Ruthie Tompson Dies at 111; Breathed Animated Life Into Disney Movies


If Snow White regarded suitably snowy in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” Disney’s first animated characteristic; if Pinocchio’s nostril grew at simply the suitable price; if Dumbo was the proper shade of elephantine grey; all that’s due partially to the largely unheralded work of Ruthie Tompson.

One in all a cadre of girls who within the 1930s and ’40s labored at Disney in indispensable anonymity — and one in all its longest-lived members — Ms. Tompson, who died on Sunday at 111, spent 4 a long time on the studio. Over time, she labored on almost each one in all Disney’s animated options, from “Snow White” to “The Rescuers,” launched in 1977.

A Disney spokesman, Howard Inexperienced, stated she died on the Movement Image and Tv Fund’s retirement neighborhood in Woodland Hills, Calif., the place she had been a longtime resident.

Ms. Tompson joined Disney as an inker and painter. She later educated her eye on the 1000’s of drawings that make up an animated characteristic, checking them for continuity of colour and line. Nonetheless later, as a member of the studio’s scene planning division, she devised exacting methods for its movie cameras to convey these flat, static drawings to vivid animated life.

“She made the fantasies come actual,” John Canemaker, an Oscar-winning animator and a historian of animation, stated in an interview for this obituary in 2017. “The entire setup then was predigital, so every little thing was paper, digital camera, movie and paint.”

Among the many totemic movies into which Ms. Tompson helped breathe life are “Pinocchio” (1940), “Fantasia” (1940) and “Dumbo” (1941), together with numerous animated shorts, together with the anti-Nazi cartoon “Der Fuehrer’s Face,” which received a 1943 Academy Award.

In 2000, Ms. Tompson was named a Disney Legend, an honor bestowed by the Walt Disney Firm for excellent contributions. (Earlier recipients embrace Fred MacMurray, Julie Andrews and Angela Lansbury; later recipients embrace Elton John and Tim Conway.)

Her accomplishments had been all of the extra notable in that by her personal cheerful admission she may barely draw a straight line. But her affiliation with Disney appeared nearly foreordained from the time she was very younger.

Ruth Tompson was born on July 22, 1910, in Portland, Me., one in all two women of Ward and Athene (Sterling) Tompson. She spent her early childhood in Boston. When she was 8, her household moved to Oakland, Calif.

In 1922, after her mother and father divorced and her mom married John Roberts, a plein-air painter, Ruthie and her sister moved together with her mom and stepfather to Los Angeles, the place her mom labored as an additional in Hollywood motion pictures. The household lived down the road from Robert Disney, an uncle of Walt Disney and his brother Roy.

The Disney brothers based their first movie studio close by in 1923, and it occurred to be on Ruthie Tompson’s route to highschool. Strolling previous it every day, she peered by way of a window, transfixed, because the work of animation unfolded.

Sooner or later, Walt Disney spied her.

“He got here out and stated, ‘Why don’t you go inside and watch?’” Ms. Tompson recalled some 9 a long time later in a podcast for the Walt Disney Household Museum.

“I used to be actually fascinated,” she stated. She returned to the studio many instances, turning into one thing of a fixture there.

Throughout these years, the studio was capturing the Alice Comedies, a sequence of silent shorts combining animation and dwell motion, and generally enlisted neighborhood kids as extras.

Amongst them was Ruthie, who appeared in a number of footage, receiving 25 cents for every. Her cinematic wage, Ms. Tompson recalled, went towards licorice.

Her affiliation with the Disneys would possibly properly have ended there had it not been for the truth that a decade later Walt and Roy selected to take polo classes.

After graduating from Hollywood Excessive Faculty, the younger Ms. Tompson took a job at a driving secure within the San Fernando Valley. Some years afterward, the brothers visited the secure to be taught to play polo, which was all the fashion then among the many sensible set.

“Ruthie Tompson!” Walt Disney declared on seeing her there. “Why don’t you come and work for me?”

“I can’t draw value a nickel,” she replied.

Irrespective of, Mr. Disney instructed her: The studio would ship her to nighttime college to be taught the rudiments of inking and portray.

“In fact,” Ms. Tompson recalled, “all people round me stated: ‘Don’t say no! Don’t say no!’”

After evening college, she joined the studio in time to work on “Snow White.” Her duties — menial and unartistic but extremely vital — concerned cleansing grime and mud from the completed cels, because the clear celluloid sheets that went earlier than the digital camera had been identified.

She was quickly assigned to Disney’s ink and paint division. Comprising a couple of hundred girls toiling in relative obscurity, it was unofficially referred to as “the nunnery.” The ladies’s job, performed fully by hand, was to switch the animators’ drawings from paper onto the cels.

Many inkers and painters had been profoundly gifted artists themselves. However within the 1930s and ’40s, animators’ jobs — probably the most glamorous of the studio’s creative positions — had been closed to them.

“Girls don’t do any of the artistic work in reference to making ready the cartoons for the display, as that work is carried out fully by younger males,” supplies despatched by the studio to girls making use of for jobs of the interval learn. “The one work open to girls consists of tracing the characters on clear celluloid sheets with India ink and filling within the tracings on the reverse aspect with paint in response to instructions.”

(As of 2015 — the newest yr for which figures can be found — girls held solely 20 p.c of the artistic jobs within the animation trade, in response to Girls in Animation, an expert affiliation based in 1995.)

Ms. Tompson, as she and the studio rapidly concurred, had no future as an inker: She pressed too exhausting and broke the high quality pen nibs that the job required. She was made a painter, identified in animation parlance as an “opaquer.”

“It doesn’t take plenty of brains to do this — simply comply with the traces,” she stated in a 2007 interview. “It’s similar to quantity portray.”

She subsequent labored as a closing checker, which concerned riffling a movie’s completed setups — because the layered transparencies comprising the cels and their backgrounds had been identified — like a large flip e-book to make sure that colour and line stayed constant all through.

“Out of a 500-cel scene, each 4 or 5 could be painted by a unique lady, so the colours needed to comply with by way of,” Ms. Tompson defined in 2007. “In the event that they put blue within the flawed place, we’d must take them again and have them redo them.”

In 1948, she was promoted to the twin function of animation checker and scene planner. As an animation checker, she scrutinized the artists’ work to see, amongst different issues, that characters actually stored their heads: Within the animators’ haste, completely different elements of a personality’s physique, typically performed as separate drawings, would possibly fail to align.

The scene planner was tasked with understanding the intricate counterpoint between the completed setups and the cameras that photographed them: which digital camera angles ought to be used, how briskly characters ought to transfer relative to their backgrounds, and the like.

“She actually needed to know all of the mechanics of constructing the picture work on the display because the director, the structure particular person and the animator most popular: how one can make Peter Pan stroll, or fly, within the specified time,” Mr. Canemaker defined. “What she did ended up on the display — whether or not you see her hand or not — due to the way in which she supported the administrators’ imaginative and prescient.”

In 1952, Ms. Tompson grew to become one of many first girls admitted to the Worldwide Photographers Union, an arm of the Worldwide Alliance of Theatrical Stage Staff representing digital camera operators. She retired in 1975 because the supervisor of Disney’s scene planning division.

She by no means married and left no quick survivors, Mr. Inexperienced stated.

Within the Walt Disney Household Museum podcast, Ms. Tompson fondly recalled her long-ago affiliation with Walt Disney and the surprising profession to which it gave rise.

“I by no means obtained over being awe-struck at the truth that I used to be there and I used to be part of this excellent factor that he was doing,” she stated.

She added, pragmatically, “Although it was simply plain outdated cartoons.”

Alex Traub contributed reporting.

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