Man, what a punch in the gut. Corny was one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. As an 18 year old kid I learned so much from himâ€¦the basics of timing, which end was up on an animation disc, how pans worked. I learned how a seasoned professional can pay reverence to another seasoned professional by watching him interact. I also learned that it’s OK to take the wind out of the sails of a cocky professional through Corny’s playful outlook on the world. I learned that it’s OK to draw with a pencil taped to a stick using your left hand. I learned that sometimes art can be about someone you love by watching how Corny would invest years in ballpoint pen drawings on frosted cells to pay tribute to his late wife. I learned that even if my drawings sucked, Corny still thought I was great and had potential. I learned that a studio can sometimes be nothing more than a place to work: it’s about the people.
Rest in peace, Corny, you’ve earned it.
It’s not just younger artists expressing admiration either. Bob Inman first met Corny over fifty years ago:
Good bye dear friend. You have had a huge influence on my life. I met you when we were both students at Chouinard School of Art in the 50’s.
One day you called me and said “Get over here there is an opening in the background dept at UPA.” I got the job thanks to you and it changed my life. I was working at the place in a boring technical art dept & very frustrated. Thanks to you Corny, I spent next 17 years working in animation as a key background painter. Then I had the courage to devote myself full time to fine art painting.
Yes, Corny, old friend, you were the big reason I became the artist I am today. Thank you for being you.
Dan Haskett perhaps put it most succinctly:
Corny spent a lifetime smashing holes in the boundaries of Hollywood animation. He did this with a devastating talent, a good heart, and a devilish wit. No more pain, Corny. Just loving memories. God Bless.
Cole’s death has also spurred some wonderful tributes. Legendary director Bob Kurtz posted Corny’s animation reel:
Also, historian Michael Barrier posted a fantastic interview that he conducted with Corny Cole in 1991. It’s packed with fresh insights about the early years of Corny’s animation career, and especially about working at Warner Bros. For example, I never knew Corny was Abe Levitow’s inspiration for the animation of Daffy Duck in Robin Hood Daffy. In the interview, Corny also offered the following thought about how he felt he differed from his boss Chuck Jones:
[Chuck Jones] was so much into reading, and my artwork was based on what was actually out in the street. I was drawing people on the street, going down to Skid Row and drawing; my idea of art was to draw what was out there, and his idea was that you had to be well-read. I used to have to drive him home, because I was living in Manhattan Beach at the time; he would go visit his mother on Thursdays and Fridays, and stay with his mother down there. So I would drive him home, down to Manhattan Beach, and he would give me a long lecture about reading, that I had to read. I’d argue with him; I’d say, “The art world is out there in the street.” We had arguments on this. Of course, I didn’t read that much, and he didn’t go out and draw from life that much. He was living in this fantasy; he was like Ralph Phillips.
The image at the top of this post shows Corny (at far left) surfing at Malibu in the late-1950s. The photo is from Tom McBride’s website about vintage SoCal surfing.