Disney Legend Ruthie Tompson has passed away at age 111.
July 22, 1910 – September 10, 2021
Ruthie Tompson, who began her career at the Walt Disney Studios as a painter in the Ink and Paint Department during the first golden age of Disney animation, died peacefully in her sleep at her home at the Motion Picture and Television Fund in Woodland Hills, Calif. on Sunday. She was 111.
As supervisor of the scene-planning department at Disney Studios, Tompson helped to establish the camera mechanics used to photograph animated scenes and background art onto film. That expertise earned her a pioneering invitation to join the International Photographers Union in 1952.
Ruthie started at Disney in the Ink & Paint department during the production of Snow White. About a decade later she transferred to animation checking and scene planning, a department she would later supervise. Scene planning was very much involved in the technical aspects of multiplane scenes such as the flight over London in Peter Pan.
A while back I asked her what one one of her most challenging assignments might have been. She paused for a second and and said that the opening scene from Sleeping Beauty took a lot of brain work, since there were endless characters involved on endless cel levels.
[I]t was Disney who encouraged Tompson to go to night school so she could begin to work in animation.
“I went to night school and did what they told me to do, and the result is one of these things,” she said, holding up a nitrate cel she saved all of these years, with Mickey Mouse in a mid-jump position. “The first night I went, I went in inking. Inking was the main thing they needed. The girls that ink are really artists.”
She gestured again towards the cel. “This one managed to stay alive, the rest of them all popped off. After I inked this, these cels, two or three of them, the head girl in the inking department came over and gave me a little hug and she said, ‘Honey, I think you better go into painting.’”
And so Thompson went into painting, filling in the color for the characters that had already been inked. “The first one I did was Lonesome Ghosts — that was painting. Whites and blues and grays and stuff.” She would eventually go on to become a supervisor.
She was soon promoted to final checker, reviewing the animation cels before they were photographed onto film. By 1948, Ruthie again transferred to animation checking and scene planning. As a result of her adept skill at guiding camera movement for animated films, in 1952 Ruthie was invited to join the International Photographers Union, Local 659 of the IATSE. She was one of the first three women to be admitted into the Hollywood camera union.