Ted Berman, animator and director of Disney cartoons ranging from the classics “Bambi” and “Fantasia” to the highly regarded “The Black Cauldron,” has died at the age of 81.
Berman, also a fine arts painter, died Sunday in Los Angeles, said his daughter, Cathy Nourafshan.
Born in the Boyle Heights section of East Los Angeles, Berman wanted to draw from the time he was a child, entering--and winning--various newspaper competitions. He graduated from Roosevelt High and went on to the Chouinard Art Institute, forerunner of the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia.
Berman landed a job in Disney’s animation department in 1940, and remained with the studio for 45 years.
Initially a character animator, Berman worked on the beloved deer “Bambi,” characters in “Alice in Wonderland” and the visual-musical masterpiece “Fantasia,” as well as “Lady and the Tramp,” “Peter Pan,” “Mary Poppins” and “101 Dalmatians.”
Berman took special pride in working on four films up for Academy Awards--"Paul Bunyan,” which was nominated in 1958; “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too,” nominated in 1974; “It’s Tough to Be a Bird,” named the Best Short Film in 1969; and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” which won for Best Visual Effects in 1972.
The animator was also a key team member in creating the Disney television series, “The Wonderful World of Color” and “The Mickey Mouse Club.”
Later in his career, Berman moved into writing and directing the animation films.
Berman was also involved in crafting the screenplays of Disney feature films, including “The Rescuers” in 1977, “The Fox and the Hound” in 1981 and “The Black Cauldron” in 1985.
“It had the longest gestation period of any animal alive,” Berman said with a laugh in 1985, when “The Black Cauldron,” which he co-directed with Richard Rich, was finally released.
Disney had set the film in motion a dozen years earlier by buying the rights to Lloyd Alexander’s Newbery Award-winning books “Chronicles of Prydain.” Financing--a whopping $25 million for what was at the time the most expensive animated film in history--took another six years. The project was shelved a couple of times and then in production for an arduous five years.
“Disney animation has always been special, and it had to be special again,” Berman said, explaining that very few computer graphics were used in the film that would crown his Disney career.
“Our animators knew that they might never be able to work on this kind of film again,” said the veteran Berman, who trained youngsters fresh out of art school to handle Disney animation the old-fashioned way.
The finished feature encompassed about 2,519,200 drawings, 400 gallons of paint, 15,000 pencils, 300 erasers, 34 miles of film stock and more than a million hours of labor.
“Our marching orders were to expand beyond our young audience without losing it,” Berman said at the film’s release. “It’s got a PG rating, and no pink bunnies or butterflies.”
After his retirement from Disney, Berman returned to painting. His still-life canvases and plein-air landscapes hang in several private collections.
Berman is also survived by his wife, Jacqueline; a son, Phillip; and six grandchildren.
Services are planned for 1 p.m. Wednesday at Hillside Memorial Park in Los Angeles.