoping is a technique where he studied live-action from the characters and he studied the movements. A lot of scenes often feel "traced", here is an example of Jack's scenes. He did the early scenes of Snow White and the wishing well. A lot of the animation was heavily rotoscoped. Also some footage scenes of the Prince and Snow White walk back to the castle at the very end. Jack provided some animation of Snow White in the woods and various other scenes - as I will do in the upcoming mosaic. Grim Natwick has described Jack as a "rather astute person" in Michael Barrier's book The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney, when discussing about "rice dolling" and that it disturbed Walt and Jack came to work one day with big rubber dice with no sound.

Jack did a lot of important scenes on the heroine on Snow White along with Grim Natwick and Ham Luske. There is a lot of helpful information on the article by David Johnson, The Four Faces of Snow White. There is one known caricature of him that I have - although I don't know who did the drawing, but it gives an explanation of what Jack probably looked like.

Picture of the camera reluctant Jack Campbell. It's a pretty amusing caricature.

Campbell was also caricatured again on Ferdinand the Bull by Ward Kimball when he animated a scene of the predators walking into the arena - he caricatured himself, Ham Luske, Jack Campbell, Art Babbitt, Bill Tytla and Walt himself as the madator. Jack looked like the caricature himself as the predators which interests me - he seems to he tall and lanky.

Jack was working on shorts like Ferdinand the Bull, Mother Goose Goes Hollywood, The Riveter, etc. Those shorts that he worked on have his animation done in a broad way which you don't see Jack do often. Campbell did some animation of Pete in The Riveter of a squash and stretch scene with Pete rolling his stomach up and bounces to the ground saying "So a tough guy, eh?" That scene was demonstrated in The Illusion of Life.

One of his famous assignments was animating much of the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio - that also gives a real clue of his style in films. The Blue Fairy is a character that really feels like it was traced into live-action and done really well. The character was modelled by Art Babbitt's then-wife Marge Champion. Campbell must have studied the movement and traced some drawings onto animation paper. Jack later contributed to the Pastoral Symphony section in Fantasia animating that very long scene of the centaurettes bathing in the pond nude.

Campbell later contributed onto The Reluctant Dragon and was credited as animator and even including his signature and his signature is the same on Clair Week's goodbye booklet. Campbell was later cast on animating the roustabouts in Dumbo during the working song. Campbell does some excellent animation of the roustabouts and a real piece of his work, although we never see the faces of them. The animation seemed to have been controversial since they were black. I was actually considering taking a look at the roustabouts sometime.

After, Dumbo - it seems that Jack Campbell took part in the Disney animator's strike according on Alberto's page and was either laid off or joined the military. Campbell later returned to Disney to work on Make Mine Music, Song of the South, and Fun and Fancy Free. He seemed to have banished after Fun and Fancy Free probably doing some primary work at the Studios - he was available in 1952 for the Clair Weeks' goodbye booklet with his message saying "Happy landings, Clair - Jack Campbell". It's right here.

He later went on to do a bit of work in the 1950's, and one of his main ones was his last animation assignment on a feature in Lady and the Tramp. He animated the character Aunt Sarah around the middle of the picture. It surprised me when I heard that from Michael Barrier, because some Jim Dear and Darling scenes had some Campbell scenes that looked very familiar to me, and hearing that he did Aunt Sarah, who is more cartoonie and easier to draw. I wonder if he did other animation asides the Aunt.

He did some animation on TV for the Disneyland shows like The Plausible Impossible and working with Cliff Nordberg on Our Friend the Atom. Afterwards, he appeared to have worked on UPA from 1958 to 1959 on the Mr. Magoo feature 1001 Arabian Nights. After that, that's probably the last we hear about Campbell's career in animation.

Since then, I have no idea when or what happened in his final years. I was told an estimated death date - which was around May 1961. However, if it was proved - I checked on the California Death Records and the Social Security Index and no luck on digging into further sources - I'm afraid.

It's strange to find that he's contributed quite a bit at the Disney Studios and yet no-one really knows about him. Although, I suppose that the Social Security Index doesn't have everyone's social security number online - and his is probably not on there. Of course, maybe his birth certificate was destroyed because sometimes maybe in World War II hospitals were bombed and birth certificates were destroyed, but I wouldn't have any idea what was his death certificate. He seems to be a REAL mystery.

If anyone was any other additional info they could add - please notify me. I'd be very grateful and you'll be rewarded in the next life.

Happy Friday the 13th everyone.


Eric Noble said...

The roustabouts scene in Dumbo is a wonderful piece of animation. It caricatures the human body and they feel like they have weight. I believe Michael Sporn did a few posts on that scene on his blog.

Steven Hartley said...

Indeed. Although it was a shame that Campbell didn't have much footage to animate in Dumbo.

Anonymous said...

My Mother worked for Jack Campbell at Douglas Aircraft during WWII, in the art department. He created the Tokyo Kid caricature for the war effort. I have photos of him.
Earl M Pickett