Animator, director, producer and story artist Burny Mattinson, who joined the Walt Disney Company at the end of its first great run of films, when Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942) were new and an in-his-prime Walt Disney was just 42 years old, died today. He was 87. He was the last full-time Walt Disney Studios employee who had worked at the company when Walt Disney still ran it.
Seeing the studio’s Pinocchio at the age of six convinced Mattinson he wanted to work in animation. “Ever since I saw that film, this was my dream—to work in this business,” he recalled years later. “So I worked every day, drawing.”
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After graduating high school, he convinced his mother drop him off at the studio gate, where he handed his portfolio to a security guard. Impressed, the guard called Ken Seiling, the head of Personnel. There were no available job positions in the studio’s animation department, but Mattinson got his foot in a the door with a job in the traffic department. Six months later, Mattinson began working on Lady and the Tramp (1955).
It was the start of the career of the man who became the longest-serving cast member in the history of The Walt Disney Company, who was set to receive the company’s first-ever 70th anniversary service award this coming June 6.
Jennifer Lee, chief creative officer, Walt Disney Animation Studios, said in a statement, “Burny’s artistry, generosity, and love of Disney Animation and the generations of storytellers that have come through our doors, for seven decades, has made us better—better artists, better technologists, and better collaborators. All of us who have had the honor to know him and learn from him will ensure his legacy carries on.”
Raya and the Last Dragon director Don Hall — whose Big Hero 6 won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature — also issued a statement.
“For almost 30 years,” Hall wrote, “I’ve had the privilege to work alongside Burny Mattinson, from Winnie the Pooh to Big Hero 6 to, most recently, Strange World. I have marveled at his artistry, enjoyed his good humor, and sat enraptured by his stories of Disney history. At 18 years old, he followed his dream of working at Walt Disney Animation Studios, and for almost 70 years he lived that dream every day, inspiring all of us who had the good fortune to follow in his footsteps. I love him dearly.”
He worked as an artist on such classics as Lady and the Tramp (1955), One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), The Sword in the Stone (1963), The Jungle Book (1967), and The Rescuers (1977). He served as a key member of the story team on contemporary Disney classics including Aladdin (1992), Beauty and the Beast (1993), The Lion King (1994), Pocahontas (1995), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), Tarzan (1997) and Mulan (1998).
Mattinson’s achievements include directing the animated featurette Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983), which marked the return of Mickey Mouse to the screen for the first time in 30 years. He was also a producer as well as co-director on The Great Mouse Detective (1986).
Asked two decades ago to reflect on his career at Disney, Mattinson said, “I mean, 50 years is a long time, but I still feel like that 18-year-old kid that came here back in ’53, you know? I never feel like I’ve gotten old.”
According to Disney, Mattinson was still working full-time at Walt Disney Animation Studios as a story consultant and mentor at the time of his passing.
Mattinson is survived by his wife, Ellen Siirola; his son, Brett Mattinson, and his wife, Kelly, and their two children; and his daughter, Genny, her husband Larry Ellena, and their two children. Funeral services will be private, and he will be laid to rest at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the MPTF (Motion Picture and Television Fund) in Woodland Hills, California.
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