Jules Engel, the animator who choreographed the dances of Russian sprites and Chinese mushrooms to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite in Walt Disney’s Fantasia (1940), died at 94 on this date in 2003. Born in Hungary in 1909, Engel came to the United States in the 1930s and to Hollywood in ’37. After serving as a filmmaker for the U.S. Air Force in World War II, he joined United Productions of America as part of the team that created Gerald McBoing-Boing and Mr. Magoo. Throughout the 1960s, Engel was absorbed in painting and abstract filmmaking; in 1970 he became the founding director of the Abstract Experimental Animation Department at the California Institute of the Arts, where he taught for more than three decades and trained a generation of contemporary animators. “My work is abstract,” he said, “but it contains an organic element that brings people closer to their inner feelings.” To see an excerpt from Engels’ 1968 abstract animation, “Silence,” click here. To see him discussing the collective nature of animation, click here.
“It is not what I give to a student that is most important, it is what I don’t take away.” —Jules Engel
Watch an episode of Gerald McBoing-Boing: