RIP, Art Stevens

Art Stevens

I was out of town when this news emerged a couple weeks ago but I wanted to make mention of the passing of Disney animator and director Art Stevens. Stevens passed away on May 22 at age 92. His career was notable in that he worked at a single studio—Disney—for nearly four-and-a-half decades. There’s a solid obit at O-Meon.com which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about him.

In the Disney hierarchy, Stevens was not considered one of the star animators, but he made many important contributions to the studio. He was one of Ward Kimball’s two primary animators (the other being Julius Svendsen) during all of Kimball’s experimental projects (Toot Whistle, Plunk and Boom, the space specials, It’s Tough To Be a Bird and Dad, Can I Borrow the Car, among others). Also, The Saga of Windwagon Smith was largely his and Svendsen’s project although directing credit went to Charles Nichols.

I had the opportunity to interview Stevens on a few occasions because of my research on John Dunn and Fifties animation, and he was one of the friendliest and most cordial people you could imagine. It always struck me as interesting that though Stevens worked at Disney his entire career, he was the farthest thing from your typical idea of a Disney animator. Looking at his sketchbooks, a lot of them filled with cats, he obviously enjoyed cartooning, caricature and design far more than the academic drawing we associate with a lot of the classic Disney artists. Stevens’s first gig as a full-fledged animator was on Peter Pan where he was assigned a lot of the marching sequences with the Lost Boys. But just as he had achieved the highest peak in the Disney animation department, he jumped ship and accepted an invitation to join Kimball’s unit where he could do more stylized and cartoonier animation, like the hilarious ‘popping strings’ section that he did in Toot Whistle. It’s pretty clear that he preferred fun and experimentation over the traditional Disney product.

On a sadder note, for the past few years, I’d been trying to get ASIFA-Hollywood to honor Stevens with a Winsor McCay Award for lifetime contributions to the art of animation. Stevens never received the recognition from ASIFA-Hollywood despite my multiple attempts. I’m not privy to the politics or Stevens’s history that denied him this recognition, but I think it’s nothing short of disgraceful for an animation organization to ignore somebody like Stevens. With nearly everybody else who is deserving of that award now dead, it bothered me greatly to see somebody as qualified as Stevens not receive it year after year. It’s too late now to do anything about it, but perhaps we can take solace in the knowledge that despite his passing, Stevens’s contributions to the art form will continue to live on for many years to come, and an ultimately useless award from an even more useless organization won’t do anything to change that fact.

Drawing by Art Stevens
A couple model sheets by Art Stevens for the short Scrooge McDuck and Money (1967). Click for larger versions.
Drawing by Art Stevens


  • Zeppo

    What possible politics could have been in play, I wonder? Regarding ART STEVENS?!

    You’re right, though; those awards ultimately are meaningless, but as the merest token of appreciation or acknowledgment of a long and important career it was deserved. What a shame.

  • http://www.autodaddy.blogspot.com tom

    I think it’s a disgrace when an organization won’t honor talented LIVING senior artists. Now it’s too late for it to mean anything to him. That’s a real kick in the teeth, in my opinion.

    It’s hard to fathom the reasoning behind a decision – or lazy lack of decision- like this.

  • http://potulentpalaver.blogspot.com/ Kent Butterworth

    Bob Clampett wasn’t given the award until after he died – this was after Chuck & Friz’s animators & BG painter.

    No doubt politics had something to do with that as well

  • http://segaltoons.com Steve Segal

    I’ve been a fan for years, I didn’t know he had not yet been honored. Was he passed over in favor of others equally deserving? Let us know who else you are championing. maybe a letter writing campaign would help.

    I tried unsuccessfully to have the first LA Animation Celebration pay tribute to Wilfred Jackson in 1986. But the festival director felt his anonymity wouldn’t bring a big enough crowd; the tribute went to Chuck Jones (who had been similarly honored many times before). Two years later Jackson was gone.

  • RR

    Bravo!

    I have always known ASIFA’s Annies to be political and useless (yep, they still sell their voting ballots, folks (ahem, I mean “memberships”)), but this sort of snub really hurts on a personal level.

  • Rick Farmiloe

    Nothing against ASIFA, but God only knows what criteria they judge those ‘worthy’ to recieve a Life Achievement Award. Apperently 50 years at Disney is no achievement or something. I worked with Art briefly when I started at Disney in 1982. He was a very soft spoken, polite guy who didn’t seem too interested in self-promotion or blind ambition. He was treated pretty poorly on his way out. Pretty sad…..but I hope animation fans realize that there SO many valuable contributions to Disney Animation that go beyond 9 guys! The important thing was he DID contribute some good, timeless work that will be remembered whether he gets a plaque and a dinner or not. RIP, Art. We appreciate your efforts!!

  • Brad Constantine

    Well Then..I’m not waiting anymore. I hereby nominate Amid and Jerry both for a “Gertie” right now for all they’ve done for animation, and for bringing us all of this important animation “goodness” every day for many moons now.

    Thanx for sharing about Art. His instruments popping in “toot” was a main reason I became an animator.. I still laugh out loud every single time. He will be missed.

  • http://www.LarryAnimation.com Larry Ruppel

    Art Stevens shares co-director credits on both “The Fox and the Hound” and “The Rescuers”. I’m not exactly sure of his role in these features, as he’s always listed third.

  • Fred Cline

    >”Stevens is survived by his wife of 68 years”

  • Christian

    He also worked on Song of the South and Three Caballeros. He animated Donald Duck in the scene where the girls at the beach are bouncing him up and down in the beach blanket. He said his favorite project at Disney was the Space series with Ward.

  • Dan Jeup

    Wow! His character designs are great. Not everyone can make a ‘funny’ drawing. Art’s gift of caricature project instant humor to the viewer. I love how they translate into animation too. Anyone who’s seen his work in the Ward Kimball directed shorts knows what I’m talking about. The stylized movement and timing is hilarious. It’s no wonder Ward liked to work with him. Nothing against Kimball of course (the guy was a genius) but the history books tend to credit everything on his shorts exclusively to him. Guys like Art and Tom Oreb where obviously major contributors to these films. It’s nice to see him get some recognition on The Brew despite the circumstances.

    P.S. – I’m sure I speak for many who’d love to see more of Art’s work posted. So whoever has any, please do so, they’re terrific.

  • E

    Hell, I’d like to see some of Dan Jeup’s designs posted here!
    Brilliant stuff.

  • Dan Jeup

    Wow! His character designs are great. Not everyone can make a ‘funny’ drawing. Art’s gift of caricature project instant humor to the viewer. I love how they translate into animation too. Anyone who’s seen his work in the Ward Kimball directed shorts knows what I’m talking about. The stylized movement and timing is hilarious. It’s no wonder Ward liked to work with him. Nothing against Kimball of course (the guy was a genius) but the history books tend to credit everything on his shorts exclusively to him. Guys like Art and Tom Oreb were obviously major contributors to these films. It’s nice to see him get some recognition on The Brew despite the circumstances.

    P.S. – I’m sure I speak for many who’d love to see more of Art’s work posted. So whoever has any, please do so, they’re terrific.

  • Mr. Semaj

    Clyde Geronimi was another Disney artist who never gained any recognition for his lifetime achievements.

  • http://amymebberson.blogspot.com Amy Mebberson

    I think you’re rapidly amassing enough for another book, Amid!

    I’d love to see a tribute book about Tom Oreb, Art Stevens and all the other second-rung artists who would be almost forgotten if not for you guys.

  • http://tangoland.com Cynthia

    These drawings are great! It makes you wonder about all the talented people who we don’t know, or know little about.

    Lucky man! He got to work on what I consider the finest product to ever come out of Disney..Kimball’s shorts.

    I’m talkin’ about the *animated* ones.

    Sheesh! :)

  • Micah Baker

    Amy’s got a point there. The Mouse’s Basement, The Untold Greats of Walt Disney Animation, By Amid Amidi.

  • Jenny

    Id say “unsung” rather than “second-rung”–but I’m sure that what’s you meant, Amy.
    And I second the idea.

    There’s plenty of material for a book there but these things can be hard sells to publishers.

  • Dan Jeup

    Thanks for the compliment E…whoever you are.

  • http://www.bishopanimation.com Floyd Bishop

    I’m curious as to who did win the award the years that you lobbied for Art?

  • McQuade

    interesting that Larry Loc got a Certificate of Merit back in 2005… so he’s got his own little Annie Award to show off

  • http://www.jeandenis.net Jean-Denis Haas

    “You’re right, though; those awards ultimately are meaningless, but as the merest token of appreciation or acknowledgment of a long and important career it was deserved.”

    So, are they meaningless or not?

    Politics are involved no matter where you are and no one really knows what’s going on behind-the-scenes unless you’ve been there. I wouldn’t call these awards meaningless. Timing can sometimes work against them, true, but any recognition for an artist that deserves it is fine with me.