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John Hubley

John Hubley

scene from Snow White
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Disney strikers
On the picket line

John Hubley

Today... we're confronted with such massive, serious problems as a society, on a world level, that animation as a medium of communication can deal with the abstractions and massiveness of these problems that a camera can't...

Early Influences

John Hubley was born in Wisconsin in 1914. At the age of 22, he got a job at the Walt Disney Studios painting backgrounds and layouts for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. He described his training as a great Renaissance workshop, where the apprentices learned from the masters. John became an art director at Disney and designed layouts for Pinocchio, Bambi, Dumbo and the "Rites of Spring" sequence in Fantasia.

I was astounded at how a guy like Hubley could draw. To me it was just beyond belief. And it didn't take me long to look at the drawings that Hubley was throwing away to realize that, wow, I can't draw at all.-Bill Melendez, ex-Disney artist

The Disney Studio Strike of '41

In 1937, Walt Disney had promised his staff that their hard work to complete Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would be repaid with bonuses from the profits. The film earned four times the box office of any other film of 1938, yet bonuses weren't awarded to employees. Instead, Disney invested the profits in expansion. The salaries ranged widely at the Disney studio: a top animator was paid up to $500 a week while a cel painter earned a mere $12 a week. Arthur Babbitt, creator of Goofy and one of the most respected and highly paid animators at the studio, took up the union cause. Disney saw Babbit's organizing as a personal betrayal and fired him. On May 28, 1941 Disney artists held a mass meeting and the motion to strike was made. As the weeks dragged on, the picket line became contentious, and studio employees were deeply divided. One of the longest strikes in the history of Hollywood, the standoff ended in July of '41. Although the strikers won, almost all were eventually laid off or quit, including John Hubley.

still from FMPU training film
FMPU training film
First Motion Picture Unit

In 1942 the U.S. government formed 18th Air Force Base Unit, also known as the First Motion Picture Unit (FMPU) in Culver City, California, to produce films used to train the troops during World War II. The animation unit produced hundreds of training films on a continuous schedule. Animators from Warners, Fleischers, Disney, MGM and independents, including John Hubley, enlisted in the Army and were assigned to the FMPU. The style that Hubley developed through his work at the FMPU was considered revolutionary. "He was a brilliant caricaturist and he pushed the characters into a more contemporary idiom. You could say that really started the UPA style," says animation scholar John Canemaker.

from Swab Your Choppers
"Swab Your Choppers"

UPA was the grand revolution in design style. The way it moved; the way it looked. They had a very keen interest in modern art. And John saw a way at UPA to experiment with this new look. -John Canemaker, filmmaker and animation historian

still from Mr. Magoo
Mr. Magoo in Gerald McBoing Boing
In 1943 many ex-Disney artists regrouped at the new studio United Productions of America (UPA), where Hubley was a founder. The studio's modernist, flat, symbolic style revolutionized popular concepts of animation. Though the drawings and figures were less complex, storylines and characters were more developed. As UPA's creative vice-president, Hubley developed an irascible, near-sighted character named Mr. Magoo and supervised the animation of Academy Award-winning Gerald McBoing Boing (1950).

The Blacklist

In 1947 the FBI began their quest to find Americans with Communist leanings. Hubley had been a political activist throughout his career. He'd participated in Hollywood stirikes and made films for labor unions. He and Bill Hurtz created the storyboard for Hell Bent for Election, made for the United Auto Workers and the CIO for the Roosevelt campaign. His political leanings made him an easy target of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and Walt Disney, a staunch anti-union conservative, had been a primary force in the blacklist. Columbia Studios, which commissioned UPA, was pressured by the Committee to supply them with a list of people who would be forced to leave UPA. Those who were named and those who refused to talk were blacklisted from the community. In 1955, Hubley initially refused to testify, and when he did testify a year later, he refused to name names. Following his testimony, Hubley was blacklisted. He began work on the animated version of Finian's Rainbow, with voices by Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. When it was discovered that Hubley was directing the project, the backers pulled out their money and the project was summarily shut down.


In 1956, John Hubley moved his independent animation studio Storyboard from Los Angeles to New York City. He used the name Storyboard because he couldn't use his own name and the studio did animated television commercials. Commercials were anonymous, so he was able to work. There he and his wife Faith worked on commissioned projects and produced 21 films together, three of which were Academy Award-winners.

John Hubley died during heart surgery in 1977.

For more information about the Hubleys' work together, check out In Collaboration.

See a Filmography of John's work.

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