Victor Haboush (1924-2009)

Vic Haboush

Victor Haboush passed away on May 24, 2009 at age 85. A first-generation American of Lebanese descent, he was born on April 16, 1924 and grew up in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Vic Haboush
At home with his family. Vic is third from the right.

During World War II, he took part in the D-Day landings at Normandy as a member of the Coast Guard, and later served in the Pacific theater. (His brother was mortally wounded at Leyte.) Following the War, he attended Art Center College of Design on the G.I. Bill where he studied extensively with Lorser Feitelson.

Vic Haboush
Figure drawing from art school.

On the recommendation of his Art Center classmate Eyvind Earle, he was hired at Disney in 1952 to help finish layout on Peter Pan. His first association with Disney came earlier, when he helped Earle draw this Golden Book adaptation of Peter Pan. He built up an impressive list of credits at the studio including assistant art direction on Melody and Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom, and layout on Lady and the Tramp, Sleeping Beauty and 101 Dalmatians.

Vic Haboush
(l. to r.) Victor Haboush, Tony Rizzo, Walt Peregoy and Tom Oreb at Disney in 1958

Vic was one of Tom Oreb’s closest colleagues during the 1950s and they worked together as a team, especially in Disney’s TV commercial unit. The characters in this Cheerios ad were styled by Oreb with background layout by Vic:

He described to me in 2000 his relationship with Oreb:

“Eyvind [Earle] and I were the two hot new guys, and we developed a lot of people not liking us. We’d work on the weekends, we’d throw storyboards up…a lot of the old guys just absolutely turned on us. It was really kind of brutal in a way. But guys like Tommy [Oreb], Ward Kimball, Bill Peet, Don DaGradi, they didn’t have that closed kind of thing. Tommy really married Eyvind and I. He became our friend. He looked after us. He talked us up. So the three of us became really good friends. We started hanging out together and all of that. Eyvind was kind of like Tom’s equal. They were both in the same age range. And I was the young kid. I was probably nine nor ten years younger than both of them. I just became Tom’s protege. I idolized him.”

Vic Haboush
Concept art by Haboush for an unproduced industrial film. Click for larger version.

When Oreb left Disney to work at John Sutherland Productions, Vic followed, and they worked together on films like Destination Earth and The Littlest Giant. They both soon returned to Disney to finish Sleeping Beauty, where Vic played a key role in designing the “Thorn Forest” sequence. In an interview, he spoke about his work on the sequence:

“I saw these awful drawings of the Thorn Forest, these big huge thorns, and it was a big mess. Basil Davidovich told me, ‘Vic, Woolie [Reitherman] doesn’t want anybody working on it anymore.’ But I went ahead anyways and spent the next three weeks working on this sequence. Everybody’s kind of laughing because they know that Woolie’s going to be pissed off when he sees that I’ve wasted all that time on it. The problem is that when you draw a vine, it gets smaller as it’s coming towards you, and that destroyed perspective. I worked it out where the vine overlapped itself so as it came towards you, it would be coming in front of itself and that created the depth. So I see Woolie one day and I say, ‘Woolie, I’ve solved the thorn forest,’ and he says surprised, ‘What! We should be finished with that.’ I take the work to show him in his office and he looked at them and pushed them aside. I thought ‘Oh no, here it comes,’ and he says, ‘Haboush, these are wonderful. From now on you’re the thorn forest guy.’ For the next three months, all I did was draw those stupid thorns. Bill Peet would come in and say, ‘Vic, nickel a thorn, charge a nickel a thorn, don’t ask for a raise, just get a nickel a thorn.’”

Vic Haboush
Concept art from Disney’s How to Have an Accident in the Home. Click for larger version.

Vic worked at numerous other animation studios besides Disney, including Quartet Films, early seasons of The Flintstones and The Jetsons at Hanna-Barbera, and The Incredible Mr. Limpet at Warner Bros. He was the art director of UPA’s second feature Gay Purr-ee as well as the Mr. Magoo and Dick Tracy TV series.

Vic Haboush
Concept art by Haboush from Gay Purr-ee. Click for larger version.

He told me that one of the most embarrassing moments in his career was during a short film screening at the Academy. UPA owner Henry Saperstein had submitted one of the Dick Tracy episodes for Oscar consideration, and when Vic’s name appeared onscreen as art director, he shrunk low into his seat. Working on the inferior UPA TV shows made him realize the direction the animation industry was headed and he resolved to set out on his own. In the early-1960s, he launched a studio, Spungbuggy Works, in partnership with animator Herb Stott and storyman/designer/all-around creative dynamo John Dunn. It was at this studio that he worked with Dunn to develop numerous feature and TV concepts, many of which would be later produced by Friz Freleng, who lured Dunn to his studio DePatie-Freleng.

In the mid-1960s, Vic left animation and shifted into live-action. He started his own studio, Victor Haboush & Associates, which later became The Haboush Company. Over the next thirty years, he directed and photographed over 1,500 commecials, winning numerous Cannes Gold and Silver Lions, Clios and IBAs. His campaigns included the Kibbles N’ Bits “The Hook” campaign, numerous commercials featuring Ronald McDonald for McDonald’s, the Taco Bell “Crashing Bell” series, the Hefty Bag series with Jonathan Winters, early Keebler Cookies spots, and the Schlitz Malt Liquor “Bull” campaign.

Vic Haboush
Vic on commercial sets

One of his former producers Paul Babb said, “Vic was one of the go-to guys in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s for commercials…He was no businessman but he was an incredible artist–and not just as a director. Try putting a pencil or a paintbrush in his hand, sit back and wait for something remarkable.” Vic might have agreed with the sentiment that he wasn’t an expert businessman. He knew how to sell an idea and he knew how to execute, but he was more interested in achieving a quality result than heeding the bottom line. He often told me that his studio wouldn’t have lasted had it not been for his brother, who served as his producer for many years. Jon Derovan, who was Vic’s producer during the final decade of his career, told Shoot magazine, “Victor allowed me to be a creative producer. He brought me into the creative process beyond the nuts and bolts of the business….He was generous. He was open to good ideas no matter where they came from–and he was quick to credit the person who came up with the idea. He would never take credit for an idea that wasn’t his.”

Even while he ran the studio, he remained connected to animation and art. He employed many animators over the years including John Kimball, Robert Swarthe, Dale Case, and the unheralded Robert Mitchell. Through his company, Vic produced three shorts directed by Mitchell–K-9000: A Space Oddity (1968), the Oscar-nominated The Further Adventures of Uncle Sam (1970), and Free (1972). His company also produced another art film, Paint (1968) directed by Norm Gollin and starring LA airbrush pioneer Charlie White:

I first met Vic around the year 2000 while I was researching the life of Tom Oreb. By this time, Vic had retired from filmmaking and was painting full-time. We hit it off and formed a friendship that endured until his death.

Vic’s attitude towards life was different from the majority of older people I’ve encountered. He was young at heart, with an insatiable curiosity about the world around him and a flexible thought process. His opinions about different artists evolved over time, much like his distinctive painting process, which often involved reworking an image dozens of times until he was satisfied. He refused to live in the past. Whenever we would get together, he couldn’t wait to discuss people he’d recently met, a new place he had visited, or a new book he’d read. He was as enthusiastic about younger artists as he was appreciative of veteran artistic colleagues. When he returned to animation one final time as a development artist on The Iron Giant, he became enamored with artists like Mark Whiting and Teddy Newton, the latter whose work he felt was some of the freshest he’d seen in a long time.

Vic Haboush
Vic drawn by Teddy Newton

To fully appreciate Vic, you had to know him in person. Charismatic and energetic even in later years, his social skills were second to none. Not only could he strike up a conversation with a random stranger, but he could also get their contact info and perhaps form a long-term friendship–and remarkably, he could do all of this inbetween sips of his morning coffee. He was Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of the “connector” personified.

Vic Haboush
Iron Giant development art by Vic Haboush

I always considered him more of a pal than a teacher, but looking back on the time we spent together, he was one of the most influential mentors I ever had. His enthusiasm for art was contagious and instilled in me an appreciation for the same, from Lundeberg to Diebenkorn to Vlaminck to Pascin. Vic didn’t always have the easiest time imparting his wisdom. He once spent an entire morning trying to explain to me why Cézanne’s work was such a remarkable accomplishment. I was too dense at the time to grasp what he was saying, but it eventually sunk in.

He was one of the earliest supporters of my writing, and we spent months developing a story book together, which gave me the opportunity to see how skilled he was handling story and character. He prodded me for years to pursue writing seriously, and that too eventually sunk in. I remember during one visit I had brought my camera along and he asked me to take a photograph of him. The results were less than spectacular. The director in him emerged, and I received a firsthand taste of what he must have been like to work with on a live-action set. With the assured confidence of a master cinematographer, he directed me where to stand and where to point the camera, and he set himself up properly in the natural light. Within seconds, we had a fine portrait.

Thank you, Vic. For being a mentor, an inspiration, and a friend. It was an honor knowing you.

He is survived by his wife Monica, three children–Auguste, Cedric and Laila–and six grandchildren.

Vic Haboush
Vic and I in 2008


  • JASON

    Amid,
    I am diminished by your loss, but happy you had the time with your friend and Mentor that you did.
    What a lovely tribute.

  • Matt Jones

    Touching tribute to a damn fine artist Amid-you were lucky to get to know & learn from Vic.

  • http://ryanmcculloch.com Ryan McCulloch

    Amid,

    Thankyou for honoring such a great guy and amazing artist. I had the pleasure of meeting Victor a handful of times when I was an art student of his son’s, Auguste Haboush (who also followed in his father’s footsteps for a while, working on such animated projects as Secret Of Nihm and TMNT).

    By this time Auguste was teaching figure drawing and anatomy at the Academy Of Art University and whenever he was going to have his dad come in and share his work with the class, Auguste would get really excited, and really build it up for all us students. Then he would let us spend the entire 6 hour class talking with his dad, looking through his original artworks and draw from the models together. It was a great time and we all learned a lot from Victor who had great wisdom to share.

    Both Haboushs were sweet, talented men who had a gift of sharing their talent with others.

    My Prayers go to his family, as I’m sure they miss him dearly. Thanks for the sweet write up, Amid.

  • http://www.onanimation.com Daniel Caylor

    Very nice post, Amid. I very much enjoyed it due to your personal touch. I especially loved reaching about his relationships with contemporary animation artists. I’d like to hear what others have to say about the man.

  • http://tomboycomics.blogspot.com Emily

    Very touching tribute, Amid.

  • Dave G

    Vic had a great eye for young talent. Mark Whiting became a terrific painter/designer who went on to make the fine horror/comedy short “Apple Jack” and is now working in live action, the way Vic did.

  • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3125612 Edward R. Cox

    Amid, wow!
    I thank you for sharing what must have been a heartwrenching tribute to write and share about Vic! What a talent and so diverse, while showing the humanity so necessary to have in one’s art and in one’s life! His career is to be cherished and learnt from! Thank you for sharing this touchingly bittersweet loss and remembrance with us all!

  • Greg Ehrbar

    I’ve always found it interesting that Spungbuggy Works is listed as “Technical Consultant” in the credits for “Bedknobs and Broomsticks.” Back in the 70′s my Dad and I thought it was just another artist at Disney with an unusual name, like Ub Iwerks and Erdman Penner.

  • http://willfinn.blogspot.com/ Will

    Thanks for this tribute Amid, I was sad to hear of his death back in May and though I did not know him, my condolences go out to his son Auguste, who I worked with long ago in animation and has since become an art teacher, like his dad. What a career. What an artist. What a life!

  • greg manwaring

    What a wonderful tribute!

    I had the good fortune of getting to know Vic on Iron Giant. He was everything you described Amid! He was the most youthful man in his 70′s that I had ever met – with a huge spring in his step!

    He once brought Bill Peet in to meet us all, and I was never more proud than to stand beside Bill and Vic, both fellow Hoosiers!

    Vic was one of a kind!

  • Tom Heres

    What an amazing guy! And what a long and storied career. Thanks for this remarkable post. Wonderful.

  • http://MrFunsBlog Floyd Norman

    For this young kid, it was an honor to work with guys like Vic Haboush, Walt Pergoy, Tony Rizzo, Tom Oreb and Eyvind Earle back in the fifties.

    What a powerhouse of creativity and art the Walt Disney Studio possessed in those days.

  • Ethan

    Thanks for sharing this great tribute Amid. I’m sorry for your loss.

  • Per Larsson

    Thank you Amid for a very interesting read. I hadn’t heard anything about Mr. Victor Haboush before reading this sweet tribute tonight. He was involved in many projects that I hold in very high esteem, and seems to have been a really nice guy as well.

  • http://www.vujade-ent.blogspot.com Steve Schnier

    Amid,
    An exceptional tribute to an exceptional artist.
    Bravo to both of you and my condolences to you and Victor’s family on their/your loss.

  • Jenny Lerew

    What an incredible artist and, apparently, human being. I really wish I’d met him. Our loss as a community as well as his family’s. Thanks for letting the animation world know about his passing, and for writing such a beautiful tribute.

    And that “Iron Giant” painting…that’s just something else again. Done at what age? Zero attrition of skill. That’s something to keep working for…to remember one can’t–or rather shouldn’t–ever quit or leave off one’s art(even though only a small fraction of us will be in his league). A low bow for Mr. Haboush.

  • bob kurtz

    amid.a very touching tribute to our dear sweet friend victor. also, you spoke well at victor’s memorial. amid,you know this, that he thought very highly of you. victor had a great eye for young talent. as to me, i am going to miss so much making victor laugh. he was a beautiful soul.

  • http://www.rauchbrothers.com Tim Rauch

    Thanks for sharing, Amid, very interesting to know more about him.

  • http://web.mac.com/danel4 Dane L. Love

    In 1942, Victor and I enrolled at the Herron School of Art here in Indianapolis. Vic was a native of Indianapolis and I was born in Marion,
    Indiana. At that time, we were both 18 years old. I remember him as fun loving young man and am sorry to say that before we got to know one another well, He joined the Coast Guard and soon after that I was in the Army with Merrill’s Marauders in Burma.

    We met again about 10 years ago when my wife and I were on our way to San Francisco to visit our daughter. We stopped in for a short visit with Victor at his home. I was very impressed with his art and how far he had gone in our chosen field. His enthusiasm for his work and life had not diminished since the last time I saw him at age 18. I regret that I never got to know him better.

    I have been an Artist, an Art Director and an Illustrator all my life and
    now at age 85, I am producing art on my Mac and enjoying it more every day. Art is a wonderful profession, it lasts a life-time. I met my wife Jean at art school our work has kept our relationship very strong.

  • http://www.fpsmagazine.com Tamu

    Dear Amid,

    Thank you for casting more light on this most important member of the animation community.

    My condolences to his family, and I am very sorry for your personal loss.

  • Laila Ireland

    Thank you so much for this warm and wonderful article about my Dad I miss him so much.

    • Brad Curry

      I was honored to have Victor Haboush as my Uncle. Your Dad you know introduced my mother Mable Haboush, to Her futuer Husband to take the last name of Curry. I visited Victor with my mom, and my wife afew months before he passed away, He was sharp as ever! I love Victor still and miss him just as much as ever, as I do my dad (Kendall R Curry) who passed from Alzheimers June of 08! I celebrate and reflect on all the great times with Victor! I am sorry for your loss. AS I know you’d pass on your blessing for mine!

  • http://www.gavinscartoons.com Gavin Freitas

    I am really sad to hear this. What a great artist he was. I wish those guys could make a deal with the man up stairs and live forever. But their art always lives on. Thanks for the post and sorry again about the loss…

  • http://www.onanimation.com Dan Caylor

    Oh…and I’m sure he’d be proud you wrote so well about him too. :)

  • http://www.animaboutique.fi Eliza Jappinen

    I’m so sorry. My deepest condolences to you and his family.

  • http://www.tomsito.com Tom Sito

    Amid, that was a lovely tribute to a dear man. Interestingly enough, Victor told me he is in one of the few surviving photographs that famed War Photographer Robert Capa took on Omaha Beach on D-Day.
    I miss Victor, he was a lot of fun.

  • amid

    Tom, You’re right. Vic had this Capa photo from Life framed on his wall:

    Vic Haboush

    I’m fairly certain that Vic’s the soldier that I’ve highlighted with the arrow. If I recall correctly, the photo shows them trying to stop the bleeding of a fellow soldier, shown lying on the ground, whose lower half had been blown off. That soldier died shortly after the photo was taken.

    • williamFrake

      Victor is the person the arrow is pointed at… We spoke about this photo..There was actually another photo taken a few seconds after this one!! which is in the “Robert Capa” book.compare them…. Robert Capa was pulled aboard Victors LCI boat during which he lost all his cameras from the beach… the only camera left was this one. These photos were taken during the first waves on D-day at Omaha beach. Robert Capa had his photos sent to Ap and the young developer over heated them….in his excitement of them being the first photos of the invasion..destroying them all but 13 . Victor was in two of them….
      Victor never knew for 60 years there were two photos they looked very close…we found the comparison by accident… The book victor said wasn’t the true story..He told me the total event. Kevin O’brian mentions more detail..in this blog…Thanks kevin I miss victor also…..Bill

  • Kevin O’Brien

    I consider myself privileged to have known and to have worked with Victor on Iron Giant. I really enjoyed him and loved his work and enthusiasm. Being a history buff, I was fascinated by his first hand account of being in the second wave at Omaha beach. He said his LCI (landing craft) hit the shore while there was still a lot of shooting going on. A soldier ran towards their boat, and Victor’s skipper raised a Thompson submachine gun at the guy, which was an accepted procedure. Soldiers were only supposed to move in one direction, inland. The soldier stopped, turned and frantically pointed to his shoulder patch, identifying him as a correspondent. He was let on the boat, and almost immediately Victor’s skipper was hit by something large, a shell fragment, or something. Victor was first to give the man first aid, and Capa reloaded his camera and took pictures. The incident is told from Capa’s POV here:

    http://www.skylighters.org/photos/robertcapa.html

    Capa went in with the first wave at Omaha and miraculously survived to shoot three rolls and 106 images, the only photographic record of that event. Only 11 survived, because a hurried and nervous lab technician ruined the majority of them. It’s a somewhat famous story in the history of photography, and I always loved that Victor was able to give his POV of the event. Ironically, the lab technician, Larry Burrows, went on to become a noted Vietnam War photographer, and was killed there, as was Capa.

    I offer this story, told to the best of my recollection, because it has always fascinated me and as a reminder to seek out the great ‘Elder Statesmen’ and women, of our business -or anywhere. You can learn a lot from their life stories and choices, and sometimes be humbled, especially when many of us have had much easier lives.

  • http://matthunterross.blogspot.com Matt

    exceptional post, amid!

    what an incredible life – thanks for sharing his story.

  • Hunter

    Amid, thank you so much for this warm and personal write up. His youthful spirit in both creativity and friendship really shines through. It’s wonderful that a man of such talent could appreciate and learn from artists so much younger than him, while still giving back his knowledge to the world. Such a humble, vivacious, talented person is indeed a rare find. My condolences to you and to Vic’s family; may his spirit live on in his art and in those he mentored and collaborated with throughout his long and fruitful life.

  • Brad Bird

    Vic was an amazing guy, perpetually interested in a lot of things, always pushing for his ideas with the passion, humor and persistence of a newbie even though he’d seen and done it all.

    He loved returning to the medium of feature animation on a scruffy, renegade project like IRON GIANT, and being surrounded with the messy passion of young lunatics finally getting a chance to run the asylum… an attitude he had a lifelong affinity for.

    IRON GIANT opened ten years ago today, and it’s only fitting to remember one of the people that made its production a special experience.

    Here’s to you, Vic.

  • Mollye Ireland

    Thank you so much for this article about my grandpa, it really means a lot.

  • Sylvain

    Amid, an exceptional tribute for an exceptional man. I did not know Vic, but what an incredibly fulfilled life ! It was very humbling to read it.
    My sincere condolences to you, Vic’s family and his close friends.

  • Summer Lovell

    This was an amazing tribute to a great artist. I really enjoyed reading about Victors life. My condolences to you and his family.

  • Gregg Haboush

    Thank you Amid,
    You’ve wrote a wonderful tribute to Victor. Victor and my father were first cousins. Victor and Monica frequently returned to Indiana for visits with the family. Victor was a sweet, sensitive and warm man who was very much loved and respected by his Indiana cousins. All of his Hoosier cousins will miss him terribly.

    Our deepest condolences go out to Monica, Auguste, Cedric, Laila and their families.

  • Jo Ann Barnett

    My dad is in the photo with Vic. He is in the upper left hand side. He is standing up and looking down. You can see his face. My mom has the Life article. I have been searching for this photo and so glad to have found it. My dad died in 1994 of cancer.

  • V.E.G.

    Isa al-Masih (Jesus Christ) bless Victor and his family.

  • http://www.bazleyfilms.com Richard Bazley

    Word has just gotten to me across the Atlantic. Victor was a dear friend and in the last ten years everytime I went back across the Pond I would try and make a point of seeing him. We would hang out on the patio of his studio and talk art and talk and talk and I loved it. One time I took my young son. another time a friend and everytime I felt inspired, energized and wanted to paint again. Painting was his passion and my God could he paint! I have two prints of semi-abstract paintings up in my lounge at home and forever they will stay. He has left a legacy and for me was a link to the great past of great artists and great artistry and I will so miss you Victor. Bless you, you will never be forgotten.

  • Monica

    Amid, Victor would have been touched and honored by your beautiful tribute. Both of you were as passionate about learning as you were enthusiastic about sharing your knowledge. Victor wasn’t threatened by new ideas and by new talent. He encouraged younger creative people who he worked with, as well as others who shared their dreams and their challenges with him. Victor was proud of your accomplishments educating people about animation, writing books and articles, speaking, archiving information about animators, making a niche for yourself where one didn’t exist. He considered you a peer, a very special friend, someone whose visit always meant lively conversation and news about was happening in the business. Thank you for sharing your life with Victor and for allowing him to do the same with you.

  • auguste

    Hello Amid in fact my dad is the one behind the medic with his hand out stretched. I remember my father sharing this with me the first time when I was a teenager and how proud I was to be his son. even more now as I am sure you can imagine my best to you Amid for putting this together. Auguste Haboush

  • tony haboush

    vic was a great person and a very talented artist although i have never met him i believe we are related as he looks like my dad fred haboush yes spelled exactly the same and we are lebanese as well as him and another funny thing id my brother sam is a good artist as well my prayers goes out to hid family and if we are related we should talk so email me anyone from the vic family [email protected] thanks tony

  • http://www.barkinglips.blogspot.com Linda Franklin

    I worked for a company in NYC in the early 70s that made commercials. My greatest pleasure during those two years was watching — over and over and over and over — “The Further Adventures of Uncle Sam”, the wonderful animated short that Vic Haboush made in 1970. I can still sit on a log in the park with my dogs and kick my tennis shoes the way Uncle Sam did in that movie…and get laughs from doing so!!!
    I’m glad you became friends with him.
    (Selfishly, I hope you can point me toward some source of a dvd of that movie. I’ve been trying for two years!)

  • dn

    A lovely tribute to a real pleasure of a man. He shot several commercials for me, and some won Lions at Cannes. The last time we worked together he showed me his studio. What a revelation. I hadn’t known that side of him at all.

    I am a churl, a misanthrope and I approach most people with every expectation of being disappointed. But it was always like basking in sunlight to be in the presence of Victor Haboush.

    …Victor would laugh, he knew I didn’t care much for sunshine either. I can still hear his laugh…

  • http://twitter.com/ChriSobieniak Chris Sobieniak

    Looking back, it’s a shame I didn’t rent out “K-9000″ when I saw it was listed in my public library’s film catalog back in the 90′s. Missed out on a chance to see this classic.