Ub Iwerks (Ubbe Ert Iwwerks) (March 24, 1901–July 7, 1971), was a two-time Academy Award winner American animator, cartoonist and special effects technician, who was famous for his work for Walt Disney. He was born in Kansas City, Missouri. His name is explained by his East Frisian roots — his father, Eert Ubbe Iwwerks, emigrated to the USA in 1869 from the village Uttum in East Frisia (northwest Germany).
Iwerks was responsible for the distinctive style of the earliest Disney animated cartoons. In 1922, when Walt began his Laugh-O-Gram cartoon series, Iwerks joined him as chief animator. The Studio went bankrupt, however, and in 1925, Iwerks moved to Los Angeles with Walt Disney to work on a new series of cartoons known as the Alice Comedies. After the end of this series, Disney asked Iwerks to come up with a new character. The first Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was animated entirely by Ub Iwerks. Following the first cartoon, Oswald was redesigned on the insistence of Universal who agreed to distribute the new series of cartoons in 1927. In the spring of 1928, Disney lost control of the Oswald character and asked Ub Iwerks to start drawing up new character ideas. Iwerks tried sketches of frogs, dogs and cats but none of these appealed to Disney. A female cow and male horse were created at this time by Iwerks, but were also rejected. They would later turn up as Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar. Ub Iwerks eventually got inspiration from an old drawing. In 1925, Hugh Harman drew some sketches of mice around a photograph of Walt Disney. These inspired Ub Iwerks to create a new mouse character for Disney called Mickey Mouse. The first few Mickey Mouse cartoons were animated almost entirely by Iwerks. He was considered by many to be Walt Disney's oldest friend, and spent most of his career with Disney. Iwerks and Disney had a falling-out, and their friendship was severed when Iwerks accepted a contract with a competitor to leave Disney and start an animation studio under his own name.
The Iwerks Studio opened in 1930. Financial backers led by Pat Powers suspected that Iwerks was responsible for much of Disney's early success. However, while animation for a time suffered at Disney from Iwerks' departure, it soon rebounded as Disney brought in talented new young animators. The Iwerks Studio enjoyed no great success and failed to rival the top Disney and Fleischer Studios. The backers withdrew further financial support from Iwerks Studio in 1936, and it folded soon after. Iwerks joined Termite Terrace, but left after doing two Porky Pig cartoons (both which were made at his now-defunct Iwerks Studios. He then joined Screen Gems (then Columbia Pictures' cartoon division), before returning to work for Disney in 1940. The cartoons created by Iwerks' own studio remained largely unseen for many decades, but have been released to laserdisc and DVD by Image Entertainment on their series titled Cartoons That Time Forgot.
After his return to Disney Studios, Iwerks mainly worked on developing special visual effects, like his Academy Award nominated achievement for Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963). He is credited as developing the processes for combining live action and animation used in Song of the South. He also worked at WED Enterprises, now Walt Disney Imagineering, helping to develop many Disney theme park attractions during the 1960s.
Iwerks's most famous work outside animating Mickey Mouse was Flip the Frog for his own studio. Flip bears more than a small resemblance to the characters Iwerks drew earlier, Mickey Mouse and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
Iwerks was known for his fast work at drawing and animation and his wacky sense of humor. Animator Chuck Jones, who worked for Iwerks' studio in his youth, said "Iwerks is Screwy spelled backwards." Ub Iwerks died in 1971 of a heart attack in Burbank, California, aged 70.
A documentary film, The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story was released in 1999, followed by a book written by Leslie Iwerks and John Kenworthy in 2001.
* The DC Comics character Dr. Ub'x was named in his honor.
* Much of Iwerks' early animation style would later be imitated by legendary Anime artists Osamu Tezuka and Shōtarō Ishinomori.
* In the Fairly OddParents episode "The Good Ol'Days", Timmy and his Grandpa Pappy, are transported to an early Disney-style cartoon. In it, two street signs that intersect are the streets of Ube and Iwerks.
* In The Simpsons episode "The Day the Violence Died," a relationship similar to Iwerks' early relationship with Walt Disney is used as the main plot.
* A rare self portrait of Iwerks was found in the trash at an animation studio in Burbank. The portrait was saved and is now part of the Animation Archives in Burbank, California.
* In the Ren and Stimpy Show episode Superstitious Stimpy, Stimpy is chanting in garbled talk and mentions Ub Iwerks.
* Iwerks, Leslie and Kenworthy, John. (2001): The Hand Behind the Mouse. Disney Editions.
* Maltin, Leonard (1987): Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons. Penguin Books.
* Lenburg, Jeff (1993): The Great Cartoon Directors. Da Capo Press.