Carl Bell Carl Bell

Carl Angus Bell, who worked with many notable directors over a long and varied career, including Chuck Jones, Ralph Bakshi, and Richard Williams passed away from heart failure on March 28 at the age of 91.

Bell was born on December 11, 1930 in Shelburne, Ontario (near Toronto). He first became passionate about animation after seeing Fantasia when he was nine years old. As a student, Bell studied at the Ontario College of Art (OCA) in Toronto from 1950 to 1954 and took an additional post-graduate year to study anatomy and sculpture.

It was at OCA that Bell first met Richard Williams, who was in the class ahead of him. The two shared a keen interest in animation and they remained life-long friends. In the summer of 1952, Bell and Williams drove 2,600 miles from Toronto to Los Angeles to visit the Disney and UPA studios. Near the end of his time at OCA, Bell was asked by George Dunning to work full time at Graphic Associates but declined the offer opting to complete his studies instead.

After leaving OCA, Bell worked at the Phillips-Gutkin studio in Winnipeg, which made commercials for Canadian television. It was there he met long-time friend and colleague Jane Shattuck. In 1957 Bell left Winnipeg for Europe, stopping in New York City on the way to see sample reels at the big Madison Avenue commercial studios. While there, he met Bill Tytla at Playhouse Pictures who encouraged him to absorb the fine art of Europe and then go work at Disney.

For a time, Bell worked near London at the Edric Radage commercial studio before traveling across Europe. He was back in the U.S., Los Angeles specifically, and working in the Disney Research Department by February 1958.

In the following years, he animated on the Mister Magoo television series at UPA, Bob Clampett’s Beany and Cecil television series, and the Tom and Jerry theatrical shorts with Chuck Jones at MGM.  Bell worked with Jones and Abe Levitow at MGM on features and television specials such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Pogo’s Special Birthday Special, Horton Hears a Who, and The Phantom Tollbooth. He worked at Levitow/Hanson Films on B.C., The First Thanksgiving, television commercials, and the Sesame Street series.

Carl Bell working on "Horton Hears a Who!"
Carl Bell working on Chuck Jones’ tv special Horton Hears a Who!

Bell later worked with Richard Williams as the West Coast production coordinator on Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure (1977). Jan, his wife at the time (now Jan Arbogast), worked with Bell to manage the West Coast studio. Bell worked with Ralph Bakshi on The Lord of the Rings as lead animator of Aragorn, a character which Bakshi designed to look like him. He also contributed to Bakshi’s American Pop, Hey, Good Lookin’, and Fire and Ice.

Bell then worked at Filmation for several years on television series such as Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Ghostbusters, She-Ra: Princess of Power, and BraveStarr.

Carl Bell during the production of Disney's "The Little Mermaid."
Carl Bell (left) during the production of Disney’s The Little Mermaid.

Thirty years to the day after he started at Disney (Feb. 10, 1958), Bell returned to the studio as an assistant animator on Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), reuniting with old friends Richard Williams and Jane Shattuck (now, Jane Baer). Bell worked at Disney until he retired on April 18, 1999. During that time, he contributed to many of the key films of the period known as the Disney Renaissance including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mulan, and Tarzan.

Bell’s work on behalf of the animation art form was as significant as the work he did in animation. He was a co-founder of ASIFA-Hollywood and was a governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for 18 years. During that time, he resisted attempts within AMPAS to eliminate the Short Films branch and members. Ultimately, the unit was expanded under his watch to become the Short Films and Feature Animation branch.

Bell’s large network of friends and colleagues would characterize him as a gentleman and a gentle man. He was always good-natured and optimistic. His great gift was his ability to listen and empathize. Complete strangers would come away from meeting him feeling that they had made a new friend.

After a long and healthy life, Bell found himself in hospital for a week in March, but remained optimistic about getting home. He died of heart failure on March 28.

Bell is survived by his long-time partner Arnoldo Archila.

Steve Hulett, with The Animation Guild, IATSE local 839, produced a series of interviews with notable animators for the TAG blog. The interview with Bell was done in 2011 and posted in two parts. They can be listened to on the union’s blog: Part I and Part II.

Animator Andreas Wessel-Therhorn, who worked with Bell at Disney, produced the following visual interview about Bell’s life in 2018:

Photo at top © John Canemaker