Ub (Ubbe Ert) Iwerks is the legendary animation pioneer who is well-known for his partnership with Walt Disney and his wacky sense of humor (Chuck Jones, who worked with Iwerks in his early years once quipped: Iwerks is Screwy spelled backwards).
Iwerks was born on March 2, 1901 in Kansas City, Missouri. Throughout his childhood Iwerks always had a passion for art, and so at the age of 18, the young artist took a job at the commercial art studio Pesman-Rubin. Before long however, a bright, outgoing, young man full of ideas also joined the ranks at Pesman-Rubin, Walt Disney.
Iwerks and Disney soon developed a strong friendship and by the following year had left Pesman-Rubin to form their own company, Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists. Althought a short-lived venture, it does show how close they became in such a short amount of time. After the company folded, the 2 went to work at Kansas City Film Ad Company. It was there that the 2 began to become more interested in the new art form of animation. Disney, fuel by dreams of success, soon left Kansas City for Southern California where he set up the precursor to today's Walt Disney Studios, Disney Brothers Productions.
Although Disney had taken off for California, Iwerks took sometime before leaving as well. He arrived in 1923 and promptly took a job with his old friend. There he worked with Disney on the popular character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (Later stolen from Disney by his distributor, Charles Mintz), and eventually Mickey Mouse.
In the early days, Iwerks was the sole animator of Mickey Mouse, at times churning out an astounding 600-700 pages of animation a day and helping to form the now legendary mouse's personality and appearence. However, despite the professional success, Disney and Iwerks friendship was being strained by both studio issues, and Disney's short and fierce temper, which many times was dumped on Iwerks. However, he had some personal joy when in 1927 he married Mildred Henderson.
Finally, in 1930, Iwerks shocked Disney by making a secret arrangment with Pat Powers to finance his own studio. Powers had earlier negotiated a one-year distribution deal with Disney that failed, costing Disney a significant loss of money. So, Iwerks left and formed the short-lived, Ub Iwerks Studios. Its most notable creation was MGM's first sound character, Flip the Frog. However, success was only moderate, and the studio folded in 1936, and in 1938 Iwerks went to work for Columbia Studios before returning to Disney in 1940.
Upon his return to Disney, Iwerks became one of the Walt Disney Studios' visual effects legends, pioneering such techniques in animation like the multiplane camera (A tool that gave the illusion of greater depth in cartoons) and the matte process which allows animators to combine their drawings with live action. Over the years, he was honored with two Academy Awards, and a Special Effects nomination for Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.
He died in Burbank, California in 1971, and is buried in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills with his wife who died in 1990. He was posthumously named a Disney Legend in 1989. Of interest to some might be a documentary Disney released about him in 1999 entitled, The Man Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story.