What kind of books might an animation artist have kept on their bookshelf sixty years ago? They certainly wouldn’t have owned many animation books. In the 1950s, there was no Illusion of Life or Animator’s Survival Kit, and the entire number of books published about animation could be counted on one hand. Inspiration for the classic animation artist lay beyond the world of cartoons and animated film.
I was reminded of this when I found a photo of Jules Engel, a background painter who started at Disney prior to joining the Modernist studio United Productions of America (UPA). The shot below was taken at UPA circa 1954-’55. Engel later made his own independent shorts and created the CalArts Experimental Animation program, which he ran until his death in 2003.
After examining the image (and a similar photo taken from a slightly different angle), I was able to identify many of the books on Engel’s shelf. (Click HERE for a larger view of the image.) Engel’s books span the spectrum of visual arts from photography to painting to dance and theater. His collection confirms much of what we already know about the artists who worked at UPA, and their commitment to exploring the possibilities of the animation medium. Far from working in a vacuum, they were fully aware of the latest trends and ideas in the contemporary art world.