Frank Thomas, longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident, one of the most influential animators in the history of the art form, a member of Walt Disney's elite "Nine Old Men," passed away at his home last week. He was 92.
The genius of Thomas was evident in how he imbued his animated characters with human qualities gained through his own exceptional ability to tap into his own emotions and a keen observation of mankind.
No matter where in the world a Disney animated film appeared, scenes that Thomas created crossed all language barriers and spoke to peoples' hearts. Who can ever forget Thumper teaching Bambi how to skate on an icy pond; the burgeoning romance between two dogs in "Lady and the Tramp," or the terror of Pinocchio who had been thrown into a birdcage by an evil puppeteer.
Thomas certainly made movie viewers tears flow, perhaps for the first time in an animated film, when he created the scene of the seven dwarfs as they stood grieving in a circle around their beloved Snow White when they thought she had died.
"Frank Thomas was not only an amazing father but an amazing man - he was one in a billion," said Theodore "Ted" Thomas. "He had such a precious gift that he gave to the world."
Ted Thomas, in 1995, featured his father and Johnston in a touching feature-length documentary entitled, "Frank and Ollie."
Frank Thomas had a 43-year career with Disney. His greatest collaborator was fellow animator Ollie Johnston, a lifelong friend and neighbor in the beautiful hills of Flintridge. With Thomas's death, Johnston is the last of Disney's "Nine Old Men."
"It was a thrill and a great pleasure to have known and worked with Frank Thomas," said Dick Cook, a LCF resident and chairman of The Walt Disney Studios. "He was truly one of the greatest talents the industry has ever known."
Howard Green, LCF resident and 30-year veteran of Disney, now vice president of Disney Studio Communi-cations, said about Thomas, "Frank's memory will always shine brightly. My wife, Amy, and I were so fortunate to have known Frank. We traveled the world with he and his wife, Jeanette, on studio premieres and promotions. We will miss him greatly."
Andy Gaskill, also a LCF resident and animator at Disney, said, "Just three days before Frank died, we celebrated his 92nd birthday with him at a small party in his home.
"My wife, Julia, and I lived just up the street from Frank and Jeanette so we would often stop by to say hello after taking a Sunday walk. He, along with Ollie Johnston, were my mentors when I first came to Disney."
Thomas, in collaboration with Johnston, authored four landmark books; "Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life," "Too Funny for Words," "Bambi," "The Story and the Film," and "The Disney Villain."
Speaking very emotionally about Thomas was Andreas Deja, a top animating supervisor at Disney, "I have been with Disney for 24 years and feel so fortunate that I had the opportunity to have had a long friendship with Frank. I learned so much from studying his techniques. Frank inspired me as I saw in his drawings that he could and did take on many roles ranging from villains to heroes. Frank could crawl into each character's mind and way of moving and he made them real - he gave them life. He could be elegant, touching and at other times wonderfully chilling - he was a master," Deja said.
Thomas graduated with an art degree from Stanford University. After graduation, Thomas moved to Los Angeles where he attended Chouinard Art Institute and began working at Disney in 1934.
Thomas made animation history as a key member of the animation team on "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Hollywood's first full-length animated feature. In addition to his career as a top animator, Thomas also was a professional musician and was the piano player in the popular jazz group, The Firehouse Five Plus Two.
Thomas is survived by Jeanette, his wife of 58 years; son Theodore and his wife, Kuniko Okubo; son Doug, and his life partner, Dan Poirer; son Gregg and his children, Ukiah, and Micah; and daughter, Ann Ayers, her husband, Andy Ayers, and their son, Marshall.
A celebration of life service is pending. In lieu of flowers, the family suggest that donations be made in Frank's name to the Character Animation Program at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Santa Clarita.