Ubbe Eert Iwerks was born on March 24, 1901 in Kansas City, Missouri. He’s the father to Disney Legend Don Iwerks and David L. Iwerks and grandfather to film producer Leslie Iwerks along with his other grandchildren Chris, Larry, John and Kathie Iwerks. In 1919, Ub would meet Walter Elias Disney while the two worked together at Pesmen-Rubin Art Studio in Kansas City. Together they would eventually open their own commercial art business together called Iwerks-Disney Studio Commercial Artists which only lasted a month before they both accepted positions at the Kansas City Slide Company.
Walt introduced Ub to the art of animation. In 1922, when Walt formed Laugh-O-gram Films, Ub joined him as chief animator. The studio went bankrupt, however, and, two years later, Ub followed Walt to Hollywood. There, he joined the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio to help produce the Alice Comedies series.
It was after the Alice Comedies Walt and Ub created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Ub animated the first full Oswald cartoon. Sadly in 1928 Walt lost the rights to Oswald and claimed he would never work again with a character he didn’t own. He asked Ub to begin working on a new character. He submitted many different designs to Walt but none of them appealed to Disney. During those batches of designs, he did create a cow and horse which would eventually become the characters Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar. Getting inspiration from sketches Ub saw of Hugh Harman’s from 1925, Ub created what we now know as Mickey Mouse and history was born.
As the chief animator, Ub worked at record-breaking speed. He animated the first Mickey Mouse silent cartoon, Plane Crazy, entirely by himself within a three-week period, completing as many as 700 drawings a day.
Ub started to feel he wasn’t getting the credit he deserved, so he left the Disney Studios to form his own studio. On his own he never achieved the level of success that the Disney Studios had and eventually his studio closed. In 1937 Ub would go on to produce four shorts for Looney Tunes starring Porky Pig and Gabby Goat.
Ub returned to the Disney Studios in 1940 where he worked on special effects and is credited with developing the process for combining live action and animation that was used in Song of the South. Also he is credited with the xerographic process that is used for cel animation.
Ub would eventually win two Academy Awards for his technical creations. He also worked outside the studios doing special effects work for Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds in 1963. At the studios during the 1960s, Ub helped with the development of the theme park attractions, including It’s a small world, Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, and The Hall of Presidents. Toward the end of his life he worked on innovations for the upcoming Walt Disney World project.
On July 7, 1971, Disney Legend Ub Iwerks passed away in Burbank, California at the age of 70 from myocardial infarction. Some view Ub as Walt’s oldest friend and the things they did along with Roy’s financial know how created the company we know now. These men will always live on through the millions of fans worldwide. Ub was inducted as a Disney Legend in 1989. It was primarily due to Ub’s innovations that the Disney Studio moved to the forefront of photographic effects and achieved the success it has.