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Frank Armitage, Veteran Disney Animation Layout/Background Artist, Passes At 91

Frank Armitage, Veteran Disney Animation Layout/Background Artist, Passes At 91

Sad news – direct from Howard Green at Disney:

Frank Armitage ,
renowned Disney layout and background artist on such classic Disney films as
“Sleeping Beauty,” “Mary Poppins,” and “The Jungle
Book,” and a longtime Disney Imagineer who contributed murals and designs
to a wide range of theme parks all over the world, passed away on Monday
(1/4/16) at his home in Paso Robles, California, from age-related causes.  He was 91 years old.  In addition to his accomplishments with
Disney, he served as a production illustrator on the 1966 Academy Award®
-winning Fox film, “Fantastic Voyage,” and was an expert medical
illustrator.

Commenting on
Armitage’s passing, Marty Sklar, former Walt Disney Imagineering creative executive
and Disney Legend, said, “Frank’s artistic skills were excellent — but I
loved having him on our Imagineering team because he knew so much about art and
life.  At one point in his career, he
left studio work, took medical courses at UCLA and became just about the best
medical illustrator in the country. 
There’s still a program named for Frank at the University of Illinois at
Chicago Medical School.  This led him to
the design assignment for the classic film, ‘Fantastic Voyage,’ and, of course,
he was the standard bearer when we did the health-related ‘Wonders of Life’ for
the Epcot Park at Walt Disney World. 
What great experiences he brought to mentoring our young artists,
working as a young man with the great Mexican muralist, David Alfaro Siqueiros,
and at Disney with the brilliant Eyvind Earl on ‘Sleeping Beauty.'”

Veteran Disney
Imagineer and Disney’s Animal Kingdom creative executive Joe Rohde, added,
“Frank was a great artist and a nurturing leader.  I learned a lot at his side, but my greatest
honor was watching him create the murals at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.  I would visit him in his studio just watch
how he laid down paint.  He was always a
gentle and patient teacher.”

Reflecting on Armitage’s legacy in the world of animation,
Fraser MacLean, animation production veteran, instructor, and author of ­­Setting
the Scene: The Art and Evolution of Animation Layout
,observed, “As a
layout and background artist at Disney starting in 1952, Frank did some amazing
work and contributed to many of the Studio’s most successful animated films,
from ‘Peter Pan’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ to ‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘The Jungle
Book.’  And as Disney expanded and
diversified in the late 50s and early 60s, he was able to draw upon his
distinct skills as an artist (ranging from award-winning mural designs to
minutely detailed medical illustrations), and was ideally suited to apply his
extraordinary knowledge, energy and imagination not only to Disney’s features
but also a wide range of challenging educational projects like ‘Donald’s Fire
Survival’ and ‘Steps Towards Maturity and Health.’  Frank went on to have a whole other career at
Disney Imagineering creating murals for theme parks all over the world up until
his ‘retirement’ in 1989.  Odd to think
how precious a legacy has been left to the present generation of animation
designers and artists by this one man — who left his native Australia back in
the early 50s with only “$84 in his pocket.”

Muralist, portrait artist, medical illustrator, practitioner
of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncturist, globetrotter, volunteer and
Good Samaritan; Roblan Frank Armitage was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1924.
At the age of 22, while studying at a Melbourne art institute, he became
involved in the mural-painting movement, and in 1949, he won an international
mural contest sponsored by world-renowned Mexican muralist David Alfaro
Siqueiros, and became his assistant on several murals in public buildings in
Mexico.

Armitage moved to Los Angeles in 1952 and worked at the Walt
Disney Studios on backgrounds and layout for such feature films as “Peter
Pan,” “Sleeping Beauty” (where he worked with Walt Peregoy under
the direction of Eyvind Earle), “Mary Poppins,” and “The Jungle
Book.”  Like most animation artists
at the time, he was also involved in many tasks in the creation of Disneyland,
including working with Ken Anderson to create Story Book Land.

After leaving the Studio, Armitage found enormous renown combining
cinematic color and lighting techniques with human anatomical subject matter.
In 1966, he did the production illustration for Academy Award® winning film, Fantastic Voyage for 20th Century-Fox.  Some of his most prominent work in that regard,
partnering with the extraordinary photographic work of Lennart Nilsson, includes
illustrating the function of the brain, a project for a Life Magazine in 1971.

In 1977, Armitage came to Walt Disney Imagineering, where
his artwork of anatomical subject matter paved the way for the Wonders of Life
Pavilion at Epcot. He created a famed concept painting for Le Château de la
Belle au Bois Dormant at Disneyland Paris, in the style of the original Eyvind
Earle production designs.

He painted a 5,500-square-foot of mural for the Safari Fare
Restaurant Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and several murals in Tokyo DisneySea—for
the American Waterfront, Hotel MiraCosta, the Broadway Bar, and four pieces for
the Tokyo DisneySea City Hall.

After retiring from Disney in 1989, Armitage completed a
course in Oriental Medicine and pursued postgraduate work in Acupuncture in
China. He volunteered in rural Mexico with the Flying Doctors, and produced oil
paintings and murals for private homes in Woodside, Saratoga, Los Angeles, and
Paso Robles.

In 2006, Armitage donated much of his medical art collection
to the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). 
That same year, that organization’s Biomedical Visualization graduate
program (BVIS) established the Frank Armitage Lecture to honor his generosity
and to recognize his legacy in the field of medical illustration.  For the past ten years, this event has
highlighted “visual geniuses” who translate complex biomedical information
into visual form and has brought together experts from various disciplines to
explore new opportunities for science visualization in the 21st Century.

He lived in rural Paso Robles with his wife of 33 years,
Karen Connolly Armitage, a retired Imagineer who worked for Disney over a 26
year period, and has contributed her skills as a designer and architectural
concept artist to many theme park projects.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by three children
from a previous marriage — Nicole Armitage Doolittle (who works at Walt Disney
Imagineering), Michelle Armitage (a scenic artist in the entertainment
industry), and Wes Armitage.a LAGeneral Contractor.  He also leaves behind two stepchildren —
Tracy Montee and Cecil Beatty, and a sister Margaret Parfett in Australia.
Plans for a Life Celebration in Paso Robles will be announced at a later
date.  In lieu of flowers, donations can
be made in his name to the Ryman Arts Foundation (www.rymanarts.org)
, Liga International (www.ligainternational.org),
or the UIC BVIS program to support students pursuing Master’s degrees in
Biomedical Visualization (UIC College of Applied Health Sciences, 800 S. Wood
St., CMET 169, Chicago, IL 60612).

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