Disney historian Jim Korkis recalls the talents of the late Disney animator Bill Justice.
ORLANDO – His name is attached to some of the classic feature length films in Hollywood animation: “Fantastia,” “Bambi” and “Alice in Wonderland,” among them.
But he was also someone who didn’t seek the limelight and instead agreed that his employer, Walt Disney Studios, deserved the real credit for their collective efforts, said Disney historian Jim Korkis.
“Like so many Disney animators and so many Disney legends, he often did not get the recognition for many of these individual milestones and achievements he made in his life, because everything was credited to Disney,” Korkis said of animator Bill Justice, who died last week at the age of 97.
“That’s just the way it was in those days, and he accepted that and he never grumbled and he was never upset about any of that,” Korkis added. “But what happens is you have a man who has brought great joy and amazement to the world, but the world has no awareness of his name.”
That’s too bad, Korkis said, because he described Justice as a talented animator who also helped program Audio-Animatronics figures for Disneyland attractions.
“He was a very humorous guy, but it was sort of a mischievous type of humor,” Korkis said. “It was filled with little good natured mischief. An example of that is when I was asking him about designing the character costumes. He told me ‘Walt Disney said ‘I want a costume that looks exactly like Donald Duck,’ so I went around looking for somebody in Los Angeles with a three inch neck and webbed feet.’ Bill personally was always very warm, always very friendly. One of the best descriptions I heard of him was Bill had no idea how skillful and talented he was.”
The native of Ohio started his career at Disney Studios in 1937, and worked on both shorts like “The Three Caballeros” and feature films like “Peter Pan.”
“Bill had a 42 year career at Disney, which was unique,” Korkis said. “He started around the time that animation was finishing up on ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.’ Around 1937 he came in as an animator and worked on some of the early classic Disney animated feature films. But primarily in terms of being an animator, he’s known for his work on the animated theatrical shorts, particularly the ones with Chip and Dale. He was known as the key animator on Chip and Dale, which means he helped create the final designs and created the major scenes in those shorts.”
He also branched out beyond animation.
“Unlike other animators who worked at Disney, Walt often pushed him into special projects,” Korkis said. “Bill was responsible for the stop motion experiments at Disney — for instance, the cut out animation titles for many of the live action comedies that Disney was producing in the 1950s and 1960s, and he was responsible for the stop act motion of the toy soldiers in ‘Babes in Toyland.’ He would have to go back and reset every leg on every solider, and then wake up the cameraman to take the next shot.
“Because of his involvement in that, in 1961 Walt pulled Bill in to design the first Disney animator costumes for the Disneyland theme park,” Korkis added. “Bill designed the costumes for the memorable Christmas parade that everyone knows, where you had the marching toy solider and the funny looking raindeers in the Christmas parade at Disneyland. He designed over 130 different Disney costumes.”
Justice was also the programmer for the first Audio-Animatronics.
“These were in the days before computers,” Korkis said. “He was the programmer on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Walt saw the work in progress. After he saw one scene that Bill had programmed on human figures, he came over and put his hand on Bill’s shoulder and said ‘Nice job, Bill,’ and Bill said that was the only time he could remember Walt saying something nice to him, because that just wasn’t Walt’s way.”
Justice retired in 1979, and became a Disney legend – although he didn’t remain idle.
“He was out there in the public,” Korkis said. “He was on cruise lines like the Norwegian cruise line doing shows, and he did local shows as well, before there were Disneyanna conventions, when there were several Disney fan clubs. They held conventions each year and Bill was the speaker at all of them.”
Korkis said he got to know Justice when he worked at Disney.
“When I moved to Florida, I began working as an animation instructor at the Disney Institute, and one of the things the Disney Institute did was they brought in the Disney legends in the cinema,” Korkis said. “In 1997 I was at Give Kids the World (in Kissimmee) for the kids, doing some comedy magic. Then I saw Bill and his wife come in, and he was there to do some sketches, and basically he showed the kids how to draw. He was showing them how to draw Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and he’d draw Donald Duck with different expressions and different drawings. He’d pass them out to these terminally ill children and they just loved him.”

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