Friday, January 8, 2016

Disney Legend, Painter and Imagineer Frank Armitage Passed Away at 91

A very sad news as legendary painter and Disney Legend Frank Armitage passed away last Monday at his home in Paso Robles, California, last Monday January 4 at the age of 91. 

Frank ArmitageAustralian-born American painter and muralist, was known for painting the backgrounds of several classic animated Disney films, designing areas of and painting murals for Walt Disney World, Disneyland Paris and Tokyo DisneySea, and his biomedical visualization artwork

Frank was born in Melbourne, Australia. After serving for his allotted time in the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II, he attended art school. He picked up a book about Mexican mural painters at the National Gallery of Victoria and became very interested in the Mexican mural painting movement. He then quit art school and sailed to Canada, where he worked in Montreal for 18 months to earn enough money to get to Mexico City by bus. Armitage won an international mural contest sponsored by David Alfaro Siqueiros, and in 1949, Armitage became Siqueiros's assistant. Armitage worked on many murals on public buildings throughout Mexico.

In 1952, Frank Armitage moved to Los Angeles, California, and began working for Walt Disney Studios. One of his first projects was animation for the 1955 Disney film Lady and the Tramp. Armitage then transitioned to painting backgrounds for other Disney films, such as Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty, Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, and the Disneyland episode "Man in Space." 

Frank Armitage became an Imagineer in 1977 and began helping to design the Disney theme parks. His work of anatomical figures helped create the Wonders of Life Pavilion in Epcot. He also painted 5,500 square feet of murals for the Safari Fare Restaurant in Walt Disney World. Several of the murals in Tokyo DisneySea are also of his creation, including nine of Theodore Roosevelt at the Teddy Roosevelt Lounge in the American Waterfront, corridor panels in the Hotel MiraCosta, the Broadway Bar, and four in the Tokyo DisneySea City Hall. After his retirement, Armitage returned to Walt Disney World to create the murals of camouflaged animals in the Pizzafari restaurant at Disney's Animal Kingdom.

Frank Armitage also did several gorgeous artworks for Disneyland Paris, one of the most famous being the one above showing Sleeping Beauty castle. This other one below shows the Fort and Indian camp at the entrance of Frontierland.

This next artwork below is a rare rendering of DLP Frontierland, an early atmospheric piece done while imagineers were still in concept phase at WDI. Frank took some of the elements imagineers knew they wanted - Phantom Manor, Riverboat Landing, Molly Brown, Big Thunder, the Silver Spur Steakhouse Restaurant, etc - and painted a street and a river scene of what Thunder Mesa would have looked like as an old wild west town, filled with activity. Although it is an early concept, it's amazing to see that everything that will be built at the end is already there!

Frank is also the one who painted the huge painting hanging in the lobby of the Disneyland Hotel with all the people in Victorian costumes. You may not know it but the white haired / bearded gentleman in the  grey top hat sit on the bench is Frank!

Frank also made the production illustration and Academy Award-winning set designs for the 1966 sci-fi film Fantastic Voyage. He painted scenes of the interior of the human body, which were then turned into larger-than-life sets. He also created several landscape paintings for Life magazine. In 1971, he partnered with photographer Lennart Nilsson for a project on the function of the brain. 

Frank Armitage created the background art for fourteen episodes of The Dick Tracy Show and nine episodes of The Mr. Magoo Show. On October 6, 1989, Armitage was given the opportunity to paint a picture of the Dalai Lama while the latter was in a meeting with six neurologists about life after death.

Frank retired from the Disney company in 1989. He then studied Eastern medicine at the College of Oriental Medicine and traveled to China to learn acupuncture. In 2006, he donated a large portion of his medical artwork to the Biomedical Visualization Graduate Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. It is kept in a permanent collection on campus in the Department of Biomedical Information Services. In early 2010, after seeing a documentary about silverback gorillas, Armitage donated several oil pencil drawings of gorillas to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund in Atlanta, Georgia and the Center for Great Apes in Wauchula, Florida. The designs are printed on merchandise such as coffee mugs and T-shirts and then sold to raise money for the organizations.

Frank Armitage volunteered with the Flying Doctors in rural Mexico. He lived near Paso Robles, California, with his wife, Karen Connolly Armitage, who is also a retired Imagineer. They ran an architectural design business called Armitage Images. He also creates oil paintings and murals for private homes.

Above, Frank Ermitage about 2 years ago in a exhibition space in downtown Paso Robles.

On July 18, 2009, at the Anaheim Crowne Plaza Resort in Anaheim, California, Armitage was honored as a Disney legend and given the Disney Legend Award by the National Fantasy Fan Club (NFFC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring the life of Walt Disney.

Disney and more send all its condolencesto frank family, and specially to his wife Karen Connolly Armitage, a wonderful artist and WDI Imagineer.

Pictures: copyright Disney, Frank Armitage

1 comment:

SWW said...

THANK YOU, Alain, for memorializing these great artists and Imagineers on Disney&More and sharing some of their stories and never-before-seen work.

People like Richard Armitage, Pat Burke, Hani El-Masri, Eric Heschong, etc, etc.: their contributions to the artform will continue to inspire and delight well beyond their lives... thanks in part to you, because of well-deserved public recognition you've helped establish here.

They - and we, the admirers of their work - are grateful to you.