John Hubley

Active - 1940 - 1986  |   Born - May 21, 1914   |   Died - Feb 21, 1977   |   Genres - Children's/Family, Fantasy, Avant-garde / Experimental, Adventure

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Biography by Jason Ankeny

The most influential animator of the postwar era, John Hubley was born May 21, 1914, in Marinette, WI. After graduating from the Los Angeles Art Center, he first made his mark while at Walt Disney Studios, working on films like 1940's Fantasia (for which he served as art director) and 1942's Bambi. However, Hubley quickly grew disenchanted with the hallmarks of the Disney style -- the naturalism, the anthropomorphic character design, the detailed artwork, and the gag comedy -- and in 1941 he left the studio to explore a more contemporary approach in line with the work of abstract illustrators like Saul Steinberg.

After signing on as chief director with the upstart First Motion Picture Unit, which soon changed its name to United Productions of America (UPA), Hubley instituted a series of sweeping changes that encouraged his animation team to push the boundaries of the form, establishing a house aesthetic which favored modern art techniques, unusual angles and textures, and distinctive color combinations. In comparison to the graceful movement of the Disney studios and the vivid 3-D backgrounds of the Fleischer brothers' productions, the UPA style was something entirely new: Color gave way to light and shadow, backdrops were reduced to floating shapes, and abstract lines assumed the place of detailed drawings.

Not only did the world of animation feel the effects of Hubley's vision, even live-action films took notice; the famed graphic designer Saul Bass admittedly absorbed the UPA influence into his stunning title sequences. In addition, Hubley's methods were efficient; cartoons like 1951's Gerald McBoing Boing and the following year's Rooty Toot Toot perfected an economic style which, far removed from the painstaking animation previously in vogue, saved both time and money. Among his other achievements was the creation of the hopelessly near-sighted Mr. Magoo, a popular character inspired by Hubley's own uncle. At the peak of UPA's influence, however, Hubley was forced to resign his position as a result of McCarthyism. Teaming with his wife, Faith, he founded Storyboard Productions in 1955. In 1959, the couple won an Oscar for their animated short film Moonbirds; another Oscar was garnered by The Hole three years later. 1961's Of Stars and Men was the Hubleys' feature-length debut, followed in 1965 by Year of the Horse. After overseeing such other notable shorts as 1967's The Windy Day and 1974's Academy Award-nominated Voyage to Next, John Hubley died on February 21, 1977. He was 62 years old.

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